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Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Marc Piane, Sep 29, 2009.

  1. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Over the past few weeks I have had some very interesting discussions about the way music is taught. I have felt for a long time that something about how we teach music, from the youngest to the most advanced, is off.

    My first experience with this was when I started teaching privately. I found that many of my students could press the right buttons but had no notion of why. Several years later I was teaching jr high and high school orchestra and I found kids so dependent on little pieces of tape that they really had no idea what the note they were playing was supposed to sound like and how it was supposed to fit with the ensemble. Most recently I have been teaching a kid that is in college and has a vast knowledge of the 'mathematics' (music theory) of music but again it is all book knowledge and has no grounding in music.

    So I have been thinking about it and I see two problems.

    1. We are a very goal oriented society. We are always looking for ways to grade or measure levels. I see nothing inherently wrong with this part but rather what we measure in music. To me there is not a direct correlation between a studentÂ’s ability to push buttons and their ability to make music. I remember when I was teaching high school orchestra there are a cellist that was not the most technically proficient but 'got it' and was a good leader so I made her first chair to the dismay of several of her section mates. Fast forward to college. I took three semesters of theory, two semesters of composition and couldn't write a note worth a **** when I was through. Then a certain experience changed everything... that comes at the end of my diatribe.

    2. In order to have music function the same way math or science or social studies function in schools we need to be able to package it in much the same way. We also have to make it possible to teach in big classes. The problem with this, in the case of theory, is it then becomes about the author's interpretation of music. Every college has 'their way' of teaching music theory. Again though the information is put into book form and taught in a way that 'most' can understand.

    So what's the alternative? I know I had to spend quite a bit of time trying to make the 'math' I had learned into actual music. The first transformative experience I had was in undergrad. After I had finished the theory and comp series I still felt lost or maybe more so so I went to a prof that was close to retirement, absolutely brilliant, and had a 'way' about him to study with independently. I wrote a proposal for and independent study at his request about my idea to study Serialism but with different mathematical processes to generate the rows. I was so sure this was a great idea. He read the proposal and took one look at me and said, "no". That one word stopped me cold in my tracks. Then he followed with "not until you spend a semester studying Bach with me". Now we can talk about the importance of Bach but that's not the point here.

    Music has always been an aural/oral tradition. To me that single experience had more impact on me than the 5 previous semester of study. Now of course the knowledge I had acquired in those classes was essential but was it communicated in the most effective way?

    Another was a lesson I had with our own ehochberg. It was my first lesson with him. We played through All the Things and he had me solo. When we were done he looked at me and said "that was fine but you solo like a bass player".

    So I started to think... What made these experiences so transformative?

    One word. Mentor. According to WebsterÂ’s it is defined as 1. a wise and trusted counselor or teacher. 2. an influential senior sponsor or supporter. This idea has really changed how I think about teaching music. As an aural/oral tradition it is something that needs to be passed down by a passionate 'master' to a passionate 'student'.

    This brings up all kinds of questions about the place of music education in schools, the role of music in our society, the value of music in our society, and many others.

    I'm not sure where this rant is going and I am really just thinking out loud and trying to start a discussion. I do feel though like we are at a point where our schools are cranking out some really talented 'stenographers' but that the creative side of music is getting lost.

  2. emilio g

    emilio g

    Jul 16, 2008
    Jersey City, NJ
    I'm just finishing up my undergrad this year, so I'm by no means a seasoned pro or expert teacher, but I can offer a few observations in myself and my peers.

    -I've learned a lot of theoretical concepts in college, but just because I have the knowledge does not mean I know what to do with it! For instance, in theory and improv class, we learned all kinds of melodic patterns and scales, but to my dismay, I found that scales and patterns do not equal instant music. But my grades were great in those classes because I could play what I was assigned to play. We also played and were tested on A LOT of tunes in improv class. While on one hand getting an A on an exam because I can thump through the form on a bunch of tricky Coltrane tunes makes my professors and parents happy, it leaves me feeling a little unsettled because I definitely don't feel like I really know that music thoroughly.

    At this point in my life I don't really know if that's the right or wrong way to do it, but it does show where the university's priority is...they need measurable results to write a syllabus and give me a grade.

    -There seems to be an emphasis on memorization of intellectual concepts, not actual music. I've had to memorize plenty tools that help me analyze music more efficiently, but it was extremely rare that I had to memorize a transcription. When my teacher started telling me I had to learn to swing more and not sound so stiff. It took some digging to realize that my problem was I had simply not spent enough time listening to music in a detailed way.

    Don't get me wrong, I think that had I not gone to music school I may have given up a few years ago...the academic pressure really helped me learn to push myself and get me on a good path.

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