This post is an open activity to anyone. One of my classes has been discussing expression and the communication and teaching of this in music. It is a challenge to listen to short piano examples and say what words it conjures up in your mind. On a more abstract level the task is to name the ineffable. As teachers we somehow need to convey this abstraction to another person, our students, so that they can achieve this for themselves on their instruments. What makes it even more difficult is that in music we speak through sound, yet describe it with something else… well, you know Plato’s allegory of the cave? Yes, that’s the perpetual state of communication in music. -Not really, but we never *touch* the essence.
Teaching expression is a topic that is rarely taught in an experiential way, partly because it is easier that way. I mean, as a teacher, I have answers if there is something definitive, but with music and expression we are drawing upon associations. For me to create something that embodies a certain emotion is different, conceptually, than the way my 14 year old student would do it, and will be different still than how the student who is a 50 year old father conceives of the same musical sentiment.
As a class we wanted to explore this idea of experience and understanding and so we created a few examples for you to listen to. The task is to choose an example (you are welcome to choose all three if you like!) and listen to it. Comment on this post with whatever words the example conjures up for you. If a certain place in the example is where you thought of the word, add the time when it happens. For example you might write that you thought of ‘red’ at 8 seconds and ‘tricycle’ at 23 seconds. We are looking for words.
The hope is that as many different people from all walks of life can contribute, because that will expand our collective experience. Having this window into your understanding can in turn allow us to deepen our understanding and will be food for our discussion on how we might teach and explain to our students.
At uni my teaching students follow along with the topics of open music class #MUS654 as a stimulus for learning about designing a curriculum. One of my aims is that students connect outwardly and begin to form wider networks of inquiry with teachers and musicians. Although this year I haven’t succeeded in convincing people to make blogs and post outwardly, the students occasionally allow me to share their ideas. This post is about a task I gave students to create a representation of their 1-year curriculum to present in our class session, with strict instructions not to use powerpoint. I wanted some creative representation, and that is exactly what I got.
Brady made a graph and a graphical representation, and gave me permission to share his ideas with you. It is also fitting that he made a graph, as in another course (where I’m the student), #el30, the task this week was to make a graph. Lovely when strands of life cross paths, isn’t it? Read more
We’ve been thinking about curriculum in #MUS654, and have jumped ahead a bit to look at and annotate the article that is listed n the MUS654 tab between sessions 6 & 7 (and we’re only about to be on session 3 in our real life class). There was a reason for bringing this forward- because it is the central theme as well as the end goal. At the end of the semester my students will put together a 1-year curriculum, and so there is no harm in thinking in detail about what it is?
Curriculum is something that is constructed, and from my point of view constructions can be prisons, gardens, or gateways. Whatever it is, this article gives a few perspectives as they have developed over the past several decades and we’ve been adding comments. I’d like to invite you to join us via this link and make your own annotations, and to respond to the comments of others. You do have to log in to use it, but you can keep it as private as you like. Make a new email for the purpose of using it, be a random user name, and VPN your computer up for starters – you do not have to be your name. (I am my name, so you’ll know what I wrote!)
Reading about curriculum may spark your thoughts on tangential topics too… One of my students was reflecting on the article that we’ve been annotating and sent me this provocation on the concept of ‘progress’:
“progress is, if anything, halting, frustrating and surprising. Learning is better seen as integrative, transformative and reconstitutive- the linear metaphor of terms of movement from A to B is unhelpful”
This got me thinking about firstly, music-wise, about graded exams. Parents, teachers and students deem their successes often on how high they’ve climbed the grade ladder. When actually, as we know from past modules at uni that we have looked at, that this doesn’t nearly equate to development as a musician or person (which is the main aim right?)
What we should be doing, instead of measuring progress with a step counter (grade counter) on how many steps you’ve climbed. Is trying to get pupils to understand that learning is a process of developing “a different relationship with that they [already] know”.
But within this growth-oriented goal-obsessed culture it’s difficult to actually sit back and think what even is progress.
This book states it is merely – “a metaphor. It doesn’t really described objective reality; it provides a comforting fiction to conceal the absurdity of our lives”
Additionally, that curriculum article we read also has the same problem. Curricula are often built with the linear-stage theories in mind in order to compress and quantify learning, this is so it can be copied and reproduced within a mass selection of institutions…
INTERESTING isn’t it?
I would love you to join in the discussion. My reply was for the student to read We build the road by walking by Horton & Friere. There are so many ways to build learning. I could say a lot more, and I keep starting to- and deleting it. Sometimes it’s best to step back and let others into the conversation.
This soundscape was sent to me to post as a part of the MUS654 class. Have a listen and see if you can identify what’s happening here:
I’ve embedded the photo below, using my account on Mastodon. There is a built-in facility to ‘hide’ images (that might not be suitable for everyone due to a phobia/trigger/or just not wanting to see it!) and it works perfectly for this game! 🙂 To reveal the image, click below where it says ‘sensitive content’ I promise it is not at all inappropriate!
If you did listen and guessed something else or got it right – leave a comment to tell us!
For musicians, listening is one of the most valuable skills and like all skills, it is something to develop. The idea of discriminating between gradations of tone or listening to the various harmonics being brought out in a sound or of the minute variations of pitch all take focus and time to learn.
This week in my MUS654 class we have been talking about sound and I encouraged my students to make a soundscape so that we could have a little fun seeing if we could identify sounds and accurately describe various situations with only the sound clues.
Examples (this is a game!)
I made a couple of recordings and have chosen to share these two. I explained to my class that devoid of the context, we draw upon what we know – and so your understanding of these sounds may be very different to the contextual vocabulary that would be commonplace for me. Please share your impressions of the who, what, where, or why in these soundscapes by leaving a comment on this post. If you are not comfortable with leaving a comment, you can tweet or toot and tag it #MUS654 and I’ll find it. 🙂
Guess the setting and describe what is making the various sounds? Is there a story or progression being represented? Some of this first recording may be obvious, but other aspects will be trickier.
In this second recording there is a bit more of a mystery… Can you identify these sounds?
The people who make sounds for films are Foley artists, and they have a unique look into the sound world. They are able to listen to sounds and to understand them as sounds, analysing them separately from their sources or contexts. These artists can imagine the possibilities for the sounds to be used like colours.
When placed in a completely different context, sounds can give the illusion of being something else. (there has to be a silly side, and this is it. – I am in no way encouraging people to do this as a past time!)
So often sound washes over us and when creating sound, musicians need to listen differently. Young learners sometimes think it is just about the notes, achieving the basic pitches and rhythms, putting down the right fingers, but when they realise there is a whole world within the sound, that is when they begin another level of their journey.
It’s a new academic year and a new chance to look at how we learn and teach. MUS654 is just that chance. It’s a class I run at the University of Chichester where my final year undergraduates studying private teaching focus on learning to create a curriculum for a student. This is not something that people often have either spare or even professional development time set aside to learn this and so often, at least in music, it is the kind of thing that is done ‘on the job’. There isn’t a comprehensive music curriculum for each instrument and with all the differences that individual students can bring, with their goals, skills, age, levels of dedication, oh the list could go on and that’s not even accounting for any of the variables like instrument, style, how or where they learn – privately or in school. The list really can go on indefinitely.
Creating a curriculum is tricky, takes thought, and requires a knowledgeable and skillful teacher. It is easy to sit back and do what you’re told as a student, and yes, it is easy to resort to doing the telling as a teacher, but that’s not really the way meaningful learning happens. It’s also easier to teach thing to others just how we learned it, instead of having a rounded insight that lets us forge a new path and mould experiences around each student so they are really able to do the learning. Those last three words are the clinchers “dothe learning’, not listen to someone about the learning. I am keen to broaden my perspective and grow and that’s the point of this class: to take the time to dissect, analyse, and rebuild something that really enables learning.
An Intro to MUS654:
I’ve put together a 10 week set of resources under the MUS654 tab on this website and I encourage you to pick and choose elements to dive into, activities to complete, and blogposts to read. This year we’re starting by looking at the satellite topics that I have set out – first thinking of the Mechanics of Sound but also musing ahead at repertoire and the possibilities of how and why we might adapt what we already know to serve as a useful teaching tool.
We started with a tune we all knew, Twinkle Twinkle, and used two examples – both student creations. Have a listen and ask yourself as a learner and teacher, what could you use these to learn. This was really an exercise in planting seeds for what’s to come in future weeks.
Another seed planting exercise was the invitation to annotate this article on What is curriculum?You can join us. The link will take you to the article in a hypothesis.is page – which means you can annotate and comment all over it. If you don’t like being known online, you are very welcome to use an pseudonym.
I look forward to posting about our progress on considering and creating our own curricula over the next few months. Do comment on anything that interests you, ask questions, or connect and tell us about how you do things. My students and I would love to hear from you.
Listening, and thinking on the way music creeps under your skin to make you move… I spent this week thinking on scales and their relationships as part of #MUS654 – of notes to notes, and yes, the relationships of the notes to people. Context can be everything and it can change so much. The way things are ordered, presented, and the way we look at them is important for how people attribute meaning.
For each type of musician, there are different physical parameters that influence the mechanical logistics of how we paint our sounds. Let me explain… in my last post I talked about how singers don’t use ‘fingerings’ for their notes. They have intense links between the conceptual understanding of what needs to be done to achieve a certain pitch and then they make the sound. There is no looking (down the throat!) to check they have the right positioning. Yes there are physical aspects of singing that can be seen – like mouth shape and torso placement/use, but there are unseen aspects and somehow there is a strong connection between the mind and the outcome.
Likewise for other instruments the mind is very important, but there is this pesky other bit that cannot be ignored… As a cellist, I work with my hands Read more
Discussing how scales are specifically used and understood within and across different instrument specialisms opened some eyes and gave us food for thought.
We started with big quesitons:
What actually are scales for? When do we play them? When do we learn them?
It seems perspectives shift with experience as well as with instrument. There is a basic awareness that scales mean notes and the relationships of notes. This equates to building a geographical knowledge on some instruments. The physicality of the instrument was accessed through scales, in effect adding steps to the ladder. Beyond understanding this geography, some people said the usefulness of scales was simply as an exercise in dexterity – and that students ‘do’ scales because they have to. (Image CC-BY by Naveen P.M.)
Ouch. That sounds unpleasant, complex, and maybe unnecessary?…
Melody is something that speaks to people. It sings, it moves, it has meaning. I was musing over this as I sat with my cello, playing different two-note combinations across the strings as I warmed up my fingers and my ear. While playing, I thought – what am I doing?
Manipulating the sound as I moved the bow left to right
Was this exercise a melody? or could this be a melody? I think it didn’t start as a melody, but as I thought about it and changed my perception, it became melodic.
Last week in #MUS654 we heard Duane Padilla explain that a melody was the notes of a scale mixed up. Ah, yes! -I’d like to add an ‘and’, so: the notes of a scale mixed up and played with some intention. Duane didn’t say that bit in words, but he did in sound – through his playing.
That intention comes from different sources including our understanding of the harmonic language-framework (tonality), experiences where we have heard those or similar sounds, and both musical and extra-musical associations. Then we can project that onto the music via a host of instrument-specific techniques.
I invite you to dip into this week’s #MUS654 topic exploring Scales and the Relationships of Notes to question, deepen your awareness, discuss, and further our (collective) understanding of some of the frameworks that enable us as musicians to add that intention to our sounds and create expression.
Let’s start with a question for you all:
When in your music making (from whistling to concertising) do your notes become melody and what gives them meaning?
Leave a comment or share something and tag it #MUS654
I was thinking about melodies and the #MUS654 topic of ‘what makes a melody?‘ when I remembered about the lyre bird. No, this is not a veiled political comment, I’m talking purely about a very unique bird that lives in Australia. It is distinct to look at, with its long pluming tail, but the sounds it makes are truly extraordinary.
On the #MUS654 page on melody I suggested imitating a bird, but perhaps not this one! It has evolved a lifestyle that involves singing singing singing through the winter, as this is its mating season. Also there is a need to really woo the lady bird as she only produces a single egg every two years. Thus the song is amazing. Have a listen…. this two minute video is worth watching. See if it challenges your understanding of how birds and other natural sounds fit into music and everyday listening:
If you haven’t had a go imitating some birdsong, have a go. Xeno-Canto is a database that has over 373,800 recordings of birdsong. You can search by species and choose the tweeter of your choice to listen to and imitate. Remember you can share a link on your own blog, tweet it with the tag #MUS654, or share in comments on this post or on the the #MUS654 page on melody.