Groove to the rhythm with the relevant rap

28th October 2005 at 01:00
Marcel Pusey on the importance of bridging the gap between young people's music language and that of formal music education

Groove, on the one, on the beat, off the beat, lay off, lazy beat, behind the beat, push the beat, breakbeat, trip hop, hip hop, hardcore, trance, deep house, lay it down, break it down, lock it down u the language of music is forever evolving and changing. These are musical terms I regularly come across in the professional music circles of rock, hip hop, Latin, African, funk, rap and jazz.

And these are the ones I understand.

Music's formal terms, such as adagio, ostinato, fortissimo, intermezzo and legato, represent a strange language to me. For many people, learning music is done aurally. A CD arrives in the post for me and then, depending on what type of gig I'm playing at - if I'm lucky - I may get chord charts.

Reading music is not a necessary requirement. But having good ears is; though whether that's sufficient, I'm not sure. The one thing all the professional players I encounter have is a firm grasp of musical principles.

For me, understanding basic musical concepts was like passing my driving test. It was the freedom to go where I wanted, when I wanted. The basic tools allowed me to teach myself. No one tells you being creative can be frustrating when you have no idea what you are doing.

I am often struck by the number of guitarists who have no idea of the notes that make up the chord they are playing. Ask many of them to go down a semitone, from E to E-flat, say, and a look of bewilderment will come into their eyes. There are vocal students who have no concept of harmony, or how notes work within a chord, and musicians who have no idea that you do not always have to play in 44. The biggest challenge music education faces is trying to get across to students the importance of understanding basic musical concepts. In an "I want it now" society it is difficult, but it should be done using sounds and language that students understand.

A significant part of my career as music teacher, software developer and bass guitarist is providing workshops focusing on African, Latin and contemporary music for students and adults. I make a point of using professional musicians. They bring skills in different styles and genres - soukous, samba, salsa, zouk, clave rhythms, montunos - to the classroom.

Providing schools and colleges with appropriate support and follow-up material is a real problem. Many students we meet at our holiday workshops are eager and hungry to learn, but accessing music through reading and more traditional avenues is not what they do. They know what they like, but are not sure how to go about learning it. They are passionate and creative musicians outside the school environment but unable or unwilling to express themselves in the classroom.

The current obsession with assessment and evaluation doesn't help. As a musician I look at curriculum requirements and find them confusing, daunting and complex. Goodness knows how a non-specialist teacher feels.

The objectives for teaching music to students who have not chosen music as a specialist subject should be simple and realistic. Ages 10 to 16 year are notoriously difficult to engage and, what's more, teachers have to engage a whole class.

I developed O-Generator software to bridge the gap between the contemporary and the traditional, between the creative impulse and the formal expression. It provides basic learning ideas that sustain young people's interest in music. With this software, students access information aurally and visually. The accompanying tutorials speak in a language they will understand, and offers them the opportunity to be creative using sounds they are familiar with.

I firmly believe that young people today are as passionate as ever about music and music-making. But music teachers and educators have a responsibility to find ways to engage and enthuse them. And this means talking to them in a language that is relevant, meaningful and, above all, inspirational.

* Marcel Pusey's company, Bassistry Music, provides school music workshops. He was talking to Hugh John.

* More on Marcel Pusey in TESOnline next week (November 4). More music and ICT at:

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