Formal and informal music education

Hello everyone, this is Niklas posting!

Based on this paper, Lichen and I thought it would be interesting to compare musicians/ music students who are self-taught with people who are taking lessons. As it happens, I belong to the former group while Lichen was already taking cello lessons when she was four years old. Let’s start with a broader point of view.

Firstly, I want to make clear what we mean with a “self-taught” student. I didn’t figure out everything I know by myself. Books and (more importantly) the internet have been like a thousand different teachers to me. The referenced paper mentions multiple definitions, but we want to make the distinction by looking at whether the student gets guidance and feedback or not.

One of the interesting observations in the paper is how formal teaching can benefit from incorporating positive parts of informal teaching to improve, for example by paying more attention to popular music (more general: paying attention music that the students know and like), which is what informally trained musicians often base themselves on.

Concerning the musical education of children in particular, if the first priority of the teachers is to teach music notation, it is understandable that even though reading music notation is a valuable skill, the student may be less motivated than someone who picks up an instrument and starts figuring it out.

Finally the paper suggests that different methods may unite in the common goal of musical development.

Next week I’ll share my personal thoughts and experiences about this topic, and after that it’s Lichen’s turn!


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7 Responses to Formal and informal music education

  1. koenraadvanhoutte says:

    Doesn’t most innovation in music come from “self-taught” people?
    Or is that just an impression?
    Going by the book might be because of the influence of teachers though.
    Experienced people might be able to debunk this if I’m wrong. I never had any music education :).

    • Certainly you have a point, but innovation doesn’t come out of nowhere.
      And it’s said you need to know the rules before you can break them.
      That said, there are many self-taught “innovators”.
      Examples like Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) and John Lennon come to mind.

  2. Interesting read. I only picked up the guitar when I was already 14 years of age and have always wondered how things would have worked out if i had started much sooner with music education. In my opinion both educated and self-learned musicians can be great innovators and influences in music, and it has been shown throughout history. Both types can stand out if they have the proper motivation and talent. Music isn’t always about the best techniques or who can pitch the clearest notes, but about making beautiful songs that people want to listen to.

    • Yes, the influence of early starting age can’t be underestimated. I was even later than you, getting my first guitar when I was 15 or 16. No one in my close family is really musical, so it took me a while to figure out that I wanted to play an instrument. You’re absolutely right about the appreciation of music; high musical skill and knowledge offer a lot of possibilities, but you don’t have to be the most technically proficient to make music that connects with people.

  3. Lu Hongyang says:

    “The master teaches the trade, but the apprentice’s skill is self-made.” This is a famous Chinese proverb which can exactly describe the situation here. Playing instruments is a kind of skill, like programming skills for electronics engineering students. The common point of these skills is that introduction is from teachers and practice is our own stuffs. So it is very hard for totally “self-taught” student to acquire a new skill. Someone should have give suggestions and feedbacks at the beginning. Once you get the basic idea, then just practice, and practice.

    • I like Chinese proverbs, they’re always full of wisdom! =)
      You give a very strict interpretation of being self-taught; in this case it is indeed hard to acquire new skills, since the student would basically have to (re)invent techniques himself. However, it is different when you have some sources, and I’m especially thinking of the internet, which is in my opinion not strictly a teacher since you don’t get real feedback. (Of course you can get some sort of advice from other players through discussions in a forum or something, but I think we can all agree that this is far from actual teaching.)

      By the way, great analogy with programming! It would be interesting to look at which aspects correspond and if there are other things that are similar to learning music.

  4. Pingback: The relationship between programming and music | virtualmusicteacher

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