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Four Good Ways That Teachers Can Incorporate Listening Into Home Practice Assignments and One Really BAD One!

GOOD IDEA #1-  Develop a listening library where students can check out CD’s to listen to.

Pros-  Easiest to set up
Cons-  Hardest to police and easiest to lose or damage the media.  Costs more than other options.

Buying a bunch of CD’s and loaning them out to students to listen to sounds like a great idea but depending on the responsibility and age level of the students can also be the most difficult to manage.  While a high school ensemble might be able to handle this kind of lending situation few teachers would dare loan out original CD’s to middle school or elementary school students.  Making copies of the CD’s is not recommended, not only for the legal gray area that it falls into but also because you may be opening the door to saying “Do as I say, not as I do” the next time you have to have a conversation with your class about copyright issues.

GOOD IDEA #2-  Purchase individual songs via iTunes or Amazon and burn them legally to CD

Pros-  Easiest way to make individualized listening assignments for individual instruments.  Cheaper than buying full CD’s.
Cons-  Requires CD-R media.  There is a software enforced limit as to how many times a set of recordings can be burned to a CD in iTunes.  Still has the logistical issues of tracking who has what and making sure it comes back undamaged.

The beauty of buying ala carte for music is that it allows you to buy only what you need rather than buying a whole CD for one track and paying for the rest of the filler.  With this method you are legally allowed to burn a certain number of CD’s with the same playlist before iTunes says that you have reached your limit.  Of course there are rather simple ways around this, but there is also that spectre of legality looming over everything.  You may be legally entitled to burn multiple copies of a song you have purchased in this manner, but yet the looming eye of the RIAA may make some students raise a cocked eye to you wondering if you did or did not really pay for the tracks.  Plus, a student can easily rip the CD you loan them onto their computer since the audio on a CD is not copy protected.

GOOD IDEA #3-  Buy MP3 Players and load them with the music you have purchased legally

Pros-  Simple, elegant, and probably the easiest way to do things.  Depending on the brand and size MP3 players can be very cheap.  You do NOT have to buy iPods for this.  MP3 players have a much larger capacity than CD’s.  Copy protection can be in place to prevent students from copying the files to their computers at home.
Cons-  Same as for the lending library yet with solid state MP3 players damage or breakage is less likely.  More expensive to set up.  Difficult to do regular listening assignments with large groups of students unless a large number of players are purchased.

While it may seem like this would be worse than the CD loan arrangement in truth it is a lot easier.  Instead of worrying about the location of dozens of individual CD’s a teacher can limit the hassle to dealing with a half dozen or so MP3 players, each loaded with every piece of music that the ensemble might need to listen to.  If the tracks are labeled properly finding the appropriate songs to listen to is a lot easier than searching through tracks on a CD as well.

IDEA #4-  Find legal recordings and link to them from your band web site

Pros-  Totally free, easiest, and perhaps the best way to do it.  Music will be available on any web connected device including most smartphones.
Cons-  Student must have an Internet connection and computer at home to listen to the recordings.  Selection of legal public domain recordings is rather limited.  Many such sites provide only streaming music rather than direct download of the audio file.

By using the legally provided MP3 and streamed audio recordings available on music distributor and publisher web sites like,, and others, you can quickly put together a list of links to almost any piece of music that your ensemble is rehearsing as well as to many solo and ensemble pieces.  

For more professional and instrument specific recordings of well known compositions you may also be able to find some legal public domain recordings of specific songs.  These are recordings of mostly classical pieces that are out of copyright that an ensemble has recorded and made available to the public for free.  

As a service to the music education public I have also compiled a list of sites that provide such recordings and this list can be searched using the custom Google search box below.  Simply type in the title or composer of the piece you are looking for.  Using more general terms like “trumpet” or “soprano” will also return results but they will be much less accurate.

REALLY BAD IDEA #1-  Ripping your CD’s and putting the files on your band/choir/orchestra web site for people to listen to.

Pros-  None
Cons-  Totally illegal even if the files are behind a password protected login.

Putting any piece of music up on the web is asking for trouble.  Unless you have specific, documented permission from the publisher to host and distribute their copyrighted material in this way you are breaking the law. 

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