'The challenges of teaching undergraduate music students without using western notation: performance analysis as a partial solution'

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Dr Freya Jarman (University of Liverpool)

The Music Department at the University of Liverpool is unusual in its entrance requirements: it does not require any formal musical background for students of popular music subjects. Meanwhile, it is also home to students with high-level formal training in Western classical music, who arrive expecting to make use of their competence in standard analytical methods. Both groups of students, and students whose skills are somewhere on the spectrum in between these extremes, sit alongside each other in a compulsory first-year module called Music as Sound. The aim of this module is to develop students’ abilities to talk productively about musical detail in a wide range of musics (from various popular music genres, through Western classical music, to a variety of non-Western musics and avant-garde performance art). This paper reflects on the challenges of developing the module in ways that are meaningful to students with and without formal musical training, particularly because the module does not aim to provide musical theory where it is absent in students’ musical language. Instead, it provides a new mode of analysis that challenges students competent with musical notation to think about analysis without traditional Western scores; the module also introduces analytical techniques to students who are non-notationally literate and without recourse to the technical tools and language of Western classical music. Thus, by changing the very nature of the goal, the module encourages classically trained musicians to think about music precisely as sound, rather than as a musical score, while also enabling those without training in music theory and analysis to talk about musical detail in a truly meaningful way. Moreover, such an approach, if adopted widely enough, could help close the gap in popular music scholarship between textual analysis and context-focused scholarship, as well as enabling scholars of classical music to write in ways more accessible to interdisciplinary audiences.

Freya Jarman is Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Liverpool. She is committedly a 'crossover artist' in both her teaching and research, having started as a classical pianist and then turning to the study of popular music during her PhD at the University of Newcastle. She is especially interested in cultures and ideologies of the voice and in queer theory; with these in mind she is the author of Queer Voices: Technologies, Vocalities, and the Musical Flaw (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), in which her three case studies are Diamanda Galas, Maria Callas, and Karen Carpenter. Freya Jarman is also the editor of Oh Boy! Masculinities and Popular Music (Routledge, 2007) and is currently working on a wide-ranging project on gendered histories of high notes in vocal music.

Part of the CMPS/IMR Performance/Research Series.