Setting the agenda: the theory of popular music practice

Henson, David and Zagorski-Thomas, Simon (2016) Setting the agenda: the theory of popular music practice. In: Perspectives and Practices in Popular Music Education. pmperspectivesbook@gmail.com, London, UK. (In Press)

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Abstract

Practical courses in popular music are often cited as examples of de-skilling and the lowering of standards in music higher education because one of the 'core' skills in traditional music pedagogy, expertise in music notation, is de-emphasised. While that may be true in many popular music performance and production courses, it is far less true in areas such as musical theatre. However, what this demonstrates is that popular music education, in the broadest sense from rock to pop to EDM to musical theatre, cannot afford to sit back and hope that this issue will resolve itself. Whether the aim is to produce highly skilled practitioners of the popular or alternative contemporary forms of thought provoking ‘art’ music, the identification of core skills and the theoretical framework that needs to underpin them is an essential part of the project. This chapter proposes three areas of core skills that reflect the differences (and connections) between popular music practice and ‘classical’ music skillsets. It also uses theoretical work on the ecological approach to perception (Gibson 1979; Clarke 2005; Zagorski-Thomas 2014), embodied cognition (Feldman 2008; Lakoff & Johnson 2003), conceptual blending (Fauconnier & Turner 2003), and the psychology and social anthroplogy of situated learning (Lave & Wenger 1990; Zaretskii 2009; Ingold 2013; Vygotsky 1980) to suggest ways in which these core skills can be engendered and encouraged through the formal learning structures of higher education.
The three areas can be characterised as technique, collaboration and creativity:
Technique: The techniques of popular music require a highly specialised approach to the micro-timing of rhythm and the use of gestural shape to control timbre. This is, of course, in addition to harmonic and melodic skills. A further factor is that all of these factors can be controlled through performance, constructed through computing software or some combination of the two.
Collaboration: The forms of collaboration involved are also highly specialised. The importance of synchronised timing and expressive micro-timing calls for an ability to react to and entrain to the nuances of an ensemble performance. There is also the response to the creative variation of other participants. When technology is being used, there is also a need to interact with it on a musical level: in a sense, to collaborate with its designer.
Creativity: The idea of learning creativity is a thorny subject. By taking a broad definition of the terms expressive performance, variation and improvisation to represent points on a continuum between newness and conformity to stylistic expectations, the notion of creativity will be explored in terms of recognising and exploiting the affordances of a given situation or process.
Having identified some of these core skills, the notion of situated learning, including Vygotsky's zone of proximal development, and Lave's 'doing as learning' will be explored as structuring principles for teaching and learning strategies. Based on the idea of identifying potential affordances through the neural theory of metaphor and conceptual blending, learning situations would be designed whereby students are encouraged to build a schematic representation of their activity and its context. Teachers achieve this by varying the activity and its context in multiple iterations of a task in combination with a series of learning conversations (Harri Augstein & Thomas 1991). The general applicability of this system will be explored through a series of illustrative examples covering instrumental and vocal performance, ensemble performance, electronic music production, musical theatre, live sound and recording.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: Music
Depositing User: David Henson
Date Deposited: 13 Jun 2016 18:22
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2017 11:33
URI: http://repository.uwl.ac.uk/id/eprint/2548

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