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HOW POPULAR MUSICIANS LEARN. By Lucy Green. Ashgate pound;42.50.

It is possible to find a facile irony in the fact that Lucy Green's stimulating book yokes together lengthy quotes from popular musicians with numerous citations from academic journals - possible but pointless. The book probes deeper cultural ironies than that - the fact that music in the UK is indeed immensely popular, yet most of us feel barely qualified to make it; and that while many rock performers profess an ideology of spontaneous authenticity they are in fact very likely to have spent countless hours in developing their musical skills.

Lucy Green interviewed 14 musicians, from seasoned guitar professionals and session singers to seriously aspiring teenagers, and persuaded them to talk freely about how they came to operate in their chosen field and what in their education had helped or hindered them. It is no disrespect to her lucid analysis to say that these interviews are among the best parts of the book.

What emerges is, unsurprisingly, disaffection with the more formal teaching proffered before the music education revolution in the 1970s; even later beneficiaries of those reforms have not usually found school work more than mildly encouraging.

The musicians frequently describe their true training as a kind of apprenticeship. They have listened to recordings of their preferred artists and learned to play along or imitate. Sometimes a more experienced player has shown them a useful improvement in technique. Even those with theoretical qualifications have needed to translate them into music that sounds attractive before the abstract descriptions begin to make sense. What they habitually describe with a shrug as "just listening" is often found to be a complex and conscientiously attentive aural dedication to something loved for its own sake.

The author's tentative conclusions derive directly from these disclosures. Music teachers should recognise the high value the musicians ascribe to the "feel" that admired players communicate. The comradeship generated by performing together is also important.

Teachers might experiment with doing less rather than more. Rather than expand the content of the curriculum, they could try to foster new attitudes where spirit and idiosyncrasy are central to what is learned. The thought-provoking paradox that Lucy Green develops is that, in listening to others, young musicians may have their best chance of developing their own voice.


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