Musical Knowledge: Intuition, Analysis, and Music Education

Musical Knowledge: Intuition, Analysis, and Music Education

Musical Knowledge: Intuition, Analysis, and Music Education

Musical Knowledge: Intuition, Analysis, and Music Education


The central concern of Musical Knowledge is the relationship between intuition and analysis as we engage with music. The dialectic is exposed on three levels: in considering music as a way of knowing in the context of specific research into musical experience and music education; and as a productive tension in music teaching. This final part will be of direct practical help to teachers.


To be candid, I myself, for example, have never said in my life a word to my pupils about the ‘meaning’ of music; if there is one, it does not need my explanations. On the other hand I have always made a great point of having my pupils count their eighths and sixteenths nicely. Whatever you become, teacher, scholar, or musician, have respect for the ‘meaning’, but do not imagine that it can be taught.

(Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game, 1943, 1972:116)

You may not like this music at first, but that is only because you need to acquire a taste for it, like a taste for dry sherry.

(A student teacher about to play Beethoven to a class of 11-12-year-old children in a tough inner London school).

In curiously different ways, both of these statements carry the same message: we only get to understand and like music by rubbing up against it. No amount of talk will get us into appreciating a dry wine. From this some may (erroneously) conclude that all talk of music and all music education that lies beyond the acquisition of skills—counting out the metrical divisions of beats and so on—is a waste of time, that musical knowledge is all down to a matter of taste, to experience, to inherited native wit or cultural environment. I disagree with this interpretation. Hesse is not here telling us all he knows about the nature of musical knowledge and meaning and the novice teacher has simply misread his students and needs to get to know more about the street culture of London children, which usually does not run either to lectures on Beethoven or dry sherry. There are layers of musical meaning, some beyond the reach of other forms of discourse and some much more accessible to talk, instruction, analysis. Hesse is more explicit about poetry.

I would also not try to tell them that poetry is one of the manifestations of the divine, but would endeavour to make the poetry accessible to them by imparting a precise knowledge of its linguistic and metrical strategies. The

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