Sunday, February 10, 2013

Week 5

Research and thinking about music's effect on the brain is enough to fill multiple books, biographies, let alone a blog.  I was interested to find out how completely different parts of the brain are activated by different aspects of music.  Rhythm being a more basic function and improvisation stimulating the frontal region. The brain is teaching us about music and music is teaching us about the brain.  I'm a firm believer that we are a fear based society and that the real masters fear not.  Improvising and creating music "turn down" the inhibition regions of the How can we expand on that?

What aspects of music are universal?  What is impacted by cultural imprinting?  The study of the isolated Mafa tribe in Camaroon was intriguing.  They haven't been exposed to other musics.  The don't have a word for music, yet they all sing and play flute music.  The emotions expressed in western music were still interpreted similarly to the way we do.  The presence of the perfect intervals, the fourth, the fifth, and the octave permeate all cultures.  Yet microtonal differences can be found, especially in the third.  The similarities of lullabies across cultures, the minor third of nana nana boo boo, and the overtone series all point to the ability of music to cross borders and touch lives much different than our own.  Often non-western music is more about the horizontal melody-not about harmony.  "There are boundaries, you just have to walk across them."-Bobby McFerrin.

Is music separate brain function or is it part of others?  Music is a language, but pitch and melody come long before language.  It is not a spinoff from language.  I don't really agree with all of the views of Steven Pinker on how the brain works.  Thinking about the evolution of humans and the role music has played is enthralling.  Was it used to possibly increase reproduction chances or for culture building?  I want to know more about the evolution of our vocal track. Neanderthals may have made music without having language.  I'm struck by the power of movement and music. It is something that existed in the cultures of our ancestors for at least 33,000 years, probably more, and therefore is deeply ingrained in our DNA.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Week 4

We absorb and respond to vibrations and rhythm before we are born.  Music is energy and can be explained through physics and math.  Music exists in nature.  Animals synchronize their songs.  Humpbacked whale calls are particularly complex in pattern, rhythm and form.  Scientists are even measuring frequencies in the cosmos.

Music's effects on the brain continue to be a topic of research and it's place throughout evolutionary history pondered.  The Mannes video, The Music Instinct, really inspires some deep thinking about music's role in our lives and throughout time.  It's amazing how many different parts of the brain are affected by listening to and making music.  We've become good at finding music that pleases us and directly effects the reward center of brain that emits dopamine.  The auditory and motor areas of the brain are thicker in musicians.  The technological advances that allow us to see what happens in the brain will continue to unlock the mystery behind our deep connection to music.

I'm really struck by symmetry in physics, math, music, art, and just about everything.  Human's like symmetry.  String theory is fascinating.  Fractals are fascinating. Sound waves, and the overtone series can all be explained with physics and math.  It's interesting that the breaking of patterns is what really excites us. One of the speakers in the video said that goose bumps happen when we her enharmonic change and syncopation.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Week 3

I was tempted to blog about the Mannes video and Levitin because I found them so interesting and inspiring.  Inevitably some of those ideas will spill into this post as well, but I'll devote the majority of this entry to discuss the ideas of Leonard & House, as well as Reimer.  First of all, it's astounding to find out that in the 1950's half of all high schoolers were involved in music education and that number has dwindled to 10%. I agree with a lot of the views in The Rise of Aesthetic Education.  Perhaps there is an "undue emphasis on performance," and while children should definitely enjoy their music education, I agree that the emphasis should not be on the entertainment of students.

However, because music involves so many areas of the brain, I believe it should be integrated with other subject areas.  In addition, the use of motor areas make it perfect to be used a means to non-musical ends like movement and health.  The community and social functions are argued to be some of the earliest evolutionary reasons for humans to use music.  Why then, would we not use music as a means to create better citizens.

Music appeals to us at a very deep level.  Evolution has genetically engineered us to respond to music instinctually and in ways that only music can invoke.  Expression, aesthetics, emotions and feelings might be difficult to measure but are are at the heart of our existence as humans.  The aesthetic values in music can be found all around us in nature, the sciences, visual arts, etc.  Life dynamics are paralleled in music.  Tension and release, rise and fall, motion and rest, conflict and resolution are ever-present and easily understood through music.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Week 2

Waxing philisophical has proven to be a lot of fun these first two weeks, and the open discussion format has been great.   I'm really enjoying my small discussion group as well.  Sometimes the vast history of music education and opinions expressed seem daunting and hard to fully grasp.  With each class, I come away with another book I want to read or another opinion I want to further explore.  A feeling that has permeated a number of sessions is that a career in music education is my fate.  Thinking about the who, what, when where, and how.  Musing on the functional, aesthetic, praxial, sociological, and cognitive has not only assured me of my calling but I think will aide in my becoming a good teacher.
Interestingly, the most involved discussion was on the use of computers in class.  Students that have given little input in class thus far suddenly had a lot to say on this topic.  I thought some of the arguments in favor of using computers didn't hold water.  I think the absence of computers has allowed for some lively discussions that otherwise wouldn't have reached or included a vast number of students in class.  I have been flabbergasted at how many times I see students surfing on their computer or phone.  Our culture of multi-tasking scares me.  I'm guilty of having a football game on in the background right now, and I often multitask.  But, technological advances often lead to bad habits like multitasking.  I often long for a time or place where everyone is present in the moment.....where our leisure time isn't spent in front of a TV.  I feel like generations being raised with their eyes and ears glued to screens will be deficient in their ability to interact face to face.  Attention spans aren't getting any longer either.  There is sad wisdom in the Taliban quote "Americans have watches, but true believers have time."

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Week 1

In my first year at Vandercook, I've often felt anxious and ready to get some hands on teaching experience.  I'm of the opinion that there is no substitute for getting your feet wet, so to speak.  However, I understand that the curriculum is set up so that we enter the classroom fully prepared and ready to deal with any situation effectively. With each class, I've gradually shed this attitude and embraced the thoroughness of the program. I've thought about my philosophy of teaching in the past, but after writing my core teaching values last semester, my thoughts really came together into a cohesive, coherent set of statements.
What is teaching?  The question seems simple on the surface, but as the discussions proved, definitions vary greatly.  Is it teaching when the student doesn't learn?  We got caught up on that question for a while.  In my mind it is can be considered teaching even if the student doesn't learn.  It is simply ineffective teaching.
I thoroughly enjoyed the excerpts by Plato and Aristotle.  The importance of striving for balance in life is further confirmed.  We don't want to create "feeble warriors", nor do we want to create soulless brainiacs or brutes.  We need more renaissance men, and women.  It's really sad to see how far we've strayed from the ideas of these great thinkers.  Gymnastics and music used to be core subjects in curriculum.  Now, as the obesity epidemic rages on, and the souls of children are nourished by tv and computer screens, physical education and music classes are becoming increasingly extra-curricular.  Obviously, we can't train all children to become virtuosos, but all souls can be nourished through music.