Escaping the Time-Pitch Matrix

Aveyard, Jon orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0063-6848 (2016) Escaping the Time-Pitch Matrix. In: Future Sound Music Conference, 16-17 May 2016, University of Central Lancashire.

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Escaping the Time/Pitch Matrix: Teaching contemporary music practices to university students from a popular music background

Standard music notation attempts to give a comprehensive account of music by conceiving of a matrix of (i) metric rhythms and (ii) scales drawn from the chromatic scale, along with additional symbols signifying (iii) the dynamics and articulation. This pitch-time lattice, as it has been called by Trevor Wishart, is a system well designed to describe note-based music but it is insufficient to describe the full range of contemporary vocal and instrumental music (let alone music beyond these boundaries), and yet there persists an historical and mainstream subscription to teaching music firstly by introducing pulse, meter and metric rhythms, and then adding melody, counterpoint and harmony. Once these two parameters have been dealt with, possibly with brief attention paid to dynamics and timbre, the teaching ends or moves beyond consideration of musical parameters into matters of structure, concept or genre.

Whilst academic books for undergraduates can be very useful in providing contextual references, the teaching approaches from these books assume either classical music background with a focus on notation and note-based music, or a popular song background with a focus on song-writing and production. A different approach is here recommended if the use of musical parameters from a broader variety of contemporary music is to be studied. This paper is focused on music composition pedagogy regarding university students primarily from a popular music background and at the start of their undergraduate experience. It seeks to offer a model for best preparing these students to innovate within their vocal and instrumental music composition.

It does this through description of one of the composition strands developed over a number of years for the Music course at the University of Central Lancashire and measuring it against Lupton and Bruce’s composition pedagogical model and its four themes – Learning from the masters, Mastery of techniques, Exploring ideas, and Developing voice. Although originally structured around a study of Time, Pitch and Articulation, in its current form, students on this module spend the first seven weeks working through the topics of Loops, Scales, Voice, Drones, Points and Noise. The six introductory sessions comprise short lectures, audio examples, discussions and practical exercises and each lead to short pieces of music composed by groups of 4-6 students in response to the topics presented. The Loops and Scales sessions promote inventiveness within the lattice. Freed from the obligation to focus within a session on any one musical parameter, the Drones, Noise and Points sessions allow students to consider how the examples played and the pieces produced in workshop use time, pitch, timbre, texture and dynamics to achieve their different effects. The Voice session takes as its primary aim the acknowledgement that although singing is the obvious way of fitting within the pitch-duration lattice, the voice has a far greater repertoire than that and a wide variety of examples are used to demonstrate how any vocal technique is a viable means to generate musical material.

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