Current Work

Individual Music Project, Practical Research Project: Teaching Music Through Bass.

The intent of this project is to research into teaching music and to create a book that teaches music through the electric bass guitar, identifying problems that may exist within current teaching methods, examining existing solutions and inventing new ones should they be required.

 In music education today, specifically in the teaching of instruments, several problems exist as noted by famous musicians and educationalists spanning more than one hundred years. Recognising these problems has helped understand the way in which music is both learned and performed, and has helped to shape the maximisation of music performance; identifying problems and creating solutions. It has caused radical change in the way music is taught creating many new methods which differ, as well as build upon, those which have been used for centuries. In spite of this, these teaching methods have not been made compulsory in music education, but are run as separate courses and institutions which people can pay to attend (such as the summer schools run by the British Kodaly Academy). Many reasons may be the cause of this, however this project will not focus on how these various methods and ideologies may be adopted on a grander scale, but how they can be used on the much smaller scale of private tutoring sessions and can be implemented into a book.

In The Mastery of Music Green states ‘there was once a time when music education was almost exclusively about technique’ (2003 p.8). He proposes that music making requires mastery of three different disciplines; technique, concentration and artistry. In detail, one must master technique so as to be able to play well, concentration so one can cope with the pressure of performing music (issues of which Green discusses in The Inner Game of Music) and artistry, which his book is devoted to, discussing what makes a musician ‘unique, special, or even great’ (Green 2003 p.7-8). This idea is not wholly new, as similar points can be seen in Dalcroze’s writings, but rather than using the term ‘great artists’ (Green 2003) he uses ‘complete musicians’ (Dalcroze 1909). Dalcroze describes how young soloists focus on a sense of the fingers, i.e. the technique, and have neither the gifts of hearing or expression, so are unable to feel expression; ‘Solo playing of the present day has specialized in a finger technique which takes no account of the faculty of mental expression. It is no longer a means, it has become an end’ (Dalcroze 1909). Being a great musician, or in Dalcroze’s words a complete musician, relies on more than just mastery of technique, it relies on the ability to express feeling within performance, whoever the composer is. Wooten makes a similar observation to Dalcroze, but relates it to the teacher’s method rather than the musician’s ability, ‘Many music teachers never find out what their students have to say. We only tell them what they are supposed to say’ (2012). Wooten summarises the idea nicely, ‘music comes from the musician, not from the instrument’ (2012). This explains the project title ‘teaching music through bass’, as the medium through which music is expressed is of little importance because it is not the source of the music, but a channel through which music can be expressed.

If recognising problems is the first step, then finding, or creating, solutions would be the next logical one.

Dalcroze’s Eurhythmics is a teaching method designed to teach rhythm through movement. It was invented by Emile-Jacques Dalcroze, who ‘first realised that musical rhythm depended absolutely on motor consciousness for its fullest expression.’ (Findlay 1971 p.2). It is used to develop mastery of musical rhythm using the body as an instrument by means of various systematic rhythmic movements, such as clapping, dancing, marching etc. Dalcroze titled this method ‘Eurhythmics’, meaning ‘Good Learning’ (Findlay 1971 p.2). The principal which sparked this idea was that teaching (during the 1800’s) focused on providing emphasis on the means of expression, and not what was being expressed (Sadler 1915 p.11), relating back to previous arguments that expression should be emphasised, not just technique. Dalcroze’s Eurhythmics provides teachings that are specifically designed to enhance musical expression. Other pioneers of teaching methods that address similar issues include Zoltán Kodály, Shin’Ichi Suzuki and Carl Orff, creators of the Kodaly Method, the Suzuki Method and Orff’s Schulwerk.

There are many books available that aim to teach bass (such as Bass Guitar for Dummies, Bass Manual: Complete Learn to Play, Learn Bass: From Beginner to your First Band and many more), with their own methods, styles and grading criteria. What is important is to apply the methods of teaching that solve various problems within music teaching and compare them to these existing books so that the best material and methods can be drawn from the research and put into a clear, understandable guide for bassists of different ages and skills. For instance, the book series Bass Guitar Playing by the London College of Music Exams separates different scales into different grades of skill as well as which keys to play them in. For example, the section on grade four scales reads;
‘Candidates should be able to play all scales listed in previous grades. In addition, the following one octave scales should be played ascending and descending in TWO different fingerboard positions, from memory:
Major, Natural Minor, Pentatonic Minor and Blues in the keys of A to F# inclusive.’
(Brown and Skinner 2005 p.13)

The only further information the books provide about these scales are the positions chosen for where and how to play the scales so as to ease transposing, but as to the practical application of these scales, it merely states ‘candidates should not neglect the importance of demonstrating an understanding of musical ‘feel’ and style’ (2005 p.40). No further explanation of how this is achieved is given, yet this artistry, as Green states, is one of the three disciplines one must master to become a great musician (2003), so surely equal knowledge of it should be evident within the book.

In comparison, Devine explains the use of diatonic modes in the major scale (diatonic meaning ‘comes from the major scale’). He then goes on to describe how each mode has a different sound or ‘identity’, providing a simple exercise to aid in learning the sound each mode provides (Devine, Home). The first method of learning scales becomes learning for its own sake, whilst the second provides an understanding and a practical application and knowledge of the subject.

Another more dialectical approach would be to examine the technique required to play scales in general. ‘It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself’ (J.S. Bach), although this may seem romantic and oversimplified considering the complexities of music, it brings controversy to the assignment of scales to grades. If a scale is a specific collection of notes, most of which requiring the same technique and skill to be able to play, there would be no logical reason to assign certain scales to beginners and save other scales for more advanced players. In Wooten’s Music as a Language, he compares how when we learn to speak, we are allowed to jam with professionals:
‘Imagine your parents forcing you to only speak to other babies until you were good enough to speak to them. You would probably be an adult before you could carry on a proper conversation. To use a musical term, as a baby you were allowed to jam with professionals’
(Wooten 2012)

In essence, restrictions would have a similar effect, so it is arguable that beginners should be allowed to learn all the scales available, provided they are given the knowledge and methods to fully understand their roles.

Although apt comparisons can be drawn between various teaching methods and books written to teach, the project will attempt to provide a way in which these arguably improved teaching methods can be taught from a book, either through the help of a teacher or unaided learning.

The grounded theory approach will be implemented for this project, as theories, methods and ideas should arise by comparing various research materials, such as those aforementioned. This will help to draw the best information to apply to this project so that the outcome will provide an effective set of practices, providing substantial material and understanding of the subject. Case studies may also be included where appropriate, to evidence the effectiveness, or lack of, certain methods of teaching (Bell 2010 p.8-18).

To place these teaching methods in the form of a book, exercises (some of which may not exist and shall have to be invented) that can be taught and practiced alone will be provided, emphasising what the importance of the lesson is and stress what is key to pay attention to. As an example, the lesson on modes provided by Devine can be implemented by writing out the various scales, telling the reader to play a pedal note and playing the scales over the note. The reader will be told to listen carefully to the sound of each note in the scale and to learn that sound, so as to understand its application within this context. This is achievable without the presence of a tutor, so can be written into a book. One other possibility is to provide a CD with various tracks on that will aid in teaching, such as backing tracks to play along to and examples of scales being used in performance. This has been used in teaching books such as those provided by Rock School: 2012-2018 Bass Companion Guide. Of the three areas described by Green, those of technique, concentration and artistry, other research will help provide ways in which they can be included, using the grounded theory approach. Provided that they can be written and explained in a relatively understandable way, they will provide a main basis for what material shall be covered in the book this project shall create.

Bibliography:

Allain, P. 1998. Suzuki Training. Reviewed Work(s), 42(1) pp.66-89.

Bell, J. 2010. Doing your Research Project: A Guide for First-Time Researchers in Education, Health and Social Science. 5th ed. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Brown, A. J. and T. Skinner, 2005. Bass Guitar Playing: Intermediate Grades. Sussex: Registry Publications Ltd.

Brown, A. J. and T. Skinner, 2005. Bass Guitar Playing: Advanced Grades. Sussex: Registry Publications Ltd.

Dalcroze, E. J. 1909. Rhythm as a Factor in Education. In: M. E. Sadler et al. The Eurhythmics of Jaques-Dalcroze. Boston: Small Maynard and Company.

Findlay, E. 1971. Rhythm and Movement: Applications of Dalcroze Eurhythmics. Los Angeles: Alfred Publishing Company Co., Inc.

Galewitz, H. 2001. Music: A Book of Quotations. New York: Dover Publications Inc.

Green, B. 2003. The Mastery of Music. London: Macmillan.

Green, B. and W. T. Gallwey, 1987. The Inner Game of Music. London: Pan Books.

Gregory, C. 2001. Learn Bass: From Beginner to your First Band. R&C Gregory Publishing Ltd.

Harper-Scott, J. P. E. and J. Samson, 2009. An Introduction to Music Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Houlahan, M. and P. Tacka, 2008. Kodály Today: A Cognitive Approach to Elementary Music Education. New York: Oxford University Press.

Orff, C. and A. Walter, 1963. The Schulwerk: Its Origin and Aims. Music Educators Journal, 49(5) pp.69-74.

Pfeiffer, P. 2003. Bass Guitar for Dummies. Indiana: Wiley Publishing, Inc.

Richter, S. 2003. Bass Manual: Complete Learn to Play. Koala Music Publications.

Sheldon, C. and T. Skinner, 2001. Popular Music Theory. Sussex: Registry Publications Ltd.

The Musical Times, 1913. The Dalcroze System of Rhythmic Gymnastics. Reviewed Work(s), 54(839) pp.17.

Vajda, C. 1974. The Kodály Way to Music: The Method Adapted for British Schools. London: Boosey and Hawkes.

Wyatt, K. and C. Schroeder. 1998. Harmony and Theory: A Comprehensive Source for all Musicians. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard.

Resources:

http://www.dalcroze.org.uk/ Dalcroze Society
http://www.britishkodalyacademy.org/ British Kodaly Academy
http://www.britishsuzuki.org.uk/ British Suzuki Institute
http://www.orff.org.uk/ Orff Society UK

http://ed.ted.com/lessons/victor-wooten-music-as-a-language V. Wooten – Music as a language
http://scottsbasslessons.com S. Devine – Free Educational Bass Resources

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