An introduction to music research
An introduction to music research

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

An introduction to music research

1.1 Knowledge and performance

I am sure you are not particularly surprised by the idea that musical knowledge might influence the way in which music is performed. As an introduction to the act of observing music in performance, section 1.1 focuses on an example of social music making. This way of thinking belongs in part to the broad field of music sociology, as articulated in an article in the Annual Review of Sociology:

Music is a mode of interaction that expresses and constitutes social relations (whether they are subcultures, organizations, classes, or nations) and that embodies cultural assumptions regarding these relations. This means that sociocultural context is essential to understanding what music can do and enable. Indeed, when the same music is situated across these contexts, it can work in dramatically different fashions (as sociologists would expect).

(Roy and Dowd, 2010, p. 184)

The communication seen in the following video clip operates on the ‘micro-social’ level (face-to-face interactions on a small scale). Here, though, it relates to the ways in which musicians work together as an ensemble, drawing on musical knowledge to create a piece of music. This piece is an example of a musical style called kwela, meaning ‘to climb up’, ‘to rise’, that has become traditional to South Africa and surrounding countries, although it emerged as recently as the 1950s. Originally kwela was an expression of dissent against an apartheid government, inspired by American big band jazz, while mixing this sound with traditional African musical styles and metal pennywhistles.

Activity 2

In video 1 a classical string quartet led by a South African musician, Samson Diamond, put together a piece of kwela. Watch the clip now and comment on the ways in which the players take up their roles.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 1
Video 1
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


Samson teaches the simple melodic lines using traditional terminology, referring to key and time signatures. The cellist, Jeremias Sanz, appears remarkably relaxed and confident. He has never heard this tune before, but plays it straight back without error, reproducing it by ear. In contrast, the viola player, Carmen Craven-Grew, focuses on Samson’s fingers and learns it as much by looking as by listening. You can observe for yourself the last member of the group, Birgit Seifart, in the process of learning her line, and the group putting the parts together. Notice that they all slow down together at the end of the piece, by a combination of watching and listening. This clip shows you one method of passing on musical knowledge through interpersonal communication.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus