Monthly Archives: July 2016

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.