Academic journal article Victorian Journal of Music Education

It Looks Chaotic, but What Is Really Happening?

Academic journal article Victorian Journal of Music Education

It Looks Chaotic, but What Is Really Happening?

Article excerpt

As a music educator, I have always believed in the importance of incorporating a range of pedagogical approaches into the curriculum. With rapid developments in communication and social media influencing the lives of young people, some of the more traditional approaches to music learning have become rather anachronistic. In light of this, I was drawn to the research of British educator Lucy Green (2008, 2002) concerning informal learning practices. Over a period of five years I incorporated informal learning projects into the music curricula in two schools in an effort to maintain student interest and engagement. Both were small, high achieving private schools in Victoria however, they were significantly different.

The typical classroom usually includes students who possess a range of musical skills and knowledge. Apart from classroom music at school some students may learn an instrument, either in a school program or privately outside the school, while others may not have the opportunity or the desire to do so. Some students may also have an understanding of theory and have highly developed musical skills, while others may have virtually no formal understanding. Music is most likely to be the only subject in the school that has this diversity of student knowledge as a starting point and this can create challenges for the teacher.

Over many years of teaching I have found that less musically experienced students often lack confidence when comparing themselves to more experienced students. This can make them feel 'not good enough' or unable to 'do' music. This was, partially, the motivation for including informal learning projects into the curriculum. The other motivation was my concern that all students should be offered activities that motivate and engage them in meaningful music learning. Through the informal learning projects I observed many interesting responses and outcomes from both the students and also from me, as teacher.

Ideas surrounding less formal learning practices have been in existence for many years. In the second half of the 20th century educational thinkers including John Paynter and Christopher Small moved away from more traditional approaches to music education in an effort to engage all students in meaningful musical experiences. Creativity through experiential learning was the central idea, and at the time this was reflective of the bigger social picture. A creative society, it was thought, would lead to greater productivity. Finney (2012) discusses Carl Rogers 1954 ideas concerning creativity in terms of "passive use of leisure time, work seen as execution of technical tasks and the dreariness of well-ordered family life as impelling a need to understand the nature of the creative process and the realization of undiscovered human potentialities" (p. 33).

In the 1960s John Paynter led the 'creative music movement' (Burke, 2005) in which he espoused a creative music education with innovation through integrated arts programs in schools and the notion of the child as artist. Paynter believed all aspects of musical activity are essentially creative (Finney, 2012), but there were fears at the time that Paynter's ideas would lead to traditional music reading and writing techniques being neglected (Finney, 2012). Later, Christopher Small introduced the notion of musicking: literally 'to music', as in the verb, rather than 'music' as a noun. Small (1999) wrote, To music is to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance. That means not only to perform but to listen, to provide material for performance (what we call practicing or rehearsing), or to take part in any activity that can affect the nature of that style of human encounter which is a musical performance. (p. 12)

Innovative educator Ros McMillan, who was Director of Music at Presbyterian Ladies' College in Melbourne in the late 1970s, got hold of a copy of Small's 1977 book Music, Education, Society: A radical examination of the prophetic function of music in western, eastern and African cultures with its impact on society and its use in education" and circulated it amongst the music staff. …

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