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15 January, 2016 - 09:13
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This Inquiry into Music: Course Home-style module will help you explore some of the types of "creations" that can be a useful part of the music-learning process, with the aim of discovering which ones might work best for you right now.

Actively responding to new ideas and information is an important step in the learning process. If the only things you do as a learner are passive (for example, listening, watching, and reading), then the new knowledge tends to be formal and abstract, useful only in highly controlled situations such as giving memorized answers to expected questions and problems. On the other hand, if you take an active, creative part in the process (for example, challenging the new ideas with thoughtful questions or using the new information in a creative way), then the new knowledge is more likely to become an integral part of your understanding, available to be used in a wide variety of real-world situations.

Good teachers will include opportunities for active learning in their programs, but if you are pursuing music-learning goals and projects on your own, you may have to be creative in thinking of active ways to learn what you want to know. There are many, many different ways to be an active music learner, even if your main goal is mainly to become a more knowledgeable listener. The lists below do not include all of the possibilities; they may help you think of other activities that you would find even more educational and interesting. Below the lists, you will find an The Inquiry that is designed to help you experiment with some of the possibilities for yourself.

Music Creations

  • Formal exercise - Set yourself a goal of composing a short exercise that will force you to practice the concept you are trying to learn (for example, writing 4 measures in 6/8 time, notated correctly, or composing 8 measures of counterpoint).
  • Arrangement - Take a piece of music that you like and set yourself the goal of arranging it in a way that practices the concept you are trying to learn (for example, transpose it to a new key, or change the rhythms to give it a different style).
  • Original composition - Choose a musical form that you like (for example, pop song form or sonata form) and compose a piece using the new concept.
  • Improvisation - During your regular practice sessions, practice creating improvisations that explore or demonstrate the new concept. (For example, make yourself include major seventh chords in your improvisation, or set yourself the task of modulating to a different key during the improvisation.) Record some of the improvisations for sharing and reflection.

Enacted music

  • Play it - If you are an instrumentalist, study the concept by choosing several pieces that include good examples of it (for example, pieces that use the melodic minor, or that are in the musical style that interests you). As you practice the pieces, study their similarities and differences and the ways that they incorporate or use the concept.
  • Move to it - Find appropriate recordings and play them while moving in a way that highlights the concept you are learning. (For example, conduct the 5/4 time, find dance steps that fit the compound meter, clap in a way that highlights the syncopated rhythm, or move your arms to indicate the contour of the melody.)
  • Sing it - Find appropriate recordings and sing along to them in a way that highlights the concept you are learning. (For example, sing a different syllable for the accented notes, or hum along with the harmony or the bass line instead of the melody). Singing is also a very effective practice tool if you are having trouble demonstrating the concept on your instrument. Try singing the piece that you are practicing, using the correct accents, dynamics, articulations, or phrasing. Once you can sing it correctly, you can work on the instrumental technique that will allow you to play the concept as well as sing it.

Visual Presentations

  • Poster - If the poster is meant to be a stand-alone presentation rather than part of a talk, make sure it includes enough explanation.
  • Graph, Chart, or Illustration - There are many different ways to arrange information visually, for example, as branching trees or flow charts, on time lines, bar graphs, or pie charts, or within overlapping ovals or concentric circles. Try to choose a way to arrange the information so that it shows something interesting, in a way that can be understood quickly and easily. Make sure to include a "key" with enough explanation so that it is easy to figure out what the graph or chart shows. Do not simply recreate someone else's chart. Choose a different way to illustrate the information; or, if you find a particular chart very useful, consider how you might expand or add to it to make it even more informative.
  • Artwork - Some musical concepts may lend themselves to expression as a visual artwork, for example, a painting evoking the music's timbre, or a drawing evoking the form of a piece, or a sculpture evoking its texture. Since the main purpose of the artwork is educational, include an oral or written explanation of how the artwork demonstrates the musical concept you are studying.

Written Presentations

  • Report - After learning about a musical concept (or genre, style, or historical era) see if you can write your own summary of the ideas. In order to avoid the temptation to simply quote what you read (which does not force you to think about it and really understand it), use your report to explain how what you read is related to something that you are doing as a musician or a piece of music that you have been listening to. For example, after reading about Baroque music, choose a piece you have been practicing or listening to, and explain why you would or would not call it Baroque.
  • Poem or epigram - This is another way to avoid simply quoting other people while demonstrating that you understand what they mean. Can you think of a creative way to explain the idea or give the information, for example using a poetic metaphor to compare the musical idea to something more familiar, or inventing a short, rhyming epigram that helps you remember what you need to know?
  • Journal entry - If you are committed to a long journey of discovery, for example to try to understand a foreign music tradition, consider creating a learning journal, in which you will keep track of what you have learned, what you are guessing at, where you have found useful information, what you have listened to, and what your new questions are as your education progresses.
  • Story or Narrative - This might be a non-fiction narrative, for example telling the story of your struggle to understand the new information, or it might be a fictional story that illustrates how the information might be useful in a "real-life" situation.
  • Review - In a review, you apply the information you are learning by listening for relevant examples in a piece of music. Choose a performance or recording of one piece of music, listen to it carefully, and then write a review of it that focuses on the concept that you are learning. Your review can be positive or negative, or have elements of both; the aim is to discuss how the concept was present (or not) in the recording or performance. For example, three reviewers might attend the same performance of a piece, and one might write about the form of the piece, another about the textures of the music, and another about the conducting.

Audio-Visual Presentations

  • Dramatic performance - For example, of a poem or story illustrating the musical concept.
  • Slide Presentation - The audio portion of your slide presentation can be a narrated explanation; or if the slides are self-explanatory, it can be music clips.
  • Video - For example, a videotape of a dramatic performance, or a series of video and audio clips with narration.
  • A talk - You can read a written report, or improvise a talk from notes. To make it audio-visual, include some visual presentation, for example, bring some objects to display, include a simple poster or a few slides, or draw on a board to help explain your talk or to emphasize the main points. You may also want to include an audio clip, or a short performance or demonstration of the concept.