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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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Glossary of terms


Bipedality: the experience and consequences of walking upright on two legs.

Brachiation: locomotion using the arms, as practised expertly by gibbons. While circus performers and gymnasts can train their bodies to achieve similar feats, the normal movement pattern for which modern humans have adapted is bipedal upright walking. Nevertheless, signs of a brachiating evolutionary past remain, for instance in the reflexes of new-born infants.

Cheironomy: the communication of information through hand gestures, particularly associated with the direction of music.

Common-practice: the perceived procedural similarity of harmonic conventions in European music from about 1600 to about 1900, centred on the features of the major-minor tonal system.

Doppler effect: the perceived acoustic phenomenon whereby the pitch emitted by moving objects changes according to the direction and speed of their movement.

Exaptation: The means by which characteristics that evolved in response to particular conditions are exploited for a different purpose as the environment changes. This form of adaptation was first proposed by Baldwin (1894).

Extrasomatic: ‘outside the body’. Tools can extend the range, timbre and amplitude of human music-making. Clapping can be made sharper and louder through the use of sticks; singing can be replaced by lip-vibration, which can extend range (e.g. on the didjeridu) or achieve greater carrying-power (e.g. a conch shell). All musical instruments can be viewed as extrasomatic tools. ← xli | xlii →

F0: the actual or perceived fundamental frequency (pitch) of a sound. Fundamental frequencies...

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