Three of four planned articles in a series that explores the acoustical foundations of key developments in western music over the centuries. Since they first appeared several years ago, these articles have proved valuable sources for students, academics and for those with basic musical knowledge who are curious about why music has developed the way it has.
In the first article – possibly the most widely-read item on the site – we discuss the role of the harmonic series in the perception of timbre before exploring how it has influenced the evolution of melody & harmony, as well as rhythm and tempo, since the Middle Ages. The fourth and final article Synthesis, which is in preparation, will propose ways in which the principles discussed in the first three can continue to inform musical creation now and in the future.
Here is a short article exploring some of the often contentious issues regarding music practice. In it, I discuss how informed practice works to consolidate learning and thus the importance of appropriate preparation on the part of the students before commencing.
I also examine how the teacher’s guidance during the lesson can make practice more meaningful and productive for the student, and how careful a choice of words can make affect attitudes towards it. This is all of vital importance, because, as we know, the majority of the learning takes place away from the lessons – and away from the teacher!
This article deals with one of the problems that, for many teachers, is the most challenging: how do we keep everyone involved while at the same time, giving due attention to the problems of individuals?
You will find several solutions and discover why this calculation is correct!
When I was a lad of about 11, I played in a local brass band. I was something of a novice which meant that, with relatively rudimentary sight-reading skills, ‘keeping up’ was a real challenge – the notes just seemed to fly past! The conductor’s and older players’ advice to me was; “sit there, play what you can, and if in doubt, leave it out!”
One summer’s Saturday or Sunday afternoon, the band was engaged to play at a garden party or the like. Part of our task was to accompany a troupe of folk dancers; ‘Morris dancers’ as they are known. To accompany their performance, we played a short ‘jig’ style piece that I had never played before. We must have played it over a hundred times! When the dance finally came to an end, I could play it note perfectly without anyone having ‘taught’ me anything at all: I had looked at the notes, listened to those around me, imitated the more experienced player who sat next to me and played whatever parts I could. Gradually, I was able to add more and more until I could do the whole thing. Once I had mastered a particular part, I was able to consolidate what I had learned by way of seemingly endless repetition.
Something remarkable had taken place, and I don’t pretend to be able to explain it fully, but
There has been much debate recently regarding an article that appeared in The Guardian on March 27th bemoaning the ever-diminishing provision and status of music education in the UK: a valid subject, well worth any number of column inches, given the decline in school music provision not “since 2010, when the baccalaureate was introduced” as the author Charlotte C. Gill states, but since the early 1980s at the hands of Margaret Thatcherand Sir Keith Joseph; a trend that shows no sign of being reversed – at least in terms of government policy. Ms Gill makes some valid points concerning the importance of music education albeit in a confusing and sometimes self-contradictory manner. The two key issues she sees are that music education in the UK has become the preserve of a predominantly white, middle-class, academic mindset (in other words, ‘elitist’) and that teaching with an emphasis on music notation is a dominant symptom of the overly academic approach to musical pedagogy. This, she claims, renders the subject inaccessible and irrelevant to the needs of many if not the majority of school age students. As she puts it, ”music has always been taught in a far too academic way, meaning that theoretical knowledge is the main route to advancement”. In response, there has been an outcry of indignation in the form of a letter published in The Guardian, with several musical luminaries among its signatories, and a plethora of articles and blog posts shared on social media. Several of these demonstrate a clear grasp of the issues surrounding music provision, but others, unfortunately, also contain contradictions and mixed messages even to the extent that, in effect, they lend support to some of Ms Gill’s claims. It is not possible, therefore, to come down firmly on one side of the debate or the other since there appear to be extremely valid points as well as errors and assumptions on both sides.Continue reading “Music Education’s Love Affair with Literacy (it’s complicated)”
I came across an interesting and thought-provoking article by Peter Greene the other day, entitled Stop ‘Defending’ Music. His basic premise is that music has so many affective – or if you like ‘human’ – benefits that it shouldn’t need defending. He tells us that it is “universal’; he mentions its omnipresence in our lives and asks the popular rhetorical question, “Would you want to live in a world without music?” Most musicians, music teachers or just ‘music lovers’ would find it nigh impossible to disagree with many of the points he makes, but I think Continue reading “Why We Shouldn’t Stop ‘Defending’ Music Education”
Pythagoras and the Music of the Future is a series of articles in which I discuss, in accessible terms, I hope, the central influence that the harmonic series has had on the development of western music since the Middle Ages. I look closely at the connection between the harmonic series and the conventions of the musical structures of timbre, melody and harmony and musical time i.e. rhythm meter and tempo.
Ironically, or so it might seem, I also argue that whereas the development of functional harmony, and therefore tonality, was strongly influenced by our (probably subliminal) awareness of the interplay of frequency ratios of the harmonic series, the ‘modern’ music that, quite fittingly, has nothing to do with functional harmony, tonality or indeed the notion of regular pulse and tempo is, or should be, equally bound up with the very same underlying proportions.
The planned fourth article will make the case for a musical ‘language’ that utilises the gamut of proportions inherent in the naturally occurring overtone series first postulated by Pythagoras. I will further argue that the realisation, and indeed the performance, of such a music, is made possible only via the availability of manageable and affordable digital computers together with allied software for sound generation and organisation.
Although the earliest article was published over two years ago, the series as a whole maintains a steady flow of views, which seems to have gathered momentum recently. Why not take a look yourself;
As we all know, group teaching is a controversial topic. One of the most frequent objections to it (in my experience) is that since no two students will progress at the same rate, or in the same way, the activity is doomed to failure because the less able students will hold the faster learners back and conversely, the faster learners will leave the slower ones behind. A ‘lose-lose’ situation, to coin a phrase.
However, I believe that these differences can indeed be accommodated
This article deals with one of the problems that, for many teachers, is the most challenging: how do we keep everyone involved while at the same time, giving due attention to the problems of individuals.
You will find solutions and discover why this ‘equation’ is correct!
It seems that the recent post and article in defense of group teaching has struck a chord with quite a few readers. However, whilst they did their job in defending the practice of group teaching they didn’t offer too many solutions to the challenges that teachers, especially those new to the situation, can face. Continue reading “More on Group Instrumental Teaching”