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4.2: The Student as Maker: A case study analysis of the meaning attached to early childhood musical encounters.

Steven C. Dillon

The focus of this paper is upon the meanings and contexts associated with music learning in early childhood. The learning styles and associations developed in early childhood music are important factors in the child's continued association with music learning and influential upon the meaning and values that they attribute to music later in life Aronoff, 1969). For most of the last twenty years, the notion that art was intrinsically motivated has been a cornerstone of the philosophy of music education and practice (Reimer, 1970; Dewey, 1934; Swanwick, 1981). There is no doubt that young children and adults alike are drawn to it, but what are the origins of this association and what constitute the processes and relationships which 'maintain and develop the child's natural responses to esthetic[sic] values.' (Aronoff, 1969, 20)? What does institutionalised education contribute to the meaning of music for young people? The aim of this paper is to examine the meaning which music makers themselves place upon their early experiences. Essentially, examining the meaning to individuals in context, rather than seeking an objectification of music meaning. This study seeks to ask first 'where' music meaning is located. (Czikszentmihalyi , 1996)


The main method used in this study consists of semi structured interviews with ten teachers, and twenty-one students at an independent Pre-preparatory to year-twelve school of six hundred students . All interviews were tape recorded and transcribed in full. Transcripts were 'member checked' (Lincoln and Guba, 1985) by participants and verified for accuracy of transcription, meaning and intent. The data is primarily retrospective reflections on early childhood music experiences and the intention is to explore the meaning now given to those experiences by the individuals interviewed and their views on the processes. I began by asking the individuals to recall a first remembered music experience and followed this with a more open question which asked the participants to outline their own personal music story.


Czikszentmihalyi's research on creativity utilised similar autobiographical interview questioning (1996) to those utilised in the present study. His study examined creativity systemically and proposed a link between 'flow', motivation and involvement with creative making. In a small-scale quantitative study, that also used similar questioning, Sloboda and Howe (1992) examined the effects of early learning on subsequent musical development and instrument choice. They found that the choice of first teacher was most important in the continued involvement of the student in music making and the significance of both group and individual teaching approaches as an entry point for music learning.


The interview data presented here has been summarised to fit the dimensions of this paper. Wherever possible, the students own recollections and words have been used. During the collection of data, I felt that it was significant that participants produced vivid early memories of these experiences. The interviews provide evidence as to how these people construct themselves and display the importance that they place upon these experiences.


The location of meaning-Where is the meaning of music.

Several themes emerged from the analysis of data, suggesting that three types of meaning were important to the participants interviewed.


The personal -where the activity, and experience of making music is intrinsically motivated and gives 'flow' (Czikszentmihalyi, 1990) from the experience itself. It is expressive and communicative with self. It is the individuals encounter with the 'inherent meaning' of the music itself (Green, 1988: 84).


The social- Musical knowledge and skill enables social interaction in bands, choirs, and orchestras and through performance. The meaning in this sense is about the relationship of self and others. This constitutes an encounter with the 'delineated meaning' (Green, 1988, 26) attributable to the context in which music is made.


Universal meaning- of music to young people is what Czikszentmihalyi describes as 'forging a unity with universal values' (1992:222). It is where the music maker and the product enter a reciprocal relationship with the school as a community and the wider community. It is both the feeling of belonging experienced by the maker who is affirmed by the acceptance of their aesthetic product and of themselves as 'artistic people'.

It is a complex interaction where the maker contributes to the 'culture' of the community and the community affirms the product as representative of its unique and diverse culture and the person as a 'talented' member of the community. This affects how both are perceived by others and contributes to self-esteem and self-valuing of maker and community alike. This kind of interaction changes consciousness and the student as a person; in this way, music making becomes education of character (Buber, 1969).

Naturally, this kind of meaning may also have negative connotations if a community does not embrace the maker or their product, but in this case, I believe we are discussing an encouraging and controllable educational environment.


In the data, there was a noticeable connection between these forms of meaning, the attraction to music, and the motivation to continue to be involved with music making by participants. Such an attachment to a larger goal or meaning accounts in some respects for time engaged in less immediately gratifying pursuits in music making (for example repetitive practise, technical work, theory). I will use these 'meaning locaters' as tools for exploring further these types of meanings, which were important to participants.


A musical autobiography.

Peter is multi instrumentalist and primary music teacher his story of early childhood musical experiences raised several aspects about the meaning of music for this analysis.

Peter comments firstly about the role of music and his family:

'Music was very important to us as a family. Music was always part of our worship and celebrations. I was exposed to a lot of singing and playing; it was just a part of our life.'

His father played piano and he was both inspired by this and aspired to play something that his Dad did not. He was attracted to recorder through friends, who learnt the instrument, and began learning guitar in primary school. Learning 'most of the basic chords by the end of Year 3.' This was also where he witnessed a performance of rock music by past students that he believes triggered his fascination with rock and roll. He showed initiative and formed his own bands. In year-five, he was inspired by his woodwind teacher's love of music

'His love of music just spilled on to me as I learned the clarinet and then the saxophone through his guidance. He inspired to learn, enjoy and appreciate jazz music. I was inspired by the way he dedicated his whole life to music, and the way he instilled his love of music into his students., I aspired to be like him.

Peter outlines quite clearly what music meant to him. Social meaning extends through his family, church and primary school music experiences. He is attracted to it through friends and family and even seeks it through starting his own groups both in school and out. In a relationship context, the social extends to his want to 'emulate' his fathers love of music and sees a competitive side to learning an instrument that his father does not play. He 'aspires to be like' his saxophone teacher. He is attracted the love of the instrument and playing projected by 'significant others', and seeks to share in that meaning. The universal meaning of the image of playing and the achievement of playing has been a great motivator for him. He 'really enjoyed the whole idea of learning an instrument and making musical sound.' Peter's story is about personal achievement but also something that is projected publicly. Peter was interested in 'what he saw and heard'. He was attracted by the image and sound of playing music and the people playing. The recorder players, his father, the saxophone teacher and the young rock guitarists all influenced his perception of music. Most importantly, Peter acknowledges the strong influence that teachers and parents making music had upon his attraction to music making.

Edward's Story

I would like to pursue these meanings further in an analysis of a narrative that presents a recollection of personal meaning. Edward is a seventeen-year-old who plays both clarinet and guitar. He first began experiencing music with his father as a toddler.

My father was a rather good clarinet player and his

father was a great, jazz clarinet player and used to play around quite

a bit and Dad loved music and loved playing his clarinet quite often

on weekends he would pull out his old music box from the cupboard and

play a few songs through and I used to love sitting there listening to

him. And one day he bought me a recorder and he used to play his songs

and I used to pretty much ruin them by playing the recorder all

through them, but it was good fun I used to love doing that. Then my

Dad passed away, so I wanted to continue the love of music, partly because of that and because I really enjoyed playing music as well, so that's probably my earliest recollection

Edward spoke of closeness to his deceased father, enjoyment and a strong association with music making. He began a social music learning activity singing in the Australian boys' choir. His family encouraged his interest in music and

[a piano playing aunt]' gave me a glockenspiel and I used to love that thing and I listened to all my favourite songs and figured them out on my glockenspiel, doing things like that. I didn't find that very difficult and everyone was

incredibly impressed and in grade six we had a little glockenspiel

ensemble and we played.'

The meaning of music for Edward.

For Edward there is an explicit family connection, and a clear expression of his own love of music. The personal aspects of a music-related closeness with his deceased father through clarinet playing provided a touching moment in the interview. As in the interview with Peter, his musical achievement impressed his family and friends, this refers to the universal aspects of music meaning. He attributes his analytic understanding of music to his social musical experience in the Australian boys' choir. People who are prepared to share their playing, and involve him in playing are prominent in this interview. He mentions his father, grandfather and an aunt as significant influences. As with Peter these people demonstrate their own love for music and involve him in music without judgement. They encourage involvement and provide the opportunity to share their experience. Both participants describe a similar immersion in music making beginning with family and then radiating outwards to other experiences in institutional music making. It is notable that the intrinsic nature of music refers in these narratives to an immersion in the process of music making as part of the child's social world, in much the same way as language and values are acquired.


Linda's story

Linda is a seventeen-year- old, saxophonist in year eleven who began her music education as a violinist. This extract describes how her natural responses were noticed and built upon:

I was four years old, and it was just before my birthday And I still remember the picture of me sitting in front of the TV and there was a philharmonic orchestra or something with a solo violinist and I remember exactly when I first went ' ohhh' [gasps and laughs]. I don't remember anything else about being four except just this vision of a violin player getting a standing ovation from so many people, and sounding so good. And I just went [loudly] 'Mum I want a violin, now.' And she had never seen me so instantly interested in something and she said 'Oh my God, better get her a violin now. So, I got one for my birthday. And I loved just the whole thing from there, from this one vision.

'Just the whole concept of so many people being so interested in something that you had a talent for. And just being able to stand up in front of so many people and saying look, this is what I'm good at.'


Linda's Teacher.

Linda was attracted to the' standing ovation' received by the violinist on television who 'sounded so good'. The notion of a projection of herself as being in that position is a vivid memory for her. What was critical in Linda's development was how her parents and teacher built upon her response. Linda's parents bought her a violin and decided upon the Suzuki method and teacher. Linda uses the following phrases to describes her teacher:

'always positive'

'patient but she was always pushing me to be better, but without pushing me too hard '

'I had a connection with her'

[she was] 'in awe' of her ability as a violinist '

'and it was having such a great respect for how good she was. And how good she thought I was.'

This description reflects the significance of the first musical encounter and the importance of having a teacher, who has a nice personality, is a competent performer and employs good pedagogy. The importance of the personality and pedagogy of the first teacher are supported by Sloboda and Howe's study (1992). However, they found that a high level of performance skill of the teacher was less critical in affecting encouragement and continuation than the other two factors. I would argue that the ability to involve the child in music making through the teachers performance was most necessary in communicating intuitive concepts and served as ' inspiration' to many participants interviewed. Perhaps the difference here is not about skill level of teachers but the teachers 'love' of music demonstrated through their performance of it. In this study, we are focussing upon the teachers' ability to convey the intuitive rather than evaluating their technical expertise.


Building on natural aesthetic responses

Linda's story displays an effective building upon her natural responses. In her recollection, the teacher appears to understand her attraction to the violin. There is a strong emphasis upon Linda sharing in the teachers' love of music, experiencing through her as well as having an experience of her own. This kind of music encounter is intimate and intense. An attraction to music as an image is present in all the interviews mentioned above. There is also a very strong association with the sound made by the teacher, parent or peer playing. The students' also felt that they could make sounds like that themselves, and they were motivated by their own achievements.


Not all students interviewed began learning music through their own choice. Many began learning at the instigation of their parents or at primary school. Sloboda and Howe (1992, 288) found that student interest and external stimuli to learning music was split evenly between these groups and numerically this was also the case in this study. What the quantitative study fails to reveal is how the students who were not self-motivated in their interest felt about the idea.


James' Story

James is a twenty-four-year-old piano/synthesizer teacher. He came from a musical family and he began playing the piano at the age of eight . He describes his parents' reasons for the decision:

'I think that they were keen for, not only myself but also my brother and sister to have some musical experiences and they thought it was worth something.'


James disliked the idea that lessons and practice gave him less time for 'mucking about with his mates' and that practice was an unavoidable task. James like many children responded 'dutifully' to his parents' request to involve him in music learning or did it without questioning it. The social held an appeal to James. Understandably, he showed a preference for the social activity of playing with his mates to piano lessons and practice. When he began to learn the clarinet, at his primary school, he found that the social activity of playing in a concert band more attractive. When he had friends and relatives, who played around him, he made rapid progress as a clarinet, and subsequently a saxophone player.


Gaining social meaning

The idea of gaining access to meaning 'later' in the students experience, and as a result of parent-structured learning is noteworthy and also representative of the experiences of other participants. In a sense, James' movement into a career as a musician pivoted upon his gaining of a social meaning. Once activated, his prior piano learning became valuable, and gave him access to personal expressive meaning and associated universal meaning. A synergy connects these levels of meaning that allows them to exist independently and together. Swanwick (1994), suggests that a productive tension exists between the analytical experiences of practice and repetitive learning and the intuitive 'flow' (Csikszentmihalyi, 1992) experiences gained through more intrinsic means. For teachers of music the problem lies in keeping students engaged in both, the realms of the intuitive and the analytical, this is the mastery of good teaching. Participants in this study described a 'good teacher' as one who is aware of what motivates the child, and can also take the child into their own love of music.


James was not intrinsically motivated by his music experience until he gained a social meaning. Does this suggest that commitment and motivation came from extrinsic means or a sense of 'duty'? Or was it as it may have been for other interviewees that the meaning was unspoken or shared? It is perhaps for these reasons that group music learning often provides access to other approaches to learning music and a meaning gained from making music collaboratively. In group learning and performance, students reported gaining a social affirmation, which added to their self-esteem. Social and universal meanings were present in narratives of group learning and what they share with those who had access to private lessons was that the quality of the teaching relationship was critical for effective learning.


What appear to be successful and influential experiences are those experiences, which involve social and collaborative learning, such as a choir, bands or a school production. It is this aspect of group learning- the social, which attracted James to playing the clarinet in a more motivated way than his experiences with piano. For Linda too, the initial image was of a social meaning of the violin performer (getting a standing ovation). Hers was a social interest which when combined with the teacher influence, made up an important part of her initial involvement and gave her impetus to continue. The meaning of music to young people within institutional experiences of school and community is bound up with the social. It is this dimension, which offers the intrinsic motivation for involvement and continued participation. Learning in this sense, and at this age, is largely experiential. It is an intuitive and 'felt' sense of 'knowing', rather than a reified reflective understanding. Music was significant to participants in this study because of the 'felt' intuitive understanding, which they described as meaningful. The musical encounter involves being taken into a community of music-makers. Either as a group experience, or immersed in the intimacy of a studio teachers' love of music. Both seem to fit Swanwick's notion of initiation into a symbolic discourse (1994).



Each of the 'meanings of music'- the personal, the social and the universal, are potential motivational aspects of learning music. They may occur in combination or individually. They may not be apparent until a considerable amount of 'work has been done' which enables access to them. Until this occurs, the transcripts suggest that it might be enough that the child is immersed in someone else's love of music- their family, a teacher, or a group's collective fervour. In this way, the student experiences the meaning of music through others and by sharing in the family or community's valuing of music. The most significant points raised about the processes of music learning gained from this analysis refer distinctly to the teacher/student relationship. It is suggested that the teacher needs to be able to involve the students in their own lives as music makers (Buber, 1969) and that they are able to recognise and nurture the development of the child's own aesthetic responses.


The meaning of music to the child is mutually dependent upon process. Swanwick suggests, that the process requires a productive tension between the intuitive and emotive aspects of music and the analytic and skill base (1994). One may be reached through the other but it is only in making music in context that the two come together and are capable of giving meaning that communicates with others or self. It is the gaining of layers of meaning which educates the child's character and this is the true goal of universal meaning (Buber, 1969). This study raises the question of what constitutes an intrinsically motivating experience, and what factors build on the natural response. The suggestion here is that it is an inclusiveness, a 'living through' the experience of others (Buber, 1969) and sharing of meaning. It is, as Swanwick suggests, initiation into a discourse (1994). The student- teacher relationship is central to the success of music learning in both the private and group settings. How the teacher constructs the musical encounter, so that the intuitive and the analytical are experienced by the student with understanding, constitutes a fundamental problem for music education. Swanwick describes the difficulty of this task

'gaining understanding is a process of unwrapping layers of intuitively glimpsed meanings, exposing something new (though never all) of the why and how of the objects of our attention.'

Something of the meaning of music can be taught or at least 'caught' from others. It can be learned (1994, 2)



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