Thursday, 6 February 2020

PEDAGOGY OF MUSIC PART 2 : the art, science & organization of teaching music

Have you set out to learn something & found you learnt something entirely different ?

Of course you have. My students will potentially learn history,languages, health, science,
math but always some music.
Sometimes I'm sent a student for lessons who can't read a word.
I wind up teaching something about reading so there is an unintended side benefit
to the lesson.
Other students may simply not practice enough to progress, yet I discover they like to sing.
I'm paid to give the student a musical experience.
The student learns more about singing.
Others come for guitar lessons but are actually interested in a wide range of instruments and
learn something about drums, bass, banjo, ukulele, keyboard or whatever I have to share.
Despite the various distinct subject areas, modern schools mandate that every teacher
is a teacher of literacy and communication.
Not every teacher does this as well as they could, but it’s a prime objective
to teach literacy as part of your program, regardless of your subject area.
On the path to our target we gather many other skills, attitudes and knowledge.
The inter-connections of our target subject to a much larger world are surprising, even
to those who think music is a trivial time-waster, but big things come from small things.
School compartmentalizes learning into subjects, although many of those subjects overlap.
Subjects are a convenience, not a reality.
Music as a subject can encompass History, Geography, Literature, Literacy,Physicality, Health,
Morals, Culture, Applied Technology, I.T., Math and Science. The list goes on.
For Example:
There is always a portion dedicated to  physical action.
There is  calculation and memory in reading scores.
There is a deep history to the process including the evolution of writing
and historical context of the creations.
There is mathematics and technology.
Perhaps the greatest Scientific-Mathematical truth is that “everything in the universe vibrates” 
just as music is a series of “vibrations!“  
In musical technique, players of guitars can alter vibrations through understanding overtones
and muting skills. (Wave Science)
A  mathematical-musical connection is the world-wide acceptance of (measuring)
standard pitch. The note A=440hz (440 cycles per second).
The  worldwide adoption of standard units for weight, length, temperature &
just about anything else that can be measured extends to standard units in sound & music.
Musical instruments are manufactured to account for international agreements in
tuning them. (measured in Hertz which is also used for electromagnetic wave
measurement, electrical frequencies and computer speeds.)                     
Musical instruments are manufactured to exacting mathematical dimensions-
length, diameter and materials selections. 
Is it trivial that a human can recognize an exact vibration cycle as an A note?
reproduce it perfectly?  and remember it as easily as everyday people recognize
the colour blue as distinct from red?
Humans have amazing and often unused capacity for defining to high degrees of 
accuracy colour, scent, sound, visual and auditory memory.
This human capacity won’t be measured on a National Test for students.
That primitive academic testing tool won’t come anywhere close to explaining the
depth of human learning. 

Einstein credited his greatest discoveries to his interest in music.

Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician famous for triangle & circle theory &
the number Pi (22/7), developed a theory of mathematical  relationships in music
before tools existed to measure this stuff. His primitive tools included the "ear".
The rest of his mathematical discoveries & formulae get more attention
but musical history has firmly placed Pythagoras in its hall of fame.

Should anyone care about these discoveries ?
Within your hobbies and your passions lies great potential to learn, simply
because you have interest.
Manufacturers of audio products, music, audio-visual, sonar systems, ultrasonic
scanning equipment, sonic weapons of crowd control, safety equipment
(sirens/alarms)  etc. depend on this kind of knowledge.
For the Mathematicians only
Pythagoras  discovered intervals between harmonious musical notes always have  whole number ratios.
An example is playing half a length of a guitar string gives the same note as the full length open string,
but an octave (8 notes)  higher; a third of a length gives a different but harmonious note. etc. 
He recognized non-whole number ratios produced dissonant sounds.
Pythagoras described the first four overtones which became the primary building blocks of musical
harmony: the octave (1:1), the perfect fifth (3:2), the perfect fourth (4:3) and the major third (5:4).
The oldest way of tuning the 12-note chromatic scale is Pythagorean tuning, and it is based on a
stack of perfect fifths, each tuned in the ratio 3:2.
All this Math had a use in making musical instruments. How many of us have looked at a guitar and
thought about Math? Note the decreasing spaces between frets as the notes get higher? Ratios !
Pythagoras, so excited by this discovery,  became convinced that the whole universe was based on
numbers, & planets & stars moved according to mathematical equations, which corresponded to
musical notes producing a kind of symphony, the “Music of the Spheres”.
Maybe he was just joking or using poetic licence on that point.
MY BACKGROUND in Music and Education
My (work) background is education. I trained as a teacher (Diploma in Teaching)
followed with a Bachelor of Education Degree. 
From childhood I studied music & continue learning it & practicing daily.
Passing on knowledge has been helped enormously by having a solid skills
based training in not just music, but education. It’s also been enlightening to me
to have varied work experiences (not just teaching) in multiple locations. 
TEACHER TRAINING: Limits Of Research Based Teacher Training
Traditionally elementary school teachers (like myself) were trained at least in part
in an apprentice-based style unlike today. The university course major was
education. Regular classroom visits through years of training to watch and teach
were interspersed throughout the program. Observing expert teachers to
see theory and skills in action is a key point of difference to modern training.
The consistent presence and referral of theoretical knowledge and skills to its
use in a classroom was integrated because we were studying "education".
 “Research-based” education has taken over with many  teachers doing 3
years of something (maybe an Arts degree?) followed by a year of Education
that’s supposed to equip them to deal with the job of teaching.
Their ultimate Bachelor Of Education degree may include only a year of specifics
geared towards teaching.
The marriage of theory and practice has in my opinion been sadly neglected.
Much of “education coursework” has gone on line. The “research” for most
courses is simply a study of other academics’ work.
It’s cheaper & easier to run & administer a course this way.
Students are trained to “walk in the footsteps of the giants”.
The giants are those who’ve earned a name for themselves by publishing more
papers or selling more books than anyone else.
The “giants” almost exclusively must have academic letters after their names.
In fairness their public works are largely informative.
In terms of music, we all have our heroes we have listened to & loved.
Most famous musicians didn't need a university degree to prove their worth to the world
outside academia.
University of life is where many of the big name classical musicians studied.
Mozart learnt mainly from his father, Bach from his gifted relatives, Beethoven
from his reputedly mean and bullying Grandfather.
Modern classical musicians often study at universities. Are they better?
Can you remember the name of more than one modern classical musician?

There is a cynical viewpoint that many of those who follow an academic career
are those who can’t hack it in real-life at the coal-face.
George Bernard Shaw  mischievously said something like
“ Those that can – do. Those that can’t – teach.”
It was further corrupted by adding: “Those that can’t teach - teach teachers.”
Many teachers are typically someone who went to school, then went to school & now goes to
school. Somewhat lacking in diversity & with a wide disconnect to what the rest of the world
might need to do to earn a living.
This is unfair to  many hardworking types who really strive at teaching but
in most systems you get lifters and leaners.
“The double betrayal of a liberal arts education: it neither properly teaches
you how to live – nor how to make a living.” Alain De Botton
That is unless you have a public service job.
That’s unfair to the many great and efficient people working in Government sponsored areas.
Just be aware of the limits of those who never step outside their circle.
I’m  wary of anyone who has never stepped outside their comfort zone & yet puts themselves
forward as an expert.
I am fortunate that my well funded Education Course was extremely  practical
with a good balance of practice and theory..
Week 1 Study a skill. Week 2, Watch a teacher work with this skill.
Week 3: Plan and teach a small group using this skill.
Week 4 : Teach a whole class using this skill.
The cycle was repeated consistently over years with each year having a block
of 6 weeks teaching in a school. Practicing teachers were funded to spend time
mentoring beginning teachers, allowing a good deal of time inside classrooms
observing and practicing the skills of teaching.
I’ll leave it to you to work out where is and who is the better teacher in your
neighbourhood. Do your research.  Good luck.

Education could never be called an exact science, regardless of the ever
increasing body of research published in professional journals to which all
teachers in training must defer.
It’s challenging for teachers to take the theory and see what works in real life for
the science of teaching is muddled with interpersonal relationships which can’t
easily be quantified. How do you measure the value of an encouraging smile, a
scowl or a mood enhancing “whoop whoop”?
All teachers should have a great depth of knowledge and skill in their subject
area. The criteria of a good teacher is depth of subject knowledge, interest and
willingness to share knowledge and skills with people to draw out their talents
and persistence to work on and complete their projects.  Add in a requirement
to get accessible data for goal-setting, developing teaching programs and
You may (like myself) have spent entire years inside a classroom as a student with virtually
no memory of your teacher, the activities or their perceived importance.
And generally my memory is pretty good. Other lessons and teachers may burn bright in your
brain for both positive and negative reasons.
The criteria of a good teacher should be more about what the teacher can get you to do rather
than what you think about your teacher but as humans are emotional, teachers can and do
draw you into  involvement or make you recoil from their lessons.

INSPIRATION :Teachers can inspire. A student who gets excited about some
aspect might go home and begin a relentless practice cycle.
DISCOURAGEMENT: It is possible that a student watches their teacher and
instead of being excited by a magnificent performance, withdraws from the
process thinking “I’ll never get there.”
Regardless of how much a teacher knows or can do,
teaching is always about getting the student to do it.
The way people teach is often similar to the way they have learnt.
Many musicians go straight from playing to teaching without any training
in Education itself. That’s not such a problem if they have sound technique, knowledge,
communication skills, interpersonal skills, organization and a willingness to pass that on.
Would you pay good  money to learn from a person  who is deficient in
any one of these areas?
In my younger days I joined a music teaching studio. I witnessed both professionalism
and the sloppiness that exists out there.  One teacher would tell a student to practice a piece
while he ducked out to buy coffee.
Another left a student in his home-based studio to practice while he disappeared
into the kitchen to make coffee and grab a bite.
Parents have told me how they pulled their kid out of  lessons because the teacher was
too busy looking at cars on his phone, even while they were present in the lesson! 
His worksheets/homework were bits and pieces scrawled untidily on scraps of paper.

The components of preparation are numerous. Here’s some to think about.
I often begin from hands on basics & use supporting text with pictures or diagrams to
1. reinforce those concepts &
2. give more chance to revisit concepts (because memory is so fallible) &
3. have chances for teacher and student to take notes, draw or highlight key points &
4. record the students efforts.

Some teachers are reluctant to use textbooks because they perceive the
books as inappropriately leveled  (possibly boring).
I have seen this assumption in play which also assumes that without a textbook
the teacher will prepare appropriate materials for their students.
I find this assumption to be deeply flawed.
Many teachers are not good at preparing, producing & sourcing suitable material.
A good book could be worth more than a bad teacher, make up for a poorly
organized teacher, or at least make a worthwhile supplement to other teaching-
learning activities.
Small lessons with a finish point can give a sense of accomplishment and
measurable completion to students. A well prepared book can be revisited
and reviewed in study many times. A well prepared book can have visual
elements including charts and pictures. It can have audio-visual support also
and provide focus. It can be interactive.
There is no substitute for a student or student’s parent who is aware of the
quality or lack of quality of the lessons being delivered. It is not the first step
to blame a teacher for any lack of progression but the teacher's method
should be professional.
In today’s world, where some people may regard a hard copy book as an
unnecessary expense, it is at least possible to have on-line or digital copy of
books so students can practice studied material at home.
A big issue I see in institutional schools with students attending specialist classes
such as music or Foreign language studies is their lack of practice outside the
Without practice, the lessons are much less valuable.
The reluctance of specialist teachers to allow books to go home with the kids or an on-line
equivalent means those that might review and practice material have less opportunity.
I started teaching myself harmonica as a 7 year old and after years of persistent
requests (some call it nagging) secured professional lessons in guitar from a
solid local teacher who took me from beginner to proficiency over a few years in
reading scored music and playing chords for popular music. I also sang but not
Use of professionally written, graded & produced materials was very
important to an incremental, organized development of skills & knowledge.
I produce a large number of texts in a variety of instruments that I teach and road
test materials to be sure they are adding value to lessons.
Not every lesson in every book will be covered but having prepared
written materials gives learners and teachers many chances to revisit and
practice ideas with a defined goal.
In high school , the head of Math visited my class to give a lesson.He was functionally blind.
The first clue was him erasing an already clean board.
As he couldn’t see anything he wrote, he began to talk through a complex calculation
without writing anything down. Did anyone learn anything ?
No, except that writing stuff down is particularly helpful.
Written work                                                                                          
allows extra time to digest the idea,
is easy to review repeatedly,
is easy to add notes to,
is an aid to memory (nobody remembers everything, most people don’t have great memories) &
provides a physical record of something you’ve tried.
I write down just about everything I teach. 
Not everything, that would be called over-communication.
For example, a page of scored music  entitled ‘Estudio Am’  actually
contains a subset of ideas for study: 
-Timesignature for counting beat
-Tempo marks for speed 
-Keysignature for understanding what notes are in the pattern
-Musical Notes which each have names and countable values.
-Languages: Estudio is Spanish for “Study”.
-Fingering: explanations of fingering for right and left hand often appear in
written music as does the position of the hand up or down the neck.
-Unwritten info, such as producing quality tone, holding things in
ways which maximize leverage for strength & minimize  chances of repetitive
stress injury. 
It challenges students to explain written work and both confirm and improve
Have you played “pass the message”? Each person in a line whispers the
message to the next (“John has a black dog”)  and by the time it gets to the end….
(“They say you’re a dirty dog John…”) 
This may seem an exaggeration and written messages can be misinterpreted,
but they more often bring clarity.
Many things are just too complex to rely on memory to learn.


If you could get all your experience out of a book, or movie, you wouldn't have to
travel the world. You would make less mistakes. You can read about danger, trouble, adventure and excitement and some people
will be well prepared in their lives from this approach. Others will just need to experience the falls, the successes, the work and the in-betweens
before they understand reality. In fact we all need a good dose of living to balance our book
learning with the significant feedback we get from the real world.
Universities in modern times have moved from a model of tenured security into short term
contracts for many professors.
The professors won't know if they have a job until the numbers come in.
No one at the University can explain in depth what the course is about and the person who
might get the job is not available for this period of limbo to provide detailed information.

If the job goes ahead, the professor might hire an undergraduate who has
been climbing ranks
of academia to help with the marking of assessments.
They may have little experience in the subject and perhaps of life in general.
A university student may not realize they aren't dealing with a true expert.

University has always been a numbers game.

X number of students x tuition fee = quite a few students per teacher.
I dropped out of the Sydney Conservatory Of Music course for teachers as it was always a
group lesson.
I would have been financially rewarded with a pay upgrade had I completed
my time in this course but at heart I couldn't believe I was getting a good Education.
30 minutes with a fantastic private teacher revealed many holes in my learning to fill.
Exactly what I wanted, at least as far as effective learning goes.


Yes you can. Many students for whatever reason find it hard to do music from reading
and it is what it is. Some just won't read anything.
These type of students may only respond to kin-aesthetic or visual-pictorial and audio sources. It has shortcomings compared to adding in symbolic (reading) sources but a teacher must do what a teacher does. TEACH

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