ISME 2016

So, now that I’ve given my presentation for the 32nd annual conference of the International Society of Music Education I don’t have to worry about the spoiler alert! I am very grateful to Dr Brad Merrick for showing up and stimulating a bit of informed conversation afterwards. I will follow this post up with some general impressions of the conference in general, so stay tuned! For those of you out there who just couldn’t make it, despite your best efforts, here it is in a nutshell:

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Hi, my name is Aengus Kirakowski, I am a musician and music teacher and I also recently completed my MA in Digital Arts and Humanities in University College Cork. Just in case some of you are unfamiliar with the world of Digital Arts and Humanities – it is a growing interdisciplinary practice which focuses on the use of IT in academia and the arts. I therefore had the opportunity to investigate what I felt to be a growing problem with private music teaching.

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The problem I was finding as I developed my teaching practice was basically a confusion of interests between myself (as teacher) and the students and their parents. I teach classical guitar, and have a few core method books with nice and whimsical duet arrangements of Beethoven, among other things. Of course, some students take to it better than others, but I would often try to mix things up by checking out songs from YouTube that they were interested in. Almost invariably, the motivation was stronger, with a better ear for detail from the student, and I found myself wondering at the difference between a book that would likely stay closed for 4 days out of the week, in a guitar case, and a website which was most probably a daily visit and place of influence for a young person.

So how can I justify valuable lesson time spent transcribing and interpreting songs from YouTube when many parents are looking for grade results, or a young John Williams virtuoso?

After all, the skill-set I was introducing to the student (playing by ear, transcribing, interpreting) was no less admirable than the preoccupation with sight reading and music history, and the content generally contained interesting musical lessons – song structure and rhythmic syncopation, to name but two. But the lessons felt so different, there was always a lingering fear that we weren’t making true progress!
Was this use of the screen rather than the book distracting us from a higher/better educational goal? Or was there a genuine, albeit unfamiliar, educational opportunity presented?

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During my research I was interested by a distinction made by Beckstead in an article from 2001 – an amplicative use of technology serves a higher educational goal and does not effect the teaching practice, whereas a transformative use of technology can change the course of the learning.

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When we think of the first known recourse to notation in music education, the system of Neumes, we might say that its goal was to amplify a tradition that was already there, which itself was serving the higher goal of worship.

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However developments in architecture and acoustics brought about a development in style and complexity of this devotional music.Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 18.25.51

The arrival of the printing press has to be said to have transformed the practice of music – with unprecedented access to printed scores, as well as music being written for more secular and casual contexts (i.e. non-sacred).


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As instruments were further developed and grouped to form what we would come to call the orchestra, the performance space was also under continual development, all in a complex interplay with the possibilities and limitations imagined by composers.


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By the early 20th century we have composers like Varese, and later Stockhausen who were particularly outspoken about these limitations and craved sonic means which would match their conceptions of what music could be.

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Further into the 70s, Steve Reich’s experimentation with sequencing technology led him to develop his own style of music, now known to represent the forefront of the minimalist movement in music.

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By contrast, the trend in music education at the time was one of conservation. Maybe it was this over-arching sense of sanctity in teaching practice which prompted Paynter and Aston to develop lesson plans that engaged more with the spirit of the times. It was an approach which allowed the student to explore the media (new and old) of music in a creative way, rather than in a re-creative one. For example by recording various instruments on tape, then altering playback speeds and creating soundscapes from the various textures.

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A like-minded contemporary in Canada, Schafer was imagining a total break from the history of the Western Canon. … What both writers recognised was a need for education to be at the forefront of development, rather than generations behind. Despite the differences in era, my experience in teaching resonated strongly with the views of Paynter and Schafer in the 70s.

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We are now surrounded by technology and tools which present great possibilities, it seems counter-productive and culturally insular to prescribe musical content on the basis of its educational merit. … and rather than drag our re-creative tendencies into this age, by merely transcribing songs from YouTube for example, a creative approach is needed which will empower students to explore. So how can this be done?

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The application of Bloom’s taxonomy to the teaching of music was apparent to me from the start. Playing and learning to play music is such a blend of the cognitive (understanding of musical text for example), the psycho-motor (being able to play what is written on an instrument) and the affective domains that even if it cannot fully describe the experience, divisions like this can surely help us gain a methodological stance in a mixed media environment.

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Even though the psycho-motor and affective domains are still important, there’ve been interesting developments in the cognitive domain – originally beginning with simple knowledge through analysis up to evaluation, a revision made by Anderson and Krathwhol’s puts ‘creating’ as the highest order of cognitive development, notice also the change in word-types – verbs replacing nouns suggesting more of an active (and ultimately creative) learning.

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Another more recent development of the taxonomy, made by Anthony Churches, adds IT activities to this verbiage, including digital skills like editing and social networking – all as valid learning terms. Blooms original taxonomy, with these revisions finally offers us a possible way of structuring these sessions from the screen (which I spoke about earlier) in order to ensure that there is some direction in learning.

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Inspired by this I drafted a rudimentary Process Map, paths through which might be used to make out various lesson plans or more long-term creative projects. Along the top we have our Bloomian categories, with our creative end-goal. The map itself includes a handful of digital tools I had recently come across, expressed in some of Churches’ new digital keywords.

Here is a video clip giving an illustration of one path through this process, using some of the tools I mentioned, with music from a fourteen year old guitar student of mine who has given me her permission to show it at this conference.

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Around the submission date of my thesis, the OECD report was released which showed a clear echo of my own concern and research from the last few months.

We can’t launch into the 21rst century with 20th century practices. We need to develop ways of teaching that are student-centred; that inspire the student to create; that use existing technology in educationally meaningful ways.

Most importantly, as music teachers in this age we have to be open to explore with the student.

We Interrupt this Broadcast…

I recently attended an afternoon of talks at UCC, given by visiting speakers Lee Campbell and Erika Piazzoli, which centered around teaching methodologies for language classes.

Campbell’s interest and research into teaching was partly inspired by his use of Skype and Textwall in EFL classes – which created a different interactivity, where participation was boosted by a virtual wall – and brought him to investigate into ‘performance’ in teaching. The general idea is to create contexts in which the students have to perform in role-play, using what they should have acquired so far in the course. One example is a fake speed-dating session, where participants have to create a new identity for themselves and rate each other. This, and other scenarios, is an alternative route to achieving the usual competencies as laid out in the lesson plan, rather than forming any new skills as such. In fact, as he went on to talk about the liminality achieved in the classroom, through the use of technology and performance, it struck me the extent to which these methods were far out on the orbit of the final marking and grading. Especially speaking of ‘interruption’ – deliberately causing some kind of unexpected scene in the classroom, in the hope that the students are forced to ‘think on their feet’ – the line between what is real and what is a game become blurred, as well as the line between performance and competence. What a great idea – a transcendence of the unquestioned roles of teacher and student, where both collaborate to a sense of theatre in aid of learning.

All through Campbell’s talk I was waiting for a recognition of transactional theory, or some off-shoot of it, where it is often posed that even in our native language we are constantly performing or playing games with each-other. Indeed, Wittgenstein’s ‘language games’ (from his Philosophical Investigations) were a significant precursor to this idea and (arguably) the subsequent disciplines based upon it. To interpret Wittgenstein: our verbal expressions are not ultimately reducible to their literal meanings but are clues to the nature of the surrounding contexts in which they are embedded, or, in other words, the games in which they are only a partial element. As such, the nature of language is better understood as convention rather than something which can be reduced to a calculus. Despite this and a whole delta of similar ideas in the 20th century regarding language and its acquisition, we are still gripped by the idea of the calculus – that language is defined by its theoretical components and hence must be mastered before any meaningful application is to take place. Perhaps instead the theoretical components should be viewed as tools to be applied to situations, scenarios, or games in which we will really learn something. Unfortunately, this ‘something’ (if we imagine it as a singular thing) cannot be codified as easily as the tools by which its acquired, hence our obsession with theory and the recognition that it has been ‘understood’ (or, in Wittgenstein’s own example – that the student can ‘continue the series’ once shown).

Here is an interesting video I came across recently, which offers a more lucid illustration (albeit a particular interpretation) of Wittgenstein’s thought from this period. All of the video is good, but particularly pertinent from 3:58 on:

A methodology like that described by Campbell is interesting because it not only acknowledges the importance of performance and games in the learning of language, but through staged interruptions attempts to further blur the difference between performance and reality – coaxing the student into a ‘real’ scenario where they will have to interact in the language. It is also interesting because it was inspired by the use of technology, which created a kind of detachment in the participants, allowing them to more easily shed their student-roles and enter a liminal state in which they will more willingly and opportunistically use what they have learnt so far.
In earlier posts here, there are similar references to students leaving their typical student roles for something more involved and yet detached – for example creative projects which utilise current music technology and challenge the student to use what they have learnt. ‘Detached’ – because the student generally is required to detach from their usual setting of reading music and ‘getting it right’ to creating something (anything!) – a detachment which is aided perhaps by the game-like interaction of various web technologies. ‘More involved’ – because the student is literally more involved in their own musical education by creating their own learning content and playing through their own creative projects. Collaboration figured highly in my own investigation, in the form of collaborative composition between teacher and student,
Also similar to Campbell, the effect of the technology was enough for me to realise fully that there are other ways to teach. This is testament to the ‘Transformative’ power of technology in teaching – a term important in my own MA thesis from last year, part of which you can view here. However, the technology, like the rules, is yet another set of tools for us to use which by no means encompass what we (as teachers and students) are striving towards.

Here’s a beautiful talk, given by celebrated bassist Victor Wooten, where he discusses music as a language, and how both are acquired compared to how they are theoretically described:

To sum up – I was interested and inspired by what Campbell had to say because I felt it resonated so well with what I have discovered in my own research, despite the differences in context or discipline. There seems to be a trend in thought around education, which is at least partly inspired by the affordances offered by technology, that acknowledges the importance of interactivity and creativity. The idea of a preformed ideal of the perfect state of knowledge or competency displayed by a student in a given field is increasingly under scrutiny as the importance of the creative force in education is better recognised. It may be that advances in technology are accidental to a more broad trend in thought, bringing us out of the darkness of the Enlightenment period (sorry! it was too good a paradox to ignore), but maybe it is how we use the technology which illustrates this better than the technology itself. When discussing ideas like these with a friend of mine involved in business start-ups he rightly summed up a new and important responsibility of the music teacher – to ‘Understand the Shift’ – this is imperative, on a whole bunch of levels!

A Matter of Context – Cambodia and the world

Much of what I have previously written here has centred around the challenges of the music lesson in today’s context – given the constant stream of media, yadda yadda – but I just read Kallio and Westerlund’s article about music education in Cambodia – check out the abstract here.

A heightened and immanent example of what is happening all around the globe, in my opinion. The choice between preserving (not to mention reviving, as in this case) a tradition and letting it change is as important historically as it is for education. Whats the use in hammering in sacrosanct content – and basing whole teaching methodologies on it – when the student as a result perceives more the gap between it and current culture? This is surely a self-defeating objective – a revival by isolation.

On the other hand, is it the fate of all culture to become one homogenous blob – where ‘folk’ music from all around the world gets confused with ‘pop’ (if you’ll excuse the indulgence in genres for a second), and specifically ‘pop’ whose object is to appeal to as many listeners as possible?

And yet, we have all heard and cited the possibility of popular niches in music afforded by the web. Who knows? If more Cambodian folk music was up on YouTube, supplemented with electronic beats, we might all be listening to it a lot more. You might cite the cross-pollination sound of Kila as bringing niches together, such as Irish and African traditional musics, forming new fan-bases all around.(I know I’ve been listening to more African music since my first Kila listening experience!)

I suppose we have to wake up to extremes in our(my?) thinking and realise that openness is the name of the game in the information age. Practitioners of traditional musics have to be open to change, and we have to be open to listen. To bring this back to our theme of music education, it just what I’m continually asserting – the teacher has to be open to the student if the lessons are to be applicable for them, while also maintaining control of the learning curve. Im sure that if both ends of the bargain are kept, more and more exciting things can happen!

Which leaves me with a question – what term could we give to a type of education that simultaneously creates its own content as the learning progresses?

Autonomy in Learning, Flexibility in Teaching.

The more we let the student decide, the more flexible the teacher has to be. Here I discuss three levels of student autonomy and the resultant expectations of the teacher, in the context of private music lessons. There is also, as usual, a few technological bells and whistles attached…

As a teacher I am supposed to be a paragon of wisdom and virtue. But as a professional musician in these times I find myself in a similar situation to the students – a landscape where the guitar itself is not the main feature, but one among many other seemingly unrelated ones (social networking, publicity, knowledge of current pop songs etc). My own feeling these days is that blindly sitting down to just play is not enough. There has to be at least a recognition of some sort of context or goal.
In a way this is the position many young students are in – without yet having a definite idea of what they’re about musically, they are taking the teacher’s vision for granted and doggedly learning because they are told to. Whereas if I were to be honest, I couldn’t say that the way Im showing is the best way, or that a certain type of music is ‘better’ than another. Perhaps the line we draw for students to walk should be a bit broader than the development of strict performance skills for classical music. Perhaps broad enough to allow them to ‘move around’ themselves, if we wanted to continue the analogy. But what could this mean?

Well, ‘moving around’ may come down to autonomy or self-direction. As teachers we try to set the parameters of the lesson so that the student finds answers rather than being supplied with them. Given the plethora of influences via the media, the ability to ‘self-learn’ is becoming increasingly important, as the role of the teacher is surely also changing to that of facilitator – one who discovers with the student, helping them to learn. In my own private teaching this has regularly taken the form of hearing a student’s request on YouTube and transcribing the melody or figuring out the chords for them. Student advancement in learning comes by showing them how its done – finding the tonic in the song, for example; or distinguishing between verses, choruses and bridges. In this way, the student has given an autonomous request for learning material, and the teacher has responded by working on the actual material (i.e.: writing out the chords etc.), but also by altering the lesson plan so that the student might gradually learn to do it him/herself. There seems to be two levels of autonomy here:(i) the student’s choice for material and (ii) the student’s ability to assimilate the material. It’s the second level where our job as teacher/facilitators would come in, and it requires a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to lesson plans. It also takes a certain opportunism to recognize musical lessons hidden within student’s requests.

For example, a student wants to learn a solo found on YouTube; the solo requires the student to play in fifth position, which they of course readily do (more-so than if you said ‘right, this lesson we’re learning about the fifth position’); as the student grapples with the technical challenge of the solo, the teacher introduces a simpler piece of music to be played in fifth position, and the student is surprised at their own achievement! Their intrinsic motivation has pushed their learning further, and faster, than any kind of advice from the teacher. In the place of advice, it is in the teacher’s holding back that the student achieves.

This is fine for a while, but their comes a time when YouTube videos become just as dry and uninteresting as the book – despite, and probably due to the waning of enthusiasm which comes along with any regular behavior. What I and many others (most notably Paynter in the 70’s) have dubbed ‘creative projects’ offer a new sort of territory for learning, one in which there is a much greater scope for autonomy or discovery when handled correctly.

Take for example, Paynter’s Sounds on Tape (I mentioned it before here. After a preliminary explanation of how to achieve different sounds using magnetic tape (chiefly by altering playback speeds and layering the recordings), the students are invited to create a piece of a certain duration. Apart from the time constraint, the only limits here are the techniques themselves, within which the student is granted artistic freedom. Of course, this exercise isn’t all that relevant now because we don’t use large tape-decks anymore. However, with the rise of Digital Audio Workspaces (such as freeware Audacity) we have the potential for an even more intuitive version of Sounds on Tape, aided by the visual element and a whole heck load of different effects. We are not limited to one sound either, we can through a couple of found sounds in the mix in order to try and create something really interesting.
Allowing a student to splash about with technology in this way is a real example of learning by doing, and in my experience young students are adepts at operating the DAW within a very short time. However, again, the teacher needs to learn to step back at important moments where the student is getting used to something. Faced with the goal to create a short 3 minute track, with a little bit of support and perhaps collaboration from the teacher, the student finds his/her way around the DAW.

Here is another excerpt from my thesis last year, which tries to incorporate these ideas into a simple lesson plan, while also attempting to categorise each stage of the learning in Bloomian terms:

“Using private musical instrument classes as the model, the approach to creative projects in this study will either begin with sound or with text – the instrument or notation. Viewed as an overall process with either of those starting points, there are many possibilities for exercises and projects, which overlap frequently. Both will have different note entry requirements, which employ different tools.
The following diagram offers a visualization of these overlapping possibilities, as
considered from the two starting points of sound and text, in a technologically integrated iterative learning process.
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Diagram 1 – Process Map
This map outlines a learning process shaped by the possibilities offered by some of the technologies listed above, with the presentation of the creative project as the goal. The categories from Anderson and Krathwhol’s revision of Bloom are included to indicate the general trajectory of the process. Beginning with sound, we can ask the student to Play from Memory a piece they might want to record on a basic device or simply using a phone. Once taught the basic controls for doing so, the student can demonstrate their Understanding of the technological aspect of the task by importing the recorded sound file into a DAW such as Audacity. They can Apply their new found knowledge of the DAW by carrying out some basic editing or by adding effects to the sound file – an activity which will require them to Analyze the recording. After Evaluating their editing work, they can decide whether to add other recorded elements.
The final creative product can ultimately be broadcast online using any one of the popular mediums such as Soundcloud and YouTube.
Beginning with text, there are a handful of options using different technologies, from simply writing something down on manuscript paper to playing an improvised melody to the transcription app ScoreCloud, or entering in notes by the keypad into Noteflight. Once up in Noteflight, the web-based notation environment, we can continue with more instructional content, such as a basic arrangement task – a simple accompaniment to a melody for example. As a web-based task there is an asynchronous element, which can facilitate a more qualitative interaction between teacher and student than the simple setting and correcting of tasks. Suggestions for the piece of music, based solely on musical taste rather than a specific learning goal, amount to an online collaboration between the teacher and the student where both are creating. Recording the piece at the next lesson brings the process back in line with the affordances of recording and editing technologies, after those offered by the text-based softwares have been explored. As in Bloom’s original taxonomical structure, the steps in the process map can be revisited as many times as needed. For example, during the editing phase there may be some re-considerations concerning the text of the piece. Amendments to the piece can be made easily by using ScoreCloud to transcribe new melodies, while different recording takes can be shared on Soundtrap for further collaborative editing. The ultimate goal, then, is to present a creative project by uploading it onto a popular platform, such as YouTube. This stage presents the overlapping concepts of Create as a Bloomian cognitive process and Faultley’s ‘Pluratistic Developmentalism’.
2.2.1 – An example of a sequence of learning activities:
i) Play a melody by memory into Scorecloud.

ii) Correct any mistakes after Scorecloud’s transcription.

iii) Upload the XML/MIDI into Noteflight. Tasks and outcomes can be set,
at this point, to the arrangement. For example, set a baseline to the melody which makes use basic note durations.
iii) Play through the collaborated arrangement at the next lesson and discuss improvements. The student and/or teacher sync the recording onto the text in
iv) Collaborate with the teacher on creating the final product – a combination of straight recording and audio processing in Audacity.
v) Mix the sound events of the recorded and edited piece in Soundtrap. vi) Broadcast the final product on a platform of choice (eg; YouTube).”

In the context of such ‘creative projects’ the teacher has to be as flexible as possible, and ready to accept anything the student produces and work with it. Otherwise the student is likely to react badly and this avenue is closed for a considerable time, if not forever… and this is not what we want.

A pedagogical framework for tech-infused creative design

Unwittingly in line with last months’ OECD report, it became important in my own research to consider some kind of learning framework that might ensure a students’ progression in a learning process as I was imagining it.
It seems to have come as a shock to many people that the wholesale stockpiling of up-to-date computers to the classroom would not in itself ensure that a student is learning, let alone learning faster or better. The OECD report demonstrated a negative relationship between classroom learning and ICT use, to some extent shattering the utopian ideal of a multimedia education as the quick-fix antidote to book-bound boredom in the classroom. Again, we have Technology with a capital ‘T’ apparently not fitting the bill, verifying for many that it cannot be used effectively in education. The report, however, demonstrates the need for effective integration of technology into education:

“We have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology; adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.”

Kieth Sawyer, in his blog The Creativity Guru, notes how he has previously observed this breakdown in potential and created a Masters course which deals with specifically this issue – “to teach how to combine learning sciences research, innovation, and software development”.

Unaware that the OECD was at this point compiling findings on this topic, I began to look into possible frameworks for a Transformative integration of technology into a student-centered design for musical instrument pedagogy:

1.3 – Bloom’s Taxonomy and how it applies to music pedagogy

Bloom’s Taxonomy presents a structured approach to student centered instructional design, which has undergone recent revisions to include an integration of technological terms into its activities and learning outcomes. Another revision significant for the present study is the inclusion of creativity as a goal in the Cognitive domain of learning. Considered altogether Bloom’s Taxonomy and the subsequent revisions may offer an instructional design appropriate for the transformative integration of technology into music pedagogy.
Of the three domains of learning offered by Bloom’s Taxonomy, the Cognitive and the Psycho-motor are acutely intertwined in instrument pedagogy. As previously noted, the dominant focus in many schools lies on the psycho-motor domain of musical performance because it yields observable ‘results’ which tend also to represent the teacher’s own background in classical music performance, and at its worst is a teaching method which favors the ‘talented few’ (Webster 2009). The close relationship between the cognitive and the psycho-motor domains make it more difficult to determine what it was the student actually learned through the experience. Bloom’s Taxonomy and the respective hierarchies offer a structure for teaching and learning, which may alleviate disputation in problems like these. Blooms original hierarchy within the cognitive domain distinguishes between:

• Knowledge – the ability to recall facts.
• Comprehension – the ability to interpret new information in the light of knowledge gained.
• Application – the ability to utilize previously gained knowledge in new ways.
• Analysis – the ability to break down information into its components
• Synthesis – the ability to bring pieces of information together
• Evaluation – the ability to judge the value of material for a given purpose.

Despite the ability to play from a large repertoire of music, which represents significant progress in the Psycho-motor domain, it is not necessarily the case that the student has moved beyond the Knowledge stage of the cognitive domain. The application of this taxonomy to musical pedagogy involves a discursive approach to the subject, where the student can talk about what he/she has learned. For example, a student may recall how many beats are in a bar of ¾, but may find difficulty in interpreting a particular rhythm within a ¾ bar. Application of elements such as these are rarely asked of a student, where he/she must utilize them in a new way – for example, to write a simple melody in ¾ that utilizes a syncopated rhythm. Part of the thesis here is that such Application of Knowledge may aid their Comprehension of musical elements. The more they are asked to break down new information into such components (basic rhythmic Analysis in this case), the more it equips them to Synthesize the components in novel ways, until they reach the stage where they can judge how such rhythmic components might be used for a particular effect (using combinations of shorter notes for climax sections, for example).
A revision of Blooms original taxonomy, made by Anderson and Krathwhol 2001, replaced ‘Synthesis’ with ‘Creating’ and restated it as the highest order of thinking in the cognitive domain:
‘Create’ – the ability to put elements together to form a coherent whole or make an original product.
This new category can be expressed using verbs like designing, constructing, planning, producing, inventing, devising, making. This revision was made partly on the basis of Bloom’s own noted dissatisfaction with his original taxonomy for not differentiating between different types of knowledge within the hierarchy. The Knowledge referred to as the first step in the thinking process is taken to be Factual Knowledge, such as essential terminology or knowledge of basic elements, while the other steps in the hierarchy are examples of Procedural (e.g.: ‘Application’) and Conceptual (e.g.: ‘Analysis’) Knowledge. Anderson and Krathwhol’s revision accounts for these different types of knowledge by adding a second dimension to the hierarchy, forming a Taxonomy Table with the types of Knowledge on the vertical axis and Cognitive Processes on the horizontal. They also change the category names into their verb forms to allow them to overlap, giving the teacher a freer use of the terms.

Table 1 – Example Taxonomy Table for Anderson and Krathwhol’s revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy

Added to the Factual; Procedural; and Conceptual Knowledge types is Meta-Cognitive Knowledge – “Knowledge of cognition in general as well as awareness and knowledge of one’s own cognition” (Krathwhol 2002, 214). Meta-Cognition is now a significant knowledge distinction where it was unrecognized as such during Bloom’s original research in 1956.
The addition of the second dimension means that Creative activities can both serve as immediate and long-term goals in education. Creative activity can be one involving Factual; Conceptual; Procedural or Metacognitive Knowledge. So, for example, a task in composing a melody which utilizes a dotted rhythm, or even just a newly learned note on the instrument, would be a Creative task employing Factual knowledge.
By introducing a student-centered process which is derived from the possibilities offered by various technologies and by the context of Web 2.0, the long-term goal is to teach the student how to control their own learning and creativity – a Creative goal involving Metacognitive Knowledge. This involves the learning of new technical skills which can be utilized in self-teaching.
A further revision of the taxonomy, entitled Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, was devised by Andrew Churches to account for the “new processes and actions associated with Web 2.0 technologies, infowhelm (the exponential growth in information), increasing ubiquitous personal technologies or cloud computing” (Churches 2009). It includes activities associated with technology in each of the categories, with a focus on collaboration as the most recognized general activity on the web.

The additions include (by order of category):
i) Remembering – bookmarking; social networking; searching
ii) Understanding – commenting; annotating; subscribing
iii) Applying – playing; uploading; sharing; editing
iv) Analysing – mashing; linking; media clipping
v) Evaluating – blog commenting; reviewing; posting; collaborating; editing
vi) Creating – programming; animating; blogging; mixing; remixing; broadcasting.

Bloom’s original division of the learning process into the domains and their categories offers practical musical pedagogy important alternatives to the learning process which must be considered. The first revision, the addition of Creating as a higher-order thinking category, offers a systematized goal for the instructional design – that of creating new content as one learns. The second revision mentioned above categorizes the new activities being taught, justifying the process map above as a learning process which includes tasks such as editing, uploading and collaborating.
The Psycho-motor domain is not as well documented or revised as the cognitive and affective domains. A hierarchy suggested by R.H. Dave (as cited in Kennedy 2006) suggests the following:

• Imitation – observing another’s behaviour and copying it;
• Manipulation – ability to perform from instructions rather than imitation;
• Precision – ability to perform a given action without instruction or imitation in a smooth and accurate performance;
• Articulation – the combination of two or more skills in a series of actions;
• Naturalisation – a high level of performance which seems natural and combines many skills.

Another hierarchy by Simpson (as cited in Kennedy 2006) offers:

• Perception – use of observable cues to guide physical activity;
• Mindset – has adopted the right frame of mind and disposition to carry out the action;
• Guided Response – Can utilise trial and error in practice of the action without being discouraged;
• Complex Overt Responses – imitative responses to complex activities are accurate and highly co-ordinated;
• Adaptation – can use the acquired skill in new and different situations;
• Origination – ability to adapt the acquired skill in novel ways to fit special situations.

Both hierarchies suggest a general transition from imitating an activity from a perceptual cue to the ability to independently apply and adapt the skill for new situations. However, the growth of musical notation from a mnemonic system to aid the vocal performance of plainchant, in turn to tablatures which applied to a particular instrument like the lute, and finally to an abstract system of notes as we now know, created much more of a cognitive element to music than simple imitation of an activity. What were essentially direct performance instructions developed into a symbolic language (Grout and Palisca). Because of its complexity in abstraction, and lack of reference to a particular instrument, western musical notation can represent to a young learner something of a forbidding aspect of music. It is hoped that by addressing this aspect of music early in musical education, with iterative recourse to the psycho-motor domain of playing an instrument and creating sound, that the student is less intimidated by what has become the cognitive aspect of music education.
The hierarchies and their respective terms also serve as important structures for creative exercises, which otherwise might be deemed a waste of time by other teachers. For the purpose of the survey it will be important to present some type of learning outcomes for the exercises because not all teachers are entirely sympathetic to the cause of ‘creative music’ and the type of content produced. Learning outcomes, loosely interpreted, then will play a triple function – that of structuring the transformative integration of technology into musical education by making the distinction between cognitive and psycho-motor domains of learning (a distinction important for pedagogical purposes); of providing necessary limits for creative exercise; and as a widely-known convention within which to present educational benefits and findings with other teachers.

1.4 – A Transformative Integration of technology using Bloom’s Taxonomy as an instructional design model

As stated above, the present study will attempt to draft a student-centered teaching method for musical instrument pedagogy by presenting the instrument as a creative tool, with which the student can construct their own understanding of music on that instrument. Using Bloom’s original taxonomy and the subsequent revisions as a guide, many of the concepts around creativity anand student-centricity, discussed earlier in this review, can be implemented into practical lesson plans. For example, Faultley’s conception of the new creativity in education – ‘Pluralistic Developmentalism’ – is facilitated by Anderson and Krathwhol’s revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy, where ‘Create’ replaces ‘Evaluate’ as the uppermost category. The introduction of a two-dimensional chart for the Cognitive domain, where even tasks employing basic Factual knowledge can involve the cognitive process ‘Create’, facilitates the introduction of ‘creative experiments’ as valid learning experiences at all stages of learning and development. The central hypothesis for the lesson design, with reference to Bloom’s taxonomy, is that development in the Cognitive domain (towards the Creative goal) can provide intrinsic motivation in the student for further development in the Psycho-motor and Affective domains.
The division of learning into these three domains also facilitates the integration of technology at different parts of the learning process – for example, the use of musical notation softwares for compositional tasks; the use of Digital Audio Workstations for sound editing work; and the use of streaming websites for evaluation of both one’s own work and that of others. Churches’ inclusion of verbs like searching; commenting; uploading; & broadcasting as describing new and important learning activities aligns with a ‘transformative’ view of technology in education, where the immediate tasks and goals are transformed by the technology. The technical instructions in Paynter’s project Sounds on Tape serve as a dated precursor to Churches’ revisions, while the set of teachers for which Webster (2009) was presenting the digital tools would certainly view these new activities as incumbent on valuable lesson time.
The identification of collaboration as the most significant activity on the web, and consequently as a verb in the penultimate category ‘Evaluating’, facilitates the ‘novice-expert continuum’ as described above in reference to Faultley’s ‘Pluralistic Developmentalism’. By collaborating online with the teacher, the student begins to learn the possibilities of these digital platforms, while still maintaining an authentic learning trajectory. The long term learning outcome is to teach the student how to control their own musical learning and creativity using these new activities – a Creative goal involving Metacognitive Knowledge.
The aim of this thesis is to provide and assess an example of a ‘transformative’ integration of these technologies into a constructive, activity-based student-centered pedagogical design.
Bloom’s Taxonomy and revisions are used loosely to create a structure for achieving these creative student-centered goals, which can also be communicated to other teachers and perhaps help them identify areas of music technology they need to develop. However, to develop a truly open-ended process the current study proposes an online survey in which a participant’s stance on the use of technology in music education is measured against their use of the technology and their beliefs about teaching in general. The participant will then be presented with a small production based on some activities from the focus group in which the general teaching method and some of the tools are presented to students.
As such, the survey will help in assessing the degree to which the learning process drafted in this paper can facilitate different views on music pedagogy – for example, whether a teacher who believes in the ‘amplicative’ use of technology will necessarily reject the learning process as proposed here, or see ‘amplicative’ uses within it also. On the other hand, the survey will also serve a social function in raising awareness of these new possibilities in teaching among its participants, in order to create a network of interested teachers. Participants will be given access to a WordPress blog (, which features the research leading up to the survey as well as ongoing projects.

Different views on technology in teaching

Literature around the question of how to introduce young people to technology in a particular context, such as learning a musical instrument, is fraught with the scepticism many have for Technology (with a capital ‘T’) in general. However, there are also some interesting points of view arising among educational researchers which suggest a much more secularized integration of technology – using different technologies in combination with domains of learning in very specific ways that transform the short term goals of the teaching. In order to present a thesis, I had to trim some of the more interesting overtones of this debate into a basic dichotomy – ‘Transformative’ or ‘Amplicative’. In hindsight, things probably aren’t that simple, but at the same time different views do seem to either find themselves in either of these camps. The following is another chunk from my thesis in which I explain and illustrate these a little more:

Keen, in a recent article from the Sunday Times entitled Do as iSay, not as iDo: Silicon Valley’s two faces on learning (Keen 2015), examines the facts surrounding web-based learning and argues that optimism for the industry is primarily monetary rather than genuinely representing a positive change in education. Rather than democratization, the effects will be those of centralization; surveillance; and an increase in the gulf between those who can afford a technologically advanced education and those who cannot. Keen identifies this sweep of reinvention as the next wave of the internet revolution after Web 2.0, where “the outcome was anything but beneficial for anyone except the increasingly monopolistic platforms that owned and operated this content” (ibid). The automatic free sharing of content taken up by many online education companies is thus seen as a self-deprecating move. Such a funded sweep of reinvention of traditional means of education takes on a more pessimistic hue when we consider that the majority of children of the burgeoning industry’s leading moguls in Silicon Valley take part in ‘Waldorf’ education which prioritizes human over technological interaction, to the point of exclusion of the latter.

The question of how technology can and should be employed into traditional teaching methods in music is well debated and documented, with a general dichotomy between an ‘amplicative’ integration and one that is ‘transformative’ (Kiesler, as cited in Beckstead 2001). An ‘amplicative’ integration of technology is one in which the way of teaching and the tasks set for the student remain the same and the computer is merely another instrument to be used for this purpose, thus amplifying pre-determined and unchanged teaching methods. The efficiency of the tool can be assessed against the reaching of the predefined goal. The example offered by Beckstead is a student’s composition of a piece for string quartet via a MIDI keyboard and notation software, where the beat-alignment between the parts is visually obvious and transposition to different clefs can be done easily. Technology has served to reinforce traditional compositional practices in a manner more efficient for the student.

Ruismaki et al. (2009) offer the term ‘inside-out’ as an approach where technology is used to develop new methods for traditional tasks and goals. According to this view, technology must be thoughtfully integrated into predefined praxes to avoid the wholesale replacement of ‘living music playing, music teaching and students with machinery’ (Ruismaki et al. 2009. My italics). On the other hand, Draper (2008) stresses the importance of finding and maintaining an ‘authentic ontology’ in the balance between old and new ontologies in music education, as a disconnect develops between a new techno-integrated culture and previous educational models. Although a clear fault line between these approaches is hard to find, a need for integration is generally identified, with more weight given to either tradition or innovation. For our purposes, the terms ‘amplicative’ and ‘transformative’ (adapted from Kiesler) will represent both sides of the debate on technological integration.

A ‘transformative’ use of technology involves a qualitative change in what constitutes music. Beckstead (2001) cites the debate argued by composers like John Cage and Edgard Varese as they began to experiment with electronically produced sound. With new and detailed ways to achieve sound, the working habits transform from the classical image of the composer with manuscript sheet in hand to a whole wide range of experimental activities. For example, in An end to Electronics, composer Steve Reich gives an account of how he developed the Phase Shifting Pulse Gate by collaborating with Bell Labs’ Larry Owens. The device contained 12 channels, which each gated an analog signal and were also capable of shifting the sequence according to a programmed length of time for each gate. By gradually shifting the sequence of the gates a rhythmic process is initiated, the sound of which would become recognizable as part of Steve Reich’s style as a composer. Due to reservations Reich had about performing with the machine – its instability as a prototype, lack of a visual musical performance – he went on to score similar rhythmic processes in traditional notation for different combinations of instruments, beginning with four organs and maracas (Reich, 1970). This is an early example of how a composer’s habits were both transformed in a practical sense, and later a theoretical one, by technological research.

         Reich’s Four Organs was completed and premiered in 1970. That same year saw the first publication of Sound and Silence by Paynter and Aston, which presented a series of exercises in creativity for music teaching and learning which situated the lessons in a contemporary context. Project 17, Sounds on Tape, is another early illustration of a transformative use of technology, this time in an educational context. By using the various speeds for recording and playback on a tape-recorder, Paynter offers methods for creating new sounds – such as increased and decreased speed; loops; and reversed sounds – as well as compositional exercises using those techniques to create pieces by students in the then relatively recent genre of Musique Concrete.

Although these may be examples involving extra-ordinary individuals (both Paynter and Reich were definitely ground-breakers in their fields), there seems to have been a general climate of creative behavior in many disciplines at that time. Clouse (2009) identifies a general trend towards exclusivity in Computer-Aided-Instruction softwares, from a nascent period of free and open use in the 60’s. Bitzer’s original system Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations (PLATO) from 1959 was constructed with two goals in mind: to investigate the potential for the use of computers in education and to develop a system which was economically viable and sustainable. The fourth iteration, PLATO IV, proved a success in terms of the second goal, while its subsequent use would help determine the potential in educational settings. The system was devised both for solving educational needs, and for educational research where new ways of teaching, using the system, could be measured statistically. Different uses of the PLATO system began to develop into curricula within the system, such as Hofstetter’s Graded Units for Interactive Dictation Operations (GUIDO) – an aural skills programme devised within PLATO. MUSFUND by Gross and Foltz was another example which focused instead on music theory, recognition of notated scales, intervals, chords and terminology. GUIDO recorded incorrect answers, and allowed Hofstetter to better identify aspects of aural training with which students were having difficulty. Gross and Foltz compiled scores and interviews at the end of a study period where some students used MUSFUND, and noted “higher degrees of comprehension of music fundamentals than those who did not” (as cited in Clouse 2006). The pattern recognized by Clouse in this historical review was that scholarly research, and use of CAI steadily rose from the 60’s, peaked during technological and commercial innovation throughout the 80’s, but diminished in the 90’s with the arrival of more finished and commercial CAI products that put CAI under a sealed hood, inaccessible to the teacher. Without the possibility to interact with and change the drills, or how the correction data was collected, the use of CAI diminished in general.

Although the case of PLATO exemplifies how educational technology should be researched and developed, it is also an example of the ‘amplicative’ integration of technology to a pedagogical approach which is instructional rather than ‘constructive’ in the sense of Piaget. The use of computers for contingent tutoring in music technology education as described by King (2009), is situated in a social constructivist (Pear & Crowne-Todd, 2002, as cited in King 2009) – a recent development on Piaget’s learning model of active construction, which values both peer-to-peer and expert interaction. King’s case study in 2009 involved a web-page style Learning Technology Interface, to be used as support in assigned tasks in the recording studio. The same tasks were carried out by pairs of students with use of the LTI and other pairs working from a paper manual. Both the time spent on a particular task and how the pair interacted towards the outcome were recorded, and revealed significant time benefit as well as overall enthusiasm from the students for the LTI supported learning. The use of an interactive interface was found to facilitate the ‘social constructivist’ approach to activity learning to a greater degree than the paper-based counterpart. The use of technology in the study is ‘transformative’ because of the departure from typical ‘instructional’ lessons on recording studio techniques to social constructivist exercises supported by a Learning Technology Interface.

Webster offers a survey of tools in Music Technology as a Servant to Real Music Experience (Webster 2009) as well as ways to use them, which will have a minimal impact on time spent actually making music. He focuses specifically on the possibilities for contingent learning and asynchronous interaction offered by many tools, all of which are either available for download or hosted online. This presentation of tools and methods is an appeal to music teachers who value their lesson time as time for playing the instrument itself. The tools, therefore, are presented in an ‘amplicative’ way in that they serve the traditional purpose of the teaching without imposing on the time spent in the class.

Although it may be difficult to draw a clear boundary between the ‘amplicative’ and ‘transformative’ approaches, it is clear that the group of teachers just mentioned would view Paynter’s Sounds on Tape project as an imposition on class time rather than as a ‘creative project’.


Strategies towards the successful integration of technology into traditional teaching methods offer a potential middle ground between these two extremes. However, the debate about how to do this is also interwoven with the preconceptions of both teachers and students as prospective users of the technology.

Ho (2004) carried out a study of teacher and student reactions to the usage of technology in music education, carried out at the end of a five-year strategy to incorporate the use of IT in the education system in Hong Kong. The strategy ‘Information Technology for Quality Education’ involved the professional development of teachers, and sought to initiate a paradigm-shift in teaching methods, from a largely text-book based, teacher centered approach to a more interactive and learner-centered approach, with recurring grants to research and to buy new educational software. Despite these measures, as well as IT training in previous education, many teachers still maintain their image as knowledge-givers, rather than learning facilitators in an information-rich age. The study was to measure the planned paradigm shift through ethnographic research. 11/28 teachers agreed that in some respects IT was more effective than traditional methods. Respects such as visualization of knowledge, availability of information, and interactivity were mentioned. From the 10/28 who answered ‘depends’, the answers referred to more physical activities such as choir practice and rehearsals, and feedback in lessons by experienced musicians as cases where IT could not help. Unsurprisingly, the majority disagreed that IT usage was a good measure of quality of education.

Students’ positive reactions included improved accuracy of musical accompaniment programs for practice, that the availability made IT convenient for learning, and that it was tidier than a manuscript. This last point is particularly relevant for our study of the usage of Noteflight, as it prevents the untidiness of the students own writing from discouraging their activity, as well as offering accurate playback and correct beat alignment of what is written. The minority who disagreed that IT helped motivate their learning cited examples of physical interaction – gestural learning absent from IT, immediate response from a teacher who knows your background, unwillingness to listen to electronic sound, or that they were uninterested in music anyway and IT did not achieve in arousing their interest.

Ho concludes that in order for the challenges of IT to be met in education proper designs for use of technology in musical pedagogy are needed, as well as teachers with both technical skill and appreciation for the ‘knowledge-based age’. Further identification and dissemination of appropriate technological tools for students and teachers are also needed.

Enter the digits!…

Unsure whether or not the digital artefact I collaborated to produce ticked enough boxes for our Digital Art project, I started to experiment with the sound-file in the Digital Audio Workstation Audacity.

Although I had used GarageBand for the basic editing (bit of cutting, splash of reverb), I had heard of some of Audacity’s in-house effects and took the opportunity to mess around with a few. Paulstretch basically stretches the sound-file you apply it to, in only extreme amounts – my five minute track for the slideshow was turned into an ambient texture lasting about 30 minutes! With a bit more cutting, I finally arrived at this:

Each of the three sections of the original piece is represented here. After cutting out these representative bits I joined them up together to form this new piece – a simple cut and paste job, an open-ended jigsaw with my own pieces that occupied me well into the wee hours!

It occurred to me that there seemed to be something of a progression of thought between the original invitation to create and this final, open-ended exercise – both driven by a specific goal (the submission for the module). Would it be possible to steer a young student through something of the same process, utilizing some of the same software? What would the educational benefits be? Are we beginning to steer away from Music (with the capital ‘M’?).

Creativity and music education

The following is an extract from the literature review of my thesis. Its the first section which deals with creativity in music education, considered apart from any use of technology. I am certain that there are hugely important references which are missing from this review, and so comments or suggestions from more enlightened beings are greatly appreciated! On the other hand, I had that strange mixed emotion of fear and excitement to learn that in fact I was not the first (to put it mildly) to think these thoughts.

Approaches to music education have varied greatly over the course of the 20th century. Viewed in isolation, these variations seem like they owe themselves to the idiosyncrasies of the pedagogues, educational theorists and composers who have proposed them. However, recent literature utilizes a more context-driven analysis, which attributes these variations to developments in much broader contexts.

In an article just after the turn of the 21rst century, Faultley uses the symbolism of Orff’s Wheel of Fortune in ‘Carmina Burana’ as a metaphor for the waxing and waning of the idea of ‘creativity’ in music education. He cites Grieg:

“To be too original is always a fault. Indeed, if any one attempted to produce a thing that should be entirely different in all its particulars from everything that had gone before, he would utterly fail; and supposing it possible for him to succeed, his production would be universally rejected.” (Grieg 1896, as cited in Faultley 2004).

Note in Grieg’s words the automatic assumption that a student’s composition is a work for the public domain, where it will be finally and absolutely measured as an artistic object, rather than be an exercise in understanding.

Eight years later, in his treatise on The Evolution of Harmony Kitson stresses that ‘The student must be compelled from the very start to think out his own chord progressions’ (Kitson, 1914) where ‘original work’ is one of the types of exercises that will ensure the student’s development as a composer. The two accounts are by no means incommensurable and their apparent disagreement arises from the ambiguity around the term ‘original’. What Grieg is denouncing is the attempt to be different just for the sake of it, and what Kitson is stressing is the need for students to think for themselves using what they have learned. They are both writing in the same artistic context, with slightly different conceptions of what is meant by originality in music education. However, in both cases the artistic product of the student is ultimately measured against the greater tradition from which the teacher is operating – a tradition now referred to by historians as the Western Canon, and which we will call the hegemonic influence on educational praxis.

Even new works by respected composers were judged and badly received because they did not align with the previous tradition. The well-documented public reactions to Schoenberg’s String Quartet No.2 (premiered in 1908) and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (1913) illustrate the hegemonic backdrop within which Grieg and Kitson were also writing (Burkholder et al. 2006, 801-824).

Throughout the 20th century ‘serious’ concert music developed into a variety of styles and approaches, many of which decidedly branched away from the received tradition, leaving music education as a conservatoire of inherited sacrosanct content and traditional methods against which a student’s progression could be measured. Breakthroughs were being made regarding the instruction of this content, with some new pedagogies designed to suit the mental development of young people (such as Orff and Kodaly), and a development into instrumental skills (for example Bela Bartok for the piano). Meanwhile, by the middle of the twentieth century, composers such as Varese, Cage and Stockhausen were questioning and recreating the foundations of Western music, influenced and aided by developments in technology (Beckstead 2001).

This misalignment between education and context inspired Klotman (as cited in Beckstead 2001) to estimate that music education in the twentieth century has been at least a generation behind real world developments.

By the 70’s, educational theorist and teacher John Paynter addressed this divide directly when he said “The musical techniques of our time are relevant to our situation because they grow from it. They must, therefore, have a place in the work we plan for our classes in schools” (Paynter and Aston 1970, 6). He offers the view that the preoccupation in music education with re-creative activities is a result of the tendency to view music as a ‘leisure activity’, accompanied by the belief that creative projects will only serve to slow the ‘more musical’ student down in his/her attainment of performance skills necessary to do well in public examinations. Paynter rejects this viewpoint and maintains that, in order for any such skill enhancement to be meaningful there first has to be an “understanding of the medium and its potential. We can only discover this through creative experiment” (ibid, 7). Much of Paynter’s creative projects involve playing with traditional mediums – extended techniques for traditional musical instruments, projects involving traditional notation, as well as graphical notation – which are supplemented with recommended listening from the contemporary oeuvre in which objects of the lesson were being used, such as Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique or John Cage’s prepared piano. There is also a project involving Sounds on Tape, which will be considered later in this review, as a ‘transformative’ implementation of technology in education.

Paynter’s Canadian contemporary R. Murray Schafer is a little more radical in his call for change in music education:

“The basic vocabulary of music will change. We will perhaps speak of ‘sound objects’, of ‘envelopes’ and ‘onset transients’ instead of ‘triads’ ‘sforzando’ and ‘appogiatura’ … Students will perhaps be trained to describe music in terms of exact frequencies or frequency bands rather than in the limited nomenclature of the tonal system” (Schafer 1969, 3).

In The New Soundscape Schafer deals much more with music as sound, diverting attention away from its notated representation, in a discursive style of teaching where he explores concepts with the students rather than lecture to students about them.

Pockets of ground-breaking pedagogy such as this were accompanied by ongoing debates within the field of psychology from the 50’s, when Guilford expressed a need for research into divergent thinking in education in his presidential address to the American Psychological Association. Constructivism was also coming to the fore in educational research, with it’s roots in the works of Piaget and Dewey, stressing the importance of activity-based learning; the students’ construction of their own understanding; and a reassessment of the teacher-student relationship to one of partnership rather than instruction. Despite these debates, the surrounding educational environment remained cautious. ‘Creativity’ in an educational context was still being avoided due to problems with definition and criteria, and possibly as a result of previous ‘unscientific’ attempts (Webster 2009).

Webster discusses some of the recent developments in research for the teaching of music and creativity against the backdrop of this slow and reluctant uptake on the part of schools and institutions in North America. Webster notes the increasing presence within the modern educational research literature, of the post-modern tendency to question inherited conceptual systems; to favour more the analysis of the surrounding social contexts; as well as the use of qualitative methodologies. Although the positivist approach is still important for curricula and teaching praxis, Webster observes a shift in educational theory from the assessment of composed pieces as final products to the learning process itself. Meanwhile, Webster notes the tendency for music teachers in North America to concentrate on musical performance rather than composition, focusing mostly on students who exhibit some talent for performance in the first place, while according to his account the Australian and English systems had apparently incorporated a more balanced approach.

However, in the UK, Faultley (2004) documents how the reformative campaign in music pedagogy in the 70’s went into a gradual decline, as educational institutions found it increasingly difficult to incorporate it into their ever more exacting curricula. The exploration of sounds, so bravely put forward by Paynter and Schafer, seemed to show no signs of progress in a young persons’ education. Such unregulated experimentation and lack of evaluative criteria tarnished the word ‘creativity’ in the minds of those who were drafting the national curricula for England and Wales in the 90’s. They replaced ‘creativity’ with the word ‘composition’, with all the connotations of creating artistic objects more aligned with the older ‘proven’ tradition of composers, as it reflected better the rest of the internal structure of curricula at the time. The hegemonic influence embodied in the writings of educators like Kitson became a touchstone for training in harmony, which at its best enabled students to write passable imitations of Bach chorales.

Such a rigorous transformation of creative exercises into quantifiable summative assessments is observed by Faultley (2004a) as resulting in the neglect of the student’s qualitative interaction with the music. For example, if a piece made use of an ostinato rhythm it didn’t really matter what it sounded like or whether the student liked it, as long as the student could identify it as an ‘ostinato’. Driven by the need for formative assessment, and a noted climate of fear in this regard from the Office For Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED), teachers developed different strategies for intervention into the group creative work based on the requirements of the lesson, rather than trying to engage the students in open-ended creative work as such.

Atkinson (2000) discusses the possible repercussions of an educational system that relies heavily on quantifiable goals. A narrowing of focus, driven by a desire for results, utilizes an approach of ‘what works’ – resulting in the increased centralization of content and delivery across the board. She cites the National Literacy and Numeracy strategies in the UK, of 1998 and 1999 respectively, as examples of this blanket application of practicality that have only the semblance of a solution. The database for classroom practice offered by OFSTED in 1998 is another point in case – where it was claimed that further educational research might be unnecessary due to the supposed scope in the database of possible classroom situations. Atkinson describes a counter move to this situation based on the ideology of post-modernism.

The unsettling of accepted frameworks in all disciplines drives the particular focus on education in post-modern thinking as the site for challenging the inheritance of out-dated ideals. Atkinson offers the ultimatum that educational practice will either narrow further down along the line of ‘what works’ and ‘best practice’ to the point of alienation of the students from the process, or else broaden to a policy of embracing multiple voices and perspectives. The obvious danger of the latter is the so-called ‘balkanization’ and loss of standards/quality in education and culture, but this has to be weighed against the erosion of differences “in the quest of national standards” (Atkinson 2000).

The slow re-admittance of ‘creativity’ in education, according to Faultley (2004), arrives at:

“the post-creative stage, which could therefore be regarded as post-postmodernism. Rejectionism has itself been rejected. Non-hegemonic relativism has been replaced by ideas of inclusion, wherein different musics are valued in their own right. The tacitly understood notion of creative music, that music could spring fully-formed from inexperienced pupils, has been replaced by notions of progression in learning” (Faultley, 2004. 346. My italics)

No longer do the creative exercises by students necessarily have to be weighed as artistic objects according to a tradition, but as signs of some progression in learning, which also may be valued independently. ‘Pluralistic Developmentalism’ is a key term suggested by Faultley to describe this new version of creativity which celebrates many forms of music-making; seeks to help pupils to learn; and ultimately allows students to move along what he describes as a ‘novice-expert continuum’. There is a hint of this continuum in Paynter’s work from the 70’s, as he suggests further listening at the end of each creative exercise, where the student can hear a contemporary composer using the same techniques covered in the lesson. The need for quantifiable goals in subsequent years of educational practice drove the composers/experts out of the sphere of influence, replaced by a curriculum that presented the same techniques merely as something the student had to do to progress in a system of learning, devoid of its original artistic context. Open-ended learning, with interaction between novices and current practitioners of the subject or art, is proposed by Faultley as a possible antidote for the blanket approach of standardized curricula.

While a ‘novice-expert continuum’ may be facilitated by schemes whereby a composer works with groups to help create a piece of music, as described by Kaschub (1997), the ubiquity of alternative influences on a student in an age of information presents both a threat to the validity of formal learning as well as an opportunity for engaged learning.

Giddens (1990) suggests three basic characteristics of the late-modern era that may account for a replacement even closer to the individual student than that of standardized curricula. The detachment of time from space, as a result of a dependence on high-speed information; the disembedding mechanisms of late modernity which displace institutions (cultural and otherwise) from their place in local society to a more centralized and global stage; and lastly the resultant prerogative of the reflexive project of both institutions and individuals in such an age where information is ubiquitous and constantly updated.

At no other time in our historical review has the incongruity of context between education and its surroundings been felt to such an extent as the present, ‘late modern’ or ‘postmodern’ age. For example the students in Paynter’s class would generally have had to be informed by the teacher of the likeness of their projects to compositions of the avant-guard, such as Stockhausen. Student access to these resources were facilitated in the 70’s by magnetic tape technology. Now, with the ubiquitous presence of influences (musical and otherwise) provided by Web 2.0, and young peoples’ engagement with those influences on that platform, we have a situation where the student already has a long list of influences that inform their evaluation of presentations made by the teacher.

Partti and Karlsen (2010) offer a description of the kinds of musical engagements that might preoccupy a young person outside of their formal education. The list goes from constantly listening to his/her iPod in many different situations (such as travelling on the bus, or ‘creating their own space’ while studying in a noisy environment); to playing music-orientated games like Guitar Hero; to playing a gig in Second Life. Examples like these are not only recreational, but tend to be instrumental in the construction of a young persons identity.

The importance of identity, and of the relationship between motivation and identity, was illustrated by a study carried out by Macdonald et al. (2002). In the introduction to this study, music is identified as a crucial part of our identities, as identity construction is increasingly a need of our time. A continuing lack of clear social hierarchy opens up more and more choices for us to make, unlike traditional society where much of this was decided for the individual. Macdonald et al. identify music as a crucial part of this reflexive process, especially as it is facilitated in different ways by online Communities of Practice and music sharing websites like YouTube. The study, however, deals with communities of practice not necessarily mediated by the internet. Instead Jazz music as a profession is taken to be an example of a community with which one identifies, and within which one constructs and identity. A focus group involving professional Jazz musicians was held in order to collate individuals’ experiences of the profession in both a strict sense (summarized in the study by the title ‘Jazz is’) and in the broad sense of a lifestyle (‘Jazz life is’). Among the findings was the idea that identity construction is the result of negotiation with other identities, and that where a conflict of identities arose ‘hegemonic influences’ came into play.

The second focus group held and presented in this study centered around musical pedagogy – the relationship between musical identity and motivation. Focus groups comprising of teachers, parents and students helped clarify that the construction of a positive musical identity is a deciding factor in a student’s motivation to learn. Children with internal motivations, such as self-interest, displayed ‘mastery’ behavior, where obstacles to their learning were seen to be surmountable. Children with external motivations, such as seeking to please parents, were observed to display ‘helpless’ behavior, where the situation was out of their control.

The value a student places on a lesson was further broken down into Value; Expectancy; and Affective components (Eccles et al, 1983, as cited in Macdonald et al. 2002). Value components include attainment value (the value to the individual of achieving the task); utility value (the usefulness in future applications of what they are learning); perceived cost (as measured in time which could be spent doing other activities); and intrinsic interest (the joy and absorption in the task itself, for its own sake). It is this last component which is identified as most important and most conducive to creativity in a given subject (Amabile, 1996).

The particular example as studied by Partti and Karlsen (2010) is the Finnish website Mikseri, an independent music sharing website which encourages large discussion threads of comments on each members’ work. Aside from the more recreational functions a website like this provides such as ‘mood regulation’, it is a veritable playground for the construction and presentation of identities as well as being a site for informal learning-by-doing. Some of the example threads cited from the website exemplify the belief that learning of a more specific and applicable kind takes place there:

“I haven’t had any instrument lessons mainly because my own enthusiasm would have dropped right at the start if my parents had put me through piano lessons. I am simply not interested in studying ready-made stuff; I actually just want to come up with new things” (Mikseri member, as cited in Partti et al 2010, 374).

Although a sample of the members’ work would be interesting, the statement itself is a clear example of an education carried out mainly by self-directed activities, and motivated by an identity constructed primarily online. It is also a perfect expression of antithesis of what Wenger decried as the ‘obsessive focus on curricular content and test scores’ (Wenger 2006) of the present educational system, which discourages students from personal engagement in learning.

Examples such as this, and the fictional day-in-the-life account cited above, are offered by Partti and Karlsen as posing a threat to formal learning and universally applied curricula. The tendency towards the ‘destabilisation of cultural cannons’ in late modernity, as construed by Giddens (1990), along with the structural problems a rigid system faces in an increasingly fast-changing environment of information, both contribute to the danger of traditional learning being made redundant.


In summary, during the course of the 20th century, concepts like ‘originality’ and ‘creativity’ in musical education have surfaced and resurfaced in various forms. The presence of an unquestioned musical tradition influenced Grieg and Kitson to take a restrictive view on a student’s ‘originality’. Theoretical and technological advancements being explored by modern composers in the 70’s influenced educators like Paynter and Schafer to take creative and experimental approaches to teaching, also incorporating the new techniques and technologies in their lessons. The subsequent need for standardization then took elements of both of these schools of thought, but implemented rigorous controls which disembedded them from their original context, be they hegemonic or experimental. Faultley (2004) and Atkinson (2000) also observe this implementation to be part of a nationwide sweep of standardization. A longitudinal study by Bromley et al (2011) of social science text-books from 73 different countries over a 40 year period, demonstrated a similar correlation between the over-arching political climate and the general teaching styles employed in the schools.

However, an even more widespread disembedding mechanism, a characteristic of the ‘high-modern’ information age, has created a ubiquity of alternative influences for the student. The range of possible influences online is now so great that they present a need to create an identity, in what Giddens calls the ‘reflexive project’ of both people and institutions. In one century, a student-centered approach in musical pedagogy (and education in general) has gone from one cautiously considered to one which may be necessary if formal education is to survive in any meaningful way.

The present study will attempt to draft a student-centered teaching method for musical instrument pedagogy. By presenting the instrument as a creative tool, with which the student can construct their own understanding of music, there is a possibility that the reign of influences from either side (teacher’s or student’s) is kept at bay for the sake of a more open-ended approach. Rather than simply importing the content of a student’s influences from the internet into a music lesson, this study proposes ‘creative experiments’ with the means of production behind these influences – much in the same way as Paynter presented the new techniques before supplying the recommended listening. As such, the instrument will be presented as a creative tool among others, in a learning process that also employs digital tools for the creation of music.

Use of web-based technology will facilitate a more active learning that has an asynchronous element which allows students to add to their own projects in their own time in the intervening week between lessons, utilizing the high-modern condition of ‘separation of time and space’ as construed by Giddens.


This blog is initially a public, reader friendly version of my current MA thesis at UCC in the Digital Arts and Humanities. As such, it will feature selections from my writings which can be quite ‘wordy’. The title of my thesis seems daunting even to me –  Music Pedagogy and Technology: A Transformative Integration of Technology into a Student Centered Design.(!)

However, in the long run I hope this to be more like a reflexive space where I can share any interesting stuff I come across in the use of music technology for teaching. As is the case in many other disciplines I’ve learned about this year, the use of technology for music education tends to be counter-balanced by underlying concepts we have about music itself – some of which we share, some of which we may not. It is never a simple question of whether we will use this or that digital tool for a single specific purpose. Instead, a manifold of fundamental questions arise from the possibilities and potential the tools provide to a given discipline. As a couple of famous examples, Alan Liu discusses this phenomenon in relation to English and the Humanities in general, while Laurence Lessig, co-founder of the Creative Commons writes of how copyright law necessarily has to change in order to apply to the new platform of Web 2.0. Although not strictly speaking about technology, in the following talk Ken Robinson argues the necessity of a like paradigm shift in education:

So many themes and issues raised in 10 minutes, all of which are significant, but those of standardized curricula; aesthetic experience; collaboration; creativity and divergent thinking became especially important for my own research into how all this relates to music pedagogy. It almost seemed like a tendentious leap to imagine that big concepts such as these might relate to my own experiences of education, or of music education more specifically…

However, despite a privileged education in the general Arts and in Music there had been some unsettling instances where I was asked to create or ‘make something up’, and felt I just … couldn’t. A really strange feeling of knowing what one would do but not being able to do it. Could this be another example of some theoretical inheritance, a ‘filling-up’ of conceptual knowledge which ousts any creative impulse or aesthetic experience?

An instance of this occurred when a DAH classmate approached me about putting something together for an assignment we had. For some reason, the ‘academic’ context and collaborative nature of the task seemed less daunting. Perhaps it is that something like creativity needs these kinds of limits. I set about recording an improvisation around an old melody I had been playing in my spare time – ‘An Raibh tu ag an gCarraig’ – and added some more sections to expand the duration to match the sequence of pictures. Here’s what we both came up with:

So, not exactly what Katrina had had in mind – something a little more jolly was probably in order – but I remarked to myself at the time what a great focus a little project like this could be … How effective would a task like this be as a learning process for younger students? After all, there needs to be a considerable amount of practice on the instrument before you can record (even to the poor rhythmical standard as above); the task of editing your own work, although painstaking, is a great exercise on many levels; and lastly (perhaps most importantly) learning how to collaborate is an essential, and highly transferable skill.

Coming back to how the paradigm shift Robinson refers to applies to music education, it seemed to me that the affordances of various forms of new technology are a relatively untapped educational resource which might further serve a student-centered and collaborative approach to teaching. But again, where’s the line and how do we measure it? are we really teaching Music (with a capital ‘M’) with stuff like this? and how will students actually react to this use of technology in teaching?

The free and open inter-disciplinarian environment of DAH at UCC meant that I could go on to create and propose a research project centering around questions like these.