How To Study For A Music Listening Test

Since grade school, many of us have learned or were taught how to study for the average test. We are taught visual, active, and aural clues, tricks, and tips to learn how to take mostly visual exams.


How do you study for a music listening exam?

For many students, when they encounter their first listening test, they freeze.

Non-music majors might encounter this type of test and music majors DEFINITELY encounter the aural listening test at some point in their life.

I have compiled a list of tricks and tips for the listening exam.

  • Start Early
    – This sounds obvious but it is a common mistake to wait till the last minute for a listening exam.
  • Active Listening
    -I have more info on this under “take notes” but don’t just put the listening material in the background while you work on other things.
    -It is okay to have it in the background once in a while but take the time to sit down and focus on nothing but the music.
    -A few focused listening sessions can do more than “listening” to the music in the background all day.
  • Don’t Cram
    – This goes back to starting early. While it is possible (but not recommended) to cram for a visual type test and still get a good grade, this is often harder to do on a listening test. Your brain may not be used to absorbing and retaining this kind of information.
  • Break the Listening Down
    – I often suggest that students listen to maybe one or two pieces the first day, then a third the next day, review on the third, then learn the rest on the fourth and review everything until the test.
    -Obviously you have to break down your listening material as needed but not learning everything in one sitting is very helpful.
    -When I had to listen to entire symphonies for tests, I would listen to movement per day on repeat. By the end of the week, I could review the whole symphony.
    -When I had to listen to many short works, I would pick two or three to memorize per day, compared to five or six.
  • Listen to the Entire Piece
    – Music Majors are especially familiar with the phrase “drop the needle.” This phrase is a throw back to record players and one would literally drop the needle and the music would start playing from that point.
    Today, the phrase references the fact that the teacher might start the test from ANY point in the music and you have to be able to identify what the piece is from the middle or any place other than the beginning.
    -Even if your instructor is NOT doing a “needle” test, this is still a good strategy. If you can identify the piece from any point, then you REALLY know the music.
    -It is also a good idea to make use of this strategy because the piece may change significantly and you may need to explain or identify what changed and why it is important.
  • Take Notes
    -Writing down your first impressions is a very easy way to distinguish pieces.
    -I also write down thoughts as the piece goes on.
    -I also ask questions and try to identify various elements in the music.
    Does the music change? How? When?
    What key are we in? Does it ever change? What kind of modulation?
    What instruments are playing and when?
    Who is singing? Male or female? Choir or solo?
    What is the texture? Homophonic? Heterophonic? Polyphonic?
    Chord structure?
    Melody lines?
    -These are just some basic questions that can be applied to a lot of music.
  • Come up with lyrics for instrumental passages
    -Students are often very familiar with language and interacting with information and tests in that manner. So use that to your advantage. I use words to help memorize chord structures and progressions. Some people may need this tool to memorize melodies.
    -Assign words to aspects of the music that are important but tricky to remember.
  • Playlist
    -Create playlists of the tests and put them on shuffle. It works wonders!

Some of these seem obvious. That is a good thing! Listening tests can be just as manageable as any other type of test.

These tips are only meant to get you started. Find what works for you since everyone learns a bit differently.

Happy Listening!


One thought on “How To Study For A Music Listening Test

  1. Pingback: Engaging With Music | A Shattered Intelligence

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