TEACHING MUSIC’S FUNDAMENTALS VIA MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACKS: A NEW PEDAGOGICAL APPROACH
Bishop's University (CANADA)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2012 Proceedings
Publication year: 2012
Conference name: 6th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 5-7 March, 2012
Location: Valencia, Spain
Abstract:A great dilemma facing every music educator is how to present the so-called “building blocks” or fundamentals of Western Art Music - pitch, rhythm, timbre, texture, form and volume in both a meaningful and more importantly, in a way relevant to students both studying music and to those merely interested in a peripheral or superficial understanding of how music is constructed. The latter is especially true of the undergraduate liberal arts education.
The recent explosion of scholarship into the often-snubbed area of film music peaked my interest and led to an exploration and analysis of well-known film scores spanning several decades. These scores are now the basis for my discussions about the materials of music. Bernard Herrmann, John Williams, Erich Korngold, Gerry Goldsmith and Max Steiner to name a few, have all left an indelible mark on the world of film music and there compositional styles though different, are well-suited for study with the added bonus of offering an immediate, combined sonic and visual appeal.
Strategically timed silences in Williams’ Jaws title music both keep the listener on edge and provide innumerable examples suitable for rhythmic study. Bernstein’s experiments with syncopation in the score for On the Waterfront offer examples begging for advanced study. Steiner’s lush 19th century style melodic writing in Gone With The Wind can be beautifully offset with examples from Goldsmith’s atonal, motive-based score for Planet of the Apes. When coupled with the visual element of the motion picture, musical connections are more immediate, terminology is quickly clarified and retention rates improve.
Herrmann’s brilliant use of theme and variation form in Citizen Kane and Williams’ fugato, rondo and passacaglia choices for scenes in the Jaws and Star Wars film scores allow students to not only hear but see first hand the value of writing in these styles. Structural differences are easily explained alongside musical details such as phrasing, cadences and other more involved musical terminology.
Perhaps the most famous musical cue in film history – Herrmann‘s “Shower Scene” written by for Hitchcock’s 1960 thriller Psycho, ushered in a new age of orchestral timbre and texture in film music. This score acts as a springboard for discussions regarding timbre and is a suitable lead-in to the world of contemporary classical music used in film including Ligeti’s “Polymorphia” from the Kubrick’s The Shining. Discussions are lengthy and provocative, and most importantly, students are engaged.
The list of suitable films both new and old ripe for discussion regarding the basic building blocks of music are seemingly endless. The greatest composers for film not only offer mass appeal but an opportunity for the more astute listener to deconstruct their creations at a level that reveals music’s fundamentals in an appealing way. It is a novel yet successful pedagogical approach with huge growth potential.
Keywords: film, music, soundtrack, fundamentals, theory, form.