My Music Education - Outside of Tradition

Sunday, September 13, 2015

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By looking at forms of music education outside traditional models such as those created through technology, an understanding of music is increased. 


Chris Merk

Chris Merk, also known as Merky Waters, is a Regina Saskatchewan based Hip-Hop producer, DJ, beat boxer and educator. He has been DJing in Regina since 1998 and producing Hip-Hop music since 2001, recording and performing with fellow Saskatchewan artists Def 3, Eekwol, InfoRed and many more. Along with his musical production and performance endeavors, he is also heavily involved in the community as a workshop facilitator teaching youth the value of Hip-Hop culture, electronic production and rhythm. He has been an employee of the Regina Public School Board in the CREATE program since 2010, an Arts Education student at the University of Regina since 2011, and a Research Assistant at the University of Regina’s IMP Labs since 2012.


In school, I didn’t play band instruments and I didn’t have any interest singing in a choir ensemble. My musical interests never connected with those music program models. However, it was always undeniable that music would be an important factor in my life. My main interest was Hip-Hop music, which is created through innovative means using turntables, electronic equipment, and computer software. After I graduated high school and realized the possibilities I could achieve making music in these ways, I began performing as a DJ. This led me to perform in ensembles and bands using turntables, mixers, and beat machines. I also began creating music using computers and electronic equipment; recording, engineering and producing songs, as well as beat boxing and rapping. My reputation as a Hip-Hop artist landed me performance and recording gigs, as well as, opportunities to lead workshops with organizations focused on youth and community involvement. Today, I work with the Regina Public School Board and The University of Regina, and am an Arts Education student about to begin my internship. My interest in Hip-Hop music and the experience I acquired have led me to this point.

Is my experience less valuable than students and teachers who gravitated towards band and choral models?  Can the musical interests which extend past those curriculums be represented within existing musical programs?  My experience and education in the type of music I love, beyond listening, began as an adult. I often think that if I had been supported or introduced to alternative means of making music as a student, I would have excelled at an earlier age. 

School music programs are limiting to many and possibly intimidating to some. There are endless opportunities for music education programs to expand and become an interactive sharing of sound through performance and composition; a cooperative experience between creator, performer and listener, where performance, creation, and imagination are applauded. It is time for music education programs to broaden their horizons to include all forms of music present in contemporary society. This includes music made through computer software, electronic beat machines, keyboards and turntables that can sample and manipulate sound into new musical ideas that expand the musical spectrum and increase participation. Along with the additions of vocal percussion or beat-boxing, as well as rapping which could be explained as rhythmic poetry, new musical frontiers are introduced, broadening access into our school’s curriculums. The need to find ways within the schools to transmit the necessary knowledge, without catering to regimented, conventional ideas of education, is becoming more apparent.

Often a teacher’s interest reflects a student’s experience. A form of music such as Hip-Hop which falls outside of tradition often goes unacknowledged due to a lack of interest and knowledge from teachers and administration. When present, it seems to be viewed as less important or incompatible to the school’s existing music programs and curriculum. Even when teachers find this is something they could include in their curriculum, they are often unqualified, making it less enjoyable and less valuable for students. This is often resulting from their own music education which is based on rigid structure and formal performance. 

Music teachers are predominantly trained in classical performance, making it more difficult for them to fully understand the benefits that alternative music education provides. Likewise, their ability to articulate and model effective teaching approaches in musical creativity are less pronounced than someone who has experience in musical forms outside of tradition (Crow, 2006). What can ‘traditional’ (music) teachers do?  Communication is the key. We need to talk to our students, include professionals in the community, and stay connected with current culture. Success ultimately depends on educators’ and administrators’ willingness to accept change and think progressively. Music teachers should not disregard other forms that allow students access into a musical experience.

By looking at forms of music education outside traditional models such as those created through technology, an understanding of music is increased. Technology and computer-based programs offer, not only innovative ways to perform, but an ability to create and compose. Computer production programs such as Reason, Fruity Loops or Garage Band offer extensive banks of sound ranging from percussion to orchestral and a variety of sound effects, which can then be manipulated and placed into multi-track sessions. These programs also have sampling and recording capabilities. Musical composition through technological means allows for sound to be viewed on a broader scale, providing opportunities of creation through recording, sampling and manipulation. Technology offers many levels of entry, from the casual listener to the advanced composer and performer. It can provide great benefits to the practice of music education, especially by improving access to music (Cain 2004). Through the inclusion of technology based mediums and electronic forms of musical creation in current models, a platform can be created which may spark an interest in many students to gravitate towards a music education.

My interest in Hip-Hop music opened up a world of opportunity and possibility. The opportunity of musical connections and the possibility of sharing with others. I found value in music without the use of traditional instruments and without the stresses of adhering to strict performance ideals. I believe many students could benefit with exposure to similar musical processes and forms. My hope is for all ways of making music to co-exist within schools without judgment or hierarchy. By doing so, an expansion of opportunity for students to access a musical education within school programs is created. As we move into the future of music education, an open mind is essential to success and looking beyond traditional walls will help us see the road ahead. We must start thinking of music education in new ways and in broader terms. It is our only chance of survival. 

References

Cain, T. (2004). Theory, technology and the music curriculum. British Journal of Music Education, 21(2), 215-221. doi:10.1017/S0265051704005650

Crow, B. (2006). Musical creativity and the new technology. Music Education Research, 8(1), 121-130. doi:10.1080/14613800600581659 

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