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Building links between different experiences of learning music

In this section, we look at some learners' experience of music in the classroom, and what opportunities there might be to connect the two.
Classroom view, looking at the teacher

What does Classroom music look like today?

This article will help you to become more familiar with classroom music as it is today, particularly in England. Think about this key question:

How can you build on your students’ classroom music experiences in your own lessons?

Classroom music education varies hugely around the world. In many countries if is compulsory to study music for the first 8 or 10 years of schooling. In others it is only taught at the discretion of the school. Many students, particularly further on in their education, have the option to study music as a classroom subject. Within countries provision can also vary greatly. One survey a few years ago found that only 23% of state schools in Australia had specialist music teachers. In the USA provision also varies greatly from school to school, but ensemble-based education is by far the most common form of music education whereas in much of Europe, music education combines performance and composition with music theory and history. Wherever you teach, it is worth investing time in understanding the music education your students receive at school.

The results of research carried out by the Give a Note foundation in 2017 in the USA show that whilst the vast majority of high schools in the USA run a band and choir, teaching in music history and theory is much more limited. graph of music activity in USA

In Singapore students must audition on their instrument or voice to gain a place on a music elective course, although all students will have some exposure to music lessons. General music is compulsory in Singapore for all students from primary to lower secondary (Age 7 to 14) and non-compulsory for upper secondary. The music syllabus used both by primary and secondary schools is developed centrally by the Ministry of Education Curriculum Planning and Development. The secondary-level Music Elective Programme is a 4-year programme designed for musically-inclined students. The MEP curriculum aims to develop skills in Listening, Creating, Performing and Research.

Music education is, on average, more developed and better-funded in South African private schools than in their government counterparts. Both state and private schools need to meet the requirements of the Department of Basic Education’s Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS), and then augment and extend their learning programmes as they see fit and as resources enable them to. These are the requirements all SA schools need to meet in the Senior Phase:

“The study of music in Creative Arts aims to develop the ability to perform a variety of vocal and instrumental music in group and solo contexts. In addition, learners are exposed to the written and aural language of music through reading and writing music. Furthermore, the subject aims to develop the ability to create new music through improvising and composing, using both conventional and non-conventional compositional techniques. The content also enables learners to become informed listeners of music by actively listening to a variety of music ranging from Western, indigenous and popular music. They should also be able to read staff notation at the end of Grade 9.”
Music is a compulsory subject in English schools until age 14. It is recommended that each student has at least one music lesson per week although some schools teach it in rotation with other arts subjects on a carousel. The exact syllabus varies from school to school. These weekly music lessons include performing (vocal and instrumental) and composing activities, as well as listening and theory work. Students should be able to use their own instrument (or voice) for at least some of these tasks. Students will be taking part in group performance projects, often with a composing or arranging element, on a regular basis. In England, the Model Music Curriculum was published in 2021. It’s not mandatory, but provides a framework (and lots of guidance) on how music should be taught in schools. It was drafted by the ABRSM on behalf of the Department for Education. The model curriculum emphasises collaboration:
“Effective delivery is likely to come from a combination of schools, teachers, practitioners, professional ensembles, venues, and other Music Education Hub partners working collaboratively.”

It also clarifies the expectation that music should have a minimum of one weekly period the whole way through Key Stage 3, taught by a specialist music teacher. The Model Music Curriculum sets out sequences of learning in the following areas;

  1. Singing
  2. Listening
  3. Composing (including improvisation)
  4. Instrumental Performance

It also emphasizes the importance of teaching staff notation and developing aural skills and musical memory.

The curriculum tends to be organised into topics, which each last for either a half-term or a term (6-12 weekly lessons). These lessons will include listening and theory work, especially at the beginning of the topic, as well as practical tasks. Students often get some source material which they learn as a whole class, then divide into groups to work on a performance.

Common topics include:

  1. Blues
  2. Ground bass
  3. Theme and variations
  4. Reggae
  5. Minimalism.

In other units all students play the same instrument and learn basic techniques together; African drumming, samba and ukulele are popular. Scheme of work This is an example of a topic overview. It outlines the activities students will participate in over a series of 6 or 7 lessons. This structure, of a short starter followed by 2-3 main activities and a plenary activity to recap the day’s learning, is very common. Paganini

Case study: A year 9 class (age 13-14) are studying theme and variations form. Their final practical task is to prepare a performance using Paganini’s theme from Caprice no.24. They have 3 lessons to rehearse. This is an example of the type of source material a year 9 student might use. Note that the parts are differentiated: most classes have students with a wide range of instrumental / vocal ability.

This video clip is taken from a rehearsal using the source material on the previous slide. It’s a mixed ability group, containing four students that have instrumental lessons, two that used to learn and two that don’t play an instrument outside of the classroom. Besides learning to play their parts, which other skills are the students developing?

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

And this is a video of their final performance, which took place the following week. If the cellist was your student, how could you build on this performance? How about the clarinettist? How can you ensure that you know about the work your students do in the music classroom?

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

How can you build on your students’ classroom music experiences in your own lessons?

Can you find out what they’re studying? Can you support their classroom studies – and use these to enhance your own teaching?

“The best advice I can give is to talk about this stuff with your students. Find out what they’re studying in class and let them know they can ask you for help.” Violin Teacher

“I took a long time to realise that my students studied Blues in year 8. Now, when they’re (in that year) we often start our lessons with… some improvisation, it’s great fun.” Guitar Teacher

…I’ve become a part of the school music department. It’s a much more rewarding job when I’m part of the institution rather than just someone who visits each week. The students talk to me about their classroom music, and we often look at ideas that they’re working on. I talk to the music staff too, about my students, and often these conversations are a good springboard to understanding my students (and the school) better.’ String Teacher

How can you build on your students’ classroom music experiences in your own lessons? A few possibilities… 1. Use the topic as inspiration for repertoire 2. Listen to student’s recording of their rehearsal & provide feedback 3. Teacher performs, student suggests improvements 4. Split the source material between the teacher and student 5. Teacher models source material and the student copies 6. Student performs, teacher models more complex possibilities 7. Student accompanies you 8. Student & teacher improvise on the given material 9. Talk to the student about your favourite pieces in the given genre 10. Student teaches you their part 11. Teacher provides improvisation stimuli 12. If scheduling permits: drop in on the classroom rehearsal

How can you build on your students’ classroom music experiences in your own lessons? Write some of your ideas below.

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Being a Flexible Music Teacher

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