It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duly. To
the contrary, I believe that it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry, especially if the food, handed out under such coercion were to be selected accordingly. - Albert Einstein

Coercion and forced consumption of musical data and a strict timeline for musical skill development are seemingly essential elements in college theory courses. We add to this situation a computer laboratory with software that automates this training in order that deadlines can be met and measurable skills can be tested. But has this led to a significant increase in musical skills as students exit sophomore theory? Do students use aural and analytical skills more efficiently in upper division work and in their professional lives? The students do learn; they're learning anyway. In many cases they are learning to act obediently and ultimately learning disdain for those who subject them to this seemingly meaningless force-feeding.

No matter what the pressures of coursework, no matter what the subject matter, two principal, essential elements of learning stand out which allow significant learning experiences to take place:

  1. A role model who can demonstrate the results of the skills presented and can answer questions about the learning process as it takes place. Students do as we do and do not do as we say. They learn "the moves," if you will. If the professor/role model is hesitant to teach sightsinging, the students will learn how to avoid musical situations where they might have to sight-read or sight-sing.

  2. A convincing reason for learning new skills and collecting new data. Students will perceive the need for musical skills, aural and analytical, when such skill development is placed against a backdrop of musical performance. Students learn to hear and analyze suspensions only when they are required by a role model to recognize and perform suspensions musically and expressively. It is a sad fact that software environments generally lack these two important elements for learning. They can only be provided by a human instructor. Unfortunately, the computer has proven to be a perfect mirror image of the worst side of ear-training teaching. Drill and practice is necessary, but I am more and more convinced that the materials on which we base our ear-training drills are inappropriate for learning how to listen and evaluate musical structure. Yes, the students must learn the basics, but properly motivated, they need not spend so much time in mindless computer drill to learn those basics just as my children are learning the alphabet perfectly well without watching Sesame Street.

More than anything else today, our students need role models of the highest caliber. Students learn most from analog gestures of real human beings. When such learning is provided in a joyful environment, extra computerized drill and practice will make sense within the total learning experience. In addition, students need new software that they can use to explore musical relationships, intelligent tutorials that allow them to try things out in an environment without percentage scores. They need computers as reference and guidance tools in music, not just as drill sergeants, "barking" out sterile musical elements for recognition, de void of musical context. A small electronic keyboard and a walkman can be all that is necessary for extra dictation drill, once students believe that musical transcription skills will bring them to a better understanding of their art and craft.

If appropriate role models are not available, or if reasons to gain the skills presented are not clear, no amount of musical technology and sophisticated software will make students good listeners and musical leaders. If ear training instructors don't actually use and demonstrate the skills they teach, those instructors will lose those skills. Indeed, if those instructors do not use the skills they teach, maybe they should be teaching other skills, skills that the students, too, will find useful. Your students are learning anyway. They are learning survival skills. If they do not perceive your course material to be relevant to musical survival, they will learn to survive your classes and acquire their chosen musical skills from other sources.

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Last modified on Friday, 03/05/2013

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