A challenge to assumptions of the transformative power of music

Henley, J. (2018) A challenge to assumptions of the transformative power of music. Royal College of Music. (Unpublished)


Learning is a process that has content (curriculum) and form (pedagogy) however it is a common assumption that the links between musical, emotional, and social development lie solely in the content of music learning. Curriculum and pedagogy are commonly confused resulting in the elevation of the status of the learning content and the separation of content and form. This manifests in educational practice and research that is based on the assumption that emotional content is universal and inherent in the object of music, and learners are transformed as a result of musical content alone. This paper critiques the notion that social and emotional development occur as a result of engagement with emotional content embedded within music, and suggests that it is not the type of music or musical activity that is learnt, rather it is the way that music is learnt that gives rise to emotional and social development. Pedagogy is unpicked in light of different learning theories that either engage or supress criticality to show that uncritical pedagogies can exist in music making often assumed to be transformative by the nature of the musical content. Research exploring the pedagogy of a prison music project is drawn upon to demonstrate how socio-musical interactions and relationships are created and facilitated not by the musical content, but by a pedagogy that provides spaces for critical engagement, for conflict to surface and be resolved, and leads to the taking of musical, emotional and social risks.

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