Ways of knowing – beginning Chapter 3

Our eighteenth post in our (re)learning to teach music series. The posts over this week and next week focus on the tasks in Chris Philpotts’s chapter – the third in Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School. This is week four of the collaborative blogging of the tasks in Learning to teach music in the secondary school, and this post is the first exploring Chris’s chapter. Wonderful to have made it this far with our collaborative blogging, and to continue to share and reflect with colleagues from a range of contexts in the UK and beyond. Huge thanks to everyone who takes the time out of the busy, complex times schools are working through to keep connected. Incredible to be in the middle of week four of our blogging and to have reached the third chapter of the book. 

What different types of musical knowledge have you needed to learn in order to become a successful musician? Think back to your own musical development and try to place these into categories or types of knowledge.

Kayleigh Griffiths @MrsGriffMusic

This question reminds me of a quote from a book I am currently reading – ‘The Inner Game of Music’ by Barry Green. This book nicely describes how I would categorise my musical knowledge in terms of performance – the ‘outer game’ and the ‘inner game’. 

Green describes the ‘outer’ game as: ‘the one we all know we are playing. You play it in the ‘outside’ world, against ‘outside opponents. The context or arena is the concert hall…Your goal is to land the contract or play that difficult passage.’ 

Alternatively, the ‘inner’ game is expressed as: ‘…subtler, less easily noticed and more quickly forgotten. It is played out in the arena of your mind. The obstacles are mental, obstacles, such as lapses of concentration, nervousness and self-doubt. Your goal is to express your potential to the fullest.’

I think it’s incredibly important to have a good understanding and knowledge of the psychological side of performance in order to become a successful musician. You could have the potential of Mozart, but if you let mental interference get in the way then that can seriously diminish your performance, just think about how much your performance could improve if we could eliminate all that mental interference? I’m working on noticing the effects of interference a lot more as an adult than I did as a student because nerves are something I’ve never really overcome. I’m also encountering performance anxiety as a big cause for concern amongst my students, so it’s only right that my own self-improvement is used to help others. 

As a tip, I would encourage anyone to think about the things that make you nervous before taking to the stage. Some examples might include – doubting your own ability, lack of practice, instrument malfunction, judgement of the audience etc. And then noticing the physical and mental effects of these things (dry mouth, loss of breath, sweaty hands, forgetting the music, feeling distracted, losing concentration etc.) because even just a simple awareness of these effects gives us some control over how we allow our minds to react to them. Of course, overcoming interference takes time and practice, but self-awareness gives our ‘inner game’ a fighting chance of meeting our potential.  

In terms of the ‘outer’ game, one specific obstacle that I had to learn more about and improve on was my ‘sound’. 

When I was at university, I worked tremendously hard to be the best player I possibly could be. However, I was surrounded by amazing musicians and I often felt completely out of my depth. I remember being told at my band audition that I wasn’t the most ‘advanced’ of players – feedback which seriously dented my confidence until I started working with my instrumental teacher. I am a euphonium player and the best piece of advice he gave me was to focus on improving my ‘sound’. I could’ve been the best player in the world, but without a good quality or ‘full’ sound, it wouldn’t be pleasant to listen to and would undermine any impressive technical ability. So I set to work on ‘fattening’ up my sound. As a brass or wind player, it was important for me to support my air flow and breathe correctly to achieve my goal. I did this by using a practice mute. This not only kept my housemates happy, but it restricted the flow of air going into my instrument, which resulted in me needing to provide a deeper and better quality flow of air into the instrument. Fortunately, this method worked wonders and I achieved a mark that I am still very proud of today. I have a couple of brass pupils and this is a tip I still thoroughly recommend to my students. The importance of good breath control can be applied across so many instruments as well – including singing. One thing I always tell my students when we’re singing together is to ‘belly breathe’ or pretend they’re yawning and it always ensures that they’re taking. good quality air into the lungs to support their singing/playing. 

Sean Dingley @DGSMusicDept

Musical knowledge is as diverse as knowledge in any other subject and there are so many links between different parts of that knowledge that I find it hard to differentiate between them in such an absolute manner, but I will do my best!

Firstly, the most fundamental of all musical knowledge is knowledge of sound – what it sounds like, what it feels like both as an individual sound and then when it is combined with other sounds either at the same time or one after the other. This knowledge encompasses the concept of everything from ‘what is that instrument’ through to dissonance and consonance. As a young child, we are introduced to organised sound through listening to music in a variety of forms and we may be introduced to it as a performer.

Secondly, there is the knowledge of how to produce sound whether this is singing or how to press a note on a Piano. This knowledge is then put into practice which develops skill.

Finally there is the knowledge all about the social, historical and theoretical side of music – these are the things that we, as humans, apply to the sound or that affect our interpretation of sound. This is us using words to describe sound!

Mike Morgan @MikeMMusicEd

Thinking back over my musical background, and thinking about the knowledge I had to acquire, I began to rank in order what I was required to learn at any point in my life. I am a guitarist, so I suppose learning the way the guitar creates sound was the first obstacle. Once I learnt this, I began to think about how I can progress in my playing. ‘Now I know how to play this thing, let’s start playing some songs’. So I would learn the different chords and riffs for the songs that I wanted to play. Some songs had chords I already knew, others would have new chords. This would require me to take a step back in my learning and find out how to play these chords on the guitar before being able to put them into a piece of music. When I have learnt that song, I would then begin to maybe play along with a backing track, or in my own experience, begin to play the music with different ensembles. All of this has progressed from my first experiences of learning to play the guitar to learning different songs. What did I need to know here? I knew the song. But did I know how to come in on time? How to play along with others? How to set my amp up so that its not overpowering? Was this a skill? Or was it knowledge of knowing the process?

When that is done and I have learnt to play the song with others what’s next . Well I would learn another song! Does this mean I would go back to the beginning of my musical journey? When I’m learning a new song, there may be chords and features I already know, so can continue on my journey, but occasionally, I would come across something that would ‘trip me up’, something which was new. This would require me to almost go back to the start and learn this knew chord again, before continuing with my journey of learning the song.

I guess learning a musical instrument, or even being involved in music, is like a cycle. Have we ever really learnt everything, are we ever going to know everything? I guess the know-how of how to play our instrument can be static from the beginning and very rarely requires revisiting. But where do these knew chords feature in knowledge? Is this part of the know-how, or are they part of the knowledge of? I have the know-how of constructing chords and can work that out, but if I am reading a chord from a piece of TAB, chord diagram or notation, where does that fit in? I am intrigued by the theory of know how. Once we have the know-how in practical music sense, I guess it opens up to a lot more opportunities to develop our music understanding.

Vaughan Fleischfresser @VFleischfresser

For my blog today, I’m going to be reflecting on musical knowledge within the framework of a dictionary definition of ‘knowledge’, coupled with that which I’ve taken from reading Keith Swanwick’s book, aptly entitled – Musical Knowledge: Intuition, Analysis, and Music Education. The same themes of musical knowledge are outlined in this chapter.

My reason for using a dictionary definition of ‘knowledge’ is simple. Since becoming a regular engager with Twitter, it’s become apparent that many of the passionate debates had by music educators usually centre around the term (knowledge) itself – is it knowledge or skill, or knowledge vs skill, or knowledge and skill, or knowledge, or skill. To avoid ambiguity, I’ve gone with the dictionary definition. After all, there’s no point arguing with the dictionary. As for using the same categories of musical knowledge outlined in this chapter, well, I’d never thought of musical knowledge in such an in-depth manner until reading this book many years ago, therefore to think of knowledge in any other way seems counterintuitive, as these categories strongly resonate with me.

Back to the dictionary. If you type ‘knowledge meaning’ into Google you get – “Facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject”. Couple this definition with the categories put forward in the chapter – knowledge ‘about’ music, knowledge ‘how’, and knowledge ‘of’ music, then the definition of ‘knowledge’ and the musical application of it meet perfectly to create a meaningful understanding and practical application of it. My own musical upbringing was full of this. I was taught, and sometimes forced to remember, a great deal of facts and information about music – knowledge ‘about’ music. I was also taught a great number of skills required to make music myself and with others – knowledge ‘how’. Finally, through the experience of membership in many different music ensembles, and the performance of many different styles of music, in many different venues and at many different events, I gained an understanding of the expressive and communicative power of music – knowledge ‘of’.

Having reflected on my journey as a musician, and a teacher, I believe the path to successful musicianship, and musical knowledge, is through these three categories. My own personal experience, while personal, is certainly testament to that belief. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, my aim as a music teacher is to provide a broad, general, and meaningful music education for all of my pupils. I want them to leave my care with a deeper, more meaningful, and more powerful relationship with music than when they entered my care. For me, if you’re ensuring that you’re giving them an appropriate blend of experience / practical understanding, skills, and facts / information, then you’re on the right track. And, according to the dictionary, you’re ensuring they have an appropriate ‘knowledge’ of music. Thankfully, there’s more to a rich knowledge of music than the dictionary. That’s where the wonderful thoughts of Keith Swanwick shine the perfect light on what it means to have gained a knowledge ‘of’ music. For me, Keith and the dictionary sum it all up perfectly.

David House @House_dg

I will divide musical knowledge into two categories: passive and active. To clarify: my definition of passive is that you are not personally involved in producing sound, and for this evening’s response I am considering listening under this category. For active I will include performing.

To approach musical knowledge from the perspective of passive listening knowledge I’m going to try an analogy here with one of my hobbies: natural history and in particular ornithology and botany. One of the benefits of lockdown has been my daily walk – 4-5 miles for me with the potential to encounter the sea, cliffs, woodland, open fields, hedgerows, a river, wetlands and urban areas. The access to wildlife is immense and stimulating – it is a wonderful corner of the world that I am blessed to live in. I can take a walk and appreciate the variety that I see, I can stop and wonder at the plants growing or birds calling and flying, I can be amazed by the colours and the patterns, I can sit [but not for too long] and contemplate waves and watch trees bending in the wind. All of this can take place with no knowledge or interaction whatsoever, just the impetus to make an encounter with nature.

From a musical perspective I have been able to listen to music throughout my life and there have been times where the sound itself, beauty of tone, is captivating [like a bird in flight], there have been times where the harmony is enthralling [like the combination of flowers in a stretch of hedgerow] and times when the overall sound is all-encompassing [like the waves crashing on the base of the cliffs]. With knowledge of the production of sound that beauty of tone is enhanced [like understanding something of the dynamics of flight and wing position of, say, a Swift], with knowledge of the construction of chords and function of chord sequences the power of harmony is strengthened [in the same way that noticing Buttercup, Stitchwort, Herb Robert and Bluebell in combination deepens the effect] and an appreciation of texture and orchestration across eras and genres enhances the sense of how musical power is generated [just as realising that the fetch of a wave across Lyme Bay impacting on the chalk cliffs of Beer Head deepens the impact].

So, listening would go hand in hand with a knowledge of musical feature, their intention effect and use throughout different cultures and eras. In terms of active musical knowledge, and a more practical performance-based perspective I would say that the knowledge is more of a “how-to” approach. Perhaps I can illustrate this with reference to my father who was a farmer. He left school at 13, worked on his father’s [my grandfather’s] farm being initially in charge of the horses – using them to pull trailers with all manner of loads on, plough fields, sow seeds and pull machines for the harvest. Later he farmed on his own and took decisions about cultivation, animal husbandry and buying and selling stock and produce. He learned as he worked and by the time of his retirement had acquired a wealth of knowledge, including much “country lore”. He instinctively knew how to react in certain circumstances, how, why and where certain crops would be more effective to grow than others and the best ways to look after the animals in his care.

My experience of learning music was both different, I was taught the piano from age 7 and learned the physical nature of how to play [hand position, finger technique, listening to the instrument] alongside notation in a rather didactic way, and yet in some ways similar as I was never “out of my depth” just as my father was not in charge of major decisions on the farm in his youth. I developed my skills [and knowledge] gradually, moving on to the Organ in my later teenage years, and side-by-side sang in choirs forming a knowledge of tuning, musical blend, stylistic traits, ensemble and performing skills. I have now used the words skills and knowledge almost interchangeably and as such I feel that this illustrates my point. An active involvement in music develops knowledge [or skill –“knowing how”] and whether this is learned concurrently with “knowing what” [as with my early piano playing and the combination of technique and notation] or separately and put together at a later stage will vary from person to person.

Liz Gleed @MrsGleedMusic

As with so many music educators I have thought a lot about knowledge within curriculum design and planning a rationale for music. The idea of summing up what musical knowledge is and how to articulate and develop that in our students was a question I came back to again and again.

Aristotle believed that the appropriateness of any particular form of knowledge depended on its purpose and that is exactly what we need to consider here. Knowledge, even solely musical knowledge cannot be distilled into one type or even several. It is very hard to separate knowledge from skills in the context of this subject as it is differentiating between knowing that and knowing how (Finney 2019) Here is the knowledge I feel I have needed to be a successful musician and what it can look like broken down into three components. While I struggle with my chosen components being the three corners of an exam curriculum they are as good a category to hang on as any. These are the types of musical knowledge I think I’ve needed to learn myself and consider to be important in becoming a successful musician.

Knowledge as a performer is knowing how to technically master one’s instrument or voice, to perform with and complete understanding of fluency. It is to know how to communicate music with excitement and expression to the audience. It is also knowing how to interpret and imitate musical ideas within a range of contexts.

As a composer it is important to have sophisticated knowledge on how the elements of music can be harnessed and developed to then create music that provides emotive flow and coherence. It is the ability to improvise and know how to use appropriate compositional devices and techniques to refine and develop original ideas with a clear sense of style.

In appraisal it is important to know a sophisticated vocabulary to talk persuasively about music. It is the ability to recognise and locate musical devices across a range of musical styles and be able to explain how this has been done. It is knowing how to ask thoughtful questions and make connections between different musical styles.

Ewan McIntosh @ETMcINTOSH

I think that any musician has a wide range of musical ‘knowledge’ that has been built up from the 3 core principles of listening, performing and composing/improvising. I would say that the bulk of this knowledge is built up through listening and performance. Lots of active listening and playing in youth orchestras, school ensembles etc really helped develop my musicianship and knowledge. By playing pieces of music, you can an in-depth knowledge of both your part (cello for me) but also of how the music fits together int eh ensemble and the sort of musical phrases and patterns that individual composers use; their fingerprints as Tom Pankhurst would say. All musicians from all cultures and genres are most likely to have develop their musical knowledge and skills this way. The listening and performing knowledge was back up by theory, taught both in school and through ABRSM, which helped underpin why notes worked where they did and what chords could be fitted in etc.

The listening as allowed for knowledge of different genres/styles and which composers/musicians stuck to the genre and which tried to subvert it (which I was always much more interested in). Trying to learn about music without listening to it, is a very unrewarding experience and whilst will let you gain knowledge about the music, having not heard it, you would probably not recognise what you were listening too.

Steven Berryman @steven_berryman

What different types of musical knowledge have you needed to learn in order to become a successful musician? Think back to your own musical development and try to place these into categories or types of knowledge.

Looking back on my early days as a flautist I recall learning how to hold the instrument and how to make a sound, but I remember the vagueness of sound production and how I would just hope the for best. Thankfully this took my far enough until I had a flautist as a teacher who introduced me to Moyse. But much of my knowledge at the beginning was of the physical type, and that inner monologue replicating the voice of my teacher reminding me of little finger positions and not collapsing things. This was all coupled with learning about notation but I have no memory of learning notation – it felt like I always could read it (I remember some class recorder sessions but all I can recall is pieces based on the note B). I never found challenge in playing what I saw, and devoured music rapidly to the frustration of my teacher who had to put me into individual lessons because I wasn’t staying in the same place as the group. I just loved playing and practising was so much fun to me – it was creation. I remember my gran shouting “why won’t you play something else and stop repeating the same thing!”. I don’t recall learning about composers but I was sufficiently curious to look them up a the library (don’t remember having the internet at school until Year 13). I developed a vague sense of chronology and musical periods and composers, and score study at GCSE helped give me a stronger sense of the musical mechanics. Listening was also something I don’t recall being taught – I could name intervals when my teacher would play seemingly random and extreme combinations and would be excused of having perfect pitch but I don’t have such abilities; I think it was down to the sheer volume of practice I did. I played the flute so often I just knew what every sounded like. Each note had a distinct character, something I learned was down to the acoustics of the thing etc. I started the piano in Year 11 and the same obsession took over and I played relentlessly to the annoyance of family. 

My musical knowledge came through playing, and playing lead me to scrutinise the data in the scores and learn music ‘theory’ to enable me to make sense (and subsequently be creative with) the mechanics of the musical language I was spending my time playing (western art music). I developed musicianship knowledge (intervals, harmony) from the playing and being tested by teachers. Interestingly I really don’t recall how I developed a fluency with notation or musicianship. I don’t remember any teaching in these areas, but I do remember being taught physical things/setup and being taught elements of style. I remember being taught how to approach exercises, and how to breathe. Seems much of my musical knowledge and ways of knowing was that achieved through embodied music-making. 



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