Connecting–The Contextualization of Music Education

2011Symposium_1_2We all have musical interests, knowledge and skills. Some of each we gain from exposure to music, through a process of enculturation in which we learn from experience the structures and expressions of our own culture’s music, and to a lesser extent, of others’ cultures with which we are brought into contact. All of the interests, knowledge and skills we bring to bear on our experiences of music relate to choices we make when creating, performing, and responding to music. Being able to make this connection between the music we experience and our own interests, knowledge and skills helps us to have more relevant, meaningful, relatable, and authentic musical encounters.

In many ways, the process of connecting requires the thinking and reasoning skills at the highest level. A person involved in the connecting process is synthesizing and relating knowledge and personal experiences to make music. Students must be made aware of their musical interests. Many students, though they know what music they like to listen to, have not stopped to articulate their specific musical interests. For example, a student may say he or she likes to listen to rap, but then says they don’t like a rap song that you play for them. Now the student realizes he or she doesn’t like all rap, so what is the difference between rap s/he likes, and doesn’t like? Perhaps the student doesn’t like a rap song if it carries a negative message. Perhaps the student prefers rap music that carries a positive social message, or one that encourages action for positive social change. Or perhaps it isn’t so much that the student is interested in rap, but instead is interested in popular songs with a positive message, including rap, pop, and rock.

At this point, skill comes into play. It may be that the student likes songs with a positive message, but would rather sing a pop song than rap a rap song, choosing-beautiful-musicbecause they are more skilled at singing than rapping. Furthermore, the student enjoys listening to a couple of friends rap because they are very good at it, and because of these friends, the student likes listening to rap, but enjoys singing pop songs, and is drawn to pop songs with a positive message when choosing a song to sing. The student is encouraged to continue selecting pop songs to perform, because her friends, and the music teacher have all told her she sings those kinds of songs very well. In fact, the student has been invited to sing one these songs at the school cabaret.

Through all of this, the student is making meaningful connections to music in general, and to the specific processes of performing and responding. We could further speculate that eventually, the student takes his or her interest in singing pop songs with a positive message a step further, and begins writing such songs, and singing them as well, thereby also connecting to the process of creating.

Besides students connecting with music, students also connect music to non-musical disciplines and contexts. They relate musical ideas and works with other areas of their lives and in so doing deepen their understanding. These connections can include social issues, as in the subject of a song lyric addressing a social issue, cultural elements that help the student make connections with family and communal cultural traditions, and with historical events from which a song may come, or about which a song may be. In all of these instances, students demonstrate understanding of relationships between music and the other arts, other disciplines, varied contexts, and daily life. Teachers who help students make these connections guide them through self-examination of interests, skills, and knowledge, and introduce them to contexts outside music to which they can connect their musical experience.

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