My work on Sound Studies and Music Education

Here’s a short overview of my engagement with sound studies as a music educator in preparation for my participation in the virtual conference Sound, Meaning, Education: Conversations.

In Hong Kong in front of "Silent Zone" sign

I first learned of sound studies in 2005 via a review of Katz’s Capturing Sound in the New Yorker. A few years later, when I was teaching at the University of Illinois I met Jonathan Sterne, who was on campus to give a talk on the MP3 book he was then finishing—an encounter that influenced me deeply. I taught Sterne’s Audible Past in a doctoral seminar, which helped me start to understand what was, for me, a different way of thinking about sound in human experience.

I began trying to make conceptual sense of the implications of sound studies in a series of essays, including my introductory essay as editor of the section on media in the Oxford Handbook of Music Education, “Music education in the postperformance world.” I followed this up with an article focused more on sound recordings, “The shifting locus of musical experience from performance to recording to data: Some implications for music education.” The essay draws on short stories by James Joyce and Richard Powers to look at the subjective side of experience with music across time, and for this paper I received the Outstanding Emerging Researcher in Music Education (a pre-tenure paper award by the SMERS conference at the Universtiy of Florida).

I further considered music education and sound studies as a Faculty Fellow at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities during the 2012-2013 school year. Part of my output from this time was a basic overview and literature review in the Journal of Aesthetic Education, “Sound studies and music education.” I attended the sound studies conference at Oxford in summer of 2014 to meet more of the thinkers and writers in the field.

What was missing in my work at the time was a deeper engagement with music education examples using ideas and approaches from sound studies, and so that was where I turned my efforts. My first significant effort was a piece looking at mediated pedagogy in string education, “Learning with Sound Recordings: A History of Suzuki’s Mediated Pedagogy.” With Koji Matsunobu I also co-authored a handbook chapter, “Learning from Japanese Vocaloid Hatsune Miku.”

Two other pieces in press will appear “online first” in the coming months:

Thibeault, M. D. (in press). “Aebersold’s Mediated Play-A-Long Pedagogy and the Invention of the Beginning Jazz Improvisation Student.” Journal of Research in Music Education.

Thibeault, M. D. (in press). “John Philip Sousa’s Historic Resistance to Technology in Music Learning.” Journal of Historical Research in Music Education.

Finally, my current project is supported by the General Research Fund of the Hong Kong Research Grants Council, “Early 20th Century Mediated Pedagogy: An Historical Study of the Emergence of Music Appreciation.” I expect to share several outputs from this project in the coming years.

Some of my publications that are informed by sound studies

Thibeault, M. D. (2010). Hip-hop, digital media, and the changing face of music education. General Music Today, 24(1), 46–49.

Thibeault, M. D. (2012a). From compliance to creative rights in music education: Rethinking intellectual property in the age of new media. Music Education Research, 14(1), 103–117.

Thibeault, M. D. (2012b). Music education in the postperformance world. In G. McPherson & G. Welch (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of music education. Volume 2 (pp. 517–529). Oxford University Press.

Thibeault, M. D. (2012c). Ubiquitous music learning in a postperformance world. In C. Benedict & P. K. Schmidt (Eds.), The place of music in the 21st century: A global view (pp. 196–215). National Society for the Study of Education Yearbook, Teachers College Press.

Thibeault, M. D. (2012d). Wisdom for music education from the recording studio. General Music Today, 25(2), 49–52.

Thibeault, M. D. (2014a). Algorithms and the Future of Music Education: A Response to Shuler. Arts Education Policy Review, 115(1), 19–25.

Thibeault, M. D. (2014b). Exploring the Old Town School of Folk Music’s Beck Song Reader Ensemble An Interview With Nathaniel Braddock. General Music Today, 27(2), 43–47.

Thibeault, M. D. (2014c). The shifting locus of musical experience from performance to recording to data: Some implications for music education. Music Education Research International, 6, 38–55.

Thibeault, M. D. (2014d). Media as an invitation to rethink music education. General Music Today, 27(3), 36–39.

Ruthmann, S.A., Tobias, E. S., Randles, C., & Thibeault, M. D. (2015). Is it the technology? Challenging technological determinism in music education. In C. Randles (Ed.), Music education: Navigating the future (pp. 122–138). Routledge.

Thibeault, M. D. (2016). Understanding sheet music as a medium to expand pedagogic practice. Journal of Music, Technology and Education, 9(2), 209–222.

Thibeault, M. D. (2017). Sound Studies and Music Education. The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 51(1), 69–83.

Thibeault, M. D. (2018). Learning with Sound Recordings: A History of Suzuki’s Mediated Pedagogy. Journal of Research in Music Education, 66(1), 6–30.

Thibeault, M. D., & Matsunobu, K. (2020). Learning from Japanese Vocaloid Hatsune Miku. In J. Waldron, K. K. Veblen, & S. Horsley (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (pp. 511–528). Oxford University Press.

Thibeault, M. D. (in press). Aebersold’s Mediated Play-A-Long Pedagogy and the Invention of the Beginning Jazz Improvisation Student. Journal of Research in Music Education.

Thibeault, M. D. (in press). John Philip Sousa’s Historic Resistance to Technology in Music Learning. Journal of Historical Research in Music Education.

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Some presentations and a strum

I presented for the NAfME History SRIG and also at the University of Mississippi History of Music Education conference this spring.

I’m not too sure that making these presentations public is helpful, but since I prerecorded them, here they are.

And, like many, I’ve found solace playing music to relax during the pandemic, and here’s one of my morning strums, just a few days after getting a new fretless banjo.

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Participatory Music in Japan (Orff Echo and Multimedia Journal of Music Education)

The Orff Echo recently published a short reflection I wrote on participatory music experiences from my family’s time in Japan (2014-17). I negotiated the right to post the final piece on my university’s scholarly repository, and so anyone can now have a look:

Additionally, I put together a short video so readers can see and hear what might be the unfamiliar music I wrote about. This companion video was published on the Multimedia Journal of Music Education:

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Aebersold Play-A-Long Media and the creation of the Beginning Improvisation Student

Update: Here’s the article I was preparing when I gave this talk (JRME). 

Here’s a short presentation (minus the Q&A) from a talk I gave to a webinar at the Education University of Hong Kong on July 22, 2020. This draws on a larger history of Play-A-Long media as technologies for learning jazz improvisation that will likely end up published in the next year or two.

I make the case that the Play-A-Long allowed a new kind of mediated practicing ideally suited to a practical approach to jazz theory, and that Miles Davis’s “So What” was a particularly important catalyst for jazz pedagogy. What’s new is the attention to the connections between Aebersold and others, and the explication of what I refer to as the “soloist as such”—a generic model of the beginning improvisor that allowed a standardized notion of learning improvisation to emerge. While there are drawbacks to Play-A-Long materials, the extraordinary achievement of helping jazz to enter formal learning deserves appreciation.

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Demonstration of fiddle/banjo for Pedagogies of Improvisation course


I teach a graduate course on pedagogies of improvisation in music learning, and we had a visit from Akihiro Uchida, a master old-time fiddle player based in Japan and the US, and with whom I often played while living in Japan. We had a very informal and impromptu sharing session, mostly a jam with a bit of question and answer. If you’ve seen the above discussion of participatory music, you can see a bit more in-depth example based around one style of playing.

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Old-time jam at a bike shop (Lexington, KY)

During a recent trip to the US, I had the wonderful pleasure of visiting an old-time session in Lexington, KY. The session is held at a bike shop that is also a cafe, and it was such a delight. There was a wonderful balance between ability and openness, plenty of opportunities for anyone to call or lead a tune, and room in the shop to move around, talk, eat, and dance.

Mostly I played, which means I did not photograph my favorite part: young kids and grandparents who hit the dance floor together several times.

Astute observers might recognize Tom Turino playing banjo and then fiddle after loaning his banjo to me (I did not have room to bring mine from Hong Kong).

The joys of these musical experiences are deep.

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Online music lessons: a few exemplars

I teach a course in studio pedagogy at The Education University of Hong Kong. This spring, students in the course spent time identifying interesting or exemplary videos for learning piano or guitar. Some are excellent in terms of multimedia use, or visualisation, or simply presenting or explaining a musical concept or piece of repertoire.

Below, you can find a playlist of 29 of the top videos, and here is a PDF with student analysis of the Top-rated YouTube music teaching videos.

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The Suzuki Method’s Mediated Pedagogy

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 10.59.51 PMThe Journal of Research in Music Education has published “Learning with Sound Recordings: A History of Suzuki’s Mediated Pedagogy.” In it, I draw attention to the ways that Suzuki’s pedagogic innovations are deeply enmeshed with media of sound recording. I also talk about the Method’s migration to America through the efforts of John Kendall.

The article includes supplemental material drawn from a variety of archival sources.

Finally, for those interested, here are a few more photos that were not essential for the article, but which are a pleasure to share.



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Vocaloids and music learning

This week Koji Matsunobu and I will be sharing some preliminary work on vocaloids as a medium for music learning at the Asian Pacific Symposium for Music Education Research in Malaysia. Here are a few resources for those interested to know more.

Here is a copy of our working paper, “Singing with Hatsune Miku: Vocaloids as a Medium for Music Learning.” [EdUHK Online Repository link]

These are our presentation slides, with the usual caveat that they’re not a stand-alone medium and are probably most helpful for those who saw the talk: Vocalo presentation slides PDF.

Here’s a brief sample of vocaloid work focused on Miku:

Our primary argument is that Miku can best be approached by educators as a medium for musical expression, development, and learning. Here, we follow those in sound studies who characterize a medium as a contingent network of people, practices, institutions and technologies. The recurring patterns also have implications for pedagogy as wants, needs, values, and practices change and are changed by enmeshment with the medium. Take, for example, how the ability to sing at very fast tempi has been taken up by utaite, singers who focus on emulating their idols (in this case, Miku):

Finally, if you would like to spend more time watching Miku videos, this is a personal playlist of videos that are either musically expressive or of other interest:

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Hong Kong street karaoke

[Note: Here’s a piece in the Hong Kong Free Press about the street that takes into account some of the behind the scenes licensing and political dimensions of this particular public space.]

Here is an early impression of the street karaoke I’ve been watching for several weeks in Hong Kong, an outstanding example of participatory music.

DSC09803Mong Kok, which means “crowded corner” earns its name as one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with 350,000 people per square mile. Each Saturday night and all day on Sunday, Sai Yeung Choi street is closed to cars and turned over to pedestrians. The heart of the action is karaoke, but there are also fortune tellers, artists, jugglers, political protestors, street food vendors, and so on.

Here’s the basic approach: every 100 feet or so for five long city blocks, there’s another setup: a PA hooked up to a car battery (thankfully no gas powered generators), a tablet computer on a music stand, a wireless microphone or two, and a small folding table for a music player. A performer will start to sing and often a crowd forms a large circle to listen. Sometime of the performers sing for dancing, with a few reliable dance areas. A few of the places include a full band.

all freeThe scene is acoustically chaotic—one can typically hear two or three groups at once, and sometimes a particular group’s PA can be heard for a whole block—at one point I heard “Smoke on the Water” and Cantonese opera from adjoining groups. And there is a constant flow of pedestrians squeezing past. In all there are several dozen groups set up. Tipping is accepted, but it seems ancillary to the overall experience, which is to come out and make music together. Many in the audience will sing or dance along with songs that they know, while others sit on a small number of plastic seats. Some bring a picnic dinner, and you can see one photo below of a DJ who brought his small dog.

The gallery of photos captures some of the flavor and spirit. The closest I have come to this in the USA would be the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival back before Katrina (although alcohol is not very visible at these events). Note that, as with many participatory cultures, the full age and ability spectrum is present as full participants. The whole thing is wonderful and beautiful.


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