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Does this rock?

Does this rock? Simple assessment criteria - Teacher and Musician

I’ve recently been working with a client to create a set of backing tracks that will form part of a wider teaching strategy (more on this when the project is complete).  It’s a really satisfying task to take on since it feels really musical and that’s always a huge bonus.  One of the best parts of the project, however, is the simplicity of communication with the client.

When evaluating the tracks, there’s no discussion of the elements of music, there’s no questioning of phrasing or articulation.  I’m not assessed on accuracy of pitch and rhythm.  The recordings aren’t measured against a rubric to evaluate the quality of my interpretation.  The evaluation simply measures the music against the criteria under which the work was commissioned – “They’d better rock!”

It doesn’t sound all that helpful as a brief but the reality is that I understand exactly what it means.  When listening to a draft, I don’t have to ask myself anything other than “Does this rock?”.  Is there a sufficient quantity of indefinable energy in this recording to get a class of children excited about that music that they’re making?  Is the performance and production authentic enough to make pupils want to play along?  If not, then it doesn’t rock.

The clarity that this simple instruction conveyed got me thinking about the assessment of performance in the typical music classroom and especially at GCSE.  In reality, most of us can spot an A* performance straight away.  Why?  Because it rocks.  Regardless of style or genre.  Is it the extent to which it rocks a subjective measurement?  In all honesty, probably not.  I dare say that the ‘rockness’ is apparent to all.

The idea that we can evaluate music through the informal, almost visceral, reactions we have to hearing it reminds me of François Matarasso’s keynote at the Teach Through Music Final Conference where he talked of music’s less tangible and definable benefits.  His closing remark (“Music?  What is it good for?  Playing”) isn’t all that far away from the directive that these backing tracks “had better rock”.

So, next time you’re grading a performance, take a moment and ask yourself “Does this rock?”