The Western system that I experienced myself for 10 years at a music school is based on a „well‑structured path from simple to complex supported by technical exercises, notated music and regular individual lessons.“ (Huib Schippers: Facing the music: Shaping Music Education From A Global Perspektive, p. 4)
For teaching the classical guitar music I would say it’s probably still the best way. Or let me admit I didn’t come up with a better way yet. But especially in the classes with beginner kids guitar teacher like myself tend to use the simple melodies of folk songs to teach the notation system or easy chords.
Why teaching folk songs in the music school is problematic
Three main forces are important for the transmission of folk music: „the form and the content of the music itself, the interaction between the learner and the teacher […] and the learning environment.“ (Huib Schippers: Facing the music: Shaping Music Education From A Global Perspektive, p. 90)
Let’s take a look at a lullaby for example. The form is often quite simple, the content of such songs are mostly about that a child should fall asleep now, about dreams and that tomorrow will be a new day. The interaction is traditionally between parents or grandparents and their children. The learning environment would be sitting near the child’s bed.
If we teach a lullaby in the music school it just makes no sense. I don’t want my students to fall asleep. Nor am I a parent, either do I want them to bring a bed to the next class.
How people learned folk music in the past
I remember my Granny telling me when she was young her father always sang German folk songs accompanied on the accordion. That’s how she learned them.
It’s unbelievable that today she can still remember all the lyrics and even little differences in the melodie between the verses.
I learned most of the German folk songs in kindergarden and when me and my family were going for a walk or crossing the lake with a boat. I have to admit that I’m lucky when I can remember the lyrics of the first verse since it’s such a long time ago that I sang them.
Some ideas to include folk music in teaching in the music school anyway
The most important thing is to bring back the community. Maybe music teacher could initiate one day per month of open jam sessions of folk music and if you can’t play the song yet clap your hands, sing or dance to the song or try to find the easiest way to accompany the song. Also let the group decide what they want to play.
Or even better play and sing outside the music school. Take the students and their guitars to go hiking or sailing to experience folk songs about these topics in their original environment.
Let’s try to be creative.
If you come up with more ideas to experience European folk songs in an authentic way, let me know. And if you’re not from Europe I would like to know how do you transmit folk music in your country.