Stephanie Lewis - Music & Education Talks expert

Music Literacy

Discuss with Stephanie how we can improve music literacy nowadays

In this video, Stephanie talks about Music Literacy and what we can do to improve it. Do you have any ideas on that?

Released on January 4, 2017

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, all, I'm Stephanie. And together with Virtual Sheet Music, my videos try to put aspects of music education, life, and the world in a context that can inspire all of us to get talking and sharing together.
Today I want to look at the ever-present debate on reading and writing music, i.e., written musical communication, and whether this is still relevant in an age where recording music is no longer with a pen, but with that dime-a-dozen recording app on smartphones that everyone, musician or not, now has. Certainly many of my students and indeed colleagues increasingly view written theoretical aspects of music as an option rather than a necessity. I've also read numerous articles from the world of music education where music literacy has literally been shelved, substituted by new, generally technological musical experiences. Given the effect that technology has had on music throughout known history, maybe this is as it should be. Couple this with the recognition that there are many successful musicians out there...talking, of course, more about the pop-rock world: Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, the Beatles, just to name but a few, who couldn't or who cannot represent their musical ideas in written form...many people understandably feel that musical literacy is an irrelevance, possibly even damaging to innate musical creativity.

So let's get to the bottom of this and see whether any truths can be revealed. Looking firstly at some of our past 20th century musical pop-rock greats, it's an inevitable fact that they were surrounded by all sorts of musicians. Working frequently in a studio means, by default, a certain amount of collaboration happened, you know, between arrangers, writers, musical technicians, and so on. George Martin and the Beatles is an obvious case in point. Now this idea of collaboration is equally important today, if not more so. Rihanna's 2010 album, for example, apparently involved at least 40 musicians in the writing process alone. "So what," you say. Well, should any deficiencies in musicianship, formal or otherwise, exist within individual creators in a collaborative project, well, these would simply be overrided by the sheer number of people involved and the collective resources brought to the table. So it is here that the argument, "Whatever's good for Paul McCartney," falls flat on its face. How much more irrelevant is it to compare oneself with someone who has had a whole retinue of musicians, technicians, arrangers, songwriters, etc. who could therefore compensate for any musical discrepancies?

Turning now to the idea of innate creativity and music being stifled by knowledge, well, this is simply ignorance talking. It is also contradictory. Creativity is constructed on a person's lifetime of experience and experience is the same as education, whether or not it's been formal. The more you know, the more options you have for experimenting with and applying said innate creativity. The less you know, well, the less you are able to use the myriad of materials and stimuli at your disposal because chances are you won't even know they exist. Knowledge does not stifle, it enhances. Both in music and in life itself. As a parallel, compare someone who's traveled extensively to someone who's never left his hometown. I think you get my meaning. For all that, just because you know something doesn't give you the automatic right to descriptions such as original, creative, genius, or unique. You know there's a tipping point, as with the visual arts, the sciences, sports, any subject, really. You know, a curious mixture of immediate environment, physical, psychological make-up, education, formal or otherwise, and good fortune. And all these elements kind of combine as if by magic to transform certain individuals. Creativity, the ability to make new things or think new ideas, and that comes from Merriam-Webster, is essentially recycling what is known and turning it round on its head. If you know very little then, well, good luck to you. Now I've only just started warming up, but as this video is already over the five minute mark, I'm gonna stop here and give you the option of either turning me off, and that's okay, or hearing me rant some more in the next VSM-supplied video, which you'll find in the transcription. Whatever you decide to do though, please join in the debate and give us your point of view. Bye.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Marie Ha on March 1, 2017 @4:05 pm PST
"The more you know, the more options you have..." This sums it up. Well said.
Stephanie Lewis - host, on March 2, 2017 @11:50 am PST
Dear Marie, I've had the good fortune of having had some very impressive colleagues in the course of my teaching career so it is more than likely I've paraphrased stolen? from them!!! Cheers, Steph
Chuck * VSM MEMBER * on February 2, 2017 @11:32 am PST
Excellent set of points. Though I fear, the horses have left the barn.

I"m a classical guitarist, and I have a similar view on the prevalent practice of students learning 'TAB' instead of notation. Once a person has begun reading in TAB, they inevitably find it impossible to migrate to notation. Sadly, TAB can only provide a very basic overview of melody and chord. One cannot easily see visually the melodic and chordal relationships. TAB doesn't easily show any of the musical nuances, like the accents, or dynamics. Well, it can, but by the time you add those to a TAB score it becomes too difficult to quickly read and assimilate.

Despite this, nearly all the major music publishing companies, including VSM, often produce their manuscripts with both notation and TAB. This needlessly extends the piece for many pages, and only allows a short phrase per page. If they would only produce a separate notation or a separate TAB, at least a person could make a choice. As it is, I find myself spending endless hours scanning and cut and pasting the TAB out so the manuscript is readable. It's even more strange that I've had the privilege of paying for something I can't use until I've done the additional work.

Sometimes I wonder if this isn't an 'anti-guitar' bias. I cannot see the keyboard or violinist community putting up with so much unneeded junk on a page of music they have paid for.

To your point, encouraging the practice of learning TAB inevitably stunts a music student's growth, and by the same token their eventual ability to express themselves at a higher level of creativity. As also does choosing to use Tech shortcuts instead of learning notation and theory.

OK, rant over!

As an aside ... Elton John went to the Royal Academy of Music in London ... :-
Stephanie Lewis - host, on March 2, 2017 @11:59 am PST
Dear Chuck, I stand corrected re: Elton! As for the 'TAB verses 'conventional' notation', although I'm not a guitarist, I read you & there was no rant, I can assure you!. I've had many classroom experiences with capable guitarists frozen over a simple melody line not written out in TAB. Drove me crazy. I'm sure VSM is paying attention to what you're saying re: music/TAB presentation and the extra editing work you & others? have to do for legibility! Looking forward to hearing from you again. Thanks. Steph
Stephanie Lewis - host, on January 9, 2017 @12:39 pm PST
Dear Eric, thanks for your positive comment. Not everyone sees 'eye to eye' in this area, let me assure you! Re: the pitch, I'm assuming you mean that of my speaking voice. Funny, I've always regarded my voice as a little on the high side maybe a little too much so your perception is very interesting. Bergholz? Ma Sie sind Deutch, oder? Cheers for now. Stephanie
Eric Bergholz * VSM MEMBER * on January 7, 2017 @10:47 am PST
Great program. Only aspect I would change is vocal tone. A higher pitch would improve my understang of her ideas. Maybe that's just me? Thank you so much!
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on January 9, 2017 @6:32 am PST
Thank you Eric for your comment. I am glad to know you like Stephanie's videos!

Could you please tell me more about your suggested "higher pitch"? What are you referring to?

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you again.
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