Factors critical to the success of the project approach

The design of the project provided an attractive learning opportunity for music students, and the use of the music audition as a learning setting was immediately relevant to all students. Students were invited to participate in a listening masterclass, with a music industry expert as guide, and to experience the ‘audition’ process as both auditionee and auditioner. Students were familiar with the concept of a music audition, from their initial application to university, and were starting to think about the audition as the next gateway in their pathway to the music profession.

Participants’ interest was piqued by the prospect of taking part in blind and sighted auditions. Before the session started, students were asked what they expected to learn from the experience. Both auditionees and auditioners identified the value of this novel experience to learn:

  • ‘how to approach my own future auditions’
  • ‘the difference between auditioning experience with and without a screen’

Students were keen to experience the different settings of auditions (blind and sighted) to

  • ‘experience an audition from both sides of the screen’
  • ‘understand ‘how auditioners make decisions in these situations’
  • ‘[experience] how to make objective evaluations when listening – and whether this is entirely possible…’

The greatest impediment in recruiting students to participate in the project was their tendency to prioritise practice and rehearsal over extra-curricular experiences in the context of a demanding music program. It would be essential to any future program success to embed learning opportunities in existing course structures so it is an integral component of music learning.

Possible implementations in different institutions

In the age of the ‘portfolio career’ musician (Bennett, 2008), performance students will be likely to be future performers as well as teachers and assessors of music. As such, music institutions must think creatively about how to prepare performers for the challenges of the music profession, not only in the craft of playing their instrument, but as critical thinkers and expert evaluators of musical sound. The extent of this seed project in two institutions and working with four discrete cohorts has demonstrated the applicability and transferability of the simple project design focused on active or experiential learning for music students. Future iterations will continue to focus on equipping music students with the tools to expand their traditional aural perception skills by developing a more sophisticated aural and performance literacy in order to understand how professional and expert listeners assess music performers.


There is a growing need to prepare tertiary level performers to think creatively, beyond the craft of performers, to be critical thinkers about musical ‘sound’. The music domain relies on expert musicians to make the most important music judgements about music performance but there is a growing body of empirical music evidence to suggest even expert musicians are unable to judge the sound and sight of music performances in the same way (eg Thompson, Graham, & Russo, 2005; Tsay, 2013). Traditional music training at tertiary level rarely includes promotion or awareness of these recent findings, and more importantly, has not incorporated them into effective training for music students to equip them for their musical careers, when they will face tasks as auditioner or auditionee.

This purpose of this seed project was to design and develop a pilot study to develop students’ listening acuity for music performance evaluation investigate the way in which students can experience and reflect on evaluation practices needed for the music profession. This pilot study was designed to mimic an authentic assessment setting, namely the music audition, which requires both blind and sighted presentations by music performers, and evaluation by listeners. This music training setting was prompted by key cognitive research in music which suggests that sight is more important than sound in evaluating music performance (e.g. Thompson et al., 2005; Tsay, 2013).

This project is the first to challenge students’ listening acuity for performance and performer evaluation by developing knowledge from recent empirical testing to a practical and familiar music setting. It will enhance music students’ critical listening skills for performance evaluation, and has the potential to redefine the way in which the music profession critically evaluates performers.

Future endeavours

This study appropriated audiovisual strategies from the empirical literature, to allow music students to experience performer evaluation in a variety of sensory presentations, and to develop their own understanding of how they listen to performers. Crossmodal sensory information has been examined for its role in expressivity and overall evaluation but now must be considered to enrich musicians’ frames of reference to perceive, evaluate and communicate sound and expand music education and pedagogy. Future educational studies will seek to develop an evidence-based and holistic educational experience to prepare future music professionals to become critical thinkers about music performance.