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.

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