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Creating conditions for conceptually mediated competences in music

Conference contribution
Authors Niklas Rudbäck
Published in Competences in Music Education: 26th European Association for Music in Schools (EAS) Conference, 14–17 March 2018 Jelgava/Riga, Latvia
Publication year 2018
Published at Academy of Music and Drama
Language en
Keywords circle of fifths; concepts; mediation; music theory; teaching
Subject categories Music education


Having access to appropriate semiotic tools integrated into conceptual systems plays a vital role in developing central musical competences dependent on semiotic mediation, e.g. listening, collaboration, and self-sustained engagement in music-making. Music-theoretical concepts and models are examples of such tools and systems. Hence, in order to understand the development of musical competences, it is of interest to better understand how music-theoretical concepts and models are learned. This paper presents preliminary results from an ongoing dissertation project aimed at exploring conceptualization processes emerging when students engage with three music-theoretical concepts (root, key, tonic). Lessons in music theory and aural skills at a Swedish upper secondary music program were observed over a period of six weeks. Seven students were interviewed before and after this period. The particular focus of this paper is on connecting what happens in lessons to more detailed evidence of developmental processes in interviews. In the observed lessons and several interviews, talk of keys and tonics was closely related to the circle of fifths (CoF). The CoF works as a mediating device that allows students to perform abstract operations on chord symbols, and that makes it possible to visualize keys as relationships between chords. However, it can be seen in interviews that these operations depend on the student having access to, or being able to reconstruct the diagram. This leads to mnemonic strategies dominating lessons while the underlying conceptual content remains implicit. This can be understood against the constraints the teacher is working under, with several students having little previous formal music schooling. Memorizing the CoF becomes a way of establishing a common language in which its conceptual content could be explored, which proves at least partly achievable in the interviews.

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