Men greeting sun

by Victoria Parker

What is the way to musical freedom? Is there a relationship between meditation, yoga practice, musical creativity, and music education?

Small’s (1997) view of tradition is relevant in today’s practice of music education as well as ethnomusicology because it reveals scientific knowledge of musical practice and sound. When looking at music education through Small’s lens, it is apparent that his descriptions still resonate today. I believe he was exploring what is now a more realized pedagogical discourse among music teachers, composers, and students alike. Therefore, I will be focusing on the limitations imposed on musical creation and creativity by western notation and or performance.

In chapter six of  Music, Society Education, Small (1997) acknowledges John Cage’s musical approach and individual freedom as a composer. He tells the story of how Schoenberg, who was John Cage’s teacher at the time, said that to write music one must have feeling for harmony. Cage himself admitted that he could never hear tonal harmonies, and Schoenberg felt as though Cage would face many obstacles because of this. Even though Cage did not “feel” tonal harmony, he found music within sound. This is important to remember when considering the limitations of one’s musical freedom and approach to composition. Similarly to Cage, Steve Reich’s work followed the unveiling of sound. Reich’s music shows us how new sounds and patterns that are not controlled by the composer can be heard. Reich believed that “Even when all the cards are out on the table and everyone hears what is happening in a musical process there are still enough mysteries to satisfy all” (Small, 1977, p. 152).

This holds a great deal of relevance today because it encourages us to be open as music teachers. If we try to program everyone the same way, and control what is being taught in the classroom, we do not leave room for students’ interpretations of sound or musical thoughts. This ties in with meditation and yoga because, within this practice, we become more open. We hold onto so many thoughts and try to control things in our lives. However, the more we practice meditation, the more we can let go of many stresses or clutters of the mind: a practice also known as aparigraha.

When we combine these two worlds of meditation and music, we are able to lean into the idea of music and sound and how it resonates around and within us. Just like jazz musicians, who often enter a flow state when they improvise, through meditation our emotions become almost subconscious. Furthermore, we can identify frequencies as being music and relate this to our emotions. Though one may argue that traditions of structured notation, particularly from the post-Renaissance era, are more important than a structureless view of music and sound, I disagree, and so does Small. I would argue that we need both to find balance, and from a musical education view, it may help students express themselves more freely. Through my own philosophy of musical freedom, I think there is a space that allows music in all forms to connect us to nature, myth, mystery, and inner reflection. Furthermore, from an ethnomusicological perspective, I agree with Rice (2014) about how music can evoke trance, possession ecstasy and emotion. Meditation allows freedom through self expression with music. It does this by the mind letting go of distractions and chatty judgmental thoughts.  Meditation creates space for sound in music more regularly. Through meditation, all of our senses can be brought together.

As music teachers, it is our duty to encourage students and not be negligent in providing them with feedback on their progress in whatever area of learning they choose. Thus, we should not be gatekeepers by holding them back from exploring new ideas. In my own experience, I have found that, with meditation, we clarify the mind and are constantly being brought into the present moment. These experiences make me ask why we should always think in terms of students having right or wrong answers, when instead we can be open to another perspective. Is a student wrong because she or he does not think in the ways in which a system wants them to think? Instead, I believe these are the great minds that think outside the box. And like Cage and Reich, they pave the way for a new direction in music.


Rice, T. (2014) Ethnomusicology: a very short introduction. Oxford University Press.

Small, C. (1977). Music, society, education. Great Britain: John Calder (publishers) Ltd.


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