What to Listen For: Making Music Appreciation Work for Everyone

What to Listen For: Making Music Appreciation Work for Everyone

Kathleen McGowan (Independent Researcher, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5109-6.ch004
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This chapter is a reflective narrative. When the author took music appreciation as an undergraduate music major, it was still taught in the “traditional” style: an overview of the rudiments of music, followed by a chronological mad-dash through as much of the history of classical music as could be crammed into a semester. In her later experiences as a teaching assistant and guest lecturer, the approach she chose was similar. Many online versions of music appreciation courses rely on this format. Such a course favors only the most ideal student. This chapter focuses on addressing the needs of typical students in music appreciation courses, and offers suggestions for making online, hybrid, and traditional courses more useful to both students and instructors. If future online courses hope to succeed in giving students a thorough background in academic musical skills, then they will need to address the digital divide as well as the musical divide between their resourced and under-resourced students.
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As demand for more online university course options becomes universal, the responsibility of ensuring that the content of courses is adaptable to online and distance learning formats falls upon instructors. For music courses, this can be difficult. Undergraduate music study is, by ensemble requirement, a group activity, and most undergraduate students complete their degrees as either part-time or full-time campus residents. Online music instruction can offer more options and supplementary benefits to students taking traditional courses as well as to students in fully-online or distance learning programs.

The area in which music students and instructors stand to gain the most from online instruction is in learning and teaching (respectively) the introductory skills required to be successful music students. Most music degree programs require students to take an introductory-level course in academic music—commonly referred to as music appreciation. In the general education curriculum, the purpose of music appreciation is to introduce students to the world of Western art music. It does so under the assumption that students have little to no musical experience. Music majors, however, typically take an accelerated version of the course, since their needs are more advanced than their non-musical peers. In either case, the course often sets a grueling pace, covering as much of the history of art music in the Western tradition as the instructor can cram into a full semester, usually sixteen weeks. This is considered the traditional method of teaching the course, and student often finish the course experience engaging with any of the music that they listened to during their study. This model is propping up the much-stereotyped memorize-and-regurgitate model of music history instruction and typically leaves students asking, “When will I actually use this?”

In addition, students unfamiliar with this material may find themselves needlessly struggling and even re-thinking their major or course of study because they do not feel intellectually welcome in their classroom environment (Sakulka & Alexander, 2011). That is, students may have feelings of imposter syndrome (Hendriksen, 2015). These students may feel pressure to appear as though they know things that they do not as a way of fitting into an unfamiliar environment, or a feeling that they need to prove to their peers and teachers that they belong in the music department.

The feelings of such students may also be related to how music appreciation courses are taught—a lack of diverse teaching methods in our music courses whether online, hybrid, or traditional settings, may be central to this overarching problem. Individual teachers may work independently to optimize their personal teaching abilities and techniques to welcome as many students as they can, and to make sure their curriculum is as immediately useful to their students as possible. This exposes the necessity of identifying fundamental assumptions in traditional music teaching that are often mirrored in the online course environment. While the work of Kahn, Dieter, Berner, and Valenta (2014) identify common assumptions online students have in general when entering the online learning environment, it is beneficial to address these assumptions in the context of the online music student. As such, it can be suggested that the following general assumptions are common among music instructors and their teaching:

  • 1.

    Music students know how to organize and prioritize their student work;

  • 2.

    Music students are familiar with the skills of musical scholarship;

  • 3.

    Music students have the technological and informational resources they need to participate in musical scholarship;

  • 4.

    Music students have a background in the basic repertoire of Western art music (e.g., orchestral music, major composers, etc.); and-

  • 5.

    Music students know how to listen critically, and how to engage with the music they listen to on a level beyond their personal preferences.

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