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Every Child a Composer

Music Education in an Evolutionary Perspective

Nicholas Bannan

This book breaks new ground in drawing on evolutionary psychology in support of advocacy for music education, and the presentation of innovative musical pedagogy. The book adopts the perspective that musical experience is the birthright of all human beings through the decisive role it played in the evolution of our species, the traces of which we carry in our genes. The author draws on scientific developments in acoustics, neuroscience, linguistics, archaeology and anthropology to examine theories that have emerged powerfully during the last twenty years and which argue for the significance of the practice of music as foundational to human culture. This position is examined in parallel with research into how children learn musically, and the role that creative decision making plays in this. A series of strategies is presented that explores collective creativity which draws on vocalisation, the use of gesture, and instinctive responses to harmony to develop musical imagination.

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Chapter 6: The evolution of polyphony


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The evolution of polyphony

In beginning to work with drones as an accompaniment to melody, a key feature of developing the capacity to engage in polyphonic singing will already have been mastered. It can be hard for experienced musicians to recall the literally physical breakthrough which part-singing represents. But in leading a group which encounters the drone exercises given above, it is almost certain that one will spot some individuals for whom it requires immense concentration to sustain a note while others move up or down against it. The temptation, built from birth into our sound-making reflexes, is to match the pitch or contour of what we hear rather than singing something different. This is the response which the mimicry exercises encountered on on pp. 133–5 seek to render more flexible. Much of the ‘note-bashing’ by which members of choral societies are traditionally brainwashed by the percussive use of the piano into singing the right pitches is, in fact, a correction to this phenomenon: a sort of musical aversion therapy. The experience of all the intervals, which will have developed if time has been given to drone activities – in which, in a structured way, singers are introduced to the sensation of performing a note while simultaneously listening to the way it interacts with others – is infinitely preferable to the use of the piano as the tool of musical drill. The often ‘tight’ vocal production of inexperienced singers in choral situations...

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