Thursday, 6 February 2020

PEDAGOGY OF MUSIC PART 3 : the art, science & organization of teaching music


Skills and knowledge involved in any subject can be broken down and formed
into lessons. Teaching skills will influence the lesson presentation.
Consider the range of lesson types available.
Lesson styles benefit from variety including:
questioning techniques,
use of interactive media
individual effort

Requiring students to participate actively during lessons is different to them simply watching.
There are many ways to run a lesson.
Having students teach, present and explain reveals a lot about their learning.
A variety of presentation styles should be used to stimulate interest,
engagement and skill development .

A lesson should have an
INTRODUCTION setting the purpose
BODY and

I'd hate it to become one of those T.V. shows when they tell you what they are going to tell you,
tell it, then tell you what they've told you in an endlessly predictable style.
However there needs to be some structure to most lessons.
My lessons might often begin with some review of previously covered material.
Then new material may be introduced in a structure as above.

THE TEACHING-LEARNING CYCLE                                                         
involves assessment-preparation-teaching-testing-review.
The students’ skills, knowledge, abilities and interests inform the type of lesson given and
planning of future lessons.  Well planned lessons must note all these steps.

The idea that concepts can be taught in a simple form and developed into their
more complex details over time with revisits is fairly obvious.
Bruner (1960) elaborated on these ideas in his writing.  
Any potential lesson needs to break things down in some way to the components
at a meaningful level that help lead to mastering a skill or concept.
Increasing levels of complexity building upon preceding work is part of good
preparation. First things first.
In general, a first treatment of a lesson is revisited later to see if the student recalls it,
understands it, has practised it & is ready to take it to a new level. 
Written records help make revisits less random. 

Traditional approaches in Music Education follow well prepared lists (often a text book series)
in which a linear path spirals from simplicity through to complex.
The lists are long, very well organized in most classic programs & improving in some “modern”
Even modern courses (School Of Rock), can’t & don’t rely on “this week’s most popular
song”. They still look to incrementally increase levels of ability across a range of areas. 

Using a systematic program has many benefits for those who participate.

A typical classical program involves a number of skills:
1.Performing specified pieces from a range of choices.
2. Scales & Exercises specifically drawn from the level of work performed.
3. Sight Reading Music
4. Listening Tests
5. Viva Voce (knowledge of musical terms, identifying & naming parts etc.)
That’s a pretty comprehensive skill-set.
A smart teacher could also include lessons in:
6. Improvisation using rules discovered through study and
7. Composition of original music. 
Students working through lesson materials would absorb the entire
understanding of the material studied & further demonstrate their knowledge
by transforming it into another unique work or action.
The ownership of the learning becomes more student-centered. 
Students come with pre-existing attitudes, knowledge  and behaviour.
This is where sticking to the book & only to the book becomes a handicap. 
Teachers need an ability to persuade students of the worth of the material they present.
If students fail to see it as personally relevant, a half-hearted effort follows,
leading to half-hearted outcomes.
Teachers must negotiate with a student to learn, practice & connect to something
that engages the student.  
For this reason, textbooks can only ever be part of a complete program of
learning. Most textbooks will miss some vital aspects of their subject. 
It’s just like looking through a window to see only a small focused view of the world.

The “now generation” are often fairly pro-active learners with access to so much
more internet information than prior generations. You-tube is the teacher.
That randomness is a lottery both in regards to the quality and accuracy of the
information presented and the fact there is no (organized) steady increment in
the level of skills and knowledge presented.  
A good book  (or teacher) can enhance learning by providing a filter to all the
white-noise" of a very busy world. 
A good professional music teacher can also provide real life, real time playing
experience with a master and hands on use of professional tools.
Professional collections and experience take years to consolidate. 


Objective= not influenced by personal feelings or opinion
Subjective= based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes or opinion.

Nobody ever said
"I didn't like your style of Math problem solving. It's correct, but, nah fail!"
No driving tester ever said, "you crashed the car but I like you- pass."
There is Art in musicianship, just as there is an Art component to teaching.
The Art part is hard to measure and evaluate purely because we can't keep
our feelings out of the judgement.
There is also the side that encompasses skills, knowledge and attitudes which
are quite measurable. You can tell when someone knows the material studied
and shows interest and dedication to improve. You can hear mistakes, buzzes,
uneven tempo or notice great brilliant playing.
The line between a skilled performance & an artistic performance however is
blurry at the best of times. 
I’d rather not get into a treatise on what is art, but suggest that there is a subtle but
noticeable difference between the two and the 2 often exist together.
The skills and knowledge are definable. The "Art" is more connected to feeling which varies
from person to person. 
A technically perfect performance may leave an audience cold.
A heartfelt but less perfect performance may be applauded.
A technically good and heartfelt performance may be the pinnacle of success
but art and music is not a first past the post race.
It is at the mercy of an audience and every group is made of individuals.

More and more the idea that music is just for listening has shifted to include

visual showmanship. The monopoly of audio had a peak in the days particularly
when recorded music was the major product line.
These days the synergy of audio-visual has somewhat broken the mold.
Performance has to include some visual elements. 
Can ART be taught?
A solid skill-set lays a foundation for individual interpretation & creation of new
work. I  leave judgement to audiences. I always have an opinion about what I like
& value but as a teacher I don’t set myself up as a judge and arbiter of good or
popular taste or even where the line between a good performance and an artistic
performance is.
I am an encourager. Having students understand & be thick-skinned to avoid
seeing criticism as a personal attack is an important part of the skill-set of those
who work in the public space. Some like your work, some won’t.
Some judges have agendas. They promote what they have an interest in.
If being liked is a student goal we may work towards that. 
Art and Creativity have levels of depth. Copying someone else's work still
involves making something so yes, you are creating. Taking creativity to a
higher level will be possible
There is a distinction to make between “process” and “product” in that practices
are part of the process and hasty judgement on beginning work is counter-productive
to eventually getting great product.
Art itself is fostered by the Art Of Encouragement. 
That's not rewarding every effort with a blue ribbon but teachers & their students need to
understand quality attempts that fail to deliver good product are still worthwhile.

School right through to university often focuses on known patterns or famous works.
Read work "the greats" and try to make sense of it. Walk in the footsteps of giants!
Where is the space in this program for the creator?  If Shakespeare spent all
his time studying some else’s reading list, he couldn’t find  time to write his own! 
Mathematician Isaac Newton was actually a creator. He had problems to solve. 
The Math of the day wasn’t up to the job, so, Newton created new ways of doing
it called “calculus.”
Kids at school constantly ask Math teachers “why are we doing this?” to be
ignored or met with bland responses such as “it’s in the curriculum, it’s in the test.”  
The Math lobby are always popping up to tell us how behind our kids are. I have
some sympathy for our over-indulged youth who rarely have a real problem to solve of
their own as so much has been done for them.  What need do they have?
Necessity is the mother of invention, a motivation that doesn’t apply to many of today’s kids.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then inspiration might be the father.
A little more of both could help kick skills up a notch.  
The Asian tigers know that if their kids don’t have engineering knowledge to a
high degree they will be factory slaves. They are prepared to fight harder to get
these skills. As Aussies living standard drops, they might become more motivated. 
Meanwhile, Math teachers should  justify their programs by explaining and
working through real life problems how & why we need this set of skills. 
When was the last time you solved a "quadratic equation" or used “differentiation”
in your real life outside school? The Math lobby have been talking up their
self-importance for too long without showing us why their work is relevant to us. 
I love Math, but the poor teaching has left even the brightest confused by why we did that
set of exercises. The core of Maths like all subjects is that creative-problem solving
springboard & it’s been ignored, especially at the higher levels of abstraction. 
Isaac Newton wasn’t musical, but he was interested in the math relationships of pitch.
He theorized about the 7 notes of our scale & compared these relationships to the
relationships of the 7 primary colours. There is no math connection to light & sound 
but points go to Isaac for exploring a coincidence of numbers.
And so is my birthday on the 7th.
Music like Math or English are founded in a language and skill set defined over centuries. 
All subjects have evolved from a creative and utilitarian perspective.
Creating and problem solving needs to be part of the study.
Amusement is, also a valid use of knowledge. We cannot live by bread alone.

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