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Monday, June 25, 2012

Music and Power

I was on the conference Research in Arts Education last week. A yearly gathering of people doing all kinds of research in the education of music, dance, drama, the visual arts, literature. Or even on arts education in general - although there exists no such thing as `arts education in general' (and if it does exist, it is nonsense).

One of the papers presented was about an investigation on the effects of using computer feedback in learning  to play an instrument. The paper was well written, well thought out, and with loads and loads of statistics in it - Crombach's alpha till you drop. The paper showed, after a lot  of calculation, that four of the five hypotheses that the computer programme helped in learning to play music were confirmed; it also showed that actually the music pupils had hardly used the computer programme. I thus learned that the pure statistical confirmation of a hypothesis doesn't mean that the hypothesis refers to anything at all in reality.

Anywway. What set me thinking was the way we look at learning to play an instrument. The idea behind the paper was that we know what effective learning is, and that we can make learning more effective. We do that by trying to get a grip on the motivational and self-regulational aspects of learning, by making feedback a scientific endeavour. By filming pupils while they are learning, by interviewing them rigorously and analysing the interviews (and sometimes, but mostly not, the interviewing), by hooking the pupils up to computers which beep and blink when mistakes are made and which store all information in order, again, to be analysed.

All for the best, of course. This is what the author of the paper stressed when I asked an unpleasant question. She explained that for pupils, the joy in music often starts when they suddenly know how to play a major third together wiith another pupil in tune - that is an experience which fosters motivation like no other experience.

And she is completely right. You can not be against learning to do something better; and even I am not saying that playing lousy is a goal in itself - or at least I am not always saying that.

But still. Anyone who has read anything from, or about (he is a hard read mostly),Foucault will have no trouble in recognising `disciplining' and `normalisation' in the activities above -and will also recognise that disciplining and normalising is always carried out for the benefit of the good of all, while there is another side to it too: the side of powerplay.

Musicking, seen from that angle, is always that struggle between the joy of individual and social expression and the necessary constraints of that mysterious structural powers exerted by no-one but shaping our lives in such big ways.

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