Research Realities: Embracing the Complexity of Expressive-Creative Learning and Teaching
Taking its lead from Christopher Small’s challenge to understand, “What’s really going on here,” this essay urges that researchers embrace the complexity of understanding music’s essential expressive-creative dimensions in relation to the values of music learning and teaching. Positing that methods must derive from questions, rather than to be imposed upon reductionist research topics, it argues that pluralistic approaches are inherently consistent with the nature of music, music learning, and the exploration of music’s intrinsic and humanizing values. In contrast to research designs that seek to artificially limit variables, pluralistic research acknowledges the multidimensionality of music experience, and thus of music learning and teaching. This multidimensionality, in which a nexus of technical, expressive, and creative impulses collide in order to effect an experience called “music,” requires a complex of research strategies, i.e., mixed methods, that embrace, rather than deconstruct, music learning as an holistic phenomenon. As most musicians agree, technical achievement serves the larger expressive-creative meanings, and it is in these meanings that an understanding of music’s complex and transcendent value resides.
In considering disruptive innovations to longstanding research paradigms, complexity theory provides a context by positing that when a broad array of variables and influences find balance, an institution [or field] is positioned for progress. Applied to music education, the logical extension might be that the ultimate creative and expressive import of music learning is a function of a complex of variables and influences that bridge aesthetic, artistic, social, and technical dimensions. Therefore, the common assumption of advanced levels of technical competence as the prerequisite of expression is insufficient for understanding music’s interactions with human emotions and intellect. However, the applications of pluralistic methods can be limiting if they seek only to understand what is, rather than what is possible. The question of “what is really going on here” is not simply about what is happening, but also about what could be happening relative to music and meaning in various contexts.
KeywordsMusic Meaning Learning Teaching Complexity theory Expressive Creative Pluralistic Research
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