Monday, 26 February 2018

Why learn Music? What does a Music Teacher actually teach?

Why learn Music?

Students and Parents alike ask the question, "Why learn Music?"  Is it just about learning the instrument and what happens if there are no aspirations to become a Professional Musician?

Music teaches communication skills

I ask each of my Student how they would define music.  This gives them a chance to be heard.  While no Dictionary of Music defines Music, it is good to let Students explore the question and have an opportunity to answer it.  Most come close to Edgar Varese' definition, "Music is organised sound".  That is his definition and that is good.  Each Musician has their own definition.  What follows is mine.

Music is the Art of convicting the unconvinced.  

Music - coming from the Muses 
Art - a choice regarding expression
Convicting - changing the behaviour of 
Unconvinced - those whom are not convinced that they should do what we are telling them to do.

Music is the Art of Convicting the Unconvinced

Music gets its name from the Muses - Zeus' daughters from Greek Mythology.  There is some debate as to whether there were nine or three, but for the purposes of this piece, I will say there were three.  In the same way as describing something as Icelandic means that it comes from Iceland - the "ic" denoting ownership.  The "ic" at the end of Music means that it comes from the Muses.

Music is a word which comes from Greek and was one third of the Greek school curriculum: they taught Maths, Gym and Music.  Maths covered the teaching of Logic, Gym, teaching physical fitness and Music covered the teaching of Language, Drama, Communication - both Verbal and Non-Verbal - Presentation Skills and, of course, Manipulating Sound. Over the years, these subjects have been separated.  I use Music as a vehicle to empower Students in these subject areas, to complement their school curriculum.  

An illustration of how Music empowers good communication

Many world Religions and Mythologies have stories of Gods on mountains, communicating with the People down below.  The People at the foot of the mountain are behaving in a way that will harm them and the God communicates with them, to turn them from there current behaviour.  The People are convinced that what they are doing is correct and are unconvinced that they need to change.  Music has been defined as "The Art of Convicting the Unconvinced".  A conviction - when I ask my Students - is normally understood as a Jail Sentence, or some other punitive measure.  The conviction actually comes earlier, it is the attempt to alter the behaviour.  The punitive measure comes after the attempted conviction.  As the God communicates from the mountain top, they are attempting to convict the People to change their behaviour.  They are often unconvinced, so different methods need to be employed.  The same thing happens when we talk to our Children, Spouses or Colleagues. 

The image drawn by Greek Mythology is of Zeus pacing his house on Mount Olympus, preparing his speech, to the People.  His daughters are in the living room; one is sitting at a vanity table, one on the sofa and one in a chair.  The Daughter at the Vanity Table is wearing a pretty dress and is doing her make up: she is interested in Aesthetics (what we communicate physically).  The Daughter on the Sofa has her Earphones in: she is interested Manipulating Sound (Sonic Communication).  The Daughter on the chair is reading a book, it could be Poetry, it could be Prose: she is interested in Rhetoric (how Written and Verbal Communication is constructed).  As Zeus walks through the Living Room - sure that he is prepared - the first Daughter shrieks, "Dad, you can't go out dressed like that!"

As the Daughter, interested in Aesthetics, sets about making Zeus look like the message he is communicating - the Zeus Beard, the Zeus Robes and arms open in a physical show of power - the Daughter interested in Sonic Communication checks that the Microphones are set up, so that the People can hear the message.  She will return later. 

The Daughter who is interested in Rhetoric reads Zeus' speech, checking that the argument follows the proper format of Overview, Argument, Counter Argument and Conclusion - Hypothesis, Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis in Aristotelian parlance - and includes poetic  devices which will help the message stick in the memory of the People.  

Once the Aesthetics and Rhetoric of Zeus' message are formed, the Daughter interested in Sonic Communication returns are teaches Zeus that the way we give a message is part of giving the message.  She teaches Dynamics, Articulation and Phrasing.


It is often thought that Dynamics, Articulation and Phrasing - on a Musical Instrument - are the only things that a Music Teacher teaches.  It is true that these are part of what I teach, but as much time is spent teaching my Students about the Aesthetics of Performance and Rhetoric.  An holistic education of Aesthetics, Rhetoric and Sonic Communication is what I teach everyone who gets lessons from me.  This gives courage to each Student and empowers them to become more confident Communicators.  They are experienced and brave in communicating in a broad range of settings, able to communicate their message both verbally and in written form and control their emotions enough to say what they want to say, in the way that complements the message. 

Robin's Experience and Style

Robin Thornton - Teacher At a young age, I decided that I wanted to be a Musician. I did not believe that I could support...