Comprehensive Musicianship and Synthesis in the Studio

August 31, 1991

When contemplating undergraduate-level, eight-semester goals for teaching applied music, the studio teacher can simply state that the average music student will perform sixteen to thirty- two compositions or movements and will exhibit appropriate technical skills -- scales, arpeggios or technical studies-to pass the performance juries. Although college studio teachers commonly focus on these specific skills, a narrow scope of standard literature, and the performance discipline, which is usually teacher-centered, such limited objectives rarely meet the contemporary educational, musical, professional, and, often, personal needs of the undergraduate music major.

To satisfy the overall needs of the music student, each component of the degree program, including performance studies, must be comprehensive in nature. The nucleus of a comprehensive approach integrates a sequence of musical concepts, skills, and tools-the foundation of knowledge and understanding (product)-and a process of learning how to lam that requires the active, inquisitive participation of the student in critical thinking about music, in creative problem solving and in developing the ability to synthesize. The process of learning and the breadth of the subject demands synthesis to ensure the transfer of information and skills to future learning in the classroom, studio, and beyond.

The problems inherent in a comprehensive approach to performance studies are how to structure the environment and the learning process, and what information and skills to include. In general, the learning environment must be open, safe, and accepting for each student. Mutual respect and a partnership between teacher and student allow both to take risks, ask questions, make comments, challenge solutions, and disagree. The teacher becomes a facilitator rather than the primary source of information. The student, who is freed from the role of passive receiver, observes, participates, and is accountable for developing his or her own processes for creative inquiry, problem solving, and communication. The learning environment must also provide a variety of opportunities for individual as well as group experiences via the private, or individual, lesson and the master, or group, class. An oppor tunity of each kind should occur on a regular, weekly basis to have the maximum impact upon the student.

During a semester of private study, the student may work on three or four compositions representing a variety of musical periods and styles. The choice of a student's literature, the identification of his or her musical and technical goals, and a schedule of performance deadlines and analysis assignments should be cooperative decisions made by the student and the teacher and should be interactive. For example, one musical and technical goal for a pianist could be the improved execution of rhythmic subdivisions; this might lead to the selection of the second movement of a Haydn sonata, a Bartok composition, or both as a portion of the semester's literature. Technical studies which develop finger independence may be emphasized as a component in the improvement of rhythmic accuracy and security. In addition, the student may creatively apply rhythmic patterns from either the Haydn or the Bartok composition in playing scales and arpeggios. Although the student should routinely submit a written analysis of form, melody, and harmony prior to the deadline for memorizing each composition, a detailed analysis of the rhythmic patterns of each composition would also be necessary for the preceding example. The analysis should become a point of departure for the comparative discussions of the composers, the use of rhythmic patterns, and the musical periods, as well as one tool in making interpretive decisions in the private lesson and the master class.

Another important aspect in the development of a learning process and of problem- solving in either lesson is the identification of the strengths and weaknesses of a performance. Identification of problems and the acknowledgment of successes are fundamental to the student's self-confidence and are the shared responsibility of the teacher and the student. Rather than the teacher telling the student what needs to be corrected, the student must be an active, critical self-listener as he or she performs. Not only must the student be able to identify a problem and its nature-technical, interpretive, or musical-but he or she should also be able to provide solutions. Since a student should function as an independent musician and will probably teach the instrument in the future, he or she must learn to develop procedures for solving problems. The student must identify several ways to practice a passage to correct a problem and should be able to demonstrate and to communicate verbally each procedure to the teacher or another student. Inviting students to visit each other's lessons and take an active role in listening, questioning, identifying, and solving problems, to teach and perform for each other, and to compare literature enhances the individual lesson.

The weekly master class is vital to the achievement of comprehensive performance studies and synthesis; but rather than a "master" teacher imparting words of wisdom, the master class should permit cooperative learning of the highest order. Performance, critical thinking and discussion, directed or general listening to each other and to recorded performances, analysis and creative problem solving ought to be included in each master lesson and are interactive. Master classes should follow a planned sequence from week to week, and each class should have an announced focus with performances relating to the topic, e.g., a class on "sonata allegro form" with two or more students performing a movement of their assigned sonatas and leading the discussion and comparison of their formal analyses. When a student performs, he or she must also be prepared through independent research to discuss the historical and cultural context of the composition. At other times, the focus of the master class may be interpretative or technical in nature, allowing students to identify performance problems that are common to widely divergent literature and to examine - whether solutions transfer from one composition to establishing a focus, the teacher may easily accommodate students of different abilities within the same master class. Students should generally perform three or four times per semester in the master class, which provides a supportive audience for those students who are uncomfortable when performing. For each performance, students should bring scores and be encouraged to make notes for future reference and study. They should also have an opportunity to develop technical and sightplaying skills in the master class, while improving their skills of observation, identification, and communication.

Besides planning and preparation, the challenge for the teacher and the student of a comprehensive approach to performance studies is finding the balance between product and process, between breadth and depth, between musician and human. In an open, accepting environment and with a thorough understanding and mastery of musical knowledge and skills, synthesis may occur. Synthesis provides a mode of inquiry that transfers across music and learning.

2127 Last modified on May 3, 2013
Login to post comments