POPULAR MUSIC EDUCATION: A Different Type of Musicianship

By Giddings, Steve | The Canadian Music Educator, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

POPULAR MUSIC EDUCATION: A Different Type of Musicianship


Giddings, Steve, The Canadian Music Educator


Change is increasingly necessary in education in response to the constant changes in the world in which we live. Because of this need for change there are many courses in which a high school can offer to better serve its student body. I am currently completing a directed studies course at the University of Prince Edward Island in popular music education where I am designing a revolutionary new course to be offered in high schools focusing on the performance of popular music. This new course is not meant to replace the band program by any means but is instead intended to enhance the music program in schools as an addition to the band program, much like the way jazz bands or choirs do in some schools.

At the beginning of this year I started a band with my friends here at the music department at UPEI and we call ourselves The Afterhours. It was at first intended as a personal interest band but developed into a 'lab band' of sorts for my popular music education course where I learned more about playing rock music than I could from simply reading about it or from hearsay. I had played in rock bands before but this one was different because we are all good at what we do and work really well together. I will be referring to this group and other rock band experiences throughout the article.

WHY POPULAR MUSIC?

There are many reasons why popular music should be an integral part of any music program. First of all, popular music is naturally more creative than concert band. In a rock band any given member is an arranger or co/composer for a given piece of music. As Boespflug (1999) puts it in his article Popular Music and the Instrumental Ensemble "the pop musician contributes directly to the musical material of a composition, influencing tone colour, melody, rhythm, harmony, and even structure, and thus becomes a co-arranger/composer as well as performer" (p. 33). With my experience in The Afterhours I know that this is the truth. Our first original song was composed by our lead guitarist, and since its introduction to the band has gone through multiple stages of evolution to what it is today simply because the rest of the band members had input with regard to structure, harmony, melody and timbre. I've been a musician since grade 5, when I started playing violin and I have never been more creative than I have been in these past four or five months with the rock band. Not only this, pop music is improvisation and memory based, two aspects of musicianship that are often ignored in concert band.

Rock music breeds versatility. Some of the more successful rock artists can not only play their principal instrument but other instruments within the band as well. In the 'classical' world of music there is rarely an incident where one would play a secondary instrument within the same ensemble. It does happen in pit orchestras and some jazz bands, but not in professional orchestras. With The Afterhours, our bassist also does some lead vocals in some songs while our rhythm guitarist/lead vocalist plays bass in a couple of songs. I am the drummer and sometimes do lead vocals. The course that I designed, about which I will provide more detail below, has a section that requires the student to pick up a secondary or tertiary instrument.

Popular music is an aural tradition. Most popular musicians rely on their ears and memories more than classical musicians or even jazz musicians. Many famous rock musicians cannot read music but have fantastic ears. Playing popular music in the schools would put a much bigger emphasis on aural training and dictation which are very important skills that the traditional instrumental program often neglects. There were many instances during rehearsal with The Afterhours where we would mention a song that one of the guitarists wouldn't know. Because of the amazing ears of the members in the band, the songs were able to be learned quickly with surprising accuracy. All of us can read music, but there is no reason why we should and why we would have to with rock music. …

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