Music of the Peers

Video games, and the mentality of those who excel at gaming, are under scrutiny from academics looking for helpful pointers. Video games foster learning, whilst keeping the player motivated, and have been touted as a good example to follow. To my mind however, video games still focus on rather well defined targets in boss battles and leveling up etc., and so the temptation to draw an analogy to traditional letter grades (A-F) still persists.

I would like to offer another fringe group who demonstrate a style of learning we should seek to emulate: musicians.

As artists, the targets musicians seek are not well defined. Instead, the vast majority of playing is aimless, unguided, and purely undertaken for the fun of it. Self-satisfaction is always paramount. Richard Feynman called it the ‘pleasure of finding things out’ and it is something artists do well, academics poorly. The musician’s journey involves much blind fumbling, and one must use one’s ears as guides (a challenge for visually oriented mammals like us). But that is half of the fun. Naturally in such a system, mistakes are not punished. Especially in an artist’s formative years, mistakes are actually the most powerful tool for learning, opening up new lines of thought or revealing hidden perspectives.

Further, good musicians seamlessly blend all four of the traditional learning styles such that learning is guaranteed!

1) Auditory; obviously

2) Linguistic; most teachers will tell you to sing what you want to play before even picking up an instrument, and instrumentalists spend most of their time trying to sound like vocalists.

3) Spatial; music theory contains bars, staffs, and what’s known as the ‘circle of fifths’, and music notation creates elaborate artworks that wouldn’t look out of place at a modern abstracts exhibit. Each written line a black and white masterpiece:

4) Kinesthetic; have you seen James Brown?

Finally, music is a collaborative art form. Working with others towards a common goal is the bedrock of any band or orchestra. Symphony requires the uncensored sharing of ideas, unwavering commitment to the cause, and impeccable communication skills. Such traits are all highly coveted in academia, but rarely worked upon.

I see a lot of promise in the style and emphasis that characterizes a musician’s education. It’s not perfect, however. There are still tedious scales, metronome practice, and Bono from U2. But mark my words, if we sow such musical seeds in higher education, we shall reap virtuosos.

5 Replies to “Music of the Peers”

  1. Wow! Such a fun post to read. I had not thought about academic learning in terms of being a musician before. As you went through the steps, the traditional learning styles that are blended in order to learn music, I had flashbacks to my years learning piano and could see the logic lining up well. My teacher did have me say the names of the note, sing the note, do music theory, listen to piece being played. All that. What you said makes complete sense.
    It seems odd to think that that academic education just now seems to be coming around to these ways of learning. Or maybe academia has been talking about it for some time, and I just never went to a school that acted on incorporating different methods of learning.

  2. Is it really a coincidence that there are two posts related to music for this week’s topic? (Shameless plug for own post). I, too, learned so much about learning and teaching from music lessons. I’d like to add that, to become a good musician, countless hours have to be dedicated to practicing – an iterative process of defining what you like/dislike and finding ways to improve. Sounds like an learning process that can be applied to many different areas, right? It takes tremendous discipline and hard work, something the articles this week seem to not have mentioned (or did I miss something?)

  3. One aspect of the readings that I found really interesting was the idea that when students are engaged in their learning and empowered to learn, they often choose to put in the hard work and the effort to progress. Because learning does take discipline and hard work! I am also really intrigued by the idea of incorporating ideas from learning about music. How do you see this being incorporated into an educational setting? Do you have ideas or examples from your own discipline on ways that this could be accomplished?

  4. Cool post! After going over the readings for this week and some of the other posts, I actually kept coming back to artists (musicians, actors, painters, etc.), wondering how academic institutions could do a better job of promoting artistic “imagination”. Or a method of learning that mimics the creativity artists often utilize (and the ability to try new things without fear). I also love the idea of the “pleasure of finding things out”. To me, that is the purpose of education. And sometimes, that requires a lot of experimentation and a lot of failure.

  5. I think you’re right- obviously a huge focus of the majority of video games is on advancing to the next level, meeting some milestones, beating bosses, and the like. And I love your interpretation of learning through music, especially as a way to adventure on your own, without bounds, and for the sake of discovery. Being a musician allows for a certain cognitive flexibility and skill set that simply cannot be obtained through traditional academic environments, as you’ve mentioned! But I think that exists (sometimes) in the word of video games too.

    I personally don’t play many video games, but my fiance sure does so I’ve learned a few things (but probably can’t be very specific). I do know there are many MMOs (massively multiplayer online games), for example, that allow for some of the opportunity for learning that you describe through music, including collaboration and teamwork, multi-sensory engagement, and free exploration without a specific end target. The skills developed in these games are core skills contributing to intellectualism writ large–critical thinking, problem solving, decision-making, teamwork, etc.

    Anyway, I love this post! I just wanted to draw some additional parallels to video gaming that can sometimes be overlooked.

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