Children, Music, and Learning How to Listen

Written by NPN Guest on January 17th, 2014

This post contains affiliate links that support the work of this site at no additional cost to our readers. Thank you!

Ecological Responsibility, Love of Nature, Natural Learning

“Part of doing something is listening. We are listening. To the sun. To the stars. To the wind.” Madeleine l’Engle, Swiftly Tilting Planet

I don’t think I can count the many times have I stood in front of a children’s choir and said, “Listen! Not to your own voice, but to the voices around you!”

When we think of children and musical education we are often first distracted by the idea of lessons, classes and practicing. We ponder the different methods of learning how to read notes and keep a beat. We think about recitals, nerves and performance etiquette. We might pause for a second to consider the concept of listening, as a topic on its own, but rarely do we give it much importance.

I have always thought that we should give just a bit more attention to this seemingly simple skill. Listening is fundamental for any sort of musicality, and it is a skill we can introduce and nurture in our children long before they begin any form of music education.
Natural Parents Network - Children, Music, and Learning How to Listen
The French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908 – 1992) wrote a series of compositions that included notated birdsong. He sat outside for hours, listening to birds sing, then went away and included these sweet little motifs in his music. I have always loved this story; this is listening in its finest form! Children can learn to listen in this way with a bit of direction and it will contribute to a lifetime of sensitive creativity.


The first step to learning how to be a good listener is learning how to be silent. This is not always easy especially for children, but it is a valuable tool. Start by speaking softly and encouraging children to speak softly.

There are always good times for hollering and whooping about but these moments can be balanced by softly spoken instructions and reminders to speak gently. Look for moments throughout the day where you can take a silent pause. Before a meal, before story time, before you drive off in the car or right before you exit the car to go inside! There are lots of opportunities to pause quietly.

A Listening Game

Our lives are hectic and highly stimulated. We are bombarded with noise. Even when we think things are quiet we are still living with the hum of our appliances, the subliminal buzz of our electric lights, and the rush of distant traffic noise. Beeps, screeches, whistles, and variations of hums accompany us throughout our days and while we sleep.

Cleverly, we have learned to tune most of it out but we can start to ‘practice listening’ by tuning back in. Sit quietly in your home with your child and play a listening game.

“Do not make a sound. What do you hear?”


“No, listen again, there is always something!”

As you begin to hear these noises describe them. Try to find each source and notice how the sounds change as you move about the house.

Go Outside

When we take this game outside our imaginations really come alive. Nature gives us such a broader symphony of sounds than we find in our electrically charged homes.

Stepping through leaves.

Wind through grass.

The songs of the birds.

The creaking of a branch.

Wild sounds inspire imagination and creativity in all of us. Time spent outside is one of the loveliest ways to practice listening.

Music is not just notes played on an instrument. Music is all around us and we connect with it and are inspired by it when we take time to listen.


Natural Parents Network - Starr Meneely Starr Meneely is the author of the children’s picture book “What a Lovely Sound!” (Illustrated by Susan Merrick; Published by Starflower Press). She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Piano Performance from the University of Alaska, where she studied under Dr. Timothy Smith. She owned the Littlerose School of Music in Anchorage and taught at the Alaska Fine Arts Academy. Starr writes children’s books in a little village in Surrey, UK, where she lives with her husband and four children. She loves to hear from readers both big and small. Follow Starr on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo Credits


2 Responses to Children, Music, and Learning How to Listen

  1. Crunchy Con Mom  

    Fun idea! I think a listening game might be good for my noisy boy and me both 🙂

  2. Justine Uhlenbrock  

    Thanks for these lovely reminders. We love the listening game! My kids are actually quite good at it now. A few days ago we were walking down our front steps, and my kindergartner said “I hear the birds!” I hastily said, “It’s too cold for birds, honey. That’s the garage door opening,” to which she replied, “No, Mommy, listen again!” and by golly she was right. I have no idea what kind of birds sing when it is 2ºF outside, but they were out there!