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Wordplay: Students moving between playing concepts and talking music

Konferensbidrag (offentliggjort, men ej förlagsutgivet)
Författare Niklas Rudbäck
Publicerad i 23rd Conference of Nordic Network for Research in Music Education, Feb. 13–15, 2018, Hurdal, Norway
Publiceringsår 2018
Publicerad vid Högskolan för scen och musik
Språk en
Ämnesord conceptualization; key; music education; music theory; musical practice; scientific concepts; tonic; upper secondary school; qualitative interview
Ämneskategorier Musikpedagogik


My dissertation project aims to map conceptualization processes emerging when upper secondary music students engage with three music-theoretical concepts (root, key, and tonic) in an educational setting. This paper will focus on one aspect of these conceptualization processes, namely what role the students’ practical and/or implicit musical knowing plays, and how it interacts with other forms of knowing, in those processes. Music-theoretical concepts can be understood as Vygotskian scientific concepts in the music domain. By virtue of their integration in conceptual systems, such concepts can mediate transcendence of specific situated activities in musical learning situations, and hence play a vital role in the development of competences such as listening, collaboration and self-sustained engagement in music-making activities. While it is well established that teaching and learning music terminology (i.e. the verbal aspect of musical concepts) is well served by a connection to concrete musical experiences, there is still a need to better understand what role such experiences play in the learning process. This requires detailed case studies of how different forms of knowing interact and change in the process of conceptualization. An interest in these questions was an important reason for situating this study in an upper secondary music program. Working with participants who are relatively proficient musicians offers opportunities to study not only how they talk about roots, keys and tonics, but also how they handle these phenomena in musical practice. In order to investigate that, interviews were designed around a musical activity (composing and setting chords to a simple melody). Taking a multimodal perspective on communication as well as knowledge, this musical activity is understood not only as something to talk about, but also as performing parts of the interview in music. This paper will provide some preliminary analyses of excerpts from such interviews, with a particular focus on the movement between (a) handling roots, keys, and tonics in musical practice, and (b) accounting for that practice in verbal language—playing concepts and talking music. These analyses show that the participants are generally adept at handling roots, keys and tonics in their musical practice. However, episodes where their normal means of doing so are challenged (and resolved) prove especially fruitful as means of anchoring semiotically mediated conceptualization processes in musical practice, and conversely, drawing experiences of musical practice into the process of conceptualization. There are also examples of moving from verbal discourse to musical practice: In cases where there is a tendency to verbally account in terms of local intra-musical circumstances and by generalization over situated musical experiences, musical counter-examples can play a vital role in triggering conceptual change towards generalizing in terms of concepts of musical structure. On a more general level, it is argued that the interviews discussed in this paper can be viewed as learning situations (for both parties), and that they provide insight into microgenetic processes of conceptualization. As such, they highlight the important role of the teacher (here also interviewer), and that roots, keys, and tonics—both as they appear in musical practice and in verbal discourse—are co- constructed by interviewer and interviewee.

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