Marsha Baxter, The Crane School of Music

State University of New York, Potsdam


Mark R. Campbell, The Crane School of Music

State University of New York, Potsdam


Becoming familiar with a musical tradition takes years.  But getting to know a single piece thoroughly and understanding something of its place in people’s lives is possible.  Even that limited effort can establish a link with another musical tradition that is real and unforgettable.  It is experience-near, not an experience-distant, abstract description of the music.

--Barbara Lundquist,

“A music education perspective” in Musics of the world’s cultures, p. 40).


The heart of the project—dropping pupils into the deep end.

--Lucy Green, 

Music, informal learning and the school, p. 25


This presentation seeks to offer examples of research - performance projects conducted in two different music education courses, one focused on the process of learning to perform as research strategy (Bailey, 2001); and the other focused on learning to perform through informal learning practices as theorized and described by Green (2008). Although contextually different, the fundamental questions explored in both situations were similar: 1) How might we create opportunities for “experience-near” encounters with unfamiliar musics in our classrooms? 2) How might we explore and legitimate a process frequently labeled as “rote” or informal? 3) How might we discover, uncover the culturally- and stylistically-specific concepts and performance practices within a music tradition and how they are passed from teacher to learner?


Classroom context 1:

From a stance of performing as a pathway to knowing music  (Brinner, 1995; Lundquist, 1998; and Wade, 2004), eighteen undergraduate music education majors in a global music education selected a song or short instrumental piece from an unfamiliar musical culture and challenged themselves to learn the piece completely by ear. Through informal blogs and more formal papers, students documented the process of coming to know their selected musical example; the way(s) this repertory is learned and taught by cultural insiders; and any contextual information useful to us as listeners and performers.


Classroom context 2:

From a stance of exploring the possibilities of informal music learning processes (Folkestad, 2006, Green 2002, 2008), fifteen undergraduate and one graduate music education majors in an “Instruments in the Classroom” course formed small ensembles, and challenged themselves to learn a cover for a popular music tune while simultaneously teaching themselves to play an unfamiliar instrument.  Seeking out more knowledgeable others, using reflective journals and conceptual mapping tools (MindManager), students documented their learning processes, and generated curriculum models for use in schools.



Our discussion seeks to share students’ (as well as our own) experiences as ways of thinking about music education practice from ethnomusicology perspectives.  Plus we suggest that learning to perform may be thought of as more generatively as clusters of research strategies. 



Folkestad, G (2006).  Formal and informal learning situations or practices vs formal and informal ways of learning.  British Journal of Music Education, 23:2, 135-145.

Green, L. (2002). How popular musicians learn:  A way ahead for music education. Burlington, VT:  Ashgate.

Green, L. (2008).  Music, informal learning and the school:  A new classroom pedagogy. Burlington, VT:  Ashgate.