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Class Of '88

Is music education a good thing? Does it contribute to the general quality of music and if so, is enough being done to promote it? Tim Goodyer delivers the lecture.

WHAT VALUE EDUCATION? Musical education, that is. We frequently read Music Technology interviews with musicians who extol the virtues of a musical education - and as frequently we read interviews in which the featured musician credits his creativity to his musical ignorance. And the controversy doesn't stop there: elsewhere in this issue you'll find a reader's letter discussing this very issue.

What will a "classical" musical education give you? Well, hopefully, it'll allow you to cope with that dreaded musical phenomena: the dots (almost essential to a successful session player); it'll give you an insight into the "traditional" considerations of composition; an understanding of melody; harmonic, melodic and rhythmic counterpoint. It may even teach you to play. Sounds like a good deal.

And no musical education leaves you in the mire, right? Obviously not, as many successful modern artists are untaught or self-taught. Many flout the "rules" of composition, arrangement, harmony and so on, and yet the music works. More than that, it often works well and sells well. Equally there's a lot of dross in contemporary music and it's tempting (often irresistible to certain advocates of traditional music tuition) to blame this on musical illiteracy.

As I write, there are moves afoot to improve the standards of musical education with academia - the Performing Right Society has just launched a Composers in Education scheme designed to pay for professional composers' time spent on special projects within state schools. As a matter of fact they're accepting proposals for such projects right now.

Another familiar claim is that technology is "setting the musician free". Free from their inadequate playing ability. Free from their inability to sight read. Free from the dependence on other musicians... But as often as not, these "new freedoms" are remarkably similar to those found by our musical predecessors in their encounters with music technology - see the 1903 newspaper extract in last month's editorial.

AS FAR AS I can see, an awful lot of inventive musical ideas have been born as a direct result of people's inability to play that which "the system" would have encouraged them to. And the only irony in this situation is that much of this originality is lost simply because it doesn't fit in with traditional methods of notation and performance. Nor does this appear to be a peculiarly '70s or '80s phenomenon - it's been called folk music of one sort or another for centuries. What often happens with folk music is that it surfaces in a "respectable" composer's work at a later date - and he or she takes all the credit (Tchaikovsky and Borodin to name but two; at least Vaughan Williams acknowledged his sources).

On the subject of technology, there does seem to be one genuine revolution taking place, and it has to do with circumventing traditional musical education. For the first time in history an "uneducated" musician is able to conceive, arrange and perform music that is too complicated for one person to play without the assistance of other musicians. In the past, anyone with a musical imagination but without any musical education effectively has been prevented from doing this by their inability to communicate with other musicians through the stave. Now anyone can compose and play music of almost any degree of complexity without understanding the principles of melody and harmony - without being able to play. In fact, they can even produce a score without being able to read a single note or rest of it themselves. Now, isn't that progress?

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Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Music Technology - Aug 1988

Editorial by Tim Goodyer

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