Niklas Rudbäck
Photo: Niklas Rudbäck

Circumscribing tonality: Upper secondary music students learning the circle of fifths

Research project
Inactive research
Project owner
Academy of Music and Drama

Short description

Dissertation by Niklas Rudbäck, 2020.
Music is invisible. It consists of change and relations extended in time. But these changes disappear when we try to hold the music still, and the relations become meaningless when we isolate their constituent parts. Because of these pedagogical challenges, music teachers (and music learners) need to use different means of representing and conceptualizing music. My dissertation is about how students learn one such means of representation: The circle of fifths—a diagram showing relations between closely related keys or chords in a tonal system.

More specifically, the project aims to clarify students' learning-processes regarding the circle of fifths and the closely related music-theoretical concepts "key" and "tonic," and how those processes relate to specific educational practices. I am studying this in the particular educational context of a Swedish upper secondary music program. In Swedish upper secondary school (year 10–12), students can specialize in different subject-areas, one of which is Music. Students in such music programs take an obligatory course in aural skills and music theory (Gehörs- och musiklära). By analyzing how concepts and models are used (or not used) by the participants in different problem-solving contexts, e.g. to denote different phenomena, to explain other concepts, organize problem-solving strategies, or translating between different ways of representing music, I can say something about how they are made meaningful.

The study was ultimately conceived of in the context of my own work as a music teacher (primary and secondary school), and I hope that the results of this thesis project may be of use to both researchers and practitioners with an interest in better understanding and developing music-educational practice. Although the study is not conceived of as a subject-didactic study, I still hope that it might contribute with tools that music teachers can use in planning and evaluating their teaching about and with musical concepts.

The dissertation is written in English, with a Swedish summary. I plan to submit and defend it in September 2020. If you would like further insight into the project, publications I produce along the way (presently only conference presentations, but abstracts and a poster are available) are accessible through the University's staff directory.