Musical Criticism and Music Education

  • Keith Swanwick University of London, Institute of Education


I am concerned here with the concept of musical analysis and its role in school and college education. My starting point is simply that musical analysis is the most important branch of musical criticism. By criticism I mean any discourse about music involving judgement or appraisal at any level. Critical statements that have analytical force must by definition say something about how a particular piece of music functions. All analysis is musical criticism but not all criticism is analysis. Analysis cannot be simply an expression of preference or a statement about the social or historical context of a piece of music. Critical statements that are simple expressions of preference or statements about context are not particularly helpful to the process of music education. For this reason I shall confine myself to the branch of criticism we call analysis. Analysis is essentially discourse concerned with the internal functioning of a specific musical object. It is about the integrity of a particular work. To be more accurate, analysis is discourse about our perceptions of a musical object. From an educational perspective it is not helpful to conduct musical analysis as though a work existed independently of individual perceptions of it and in classrooms we have to conduct musical analysis in a way that involves students engaging with music in his or her own way.


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Swanwick, K. (1991). Musical Criticism and Music Education. Revista Música, 2(2), 134-140.