Developing a genuine, instinctive and motivated approach to learning music cannot simply be derived from instrumental practice. It must also be stimulated by the creativity and sense of discovery derived from composing music, learning more about the nature of sound itself and even building musical instruments from scratch.
This is very much the underlying philosophy behind a music literacy course that has evolved from a project led by the Centro Tempo Reale (CTR) in Florence Italy.
The research was conducted in collaboration between Centro Tempo Reale (CTR - http://www.centrotemporeale.it/index.php?lang=en&sez=home), six classes within the primary school “Kassel” in Florence, Italy, the University of Siena – Interaction Design Area (IDA) and the University of Limerick – Interaction Design Centre (IDC).
We talked to musician and project representative Filippo Fano .
Filippo, tell us about the overall aims of the project?
Music teaching methodologies are often quite linear – musical knowledge and skills are attained through rigorous practice whilst the more creative, innate aspects can remain dormant. This can be off-putting to some students, who may well give up learning the instrument in the belief that they are not musically creative or adept.
Many music education programs do try to address the issue however the difference with the Childrens’ Music Literacy with New Technologies course is that students were encouraged to:
- Understand the parameters that define music and sounds;
- Learn to recognise modalities of sound transformation;
- Define acoustic principles by actually constructing some music instruments;
- Develop compositional skills.
Could you explain a little more about the main issues that you wanted to address with the music literacy course?
I think that – for the sake of clarity – the question should be split in two parts: Firstly, what are the main issues addressed by the course and secondly, which were the issues we wanted to address in the evaluation?
Answering the first part, the three main issues addressed by the Music Literacy course are: the compositional approach, the use of computers as mediatosr of the activities (CAC – Computer Aided Composition) and the narrative approach applied in the course.
According to CTR educators’ assumptions, children develop a genuine approach to music not only through instrumental practice but also by experimenting with how to compose music. Far from traditional curricula – which mostly rely on the idea that composition must be taught following a consolidated development of instrumental skills – Tempo Reale’s course is aimed at stimulating the children to be authors of their own musical creations. Consequently, several educational activities of the course are based on the composition of sounds. Such a compositional approach appears at the early stage of the project, either as an unstructured activity or a guided one.
Computers and digital technologies play a fundamental role in this, as they are able to execute a certain number of complex operations in order to allow the children to focus on the more creative task. For example, a complex sound treatment like dynamic time stretching, is obtained by giving the system the very basic information (i.e. initial and final state, or interpolation time) whilst the results of the transformation can be appreciated almost in real time.
The compositional approach supported by the computer represents a concrete application in the field of Computer Aided (or Assisted) Composition (CAC). According to this approach, the composer creates music by communicating his or her abstract intentions to an ‘assistant’ without being concerned with low-level program details. As such, computers become the mediators between creative intuitions and the process of actual musical notation or composition.
Finally, the compositional approach supported by digital technologies is strongly inspired by a narrative approach in the sense that the children create and share stories when they are describing and acting in the world they see through the sounds they listen to. A narrative dimension permeates the descriptions the children make of the aural surround, it characterises the mood of their musical creations and the stories they invent and dramatise.
Is there demonstrable progress using this approach rather than more conventional approaches?
It is difficult to answer this question, as our study was not a comparative one. We may have the feeling that children generally enjoyed interacting with the computers and the collaborative style of learning. We positively observed how they used the competencies they learned during the course in the final event/concert they made in a theatre. Beside that, we collected some feedback from children and teachers concerning the educational activity. Most of the comments were very positive and children were enthusiasts as they showed their interest in replicating the experience.
However, it is impossible to compare the Music Literacy course with any other conventional one as it represents a unique case under several points of view.
Could you explain a little more how children develop narratives, like unique stories?
I’ve probably partially answered to this above. In the analysis of the course, we observed how many learning activities are based on the development of narrative competencies. For example, when the educator introduces the topic of the session they always link the task to a framework story (the Planet of Sounds adventures). From a pedagogical perspective this helps motivate the children and support them in structuring a clearer picture of all the topics presented during the course.
Beside this, there are a lot of other instances of children inventing stories for their class mates which describe the sounds they explore or create.
What would you like to see happen in the future as a result of this project?
Our plan is to keep the collaboration with Tempo Reale educators alive and hopefully to step forward into the design process. So far, we individuated two strategic directions for the design. These are the support of the externalisation process and the enhancement of a dialogical meaning construction.
Why should music teachers take notice of this project?
The good results achieved by the project (like several others similar to this) demonstrate how the use of computers could be a valid means for approaching music education at any level within primary or elementary schools.
I would like to encourage music teachers to experiment with novel activities integrating different media at the same time, such as audio, video, pictures, and text.. This kind of approach has shown to be very stimulating for children, as well as developing a genuine attitude to narrative thinking. ICT offers many possibilities from this point of view, if we consider a wide range of available solutions from personal computers to tangible media or hybrid assemblies. Indeed, a particular concern should be put on the design of such technologies, as a bad design could result in poor pedagogical or even highly frustrating experiences.
What particular points, if any, would you like to make about learning music, and the project, to policy makers in Europe?
This is a loaded question...but, in general, I believe music education should be more sustained and possibly more integrated within educational curricula.
Having followed this project for many months, we observed how much effort Tempo Reale’s educators have put into retrieving resources for developing their activities. The single institutions can of course offer their contribution, although this happens rather rarely (at least in Italy, where our project took place).
Moreover, in our case school teachers showed an high interest and appreciation toward Tempo Reale’s activities, being very helpful and collaborative with children and educators. This is indubitably a positive attitude that suggests the importance of integrating more substantially music education in primary schools’ programmes, by including music activities on a weekly basis and offering teachers the possibility of upgrading their competencies in the field.
Finally, I would really like to stress the importance of music in children’s development. Music should be considered an integrated part of the culture in which the child is immersed and developing musical skills should be seen equally important as improving mathematic or linguistic expertise. Instead, I sometimes observe the tendency of keeping music learning as a recreational activity (which in part it should be) or left to individual preference. This may be a general concern from the perspective of a musician, although it is possible to find a considerable amount of pedagogical literature validating the same point or arising similar issues.