A Philosophy on Music Education

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Warrigalwitt
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A Philosophy on Music Education

Post by Warrigalwitt » April 16th, 2016, 4:41 am

Hello forum members. For your possible interest I am posting an essay just completed on music education. The idea for this has been on my mind for some time. here it is.

A Philosophy on Music Education

Education Administrators and politicians in the modern world are so acute about the absolute fundamentals of education – literacy and numeracy. In Australia, as we move further into the twenty first century, the old notions of what constitutes education linger on from the eighteenth and nineteenth century’s industrial revolution. Classrooms may now be equipped with smart white-boards and every child might be provided with a laptop computer, but the old values persist.

Twenty first century pedagogy is driven by training for careers and education for a life that has yet to begin. In the scramble to raise levels of literacy and numeracy NAPLAN testing and assessment procedures make claims for the improvement and competitiveness of students facing a brave new world. This paradigm combined with budget cuts and funding priorities are turning our schools into businesses servicing clients, whilst being managed by people emulating the CEO model of the corporate world. Education administrators are now, more than ever divorced from the realities of the classroom and the needs of those young humans that inhabit them.

The chief casualty of this modern trend in education is the arts and thus music. Who suffers most from this callous approach? The children and the young adults in educational institutions, who are destined to be the citizens of tomorrow, that is who. So, why a philosophy of music education and why consider it now? Artistic expression brings the student, or the artist into the moment. Life is now. There is no waiting for a future existence when school days are done. The arts bring this into focus. Perhaps it is also due to the changing nature of our world and the lack of understanding by administrators on the importance of the arts, not just for the children, but also for the world we make in the future from the dregs of the past.

Before we examine the role of music in education and society let us digress a little. Climate change and global warming is still a contentious issue with politicians, industrialists and skeptics. Skepticism is a positive thing, however the science has been explored and so continues to mount evidence for the assertion that our world is destined for dramatic change. There is no need to go into great length about the whys and wherefores of this planetary concern – that is another story.

Still, in the midst of this concern for rising levels of CO2 and methane in our atmosphere, politicians, engineers and industrialists continue to mine coal, destroy forests and plan to ramp up the development of nuclear technology. I leave the reader to contemplate the likely future for our children’s, children’s children. The history of the twentieth century stands as a testament to the foolishness of our species.

In a world increasingly serviced by computer technology and robotics, why do we persist in training young people for careers and jobs that in all probability will not exist? If the twenty first century world won’t need an industrial workforce, what shall be a relevant education for the youth of today? What is it that human beings are likely to need most, in the foreseeable future?

In the present world people have more leisure time at their disposal than was the case a century ago. The tasks that once employed so many people are now taken over by more sophisticated technologies. What do people do with this surplus of time on their hands? If they have the financial resources, they dine out, visit entertainment venues, attend art galleries and exhibitions and attend music concerts.

Music is evident everywhere we go in the modern world. MP3 players and mobile phones are used to provide musical accompaniment for people on the move. Even though the Internet is now providing free music and the writers and performers are being ripped off, the music industry is still growing. For the career driven educationalist this is reason enough to rethink the scrapping of the arts and music from school curriculums. There are many careers associated with the production, performance and recording of music. This is a fringe benefit of a musical culture embedded within society.

Most of us are followers of music of some genre or another. Music accompanies dance, movies and television commercials. Not everyone acquires paintings, or sculptures, or attends the ballet, but all of us subscribe to music in one form or another. This prevalence of music in society requires music practitioners. We need singers, instrumentalists, conductors, composers, writers, sound engineers, instrument makers; the list goes on.

Music has enormous benefits for any person that is learning to play an instrument, children and adults alike. Aside from the obvious benefits of enjoying music as a player and learning new skills, there are many others that may not be so obvious. Playing a musical instrument engages the same part of the brain that works with mathematical problems. Music assists with numeracy. Performing and writing songs engages the brain in the same way as does poetry and story telling. Music assists with literacy.

The writing of music is engaging the brain in the same way as writing or learning any other language. This is the case with conventional notation, or tablature, or lyric and chord charts. The writing and reading of music assists with literacy and numeracy. Thus, music helps children to switch on those parts of cognitive function in their minds that are needed for various other studies in the basics of education. Then there are the psychological and somatic benefits of music.

Success with music performance enhances the self-esteem of the individual engaged in learning and performing an instrument. The emotional expression delivered from songs and instrumental music broadens the emotional experience of the learner. Music assists with the development of empathy and sympathy. These benefits also apply to singing, as vocal skills are learned just like any other instrument. The notion of a special talent for natural born singers is a myth.

Playing a musical instrument improves brain-motor coordination, because it is a physical task. Performance on a drum kit for example involves the coordination of all four limbs with eyes, ears and the brain. Playing a drum kit can be hard work. Such skills can benefit anyone developing skills with sports, or gymnastics.

Understanding sound, the laws of harmony and how instruments are constructed is a science necessary to the function of music. The structure of scales and chords and the intonation of musical instruments is not a random thing. There are laws in the universe that determine the nature of this art form that we call music. Anyone interested in understanding this aspect of music needs to develop a scientific, intuitive and artistic frame of mind. The science and history of music is a broad and complex discipline.

One can see that there are many benefits for the fitness, health and well-being of music students and for amateur and professional musicians. One might suggest all students could benefit from the daily practice of instrumental performance. If all schools adopted some of the procedures in specialist music schools, then both students and society could reap the rewards of such daily activity.

The short sightedness of politicians and administrators is a real hazard for the future of our society. Being an academic, being in power, or acting financially thrifty does not make one qualified to necessarily know what is best for young people, especially in this modern world. Unfortunately there are too many sociopaths that climb to positions of power and we the citizens vote them in to office. That is not to say that all politicians or administrators are sociopaths – that would be absurd. However the nature of the game allows those types of individuals to gain positions of authority. Again, history stands as a testament to such assertions.

We need to think laterally to make decisions about what is best for future generations. We all live on through our offspring and so it would seem logical for us to consider the needs of those that come after us. Or, like those in power, are we so callous that we imagine it all ends with our own mortality? Is the future not our responsibility?

Music may well be the highest of the arts. It encompasses so many realms of human study and expression. It is both complex and simple. Music can make us laugh, cry, inspire us spiritually, or lift us up to realms of the sublime. The education of music in society is vitally important. Music is one of the things that make us human.

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Greta
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Re: A Philosophy on Music Education

Post by Greta » April 16th, 2016, 7:01 am

No doubt the economic rationalists greatly underestimate the value of music and the arts unless it has commercial potential. Damned heartless worshippers of mammon :)

Music has been becoming increasingly reliant on electronics. Just half a century ago that some Bob Dylan fans booed him after performing with a rock band at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Today, rock bands are at the more "organic" end of the popular music scene as the skills required to make music increasingly shift from physical to mental, which reflects society in general. This transition is probably as inevitable as it will be uncomfortable.

As you note, society at large is not helping, content for people to miss out on the therapeutic and developmental benefits of playing an instrument, so it's now up to communities to take matters into their own hands. I don't expect advocacy to make much impact on the bean counters.
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Warrigalwitt
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Re: A Philosophy on Music Education

Post by Warrigalwitt » April 16th, 2016, 7:43 am

I guess all they can expect to end up with is a hill of beans. Still, having been teaching high school music intensively for ten years, I felt duty bound to make an advocacy attempt.

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Re: A Philosophy on Music Education

Post by Greta » April 16th, 2016, 8:46 am

It's still worth the effort IMO. because children who learn an instrument still usually gain a benefit.
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Re: A Philosophy on Music Education

Post by Alec Smart » April 16th, 2016, 9:36 am

Greta wrote:It's still worth the effort IMO. because children who learn an instrument still usually gain a benefit.
I agree, Greta, I learned to play the triangle at school and look where I am now. :)
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Greta
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Re: A Philosophy on Music Education

Post by Greta » April 16th, 2016, 5:58 pm

Alec Smart wrote:
Greta wrote:It's still worth the effort IMO. because children who learn an instrument still usually gain a benefit.
I agree, Greta, I learned to play the triangle at school and look where I am now. :)
A competent guitar player?

I have only two memories of feeling engaged during school music classes. One was when the teacher played an Osibisa album. The other was a class of tone deaf kids playing Moon River on recorder reminding me of the Stockhausen pieces that were occasionally played on Mum's radio station.

Outside of school I was always listening to the radio and records, eventually joined a garage band. The syllabus was too inflexible to engage the new generation, trying to teach them the musical expression of the past when - as always - most young people are interested in finding music that speaks to them rather than to their parents and grandparents. My grandmother loves waltzes and considered the swing that Dad loved to be noise. He said the same thing about rock music in the 60s and 70s. Now I see middle aged rock fans complaining that "rap crap" is not music. I expect that future computer-generated music will similarly irritate the rappers of today as they age.

In art class, you were given a topic and materials and were somewhat free to express themselves. In music classes you had to play the exact black dots of childish pieces on instruments that sounded peerlessly awful when not played by experts. If music classes could have found a way to allowed kids to freely express themselves musically even a little without creating an end-of-the-world cacophony, they would have made more of an impact.
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Re: A Philosophy on Music Education

Post by Alec Smart » April 16th, 2016, 6:25 pm

Greta wrote:. The other was a class of tone deaf kids playing Moon River on recorder reminding me of the Stockhausen pieces that were occasionally played on Mum's radio station. .
Greta, you've painted a picture in my mind that I am very reluctant to let go of. :D
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Re: A Philosophy on Music Education

Post by Greta » April 16th, 2016, 6:52 pm

Going back to the OP, there are many online lists of the extramusical benefits of playing musical instruments, eg.: http://www.effectivemusicteaching.com/a ... nstrument/

As people live in more compressed arrangements, the ability to perpetrate "accidental avant garde" on neighbours while learning to play is ever more limited. I expect that this will increasingly have the effect of concentrating the learning of physical instruments amongst the very rich (with large houses) and the very poor (who don't much care).

For the middle and working classes, noise, expense, convenience and scope of what can be done will increasingly shift musical skills from the physical to the mental. Hopefully the next generation will find a way to musically express themselves as we did.

This Neil deGrasse Tyson video supports the OP: facebook.com/natgeotvUS/videos/10153617 ... 771436005/
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Re: A Philosophy on Music Education

Post by Warrigalwitt » April 16th, 2016, 9:07 pm

Anecdotes about the memories of classroom music from bygone days are both amusing and sad. I suppose it is a reflection of the inadequacy of most teachers to conduct an engaging music study. This further supports my assertion that education in the arts and music needs to be given a higher profile and not cut back, particularly with teacher training. I was fortunate with my education in music in that I had good music teachers and tutors right from primary school through to tertiary studies. That is probably the exception rather than the rule.

Yes, Tyson and Byrne are on the money. And incidentally I am a competent guitar player. :D

Can I add amateur philosopher to my CV? Ha!

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Re: A Philosophy on Music Education

Post by Greta » April 16th, 2016, 9:33 pm

Warrigalwitt wrote:Anecdotes about the memories of classroom music from bygone days are both amusing and sad. I suppose it is a reflection of the inadequacy of most teachers to conduct an engaging music study. This further supports my assertion that education in the arts and music needs to be given a higher profile and not cut back, particularly with teacher training. I was fortunate with my education in music in that I had good music teachers and tutors right from primary school through to tertiary studies. That is probably the exception rather than the rule.
What of the syllabus? One issue is that if you allow complete novice students to have the same expressive freedom in music that they are allowed in art classes there would be mayhem. That's the power of music :) I say it glibly, but, it is a genuine issue. However, learning to read off dull tunes on recorders is not the stuff of joy and there has to be a middle road. I would recommend class drum circles, personally, but I may be biased ...
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Re: A Philosophy on Music Education

Post by LuckyR » April 17th, 2016, 8:20 pm

The state of Modern education is a very important topic. But while I agree that teaching musical performance has many benefits, they are more similar than different to those of athletics and the visual and mechanical arts. What seems to be a greater loss (and thus IMO more important to bring back) is music history. Let's face it, a small percentage of adults create music but virtually every adult listens to music. It used to be that adults who liked jazz, country, rock, pop, R&B or classical had an understanding of what the origins were of whatever they liked. Now, not so much. The digital age brings loads of specifics, typically without broader context.
"As usual... it depends."

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Re: A Philosophy on Music Education

Post by Warrigalwitt » April 18th, 2016, 5:54 am

The syllabus? I am not one to construct such content and as I am no longer working in the classroom I have little interest in commenting on specifics. I do however have a "philosophical" interest, hence the essay. I tutor instrumental skills privately, but I have no wish to ever return to the state system. Fo my own interest I have studied music history, theory, science and shall continue to do so. I like to attend several orchestral concerts each year. The bulk of my listening is classical. The bulk of my performing and writing is popular/rock in nature. So, my interest in music for entertainment and inspiration is broad. It is a universal language and that fact alone maintains my commitment to the art.

Could I write a curriculum/syllabus on music? Perhaps, but I don't know that it would do much good, any more than being an advocate for the wider acceptance of music studies. I do know from my experience as a secondary teacher that the majority of my music students lived for that subject. It is true that what and how I taught was very different to the classes I was presented with when I was a school student. To elaborate on details is not relevant to these postings. The point is that if all children could begin their school life with music experience it could be beneficial for them and their other studies. The only harm that could be done would be to present such experiences from an inept teacher and that is another story.

Music studies, as with any other subject requires that the students are engaged and inspired by what is presented. The trick is to find that balance between informing them of history and context and involving them with the music that is current in their lives. If they can find no relevance for their lives with what is going on in schools then they just switch off. I am happy that I finally wrote this philosophical essay as it has been in my head for too long. Still, in the time that I wrote it, I also wrote a new song and that is what interests me the most at present. :D

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