A critical analysis of scholarship on the transmission and learning of American fiddle music: implications of an aural tradition for music education
McMahon, Sheronna Lynn
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In its many origins from Irish, English, Scottish, Canadian, and African influences, American fiddle music has, over the course of the past 300 years, become characterized as an indigenous musical style in the United States and is one that continues to thrive today. The study of the learning and transmission of American fiddle music intersects with area studies in cultural diversity, ethnomusicology, and recent trends in music education, yet no research to date has synthesized information from these three fields to render a comprehensive look at the teaching and learning ofthis tradition. This study examines performance characteristics of various fiddling traditions, first by identifying learning skills that apply when written notation is not utilized, and second by identifying communal-social aspects oftransmitting fiddle music traditions from one player to another. Performance characteristics oftraditional American fiddle style examined included ornaments, bowings, melodic variation, rhythm patterns, and common tune structures; additionally, in the absence ofaural-audio examples, some written transcriptions provided a basis for comparison of the same ttmes performed in different styles. American fiddle styles investigated included bluegrass, hillbilly, contest, and folk, which all have been and currently are transmitted aurally. The main body of this study consists of two sections. The first section includes a historiography of transmission practices ofAmerican fiddle music, based on selected fiddling books and journal articles from the past one hundred years focusing on principles, theories, and methods. The selected books and journals represent the fields of folklore, musicology, ethnomusicology, and music education. The second part of the research study is a content analysis (both quantitative and qualitative) ofselected articles from American Music, American String Teacher, Ethnomusicology, Folk Music Journal, and The Journal ofMusicology that include references to fiddle music or aural transmission of fiddle music published from 1988 to 2008. A coding instrument was utilized when reviewing journal articles to sort content according to tracked data items such as author, journal types, the type offiddle music discussed, the specific fiddle descriptors mentioned, type oftransmission discussed, and the time period to which the article refers. The results of the content analysis include the tallied percentages ofthe two broad categories of scholarly articles that relate to the study of fiddle music itself and those that relate to its transmission, as well as specific sub-topics and categories which emerged within these two categories. The results ofthe study add a synthesis of literature from the disparate fields of folklore, musicology, ethnomusicology, and music education to the existing body ofknowledge on American fiddling. Furthermore, this research study reveals trends in scholarship on this topic that will enable scholars and music teachers to better understand American fiddling in the context ofmusic education and to more explicitly define avenues for further inquiry. The study's outcomes have potential value to contemporary music educators and designers of school music programs in promoting aural learning in music education. Understanding both the genre of fiddling and the pedagogy applicable to aural transmission should support this type ofleaming in the general or instrumental music classroom. Because American fiddling styles may be taught without written notation, students who are not in a traditional orchestra class could participate in a fiddling group, so music educators could reach even more learners by understanding and playing American fiddle music.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University