Listening (aural perception) is embodied in every phase of every activity that contributes to musical understanding and growth. It is considered to be the foundation for all musical experiences. Listening requires skills that focus on the sound source, remembering sound sources, and responding (Anderson & Lawrence, 2001).

The ability to listen involves more than just hearing. It requires children to focus their minds on the sounds perceived. Haines and Gerber (2000) state, “This ability to pay attention is not innate but it is a learned skill, and the young child needs training and help to acquire it”.

We urged parents and teachers to help young children become more sensitive to the sounds around them and to help them translate these sounds into meaningful experiences. These efforts should continue, since sound discrimination is vital to the musical development of the child. Unless someone has really made a point of helping a child sharpen his or her listening skills, the myriad sounds that must be confronted will often cause poor listening habits to be established prior to school.

Music activities provide an excellent means for increasing children’s listening skills. Four- and five-year-olds can develop listening skills that will help them sing in tune, create melodies, accompany themselves on instruments, and move to music. They can be taught to listen to the expressive elements of music, such as melody, rhythm, and dynamics. “In one way or another, music at all levels is focused on listening. The purposes and outcomes of listening may vary with the age of the listener and the musical setting, but there is perhaps no other music behavior so widely valued as good listening” (Flowers, 1990, p. 21).

A very important principle to keep in mind is that children cannot develop a high level of listening skill unless attentive listening is stressed. Listening is perceiving and requires thought and reasoning. Children’s minds must be “filled” with musical images in order to build on what is new and unfamiliar to them musically. This takes time and can only be developed gradually through children’s active participation in diverse and varied musical experiences.

Selected Characteristics of Four-Year-Olds

  • Are very active and can run up and down steps
  • Can throw a ball overhand
  • Like to do things their own way and resist too many directions
  • Are very curious and ask many questions concerning why and how
  • Talk a great deal. They like nonsense words, silly language, rhymes, and words that are repeated in peoms or songs
  • Love to listen to stories, will often listen to two or more stories at one sitting, and have favorites
  • Are becoming more creative and imaginative
  • Are beginning to understand seasons of the year, including when they occur and what takes place during each season
  • Are socializing more easily and are ready for more group experiences
  • On command, can place an object on, under, in front of, and in back of some other object
  • Like to dramatize songs and poems as well as stories and parts of stories
  • Should be able to carry out two simple directions in sequence

Characteristics to Consider When Planning Musical Activities for Four-Year Olds

  • Are beginning to enjoy group singing more
  • Show increased desire to listen to music
  • Take pride in their ability to identify familiar songs
  • May enjoy taking a turn singing alone
  • Show increased voice control and a closer approximation of pitch and rhythm
  • May be able to sing an entire song accurately
  • Are beginning to create songs during play
  • Can talk about what a piece of music suggests
  • Like to try out instruments and play along on instrumental songs
  • Can improvise simple melodies
  • Can identify certain sounds made by different instruments

Selected Characteristics of Five-Year-Olds

  • Are generally conforming in nature, like to please, thrive on positive feedback, and are sensitive to praise and blame
  • Like to jump and climb and still need plenty of big muscle activity. Muscle coordination is improving
  • Are described as "wigglers" and "bundles of endless energy"
  • Can sometimes skip on alternate feet and do quite well at galloping
  • Like to talk a great deal and are interested in words and their meanings
  • Know how old they are and can generally tell how old they will be in another year
  • Like to remain close to familiar surroundings; are primarily interested in their home and community, not distant places; are interested in different cities and states if they know someone who lives there, such as grandparents or previous playmates
  • Understand and can carry out actions involving words like forward and backward
  • Are learning the meaning of small, smaller, and smallest
  • Are often very adept at rhyming words
  • Are relatively independent and self-reliant, dependable, and protective toward younger playmates and siblings

Characteristics to Consider When Planning Musical Activities for Five-Year-Olds

  • Are refining and exploring musical skills previously learned
  • May be able to read words to songs
  • Can generally play instruments accurately
  • May begin to show an interest in piano and dance lessons
  • Can better synchronize body movements with the rhythm of the music