Peer-group learning

detail of two people playing guitar next to each other

© iStockphoto.com/Cebas

Methods of informal learning, such as listening or using tutor books, are generally solitary occupations for musicians. But playing with other musicians is a form of informal peer-group or group learning.

When musicians begin to play in a group setting they pick up vital skills that are not necessarily provided through instrumental tuition or self-directed solitary learning. Musicians may teach each other new techniques, songs or chord progressions in practise or jam sessions but the most important factor of such sessions is the gradual acquisition of ensemble skills. Playing with other musicians on a regular basis helps to develop skills such as playing in time with others, sensitivity to musical dynamics/arrangement and musical and visual communication. All of these elements are crucial as a musician develops and plays with differing types of musician.

Much peer-group learning for popular musicians takes place in what are known as 'jam' sessions. 'Jamming' itself is distinct from rehearsing, where a group of popular music performers are preparing for a public concert or show. Jamming involves a higher amount of spontaneity, experimentation and improvisation, where the participants may learn new ideas or techniques from one another. Musicians develop their creative skills in this way by learning to play around with chord structures and construct melody lines.

Jamming can also be the bridge from musicians trying to copy what they hear on records or read in books to creating their own compositions. Richard, when interviewed by the musicologist Lucy Green, told her about the way his rock group wrote their songs. He commented: "none of us have really been taught music properly so we just make up the songs by like playing around with them and see what we come up with and if that sounds nice" (Green, 2001: 82).

Another element of peer group learning is the feedback given between musicians. Peer groups often help to monitor a musician's process and help to focus a musician's practice routine on particular parts of their playing. For example in a survey of popular music students in Australia, the music teacher Don Lebler found that two of the most important things in a musician's education were self-monitoring and peer group feedback. Feedback from bandmates, audiences, and friends on performances and audio recordings was felt to be more valuable than teacher feedback and was something students relied on (Lebler, 2008: 208).