Education of Music by Dan Zambas

The education of music is traditionally taught in notated form. Following the teachings from historical composers and musicians, educators seek to pass on this knowledge to students to inspire them. In the past twenty years we have seen a development of the traditional teachings into popular music. This has led to specific issues regarding the relevance of musical notation and how it applies to modern music.

Music Education

Also the introduction of culturally different music into western society has had an impact on the perception of what a musical education entails. This is often classed as ‘World Music’ but this term is as broad as ‘Non Western’ therefore has little descriptive value other than it’s supposed alien relationship with Western Music.

“I try to use my music to move these people to act.”

Jimi Hendrix

To truly appreciate and perform western historical music such as Mozart, Bach and Beethoven to an ‘authentic’ degree, traditional musical theory is incredibly relevant. Without this background the student is potentially intimidated by the scope of the music itself. This is further proven by the years of training that classical musicians undertake to fully express these historical works. This is not to state that stylistically different musicians do not devote themselves in a similar way, only that the devotion and approach is entirely different.

Although there are many similarities –

  • Rhythm

  • Phrasing

  • Scales

  • Pitch

Most musicians devote their time to learning and developing these essential skills. Without them their ability to truly unlock their potential is limited. This is subject to the desire of the musician and what level they require to fully express themselves. For example compare the music of Bob Dylan to that of Schoenberg, from a technical point of view there is almost no similarity but the emotions binding the music together come from the same place, a musician. This begs the question how can Education provide effective tuition to these polar opposites?

“I despise a world which does not feel that music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy”

Ludwig van Beethoven

The book Popular Music – the Key Concepts by Roy Shuker addresses these points in detail and highlights the reflection of musical ‘Taste’ and a student’s performance within formal education.  The author points to studies conducted in 1981 by Tanner which finds a direct relationship between ‘Heavy Rock’ music and underachievement which potentially points to the conclusion that ‘Classical’ music and high achievement go hand in hand.
This can be further surmised that ‘Classical’ music encourages theoretical thought and formulaic processes whereas ‘Heavy Rock’ music defines a culture that does not follow the institutions that preceded it. The difference in musical approach between Beethoven and Hendrix is vast but the message is ultimately the same – they wish to invoke change and thought in society.
The MayDay Group Published an article in 2006 called Action, Criticism & Theory for Music Education. This article provides an insight into the potential direction of musical education in society. They point out that a student attending a music class generally approaches this as ‘going through the motions’ purely to achieve what is necessary and ultimately pass the class. They point out that the application of the knowledge that is learned in a student’s future is not often a question asked by teachers or curriculum designers. For music education to develop into a useful tool they argue that this must be considered, the joining of philosophy and music is paramount to this achievement.
Neil Young stated “Without freedom of expression, good taste means nothing.”  This statement sums up the points that the MayDay Group discuss within their article. By perpetuating traditional teaching methods within music the possibility of a student developing their unique expression is limited.
The internet has opened a vast opportunity for self-led development and allows the student to decide what they wish to develop. But this alone cannot be seen as the only route of education, the mentoring aspect between teacher and student is invaluable and is historically proven. For example Beethoven was taught by Salieri who was a prolific composer in his own right, without this direct tuition would Beethoven’s approach to tragedy within his music be the same?