One of the great insights I’ve gained from studying the work of music learning researcher Edwin Gordon is that music is better understood when listening for content within a context. Specifically, Meter and Tonality provide the context, and Rhythm Patterns and Tonal Patterns comprise the content for any piece of music.
I’ve noticed that this is a robust concept with implications everywhere! By zooming in or out we can find all sorts of ways the idea of content in context can broaden our horizons.
For now I’d like to zoom out and look at the way we train piano students, in the context of how music and piano are used in our communities.
As music availability has gone through the roof, musical engagement has dropped into the basement. When I talk with adults about their experience with childhood piano lessons, responses are almost always tinged with failure or regret. “I never practiced.” “I wish I had listened to my parents and continued lessons.” “I never learned to read music.”
Piano lessons are still taught today in ways that perpetuate these sentiments. We piano teachers still teach to those one in a hundred very high aptitude students that might become music majors, and to what end? Individual musicians cannot succeed, even with college degrees, without the context of a society that has some understanding of what it is we do.
Those other 99 students that didn’t do so well in lessons are not a strong support for the individual who does. To say nothing of the those who don’t seek or can’t afford music lessons in the first place.
To continue to be effective, piano lessons must be designed to benefit both the individual student and the context of the community as a whole.
In my next post I’ll talk about two ways to do this.