Popular Music Pedagogy panel: Ways of Listening - Start with What You Know - Including Improvisation

Nikki Moran, Zack Moir, Richard Worth

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract / Description of output

#1 Ways of Listening
Conventional musicology studies the music while other disciplines (e.g. sociology, psychology) study everything except the music, right? This conceit requires one to accept a limited notion of what is meant by ‘the music’ (essentially, the score and those aspects of what we hear which can be scored) – and it has a central role in traditional HE music analysis pedagogy. In this presentation, we describe the tensions and possibilities we have encountered in our development of a new undergraduate analysis course (“Ways of Listening”). This is a compulsory module of the MA Music, a new four-year undergraduate programme whose primary aim is to foster a regard for classical, popular, western and non-western musics as equally valid topics of scholarship, through a critical understanding of musical ‘texts’ and their various contexts. The process of developing Ways of Listening raised specific questions: What (if any) discipline-specific analysis skills should Music graduates possess? Can (and should) we teach non-classically-trained students to apply musicological concepts of form and structure? How should this course articulate with our continuing (traditional) Music Analysis course? What is the value of music literacy in inclusive music scholarship? In this presentation, we explore these questions and share our responses.
#2 Start With What You Know
Teaching undergraduate courses in music analysis and musicianship skills, the authors begin by engaging students in an ice-breaking activity. We ask them (a) which types of music they listen to and (b) which types of music they play. The game invariably highlights a disconnect between students’ listening choices and the music they perform. While the vast majority of students state that the music they play comes from the historical repertoire of their instrument, they listen to popular music. We propose that popular music analysis is valuable for all (classical and popular) music students for two reasons. Firstly, students find it easier (and are more motivated) to engage critically with the compositional constructs of familiar music. Analytical skills and theoretical knowledge can then be developed and adapted for other musical styles and repertoires. Secondly, popular music aesthetics draw students’ attention to features not traditionally the focus of music theory and analysis. The change in focus provides insight into composition and production techniques. But perhaps more importantly, it also teaches the students about their own engagement in analytical listening, contextualising and enhancing their understanding of traditional music analysis.
#3 Analysing, evaluating and assessing musical improvisation
Improvisation is a valuable musical skill and practice associated with many other areas of musicianship, including aural skills, instrumental proficiency and musical communication, to name just a few. It describes ‘a vast network of practice with various artistic, political, social, and educational values’ (Nettl, 2009). But there are inherent difficulties in teaching improvisation. In the first instance, the sheer scope of the topic may lead to difficulties in selecting material, perhaps explaining why so many teachers apply an idiomatic approach to pedagogy. Then, where one type of improvisation is stipulated (‘jazz’, for example), assessment criteria are linked to aesthetic conventions of the particular form. The conventions may be commonly agreed, but they are not necessarily made explicit. Assessing group improvisation brings further difficulties, when an observing examiner’s opinion about the success of a performance may contradict the performers’ views. These problems boil down to issues of validation and assessment that rely on the analysis of improvisational process and content. How do we determine criteria for inclusion in a programme? How do we determine criteria for assessment? This paper discusses the challenges of teaching and assessing musical improvisation by highlighting and addressing some of these analytical issues.
Nettl, B. (2009). In Solis, G. & Nettl, B. (Eds.) Musical Improvisation: Art, Education, and Society. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationpopMAC: International Conference on Analysing Popular Music
Publication statusUnpublished - 4 Jul 2013


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