Why Minimalism?

You will have noticed that the term genre is widely used to describe what are vastly differentiated areas of musical practice. Classical music, popular music are described as genres. This was not how it used to be. Genre, a term taken from literature, was reserved for a particular characteristic style: crime thriller, science fiction, the Welsh 19th century industrial novel and so on. If popular music is to be a genre then I suppose there is much scope for sub-genres and I will just have to get used to it.

One way of providing breadth of experience in secondary school music is to present pupils with a range of musical styles to engage with. Or are they genres, or perhaps musical traditions? Even better, they could be thought of as musical practices. This I think expands our thinking. Let’s welcome chair drumming, lip syncing, riff making, melisma crafting. We wouldn’t describe these as genres.

But why are we doing these things?

In a previous blog https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/blue-notes-and-false-relations/ I set out twenty-seven reasons that might be given for teaching the Blues, a significant source of multiple musical practices. The Blues entered the secondary school in the 1970s and shows no signs of leaving. And there is a more recent entrant.

After a recent conversation with a new secondary school music teacher telling me how excited she was to be teaching minimalism soon, I have been wondering what it is about minimalism which, like the Blues, is a popular source of classroom practice.

Why place this ‘genre’, this ‘musical style’, this ‘musical tradition’, this ‘set of musical practices’ before our pupils?

Some thoughts:


  1. Enables the use of Steve Reich’s Clapping Music to extend pupils’ rhythmic capabilities.
  2. Is a significant contemporary musical practice dissolving boundaries between musical practices.
  3. Challenges and disrupts listening habits.
  4. In emphasizing repetition pupils are able to master riffs and perform with fluency.
  5. Koyaniskatsi by Phillip Glass raises important talking points about how we live now.
  6. Employs musical techniques that are useable in the pupil’s own composing.
  7. Is well suited to whole class musical workshop-ing and performance.
  8. Enables worthwhile use of digital technology.
  9. Enables the use of both indeterminate and aleatory phasing.
  10. Is ideal for mixing media.
  11. Can be used as a basis for nurturing musical improvisation.
  12. Terry Reilly’s ‘In C’ is an impressive work to explore.

Make a diamond nine to sort out your thinking perhaps.

Giving thought to the musical practices we as music teachers place before our pupils is a great responsibility. Articulating why this and not that is important. And might we use the term ‘genre’ with care?




One thought on “Why Minimalism?

  1. 13. Minimalism works with my scheme of progression. Pupils will be able to get better at playing with fluency, feeling the spaces between sounds, composing with greater attention to manipulating techniques, having their schemas disrupted and of course thinking critically about how music is in the world.

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