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: I have an article on this project in press with the Journal of Research in Music Education, expected to be published in 2022. I’ll link here when it is available.] 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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Two participatory presentations (AMIS and in-class)

ParticipatoryThe recent Hong Kong unrest displaced some of my teaching, and in two instances I presented a talk in the absence of some of the students meant to be there, posting both online in a few places/formats so that students both local and non-local (mostly from mainland China) could watch. My own philosophy is that as long as I am sharing something, there may  be others who want to understand these topics.

Participatory Music in Education (talk given at the Association for Music in International Schools; Hong Kong, November 22, 2019). 

This talk presents a basic overview of participatory music, contrasting participatory music with more specialised, presentational music. The talk was informal, and replaced an original plan to have a mixed sing-along/discussion. The slides are more of a placeholder for ideas, but if you want to see them here they are.


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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The Education University of Hong Kong

Nearing the end of my wife’s visiting professorship in Japan, I’m delighted to share that our adventures in Asia will continue in Hong Kong. I will start work this summer as Associate Professor in the Department of Cultural and Creative Arts at The Education University of Hong Kong.

Here are a few photos that capture the beautiful campus, outstanding colleagues, and the overwhelming scope of Hong Kong. Outside the music building there is a statue of Confucius, a reminder the importance paid to education in China for over two thousand years, and who certainly supported music as central to life:

Confucius is often portrayed in good spirits—singing with friends, playing the lute, laughing and joking. He once told a disciple that he should be described as “so full of joy that he forgets his worries.” On another occasion, Confucius asked his disciples to tell him what their goals would be if they earned the eye of a ruler. One pledged to fix a broken state, another to bring prosperity to the people, and a third to serve in the ancestral temples. Then the disciple Zeng Dian spoke. “Dian, pausing as he was playing on his lute, while it was yet twanging, laid the instrument aside,” the Analects recounts. “‘ My wishes,’” he said, “‘ are different from the cherished purposes of these three gentlemen. In this, the last month of spring, with the dress of the season all complete, along with five or six young men who have assumed the cap, and six or seven boys, I would wash in the Yi [River], enjoy the breeze among the rain altars, and return home singing.’” Confucius then “heaved a sigh and said, ‘I give my approval to Dian.’”

Schuman, M. (2015). Confucius and the world he created. New York, NY: Basic Books. (p. 19)


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Sound studies and music education


A fan cosplaying a Vocaloid in Japan, 2016. Photo by the author.

The Journal of Aesthetic Education has published my overview of sound studies for those working in music education. I review the basic texts, some of the work of those in music education, and pose a few questions.

This article explores how sound studies, an interdisciplinary field that draws upon the social sciences and the humanities in researching a broad array of topics related to sound and music, holds promise for music education research. Defining the field using recent sources, it discusses the varied disciplines that contribute to sound studies. Key texts are reviewed, with a focus on methodological models and conclusions of importance to music educators. Three questions concerning the value and importance of establishing connections between sound studies and music education are addresses: First, in what ways can music educators benefit by engaging with sound studies? Second, in what ways can sound studies benefit by embracing music educators? Third, what might music educators contribute to sound studies? After detailing some of the emerging efforts to reconnect music education with sound studies, the article proposes ways that music education and sound studies together might enhance educational practice.

A free “preprint” version is available at the University of Florida institutional repository:

If you have access to JSTOR the article can be had here:

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