Brianne Gidcumb | May 2017

Listening Maps as a Means for Understanding Music

In my days of teaching general music, one of my favorite resources to use with my students was the listening map. I found that, as a music educator with very limited instructional time and diverse student needs, listening maps provided a way to help groups of students engage with a piece of music and organize what they were hearing.

  • Visually organize aural information. Listening maps can introduce students to musical vocabulary and concepts and help students to understand those concepts within the context of listening examples. Sometimes, the expressive elements of music can be somewhat abstract, especially for our younger learners, and listening maps can provide something just a little more objective and tactile for students.

  • Engage kinesthetic and visual learners. Listening maps are a great way for all learners, particularly kinesthetic and visual learners, make sense of what they are hearing. We all have learners for whom aural information can be a little overwhelming. Having a graphic representation of that aural information can help provide some focus.
  • Give students an interactive experience with a musical work. This increases student engagement, as well as retention of musical information. Students are more likely to retain information when it is experienced both aurally and visually. The more learning modalities you can access in a listening experience, the more likely it is to be relevant to each of your students.

Flipping the listening map.

While there are many great examples of existing listening maps you may distribute to your students, you may also have students create their own listening maps to highlight their own understanding of a piece of music. This provides a more personally relevant experience with the music. Students may highlight musical concepts they recognize within a piece, organize the form of the music, or even tell a story based on what they hear. This is not only a great way to allow students to use some critical thinking skills to create a visual representation of their listening experience, but also a great access point to integrate visual art concepts and ELA standards! Check out this article on Line Graph Listening Maps for some ideas of how to engage students in creating their own listening maps.

Free for you, our Education Closet readers, is a listening map to accompany The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. You can find some classroom ideas for this piece in our 2014 article, “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”: Art and Writing Prompt for the Music Classroom.

Download your Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra Listening Map.

Please feel free to explore some additional listening map resources at my TeachersPayTeachers store, and be sure to check out future issues of ArtsEd Lab for more listening activities to engage your musical learners. Happy listening!

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: