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Teaching sound

megaphone speakers on wooden post

A lot of people want to talk about music as organised sound. And in many ways, I agree.

But are we sound teachers, or music teachers?


I once taught a three-year-old student. In my defence, I thought she was four. She struggled to engage effectively in her lessons. That was my baptism by fire into moving away from ‘at the piano’ instruction. It wasn’t possible. I had to teach music, not piano. But what do we aim to teach such students?

Sound, or music?

Because at the end of the day, there is a difference.

To furnish an example, I am going to quote my own work.

The first example is from my latest single release; what I would term ‘music’.

The second example is from a project my arts collective, the (In)Equal Temperament Project, are currently working on, which I would term ‘sound art’. (Listen till 1:43.) If this makes you curious about this project, read more about it here.


Different as these two examples are, I have to tell you that the process of writing was not all that different for me. Both required an idea, an understanding of sound and music, and the persistence to follow it through to the end.

To get around to the point, after what could appear to be shameless self promotion, how do we remain true to teaching music as everything it is in our classrooms?

Because music is sound, sound is music, and in our world one doesn’t exist without the other.

For our classroom practice, it means that we need to let go of a purely ‘musical’ instruction. We cannot only teach European music history, only study that music theory, only allow music that follows that set of rules.

This begins with you. The likelihood is that this makes you uncomfortable. You have a curriculum to follow, an expectation to meet from stakeholders, a tradition to uphold.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

But do add some new water to the bath.

Start with a simple step; expand your own listening, and start to discuss the sounds your students are hearing before labeling them as music. A violin doesn’t just sound ‘like a violin’; what does it REALLY sound like?

Before you know it, listening to sound AND music will become second nature!


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