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Where has all the music(ality) gone?

My rant on commonplace bad education methods.

As a student at Augustana College, I have the opportunities to play in many fine ensembles here on campus.  No matter what ensemble I'm participating in, the story is the same... "Play more musically!"   "Feel the song, don't just play notes."  "Don't just read what's on the page, play real music."  It would be easy to make the assumption that students simply do not have the music aptitude as professionals, and that nothing can change that.  I strongly disagree.

Molding a musician rather than simply a player of an instrument begins early on, from the minute they pick up an instrument or sing.  This is the time that the mindset of a musician is formed.  Often the idea that music should be boring, and unexpressive is created at this time.  Elementary music instructors need to be especially careful about what they teach during this time period, to ensure that this doesn't happen.

After a student has learned their instrument, they generally begin performing and competing.  Have you ever heard of a music competition of some sort where the judges encouraged improvisation?  The score rubric often disallows this.  "Accuracy of written music" or some other similar phrase.  The students become afraid to play expressively... even if they have the skills to do so, as it is looked down upon.  My freshman year of high school, I played a jazz piece on the piano for a solo and ensemble contest.  Didn't score well.  The comments on the sheet included these:  "Un-even 8th notes are not marked as such, so they should be played straight."  "Do not use dynamics unless they are marked."  "No extra notes!"  Lucky for me, I have a very non-conformist attitude, and ignored all of these comments.  Many, if not most musicians would have listened to the judge at this point, and would not have added any musicality for a solo ever again. 

The student continues, auditions for a college or university.  They are accepted, put into the top band, and then are shocked when their directors tell them to play with musicality.  This is where the inconsistency in instruction really shows.  The student has been praised for approximately 8 years now for their skills in reading 'music' from a page.  In fact, it's that skill that enabled them to participate in their ensembles at the collegiate level.  And suddenly they are told to throw the whole thing into reverse, and undo it.  For some of us, this is easy, as we've ignored lines like "Play what's written" for years.  For most however, this becomes a new concept. 

Even while in college, the pressure to ignore musicality continues.  Take the 'musicianship' class for example.  Obviously, the primary objective of this class is to promote the technical aspects of music..  how it works, why it works, etc.  But imagine if every song ever written was never listened to before it was published?  This is how things work in the music theory classes at Augustana.  We composed and harmonized several songs.  Of which I think we had the opportunity to listen to 1 of them.  Computers can be programmed to follow the rules of 4 part writing.  How about teaching it while allowing musical influence as well?

Things desperately need to change with the way educators teach music.  That is of course unless you want to see more pop 'musicians' that don't write their own music, and just rip off every other artist in the world.

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Musatcha is pronounced moo-SA-cha.  I have no idea where it originated.
Copyright 1998-2005, Brad Isbell []