Raise your hand if you secretly kinda like listening tests!
No? Just me then?
Oh, come on. It’s like a game! A GAME THAT REQUIRES YOU TO STUDY, hence the “secretly kinda,” but all the same. (This is probably unnecessary, but just in case you don’t know: a listening test is when your professor or what have you gives you a set of pieces to which you must listen, and then for the test he plays a series of very short clips that you must duly identify. The specifics of how many clips and how long they are vary, but my music history professor Dr. Parcell always gave us ten ten-second long clips out of anywhere from eleven the first semester to… I think we topped out at twenty-four.)
My music history teacher had each select of pieces for the semester’s listening test on separate CDs, and I used to slap the whole thing on my iPod and work out to it. This was a good, but not fool-proof, way to study. Take, for example, the very first semester of History of Western Music Part I, which covered Gregorian chants. Okay, seriously now, have you ever tried to differentiate between sections of a high mass with only a ten-second clip? Well, given my audience, maybe you have, so you know: it’s HARD.
There were usually a couple gimmes on a given test: the spoken dialogue from The Beggar’s Opera was a dead giveaway, EIIIIIIINN!!! from Carl Maria von Weber’s The Freeshooter cannot be misheard, I know Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring like the back of my pagan-ritual-hand (left). But some of them were harder, like when we had several different piano sonatas at once. I like piano sonatas, sure, but if the professor decides to pluck a nondescript bit five minutes into the piece it can be a rough one. I once got a clip right only because it sounded minor-y and another girl in my class had mentioned just before the test that a certain piano concerto in a major key had a minor-y sound at one point.
Of course, there are Don’t Panic secrets when you hear a clip and have NO FREAKING CLUE what it is. Narrow it down, Parcell always said. Write down all the pieces you’ve been studying and then go through them. What are you hearing? A string quartet? Well, how many are on your list? If you’re lucky, just the one. If not — well, is it major or minor? Does it sound like one of the composers in question? Alternatively you can try bursting into tears and making your paper too soggy to grade, but I [brag]never got more than one wrong on a given listening test, so hah![/brag]
Whaddya say, Ain’t Barrocos? (I decided I like that one best.) Did/do you share my triumphant fun in the personal little game show that is a listening test? (Ooooh, someone should make a listening test game show!) Or are they the bane of your existence? What’s the roughest clip you’ve ever heard, or given? And what are your tricks for figuring it out when you just don’t know?