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Mapping the non-verbal side of musical conceptualization processes: Methodological challenges and some preliminary analyses

Conference contribution
Authors Niklas Rudbäck
Published in e17 – tacit knowing or just plain silence? Book of abstracts
Publication year 2017
Published at Academy of Music and Drama
Language en
Keywords conceptualization; non-verbal; interview methodology; multimodal communication
Subject categories Music education


Just by exposure to the musics of our society we develop advanced ways of perceiving music, and apprehending it as musically meaningful. Such musical perception and apprehension are constructive activities, going beyond what is present in the auditory signal, creating such phenomena as metrical structure, segmentation, periodicity, pitch hierarchies, sensations of tension and release, etc. Exactly how this happens is subject to debate, but it seems clear that many of the constructive processes by which it happens are transparent to consciousness. These forms of musical knowing are such an integral part of musical experience that they tend to be ascribed to the music itself, and such a musical apprehension is often not readily expressible in language. However, many of the central concepts of music theory can be said to more properly refer to such constructive aspects of musical experience, rather than to acoustic phenomena. In studying conceptualization processes in music education, this means such processes can be partly understood as learning to use semiotic tools to direct conscious awareness to one’s own non-verbal musical knowing, transforming both in the process. This makes studying these non-verbal forms of musical knowing an integral part of studying conceptualization processes in music. That, in turn, presents some methodological challenges. How to investigate these forms of knowing when they are not yet subject to conscious awareness? They may be difficult to verbalize, but can also be difficult to act out because of lack of motor skills in younger children, or lack of experience in expressing oneself musically with older participants. In my thesis project, I have attempted to address these challenges in three ways: (1) By situating my study in a context with relatively skilled musicians having little previous experience with music-theoretical concepts, which lets me (2) engage in relatively advanced joint music-making in interviews, and (3) view that music-making as an interview in itself, an interview in music, where our co-construction of a musically meaningful whole tells me something about the participants’ musical knowing. I will illustrate this with some preliminary analyses of such interviews, attempting bring out this non-verbal knowing, and show how it interacts and changes in the process of conceptualization. Question: I have been deliberately vague about how non-verbal musical knowing should be understood. It could conceivably be viewed as tacit knowing, knowing-in-action, partaking in a situated practice, embodied knowing, mental schemata, etc. What are the benefits and drawbacks of different ways of conceiving of non-verbal forms of knowing in the context of conceptualization?

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