Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Starting point?

So what is the problem? That is just to big a question at this point, so let me ramble on and try to break it down.

Lucy Green, researcher at the University of London, gave a lecture and basically talked about the ways in which 'popular musicians' learn and how this way of learning could and should be brought into the formal classroom. If your not familiar with Dr. Green's work, let me sum up as best i can. Her book "How Popular Musicians Learn" highlights people who didn't have formal (e.g., classroom/conservatory) education. These 'popular' (e.g., those mostly playing pop/rock and roll music) learned by immersing themselves in the culture, through active listening, and by doing. She carefully points out some similar traits each of these musicians had and feels that this type of learning should not be simply left to the world of the informal (e.g., the garage). She highlighted the Musical Futures program which lets kids pick their own instruments, pick the songs they want to learn (regardless of difficulty, style, etc.), and lets them work it out and perform. The teacher is there to provide guidance. At first, they are mere observers, but as they progress, the teacher becomes more involved, helping to solve problems and helping the learners make sense of what they are doing.

So whats wrong with this? To me, nothing. I think it's brilliant. Every point she made about each of her case studies reflected how i learned music. So there, i've mentioned my bias. But i was sort of taken back by some of the questions regarding how this type of learning and pedagogy would never work over in here in America. Why not? She has explicitly stated that this should not take the place of traditional music teaching, but merely a precursor (for some children) into a more 'formal' realm.

Today in one of my music ed courses, we debriefed about the talk. The class is made up of entirely classically trained musicians earning either their masters or Ph.D. in music educaiton. Except of course, for me. I'm only minoring in music ed, was not classically trained, and more concerned with learning rather than teaching. And there it was. The comments started flying about how there would be no need for music teachers in a program like Dr. Green's. There is this fear that if all kids do is play rock 'n roll, than any 'Joe Shmo' off the street can teach them that? Excuse me? That's missing the point totally. I'm sorry that through your conservatory training you were never introduced to Jean-Luc Ponty or Frank Zappa, or that Black Sabbath or Deep Purple isn't 'musical' enough for you. It's possible, just slightly, that kids don't care about Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, etc. when they first start out. That's not to say they won't find out about these people. That's how i got into Varese', Glass, Stravinsky, Bartok, Barber...by reading interviews of people in 'popular' music and what inspired them. Had you told me to listen to these people in order to play music, i would've given up before I even started.

There is also this notion that was floated out there that this isn't a good way to teach music? Again, i ask, why not? Dr. Green is one of the few music ed researchers that actually explicitly talks about a theory of learning and how this theory is informing the pedagogy (there are others, don't get me wrong, but i'm trying to keep this in context here). But the mindset, as i heard it, is still very 'information processing' based and that direct instruction is the only way to learn. I would beg to differ. If you have kids, think about how you teach them words. You don't teach them the sound of every letter and then put them all together for them so they can say the word (a direct instruction type approach). You give them the whole word and let them try to make sense of it and when they run into trouble, you assist when needed.

I tried to stress the point today that regardless your teaching pedagogy, you MUST HAVE A THEORY OF LEARNING! How do you feel people learn? The overwhelming ideas i heard today was that 'when i teach, you learn' or 'what i tell you, you do...if you get it right, you learned, if you get it wrong, you fail'. That kind of scares me.

The reason I chose minoring in music ed was because i wanted to be able to bridge the gaps between Learning Sciences and Music Ed...get them on the same page. Hopefully take what has been researched in Learning Sciences and inform those in Music Education.

I think i have a starting point.
/end rant

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