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How a Music History Video Game Solves Pedagogical Challenges

This website proposes that a music history video game will be the best learning tool partnered with the classroom experience. Video games are a proven medium to facilitate extraordinary mastery of course material. According to many recent journals printed about the use of video games as learning tools, video games are on the verge of becoming the next big thing for teaching history in general. Scholars have recognized the pedagogical value that were crafted games can offer students and faculty. Miller’s article from 2013, Music Learning through Video Games and Apps, highlights the pedagogical possibilities of using software to enhance musical learning. In a more recent publishing from 2020, authors Rahimi, Kim, Levy and Boyd discuss how teaching music history could be enhanced and take advantage of a very popular, underutilized tool. Another article from 2014 urges music pedagogy to evolve with the times and include technology as a tool to motivate and engage students. These articles all argue that music history pedagogy could greatly benefit from the use of video games in the learning process. Music history pedagogy scholar Kevin Burke argues that “pedagogy should govern how technology is used in the music history classroom, not the other way around.” This means that instead of the tech world working independently from the music history classroom, pedagogy scholars should be working with the tech world from the start. Through this partnership, the right music history video game can be developed and applied in the right way for a music history experience. This will support students learning music history to being more successful than ever before.

If a simple video game could immensely, positively impact the learning experience for music students, the next question is: What would a successful music history video game look like? At the beginning of this paper, the problems with the current curriculum were outlined and solutions were deduced from these challenges. These solutions create the new parameters for the video game. To be considered successful, the video game must encompass those solutions. The following are the solutions and a description of how the video game would embody the solution: 

Academic Library

Make learning music history accessible to all people:

While this video game is expected to be used as a learning material, such as in place of a textbook reading, or listening assignment, the music history video game would be accessible to students unable to attend  universities, such as high school students and people not in the music field. Using a video game as the medium to learn the material, people who might not otherwise have access to higher education, or further education could play this game and learn about music history. Accessibility also includes being accessible to people with different abilities. For people who cannot attend higher education because of their specific abilities, they can play this music history video game at home on their device. When discussing the design parameters later in this paper, other accessibility points will be discussed to make this video game something everyone can experience, regardless of ability.

Playing Video Games

Engage students in a medium they are most familiar with, and which is immersive:

Students today live in the fastest paced generation of all time. They spend time on their computers reading, communicating, accessing podcasts or games for entertainment, working, listening to music, and watching TV shows for relaxation. Everything they need is online, including where they submit their homework assignments. Video games provide an intersection of many of the activities students already experience on their computers. A video game: includes reading, entertainment, immersion into the story, would be used for scholarly work and learning, listening to the music they are learning about, and would hopefully also provide a form of enjoyment and relaxation because this medium is fun. Video games today offer a learning experience for other subjects, such as math, typing, spelling, reading, and science. When learning is fun and does not even feel like work, retention of the material is much higher. After an interview with a game designer, I learned that elementary school age children in Europe recently began playing Minecraft in class to be taught material. When playing a creative, immersive game like Minecraft, students’ brains are activating lots of neuron pathways connecting both sides of the brain hemispheres. As the class course material is taught to them, the students are learning the material much more efficiently because of the extra brain activity. For music history students, playing a music history video game that activates more parts of the brain will make learning the material much easier by tapping into the neuroscience of learning. At the end of a long school day, students would much rather sit down to “play” a music history video game as opposed to reading a textbook, and they will definitely remember the material better.

Hour Glass

Remove time constraint of any college program, and fills gaps in knowledge:

The luxury of designing a music history video game is that the game could include every musical example that currently exists in the Oxford History of Western Music, and more. There is no limit to how much music is included in the game, and there is no time restraint for a teacher to worry about covering “everything.” When a student purchases the game, they can play through the assigned levels and learn specific material for homework, or they can play through the whole game at their leisure and learn all the material on their own time schedule. Teachers should be able to teach students what they think should be taught in the classroom given the course topic. If a teacher wants to put more emphasis on a less talked about composer which the teacher has dedicated lots of time studying, the teacher can focus on their strengths without worrying about creating a “gap” in student knowledge. Music history cannot ever be fully learned or known because it is infinite. There is always more to learn. There are many composers which music scholars generally agree should be covered and that students need to know about. However, by the nature of an infinite subject, there is no way to cover everything. At the very least, by giving students a video game that offers a better chance at remembering the material they do experience through the game, students will have a higher likelihood of success when they go on to take music history entrance exams. It also makes time spent playing the game, better time spent. Ask any student who has played the game “Pokémon” to identify a specific Pokémon by picture, and that student can probably tell you the name of the fictitious creature, how to spell the name of the critter, which fictitious town to find the Pokémon in, and what type of Pokémon it is. Retention of information from video games is so high, it’s actually astonishing that video games have not tapped into their power for knowledge retention until just recently, especially for subjects in history. Students want to learn the music history. If music history courses could offer students an educational tool that helps them identify composers and pieces of music as easily as they can remember hundreds and hundreds of fake animals, music history courses should offer that tool!

Vintage Records

Remove emphasis on White Culture and include world music history:

This is a very important topic to unpack. Music history curriculum’s are filled with: exclusion of voices from the music history canon, values that are based on a system that continually perpetuates exclusion of voices, and draws a picture of music history that does not include a large portion of the world. A music history video game can place each learning experience about music on the same level, where no composer or musician is more valuable than another. Solving music history pedagogical problems will not be complete until all voices of music history can be heard and valued. World music history courses in a music history curriculum show how even the basic structure of most college music curriculums spend much more time on Western Classical tradition, which seems ridiculous considering world music is a lot bigger subject than Western Classical music. The argument scholars pose is that students need to know Western Classical more because it’s what is played more often. However, this argument is flawed, because who put those Western Classical pieces at the top of the charts? The answer: White Culture. Western Classical music is played more often because colleges and universities spend more time teaching students about it. The music history video game would offer as many world music history lessons as Western Classical music history lessons in the game. Music history is supposed to be about music history, all inclusive, of human history. Students in higher education programs are not earning, “Western Classical Music” degrees, they are earning “Music” degrees. The term “Music Degree” is misleading. The exclusion of people from certain cultures, countries, of different skin tones, women, people with different abilities, and any combination of these identities, will end in this music history video game.

Music Producers

Incorporate music history, theory, cultural facts, and music listening to learning experience:

With the classroom time constraint removed, the music history video game can immerse students in the history, where they visit Carnegie Hall in 1943 to see Duke Ellington and his orchestra performing Black, Brown, and Beige, learn about the different rāgas in North and South Indian music, watch the sunrise at dawn from a monk temple while ringing the meditation gong, join a local Swedish woman in the evening to call the cattle home from the grassy hills, sit with Bach as he writes one of his famous fugues, take a lesson with Mozart who writes a specific piece for the player to practice, join a Native American Pow wow and witness a dance off; the possibilities are endless. The video game can go anywhere, anytime, and allow the player to experience the culture, history, theory, and music, all at once.


Teach music history non-chronologically:

By structuring the game similar to many other popular video games out there, the music history video game can have a game progression which allows the student or player to experience music history in any order. The level will be isolated in history, and the levels can be completed in any order. If a student is taking a course on opera, the instructor could assign specific levels to the student throughout the semester which correspond to the composers and pieces the course examines.

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Teach music history geographically:

The game levels would be pins on a map of Earth. Each pin would represent a level that focuses on a time and place in music history. If a student is curious about music in Egypt, the student can play one of the pins on that country and learn about music history there. If a professor’s class focuses on Bach and Handel, they could assign specific levels in Leipzig, Germany, Hamburg, Italy, and London.

Pedagogical Value: List

Tying it all together

A music history video game solves all of these top priority challenges in the current discussions about music history pedagogy. The technology to create the most immersive, expansive, and engaging learning tool currently exists. Video games have been used for entertainment, education, and can be for both of these purposes. If professors had a tool to make learning easy, fun, and automatic, they would use it. Students would use it. Music history is behind in the field of academia, as scholars examine how the subject has been taught for decades and try to make changes. Using video games as a way to bring music history into the 21st century could be the easiest, and most efficient way to support music students of today. 21st century students and faculty deserve a learning tool of the 21st century. Some day when a music history video game does hit the market, the game will be scholarly, and everything the subject of music history needs it to be in order to fit these “solution guidelines to current pedagogical challenges.” Video games are the future of learning. Maybe they will not even be called “video games,” and instead something like, “immersive learning tools.”

For the skeptics about the practical use of video games as tools for learning, now is the time to raise any and all questions about how to apply this tool in higher education settings. This is especially because: the technology does not exist yet. Now is the chance to shape the learning tool into what faculty and students would best benefit from. Hopefully, this website will lead to more serious conversations among music history pedagogy scholars who can offer what they need in the game for it to work best as a learning tool. For the scholars who fear technology replacing the necessity of a classroom, this website points out that classrooms used for in person learning and collaboration are irreplaceable. This website also reminds scholars to not let fear of change prevent music history pedagogy from moving forward positively. 

Pedagogical Value: Welcome
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