Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Musical Rorschach Tests

Music is like a Rorschach test. We all hear what we want to hear.

I recall a listening experience in high school music history.

(Yes, my HS actually offered a semester course in music history. It was a great jump start for college.)

My teacher played a piece of music and asked us to write a description of what the music was saying.

My own response was NOTHING like the composer intended.

I wasn't alone.

I remember there being as many descriptions of the music as there were students in the class.

Kind of like how the ink blot cards of a Rorschach test have different appearances and garner varied responses to each image - as varied as the viewers themselves.

Just as this test has often proven to be difficult for researchers in the field of psychology to study the test and its results in any systematic manner, and the use of multiple kinds of scoring systems for the responses given to each inkblot has led to some confusion.

So too is the struggle with teaching listening in music class.


Until recently I'd never really thought about music listening experiences in this way.

Too often we tell the students what they are going to hear, but really that in itself does not teach independent listening skills.

Too often we tell students what they are hearing WHILE they are hearing it.

[Egads! How can they listen if someone is talking through the music??? This is a futile attempt, at best, to guide listening experiences, in my opinion.]


How then can you teach an emotion or an image in music?

One of the first things that comes to mind is by actively engaging students in the listening experience.

Active engagement means giving the students something to do whilst the listening experience takes place.

I have found that students respond best when this is guided engagement. As they become more experienced their responses do not need as much guidance as perimeters within which they engage.

This one thing elevates the listening experience far above the passive music listening experience where students are either just sitting and listening or, worse yet, the music is merely background music.


It's difficult, as teachers, to let go and let students explore and find things within the music that draws them.

Engage the students in the listening and let them LISTEN!

Like responses to the inkblot cards of the Rorschach test, responses to the music will be varied.

And it's OK if students don't see it as you do.

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