Both my mother and father heavily use technology and the internet. In fact, there are often times when my dad complains that I don’t use the internet as much as he does. For my father, having the internet available has allowed him to gain easy access to knowledge from various fields, which he never had access to when he was a child in Sri Lanka. For my mother, the internet, and the rise of Facebook, allowed her to have connections with friends back in Sri Lanka. For my siblings and I, having the internet has just felt like a normal part of our lives because we all grew up using it.
As a musician, having the internet available has opened many doors. For example, if I wanted to research a new field of musical study, such as a diverse cultures music, I could easily access information from Google or YouTube. Furthermore, as a musician I can upload videos of myself performing pieces on piano for my relatives to see on Facebook. However, in music education and the classroom, the use of digital media has only started to recently become integrated. That’s why I was interested in reading Waldron’s (2013) work “User-generated content, YouTube and participatory culture on the Web: music learning and teaching in two contrasting online communities.” Waldron’s descriptions of user generated content and participatory culture allow for a great discussion on the use of digital media and music education. Specifically, it allows for me to deliberate on whether memes can be used in music education.
UCG and Participatory Culture
Waldron (2013) describes user generated content, or UGC for short, as follows:
“UGC is a term coined by new media researchers to refer to digital artefact created by ordinary people acting on their own belief – as opposed to corporations or commercial interests … Because it is made with the intention of uploading to the Internet for sharing with the general public, UGC can – and often does – function as a platform for participation and debate … ” (p. 258).
In other words, a UGC is a form of digital media created by individuals to share, manipulate, and discuss with other individuals in a “Participatory culture” (Waldron, 2013, p. 262). Individuals who come into contact with the digital artefact created can choose to create content based on the artefact. While Waldron describes UGC as internet videos and podcast, I was struck by a sudden realization: a meme can be considered a UGC as well.
A meme is “an image, video, piece of text, etc, typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users, often with slight variations” (Oxford Dictionary). A meme is a joke shared and recreated by users on the internet as a means of sharing a funny idea or background knowledge in a creative way. However, unlike podcasts, and informational videos such as TED Talks, memes may not be the first idea in many educators minds to integrate into the classroom, because memes can often be crude, and too context specific to be understandable, especially across different generations.
But Why is this Related to Music Education?
As globalization and technological advancements continue, more students are entering into the classroom with years of experience browsing and participating in online communities. Thus, students are interacting with forms of memes on a daily basis. Finding a way to integrate memes into a classroom can allow teachers to use students already existing knowledge and experiences to help create opportunities for music education to flourish on a broader scale.
One particular meme that supports this point of view is the video of the son and father playing trombone and opening and closing the stove together. While the video is based off of an electronic song, users on the internet recreated and appropriated the video and created new content to reflect the video. One of the video’s that spiraled off this meme was this video: three music students from Berkeley recreating the video on brass instruments for fun.
While this was funny, I think it showcased an important point: music students using their musical and technical skills in a way that brought them joy, which was situated in their own daily experiences with the global world. In a classroom setting, giving students an opportunity to recreate musical memes found on the internet using the instruments they are learning in class could allow for greater learning to take place. Also, it could allow students to experience music education in a way that is closer to their experiences of digital media.
As a private piano teacher, I was able to use the John Cena meme when I wanted to help my student with ear training exercise. Because my student knew the meme from using the internet, I had them try and play it by ear on the piano. The experience was enjoyable for both of us, because I was able to see how my student could transfer sound into notation, and my student was able to perform something that he found funny. Furthermore, later when we were discussing the concept of different keys, my student and I were able to see if we could recreate the John Cena meme in different keys.
Although memes may be considered crude, and not always appropriate for classroom settings, memes are a form of UGC that can be incorporated into music education. Allowing students to use digital media that they are familiar with can allow students the opportunity to learn more effectively. Furthermore, the participatory nature of creating memes allows students to interact with one another as a community.
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Gil, P. (2017). What Is a ‘Meme’?. Retrieved from https://www.lifewire.com/what-is-a-meme- 2483702
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Waldron, J. (2013). User-generated content, YouTube and participatory culture on the Web: Music learning and teaching in two contrasting online communities. Music Education Research, 15(3), 257-274.