Ballad of the never picked: a qualitative study of self-perceived non-musicians' perceptions of their musicality

Eve Ruddock

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis

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Humans are a musical species and every culture has its music. However, twenty individuals out of a cohort of twenty-nine participants in this study judged themselves to be 'not musical'. Through their words, silences and responses, the story of music in the lives of these self-perceived non-musicians uncovered a musical world where concepts of performance, judgment and talent dominate. My investigation into individuals' perceptions of their musicality revealed a pervasive societal belief that individuals were either born 'musical' or they were not; their everyday reality was one where music was perceived as a performance, an object, something that only talented people can 'do'. I planned conversations with participants that aimed to reveal clues that could help to unravel a paradox that lies within music in our Western culture: every young human is intrinsically musical but only some are born with a gift to be musical. Participant convictions that they were not musical deterred some individuals from active engagement in music making. They felt as if they had been left out of the 'musical ballpark'. Details from conversations illustrated a constricting cultural imposition on individuals; this was perpetuated in many schools and also in private music teaching. Data revealed that current educational practice contributed to a denial of a natural birthright and alienated some individuals from being part of a musical community. As their stories revealed failed attempts to engage in music making, iterative contacts created a daunting quantity of data. But there was poetry in participant data. These self-perceived non-musicians simultaneously demonstrated their musicality in the rhythms of their narrative as they denied that they were musical; this emerged as a means to report the research whereby participants' words combined to tell a non-musician's tale. Compelling narrative revealed a society where educational practice does little to address individual musical development. While each story alone was specific and complex, once the stories became woven together as a complex and contradictory whole, the ballad of the never picked captured the essence of a distanced musicality in our Western society. Narrative drove towards meaning. Through interpretation and detailed qualitative analysis, understandings began to emerge from depths of experience and from friction existing within contradictions. Deep within narrative which evolved over a period of five years were perceptions that led to understandings of our cultural reality. Active involvement in this research became part of an emancipatory process for several participants where mutually reflective acts exposed unnecessary impositions from societal expectations. Participant voices uncover a bifurcated reality wherein the musical development of many individuals is undermined through an ignorance of holistic human potential; this musical-unmusical divide is perpetuated in educational practice.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2007


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