In days gone by the default listening test was the Bentley Test which featured the lugubrious sounding Mr. Bentley playing what sounded like a stylophone – without the humour. Years later, The Lothian Test appeared – a much friendlier affair featuring a cheerful Scottish lady’s voice delivering a very thoroughly thought through script. The instructions were very clear including when to put down pencils for practice and when to pick them up for filling in the test. Moreover, the samples were played on a piano – a sound which would be, at least, familiar to pupils.
The Lothian Test is divided into three sections – Pitch, Tunes & Rhythm.
In the Pitch section, pupils have to indicate whether two notes played consecutively are the same or different, by circling S or D. There are five questions like this. In the remaining five questions, they are asked to decide if the second note is the same as the first and, if not, whether it is higher or lower. This is indicated by circling arrows pointing upwards or downwards.
The Tunes section features short melodies containing four notes. Each tune is played twice and pupils decide whether both tunes were the same or whether one of the notes in the second playing was different. Only one note changes. In the remaining five questions, pupils are asked to specify which of the four notes has changed. I encourage counting on fingers for this those of the hand which is not holding the pencil.
The Rhythm section has no distracting element of pitch. The initial five questions feature very short rhythmic phrases and pupils circle S or D as in the Pitch section. In the final five questions of the test, pupils are asked to specify on which beat the change took place. Counting on fingers is also encouraged in this section.
And now to a confession. One day, a few years ago, having journeyed from the morning primary school to the afternoon one, I distributed answer sheets (offering one to the class teacher, along with the option of catching up with some other work) and opened my briefcase to root out the tape. There was a tape-shaped hole in the contents and it dawned on me that I’d left it in the cassette player in the previous school. However, the show must go on. I knew the answer grid backwards having marked so many of them and reasoned that I could perform the tests on the guitar. What struck me was the rapt attention of the class. It seemed that the fact that the test was being given on the intended instrument by the person who would be teaching it made a huge difference. Since then, I have used live playing in the test. One bonus feature of this is that the speed of delivery can be altered to suit the situation. I can also tap my foot and count aloud during examples. I decided to rearrange the layout of answers so that the answer grid would feature shapes which allowed accelerated marking – a few seconds per sheet. The end result is that the results can be in school the following day.
Those with the highest scores in the Listening Test are offered a hands-on test on the instrument – more of which tomorrow.