A story in the UK media revealed that Heather Mills was the one who taught her daughter notes music. It wasn’t her ex-husband Sir Paul McCartney because he couldn’t read music notation. McCartney and John Lennon gave up the job of notating the Beatles’ music to George Martin.
Some quarters received the news with frisson, suggesting that traditional music education’s central goal, the ability to understand music, was not necessary for a career or qualification in music. It is a cause for concern, given the threat to funding music education in schools.
Do we need to teach music notation? Is it necessary to be able to read and understand music to obtain a music degree? This is more than an academic question. A specialist music teacher is a substantial investment by the state.
What Is More Than Notes On A Webpage?
Many of the new degree programs in music at Western universities are no longer pre-requisite skills. This is especially true for courses that are focus on music production and popular musical genres.
This is not a reflection of McCartney or others. Technological advances in music production have largely eliminate the need to transcribe popular music into musical notation so it can exchange among producers, performers, listeners, and other musicians.
Remember that sheet music was available for purchase not too long ago to allow you to play the songs at home on your guitar or piano. While sheet music is still available, it is not possible to create or consume music through the written score.
At the tertiary, I believe this lack of confidence with music notation can also reflect a larger, utopian desire to rid the world old-fashioned hegemonic norms.
Some people may view the teaching of notation, as a cornerstone in music education, as “just another brick in a wall”, as Pink Floyd would say. It is a way of subsuming individual artistic freedom into predetermined patterns.
This leaves us with the Orwellian idea of education that ignorance is strength.
Preordained communication systems, such as musical notation, are invariably normative and can be oppressive for creative expression.
According to Frederick Jameson, a great postmodernist theorist, the abolition such norms is now a pressing political issue. It is often link with identity politics and the politics for secessionist groups and marginalize cultures.
Preservation Of Music And Culture
Musical notation, while a reductive system, is a sure thing. Shapes notes and limits the things it attempts to describe.
It is still the strongest tool for transforming musical works into something that can be preserved, transferred, and analysed. It allows us to connect with well over a millennium of historical music practice. Allows us to make music a subject of higher critical contemplation.
The printed word made it possible to not only preserve but also to deconstruct and reflect on the many ways that words are constructed to give meaning to the world. Musical notation allowed us to do the same.
An emerging loss of confidence and belief in notated music culture may be more than a moment of utopian artistic (and therefore political) freedom. It could actually signal the opposite: the loss of a certain type of imaginative, historical and political ability in our society.
In 1938, Theodor Adorno, a German philosopher and social critic. Wrote a provocative essay titled On the Fetish Character in Music and The Regression of Listening. He suggested what such a loss could look like in practice. He believed that the real dichotomy in Western musical. Culture was not between light and serious music, but between music that was market-oriented or music that wasn’t.