Dylan Van der Schyff is changing the way musicians and music educators think about music in the classroom. He studies the effect of music on human cognition, psychology and experience.

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Noteworthy graduate is pitching a new way of developing music education

June 05, 2017
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By Ian Bryce

Many a budding musician has been told that ‘practice makes perfect’ when it comes to learning and performing music. But Simon Fraser University doctoral graduand Dylan Van der Schyff is changing the way musicians and music educators think about music in the classroom.

Van der Schyff studies the effect of music on human cognition, psychology and experience.

“In the 20th century we think of music as works or products,” says Van der Schyff. “But if you look at the history of music, musicality takes on a deeper relevance—it’s not just a product; it’s a multifaceted activity that allows humans to develop meaningful relationships.”

For example, adults commonly sing to babies to communicate well before babies have the ability to understand language.

Van Der Schyff does not argue that traditional musical education should take a rest. Instead, he suggests that teachers should include other modes like collaborative composition, improvisation and experimentation in their classrooms.

By incorporating alternative methods, he says this new approach to music education opens up music’s capacity for social engagement and cooperation as opposed to rote memorization and following orders.

His research has certainly struck a chord—already he has had educators from as far away as Russia contact him with praise and questions about implementing his work in the classroom.

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has tuned in to Van der Schyff’s work, bestowing a grant during his doctorate thesis at SFU and another to continue his studies afterwards.

In September, he will begin a two-year post-doctoral position at Oxford University studying with Eric Clarke, a world leader in music psychology. The two will work together to write a book that will make Van der Schyff’s research accessible to educators and applicable to music curricula around the world.