Robert Sholl

"How do you like your counterpoint, Sir?" Music Pedagogy after Therapy

Traditional approaches to teaching basic counterpoint have long held sway in British institutions. Typically, students are grilled in species counterpoint or battered in stylistic studies, completing musical examples, or, at a more advanced stage, composing their own specimens within the immanent regime of ‘pastiche’. If these ‘old’ techniques were a person, and one asked of their health, would they (like many people) simply respond: “I’m fine, thanks”?

But is ‘fine’ really ok? With the ever-widening gap between the expectations of professional academia and the requirements of students (as clients who may not know much music), and the pressures of mass teaching, not to mention the downgrading of such ‘old’ knowledge from the curriculum, how can such ‘old’ knowledge still be imparted as wisdom? Do the old ways - with their ‘what was good for the goose…’ mentality – really give students an education that informs their character? Does the teaching of the ‘old’ ways, like therapy, merely give the client more of themselves, or is there a better way of fuelling students’ ‘condition’ of musical awareness? In this paper, I propose a way of teaching counterpoint that synthesizes ‘the old’ methods while promoting creative learning. Using examples from J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, I reveal a way of teaching basic counterpoint through which students’ can create their own menu for a learning that piques their intuition, and that encourages them to take control of their musical development.