What Is Otherness in Popular Music and How Can It Be Taught in Higher Education

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  • Topic: Music, Music education, Popular music pedagogy
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  • Published : January 20, 2013
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What is ‘Otherness’ in Popular Music and How Can ‘Otherness’ Be Taught in Higher Education By Matthew Clyma Gooderson

Matthew Gooderson!

Page 1 of 23

Introduction

This practitioner research based project will take on the form of a composition task designed for foundation degree, popular music students. Teaching composition, unlike other subjects like mathematics, is not just about technical information and skills, where there is a clear idea of “right” and “wrong.” Teaching someone how to write music introduces an unknown, non-technical quantity: creativity. This is the really big question: can creativity be taught? Taken a step further, we might also ask: assuming creativity can be taught, can it be assessed? This means that to teach music composition well, both the technical and non-technical aspects must be addressed, and if possible, we need to put a system of assessment in place. In this paper, I will address how creativity might be taught and assessed. I will be focussing primarily on the idea of ‘otherness’ (Levitin, 2006) – the non-technical aspects of music - in popular music composition, as a method of fostering creativity (Burnard & Younker, 2002; John-Steiner, 2000; Petty, 2003). I will also discuss the difficulties of teaching composition in terms of assessment (Faultley, 2010) together with an examination of different pedagogical approaches. This will lead to a description of a curriculum I implemented, and my review, reflection and evaluation of the project. Part 1: Research and Theoretical Background

Teaching composition requires fostering creativity (Burnard & Younker, 2002). Sternburg and Lubart (1999) stated how little we know about the science of the creative process. Therefore, I instigated a series of discussions between myself and the programme leader with the purpose of raising key questions about the pedagogical approach. The main theme of our discussion was: when composing popular music, what knowledge is most important for the student? The following key points were raised: Matthew Gooderson! Page 2 of

1. If we are attempting to turn good songwriters into great songwriters, do opinions of

what is considered to be a great song within the genre of popular music vary greatly between different critics? 2. Is there any authoritative voice in pop music or is it considered great because it is

popular?
3. What is the role of fans in pop music?

4. Do opinions of what is considered a great pop song vary greatly between fans and

artists?
5. Does pop music rebel against any fixed idea of quality that may be implicit in, say, a

music conservatory?

If the answer to any of these questions indicates that there is not one standard against which we can measure the greatness of a song, then we are not only teaching and assessing a technical skill, but we are teaching and assessing something other than the technical: an ‘otherness’. The aim of this project is to identify what that ‘otherness’ is and how we can learn it, teach it and assess it. So what exactly do I mean by ‘otherness’? When we ‘like’ a song, why are we preferring its ‘emotional dimension’ to that of another? Levitin (2006) cites ‘otherness’ as an emotional quality: ‘in a scientific sense - why are some musicians superior to others when it comes to emotional (verses the technical) dimension of music? This is the great mystery and no-one knows for sure.’ Levitin’s idea highlights a clear divide between the technical and emotional sides of music and further identifies that we can prefer one musician to another based on an emotional response rather than just their demonstration of technical skills. These preferences can be easily spotted when listening to popular musicians such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. In some cases, it is even believed that the lack of formal music tuition could Matthew Gooderson! Page 3 of 23

even be an advantage. Levitin argues that Joni Mitchell's genius is a result of a lack of...
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