Using Symbolic Interactionism in the music classroom

Educators often face the challenge of introducing students to unfamiliar material such as a scholarly article in a journal or a musical practice from a cultural or social system far removed from their own. It is difficult to help students become invested in something that doesn’t make sense or means very little to them, so educators often fall into the habit of saying things like, “This is an important concept because it’s something you need to know; it’s significant in the field you’re studying; it’s something that’s fundamental to a big idea,” — basically, “this is important because it’s important.” But if we want to convince someone of something, we need to know how and why it’s important, not just that it is important. We need to examine how we can bring students through this process of understanding what we may consider ‘important’. 

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Reluctant Musicology Episode One: A scale isn’t what you may think it is


Vox Humana: Why do you think people are reluctant about musicology? Why is this even a problem?

JF: Well let’s look at people who’ve always surrounded by music, like amateur musicians who enjoy music, but feel like they’ve never really fully understood it, possibly because of the way it was taught, or they just couldn’t grasp some of the concepts.

VH: Definitely the case with many people. And there’s the fear. 

JF: The fear of…?

VH: Music theory. It was the part of any music lesson I hated the most, even more than practising scales and actually even more than sight reading, if I’m honest. At least with sight reading you can pretend you know what you’re doing and make something sound like it sort of fits.

JF: See I find it interesting that you speak of theory in opposition to ‘practice’. I’d argue that, when you expand your understanding of musicology, you definitely move away from the practical limitations of your instrument, but you’re also simultaneously able to take this knowledge and apply it in a practical context. 

VH: What you say makes sense, but once we get into the ‘nuts and bolts’ of theory, it is a real struggle to understand it, so there’s a gap in my understanding —

JF: — which is why we’re having these conversations.

I’ll stop here and explain what’s happening in this post. This is a series of conversations between myself (JF) and various people who have struggled to understand music theory for a large part of their life, despite being either enthusiastic amateur musician or even professional instrumentalists and music makers. Musicology and/or music theory are the bane of many students of music, as you see in the conversation above. But it is my conviction that understanding musicology doesn’t have to be painful. It can be challenging, yes, but it’s also rewarding, and it does have a very real impact on an individual’s understanding of how music is structured. 

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Making secondary music lessons more engaging and relevant to students

Teaching secondary music is an experience I’ve found very rewarding because students at this age have the ability to engage, talk back, and have conversations that are affected by — and affect — how they’re shaping their own identities as young adults. Three strategies I’ve found very useful in engaging secondary students during music lessons are: 1) starting with something familiar, 2) emphasising enjoyment, and 3) maintaining the importance of intellectual rigour.

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