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Musical Coaching

Most musical coaching- and most music teaching, for that matter- falls within what Freire called the “banking education” model (Freire, 1968). In a typical session, the expert (the well of knowledge) instructs the artist or student, otherwise known as the client (the empty vessel) on how a particular piece should be performed and on how to approximate the “ideal” rendition.

The arrangement is, by its very nature, dis-empowering, since generally no transmission of meaningful, applicable knowledge takes place that would prepare the client to understand, process and perform different works independently. Thus, when tackling a new work, the client is once again back to square one. The result: dependence and insecurity.

In contrast, the critical pedagogy model- which actively promotes independence- proposes a radically different approach. Critical pedagogues do not pretend to have all the answers. They pose questions that challenge the students. They guide students to understand principles and processes and to take ownership of their learning. Ira Shor defines critical pedagogy as: “Habits of thought, reading, writing, and speaking which go beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional clichés, received wisdom, and mere opinions, to understand the deep meaning, root causes, social context, ideology, and personal consequences of any action, event, object, process organization, experience, text, subject matter, policy, mass media, or discourse.” (Shor, 1992)

When this approach is applied to music making and learning, the teacher and learner engage together in meaningful dialogue on the repertory and on interpretation. For example, they may analyze different musical styles, reflect on and recognize the nature of different affects, analyze musical form, study the expressive qualities and the functions of chords and dissonances, and how to accentuate them in performance, as well as principles of phrasing, and how to apply them to different works. Both teacher and learner explore connections across the musical material and explore the whys and how’s, i.e., the basis for the different decisions to be made in the interpretation of a musical work.

Adorno emphasized accurate analysis as the basis of true interpretation. Quantz had already hinted at it in his Versuch when he wrote: “if all teachers of music… knew how to impart proper notions of artful music to their pupils; if they had their pupils play pieces that are skillfully worked out soon enough and explained their contents to them……. (Quantz, 1752)

However, most “coaching”- even to this day- only touches the surface and stays at the level Shor describes as “traditional cliches, received wisdom and mere opinions”. Such style of “coaching” belongs to the culture of “tips” and contributes nothing other than a veneer.

But as we well know, sprinkling a few details- however appropriate- here and there, will not turn anyone into a great artist, just as adding a coat of paint will not turn an ordinary building into a new Parthenon.

Daniel Daroca

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