The research behind Electronic Music Pedagogy

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Last updated on December 20, 2023

Electronic Music Pedagogy - A new approach to informal music learning

Hip hop, techno, grime, EDM, drill and house (aka electronic music) are arguably the most widely listened to music styles in the world today, yet they rarely feature in school music classrooms (Dale, Burnard & Travis Jr., 2023). These styles are often seen in a negative light in society even though their intention is to simply reflect society’s misgivings to the world. In other words, electronic music is used to unearth realities and provide spaces for improved wellness and healing for all (Dale, Burnard & Travis Jr., 2023).

Electronic music has surfed with globalisation to spawn subgenres in almost every corner of the world. Electronic Music Pedagogy (EMP), therefore, is an approach to teaching/learning music that reflects a global movement in real-world music-making. 

EMP has its foundations in Lucy Green’s ‘informal learning’ approach. Green’s work suggests that music teachers can facilitate engaging music learning by, "using music that pupils choose, like and identify with; learning by listening and copying recordings; learning with friends; engaging in personal, often haphazard learning without structured guidance, and integrating listening, performing, improvising and composing in all aspects of the learning process (Green, 2017, pp. 23).

EMP takes this into new territory by drawing on recent studies that suggest that many of today’s popular electronic musicians learn in the following informal ways (Humberstone, 2015; Kuhn & Hein, 2021; Souvaliotis, 2022; Monrup, 2023; Dale, Burnard & Travis Jr., 2023):

  • Tinkering: experimenting with hardware or software by intentionally changing parameters without restraint, making aesthetic decisions based on aural perceptions. This may also be described as the process of trial and error.
  • Solitary learning: learning happens in headphones before being shared. 
  • Recreating: using reference tracks to hone skills, aural perceptions and genre-specific understandings.
  • With a significant other: drawing on the expertise of a chosen individual (either synchronous or asynchronous) to ask questions and seek feedback.
  • In communities of practice: sharing production output in a chosen community to seek feedback, refine work, celebrate shared expressions of culture, and enjoy.

These ideas create a new set of challenges for teachers, which are addressed through the EMP approach. 

Fundamentally, making electronic music is an aural tradition. Musicians listen to learn. As Kuhn & Hein suggest in their book Electronic Music School, “critical listening, therefore, needs to be a main aspect of musical pedagogy” (2021, pp.14) 

EMP teachers are facilitators (Monrup, 2022). Teachers taking on the mantle of ‘fountain of all knowledge’ may not gel with the world of electronic music pedagogy. In fact, it is often not contextually appropriate to approach electronic music in this way. As Kuhn & Hein suggest, “educators need to reorient their approach. A successful music technology program requires a change from the teacher-led ensemble model to a creative workshop structure more closely resembling an art class. The challenge in teaching music technology is not the technology itself. The challenge is to foster student creativity.” (2021, pp.3) Electronic musicians are tinkerers, experimenters and collaborators. They are always evolving within the global community around them. There are no real ‘experts’ in this world, just ‘significant others’ or ‘people to follow’. 

Therefore, constructivist pedagogies sit at the core of EMP, where learners construct knowledge rather than just passively take in information (Gray, 1997). In the context of EMP, Ruthman suggests that, “constructivist educators can leverage technology in support of active, social music making that emphasizes the doing of music, rather than solely focusing on learning about music” (2012, pp. 178). As Kuhn & Hein suggest, “when music teachers apply their skills to helping students expand their knowledge of the music they are passionate about, then the students respond enthusiastically. Constructivist methodology doesn’t require the teacher to be a subject matter expert. Learning alongside students is an excellent teaching method, provided that the teacher exercises openness, curiosity, and vulnerability as a learner.” (2023, pp.9).

Kuhn & Hein continue by stating that teaching in this way, “gives us an unprecedented opportunity to support students in active, culturally authentic music-making, regardless of their level of preexisting ability” (2021, pp.3). Inclusion and differentiation are at the centre of EMP. Electronic musicians represent every gender, class, culture, ethnicity, and physical ability. Making electronic music is accessed via hardware and software, and requires very little knowledge of Western Art Music conventions (Humberstone, 2015).

EMP encourages teachers to facilitate learning in the following ways:

  • Demonstrating & allowing time for tinkering
  • Space for solitary learning
  • Questioning rather than instructing
  • Recreating aesthetic ideas
  • Sharing in communities of practice - online or offline

Several avenues for facilitating EMP in schools have been explored. Students from primary and secondary settings (and teachers) have been involved in workshop-style sessions using hardware instruments called Roland AIRA Compacts. These sessions have ranged from 40 minutes to 2 hours and have been conducted in schools in Australia, Europe and Asia.


References: 

Dale, P., Burnard, P., & Travis Jr, R. (Eds.). (2023). Music for Inclusion and Healing in Schools and Beyond: Hip Hop, Techno, Grime, and More. Oxford University Press.

Green, L. (2017). Music, informal learning and the school: A new classroom pedagogy. Routledge.

Humberstone, J. (2015). Defining creativity for a more pluralist approach to music education. In Proceedings of the Australian Society for Music Education XXth National Conference: Music: Educating for life, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia.

Kuhn, W., & Hein, E. (2021). Electronic music school: A contemporary approach to teaching musical creativity. Oxford University Press.

Monrup, D. (2022). New project investigates electronic music pedagogy. Retrieved https://musikkons.dk/en/new-project-investigates-electronic-music-pedagogy/

Souvaliotis, T. (2022). Learning EDM The “Schooling” of Electronic Dance Musicians.

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