Teaching secondary music
Teaching secondary music

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Teaching secondary music

3.4 Informal learning in the classroom

In the video that forms the core of the next activity, Professor Lucy Green of the Institute of Education in London talks about how her interest in informal learning in music developed from an investigation she did into how popular musicians learn.

Early on in the video, Green identifies five practices of informal learning. She then goes on to describe examples of how informal learning practices have been implemented into classroom music.

Activity 9

Allow about 30 minutes
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Transcript

FLAVIA NARITA
I understand that one of your research projects involves informal musical learning practices.
LUCY GREEN
It started probably when I was a teenager actually when I started wondering how popular musicians learned their instrumental skills because I myself was having classical piano lessons and you know it it was a mystery to me how popular musicians sort of did it really, so that's driven my work for many many years and it ended up about ten or fifteen years ago doing a study of how popular musicians learn. And from that study I took that the main characteristics of their learning practices and adopted them and adapted them for the school classroom.
It was based on five things, one that they learn by choosing their own music therefore they’re using music that they know and love and identify with.
Secondly they learn by playing by ear, as you know that everyone knows they put on their own favourite music and just attempt to play along with it.
Thirdly they work both by themselves and with friends and it’s very important that they work with friends who share similar musical tastes.
Fourthly because of all this way of learning their learning tends to be idiosyncratic, it’s very personal, it’s haphazard, it’s not structured in the kind of progressive way that we normally try to structure music learning in formal environments, and also it often takes place without any teacher or adult or anybody who is able to you know give them expert help.
And fifthly they tend to integrate all the skills of listening, composing, performing and improvising all the way through the learning process and I simply adapted those for the school classroom.
So we worked first of all in secondary schools and the kids were asked to choose their own music, choose friendship groups, choose their own instruments, pick a song and attempt to copy it by ear from a recording
FLAVIA NARITA
So probably the practice was and was important –
LUCY GREEN
Did it change my own musical practice?
I did start using those practices myself, so I found myself putting on some songs with one of my favourite musicians Joni Mitchell and you know starting to learn to play the song and to sing it by ear.
Which I found a fascinating a fascinating task because although I you know I have basic sort of ear skills and improvisation skills I've never actually sat down, with a recording before and fully tried to copy it and the interesting thing to me about that was, I was doing this whilst I was at the beginning of my project taking the learning practices into the school.
FLAVIA NARITA
Alright.
LUCY GREEN
And because I found that doing it myself opened my own ears, I added a question to the interviews that we did with children: ‘Since you’ve been doing this project have you noticed any differences in the way you listen to music at home?’ and I'm so glad I added that question because the Answers to it have been fascinating.
And a large number of kids said yes, it had affected the way they hear music and it made me realise and it made them realize that they tend, young kids who listened to popular music tend to focus entirely on the lyrics and the singing, and many of them actually said things like before I did this project I didn't realise there was any more to music apart from the lyrics.
FLAVIA NARITA
Interesting.
LUCY GREEN
You know and now it’s what they call the underneath bits the background music means more to me than the lyrics.
FLAVIA NARITA
So you and you’d also kind saying that it doesn’t matter just being the curriculum right so music being the curriculum or even if you take popular music in to the curriculum it doesn’t guarantee that they’re going to have a full experience of how to make music, so it’s a method of pedagogy.
LUCY GREEN
It's a pedagogy that's absolutely right Flavia because as you know popular music has been in the school curriculum here and in many other countries as well for many many years, but what we've tended to do as teachers is to approach the popular music in the curriculum in the same way that we would approach classical music or any other kind of music from around the world.
And therefore we weren't actually using the techniques that the musicians themselves use to create the music, so in a way what we had in the curriculum was a kind of not the real thing.
FLAVIA NARITA
Right.
LUCY GREEN
Children could listen to it but there wasn't any development of their ears going on or any development of their skills going on that way.
This wonderful project musical futures approached me and asked me to join them and I then had the opportunity of doing that, and musical futures is now a major UK national project, it's also a project which is going on in Australia, we hope as you know that it's going to happen in Brazil, there are also parts of the USA and Canada where it's beginning to be used and the musical futures project was funded mainly by the Paull Hamlyn foundation.
This way of bringing in popular musicians learning practices into the classroom has of course affected the role of the teacher as well. The role of the teacher is to stand back at the beginning of the process, observe what the pupils are doing, try to sympathize and empathize with the goals that the pupils are setting for themselves and only at that point start to step in and offer guidance and also to act as a musical model by playing the instruments themselves or whatever.
Now this is a little bit different from the role of the teacher of course in that a more standard pedagogic form where the teacher is the one who knows, the teacher chooses in the case of music the teacher chooses the music, the teacher will tell the pupils which notes to play, sometimes how to play them, what order to play them in and it comes from the teacher to the student.
In this way the student is given much more autonomy to make their own choices and to direct their own learning, with their friends and to find their own route through the learning process.
Now as you can imagine at the beginning of musical futures quite a few of the teachers in the very very early stages were quite worried about what was going to happen, if we give students in in school classrooms all this freedom and of course the first time that I tried this in my very very first London classroom I thought the same thing, I had no idea if the technique would work or not. But luckily it has worked it really has worked incredibly well and what tends to happen is that after two or three lessons the teachers begin to get pretty nervous, because they're not sure where it's going to go but after three to four lessons most of the teachers are amazed at how highly motivated the kids have been, how well-organized they’ve been, how they've got themselves into their friendship groups, how they've sorted themselves out, and how they've actually shown that they have musical abilities that very often the teachers didn't know they had.
And a lot of our teachers have said it made them realize that previously, they were not giving children enough credit for having as much abilities as they actually do have.
Of course this is something that we trained classical musicians ourselves have haven't usually done.
Nowadays with a you know younger classical musicians coming up some of them are what we might call bi-musical; they have a foot in either jazz or popular music or folk music, traditional music and a foot in the classical camp but they're still in the minority, I think.
And in the formal education one thing that we don't learn as musicians is how to play by ear or how to improvise, and you know there's an awful lot of music educators and teachers in this country and many places, who are very highly proficient trained classical musicians but who don't really know how to play by ear or improvise themselves and therefore don't know how to teach it.
And this is why instead of looking at what skills we have as trained musicians and music educators I went to look at what skills those people who do know how to play by ear and improvise have, and bring those skills into the formal music education realm.
And that's partly why of course the teachers who are trained you know if they've not really had the experience themselves of copying a recording by ear, it's quite you know it's quite a mysterious thing it's quite worrying and frightening.
FLAVIA NARITA
Mmm-hmm.
LUCY GREEN
And very revealing as well.
FLAVIA NARITA
Yeah, I think that for both teachers and pupils –
LUCY GREEN
Yes.
FLAVIA NARITA
It’s going to be an interesting experiencing enriching experience and what you said it's also about the progress right so it doesn't mean that because you're not reading from the score that you are not Progressing in your technique or in your musical skills rather the opposite.
LUCY GREEN
There's a kind of level have relaxation and also fun and experimentation a getting to know the instrument in a way which is more like the instruments is a part of their body, you know which is of course how we all want our instrument to feel.
FLAVIA NARITA
So you’re talking about it a lot of intrinsic motivation from the part of students, right?
LUCY GREEN
Yes
FLAVIA NARITA
Because they chose the music that's the music they want to play so that's why they go and play by ear even if their teachers think it's quite an advanced level and how do you think that the teachers can help Them in this in this negotiation or not.
LUCY GREEN
Ok right well this is an absolutely crucial point and it's something I've been looking at in more detail in my instrumental project. So teachers help by obviously making suggestions for how to hold the Instrument, for example a teacher could show a pupil who has tried to get a note and they can't get it, the teacher will allow them to try for a while and then step in and say why don't you put your finger here on this string that's the first note.
It's about watching what the child's doing, listening to them, trying to gauge where they’re attempting, trying to trying to gauge what they're attempting to do and then thinking how can I help this pupil achieve this particular goal.
If I hadn't done a lot of philosophical and theoretical work, would I have done the same practical work in the classroom, I think in a nutshell the answer is no.
Because if we're going to do work which changes practice then that comes out of a whole wealth of knowledge and understanding, doesn't it and that's why we come to university and that's what we're doing at universities, is expanding our minds and helping our students to expand their minds, so that they can have a fresh look at practice with new eyes and new understanding.
FLAVIA NARITA
Sure, well thanks very much, Lucy, it's been lovely to talk to you.
LUCY GREEN
It's been lovely to talk to you too, Flavia. I'll see you at the next tutorial.
FLAVIA NARITA
Yeah.
End transcript
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Watch the video and note down in what ways Green suggests that being involved in informal learning changes the way in which children listen to music at home in a very significant way.

  1. What do you think are the implications of this for the way in which you might teach popular music?
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  1. What assumptions about the way in which children listen to music might you have to rethink?
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  1. At approximately 4’40” on the video, Green talks about Musical Futures being pedagogy, not a method. What, for you, is the distinction between these two terms?
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  1. What changes to the role and responsibility of the teachers does Green suggest are implicit in the informal learning approaches? What are the implications of this for how music is taught in the secondary classroom?
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Activity 10

Allow about 30 minutes

Speak with one of your pupils and try to identify examples of their learning from all three of these contexts: formal, non-formal and informal. Ask them which they find most valuable and enjoyable.

What influence of the other two areas can you see on their musical learning within the area in which you work?

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