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Niklas Rudbäck

Hearing concepts: Learning to talk about music

Contact: niklas.rudback@hsm.gu.se

Talking about music can be challenging. Music is invisible. It is built up from change and relations that exist in time. We cannot point to music. Change disappears when we try to freeze the music. Relations become meaningless when we isolate their constituent parts. Still, we can talk about music.

Our world is full of music related talk—from informal conversations about whether the right song won the Eurovision Song Contest, to more obscure conversations about whether this year’s winner was deserving of the honour despite the unconventional treatment of dissonance and the unprepared modulation before the final chorus.

My thesis project is focused on how students are educated into this more obscure, academic way of talking about music, the one that is more highly valued in educational institutions. How do we make sense of abstract concepts such as “dissonance” and “modulation”? In the theory tradition I take as a starting point, these kinds of concepts are viewed as being based in a network of definitions.

This allows us to generalise and abstract, but also leads to certain limitations. They lack the kind of grounding in concrete experience that more everyday concepts have. In light of this, I am interested in the experiences and informal ways of talking about music that students with more informal music backgrounds bring from music activities outside formal schooling. Are they brought into formal music education, and if that is the case, how are they used to make sense of concepts like “dissonance” or “modulation”?

Viewed like this, my project is about the meeting of informal and formal music cultures. Some of my empirical work is completed, while some is still at the planning stage. Presently, my material consists of video recordings of piano lessons at a music program in a Swedish upper secondary school. This data will be completed by video recordings of lessons in music theory and aural skills at the same educational level, as well as interviews with selected students.

My interest in this is grounded in my own experiences, first as a music student with a background in an ear-playing tradition, and as a music educator, teaching students with similar backgrounds. In that sense, my project is based in concrete didactic queries. However, I am also driven by an interest in more basic questions about the nature and workings of knowledge, learning and thought. In that context, I hope that a deeper understanding of music and language, and the different kinds of knowledge need to interconnect in the meeting between these forms of expression, can lead to some small insight into these seemingly eternal questions.

Page Manager: Tobias Egle|Last update: 9/19/2017

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