Practical Suggestions for the Music Teacher of Older Students (Middle School, High School, College, University)
You may not be able to make students like various styles of music that they dislike now.
you may be able to help them dislike those styles less than they did before--
and that just might be enough . . .
Introducing New Musical Styles: Observations and Suggestions
- Students of this age (age 11-25) are developing rather strong musical preferences. You may deliberately play into these preferences or go against them, but either way it is wise to take them into account.
- Any musical styles you introduce to the student at this age may become important for the duration of the student's life. The music experienced during adolescence tends to take on heightened importance in a person's musical worldview. Therefore it is worth some effort to try to introduce new styles of music to these students. (Note that some researchers put the critical years in early adolescence--age 10-13--while other researchers have suggested late adolescence/early adulthood as most important in determining musical taste and preference. Probably both periods are important for different reasons.)
- When introducing a new type of music to adolescents and adults, such music may be accepted more easily if it is closely related to music the student already knows and likes. Examples:
- If you have a jazz band, you might introduce jazz performers to Bebop, Big Band, jazz recordings from the 1930s, 1920s, ragtime, then Stravinsky's piece entitled "Ragtime", and so on.
- If you have percussionists, you might interest them in the percussive music of Africa or the Gamelan music of Bali.
- Singers in a musical may be enticed into operetta, then opera, then Chinese opera.
- When introducing music from different cultures, Fung (1994) found that college students prefer world music that sounds similar to music with which students are already familiar. When introducing students to world musics, Fung suggests starting with those styles most similar to students' pre-existing tastes. Fung suggests music from Central and South American countries as a good place to start.
For students in high school and college, it may be very difficult to spark students' initial interest in new styles of music that are completely foreign to the students' already well developed sense of musical taste and an approach such as that suggested by Fung may be the only one that will succeed with the majority of students.
- Don't forget that listening is basic, important, and valuable. Spend some time every day or (at least!) every week listening to different kinds of music. Some members of a very fine high school symphonic orchestra told me, "This kind of music is really fun to play, but we don't really like to listen to it." Of course they donít--they have spent many enjoyable hours playing this music but very, very few hours listening to it.
Listening is a core musical skill--perhaps the most valuable musical skill of all.
- Making a course requirement to attend a certain number of live concerts every semester is a great way to encourage listening, support your local musical organizations, and build in students the habit of attending live music concerts.
- Hargreaves, Comber, and Colley (1995) found that musical training positively affected the music preferences of secondary students for all sorts of music. For instance, students with music training rated art music selections higher than did students with little or no musical training. However, Hargreaves et al. note that it might be more accurate to say that students with musical training dislike art music less than do other students. That is to say, all students rated art music lower than other music styles, but musically trained students didn't go quite as low in their ratings as other students did.
This brings up a good and practical goal for teachers, however. You may not be able to make students like various styles of music. But you may be able to make them dislike the music less than they did before.
And that might be enough. Art music, for instance, is generally written by and for adults. Subjects, ideas, and the general maturity level of art music are a good fit for adults and a worse fit for adolescents. If adolescents can tone down their dislike for art music just a little, then when they become adults with interest that better match those of art music, that may be just enough to tip the balance.
- In presenting, for instance, art music or opera to adolescents, you might first note the themes and interests of adolescents' preferred musical styles, then find art music or opera with similar themes. Remember that students age 11 and over are likely to have very strong musical preferences. Anything that builds a bridge to students' current interests has a higher chance of success.
Develop the "Inner Musician" by Singing
- Don't forget that singing, too, is a basic, fundamental musical skill. Often our most talented students are funnelled into band, orchestra, piano, or other instrumental studies, and the unintended side effect of this is that they are cut off from the most fundamental way of making music--singing. If you teach instrumental music you can help this problem by encouraging your students to sing (and/or hum) their parts as well as play them.
- You can have students sing their parts during group rehearsal, private lessons, or during individual practice.
- I have had great success with my own students by asking them to sing a melody and then play the same melody on the piano, imitating the phrasing and shaping they used when singing. Invariably, the line that sounded awkward and un-musical when played on the piano is sung easily and naturally, with shape, line, and musical presence. When students learn to transfer the natural musical line of their singing into their instrumental performance, they will have learned something fundamental (and for most students, new!) about music-making.
- If you ask students to sing their parts (usually played on an instrument) and they can't do it in rhythm or on pitch, this indicates a fundamental musical skill that is lacking. The students are relying on "button-pushing" to reliably produce the correct sound and have a very weak internal representation of the music. In the terminology of Edwin Gordon, they lack the ability to "audiate"--to hear music internally, with understanding (Gordon, 2000).
- Students will never learn to audiate by playing instrumental music alone. Add listening and singing to their practice routine (and even better, listening, then imitating what they heard through singing) and you will see students begin to develop musically in ways you never thought possible.
Hargreaves, D. J., Comber, C., & Colley, A. (1995). Effects of age, gender, and training on musical preferences of British secondary school students. Journal of Research in Music Education, 43(3), 242-250.
Fung, C. K. V. (1994b). College students' preferences for world musics. Contributions to Music Education 21, 46-63.
Gordon, E. (2000, October). What is audiation? Lecture given at the World Piano Pedagogy Convention, Las Vegas, Nevada. Notes in my possession. See also http://www.unm.edu/~audiate/home.html.
These ideas are based on my research into music preference over the lifespan. More ideas, information and references relating to this research can be found at www.BrentHugh.com/musiciq/musicpreference.html. Some songs I have written to us with young people are available for free download at mp3.com/musiciq. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org