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Guest Editorials

Are Art and Music so different?

art music“Art happens unexpectedly. No one expected the British artists of Emin’s generation to become famous like they did – least of all, I suspect, their art teachers. As a school subject, art is a tricky one. Is it a serious attempt to nurture artists, or a soft subject? Everyone has memories of sticking straws together at primary school.”

Jonathan Jones  (2013:Guardian):


I don’t remember straws at school. The Art Department at my secondary school was always the “other”; a remote and special room by the time you were in the sixth form and a sanctuary from the rest of school life. Prior to sixth form the art rooms (two large rooms with a storage room inbetween them) were my artistic home and they were notoriously messy and full of activity. The Art teachers were wonderfully passionate and dynamic and gave plenty of time between lessons to introduce interesting art objects as well as give additional assistance. I thrived on painting and cultivated the sketchbook practice of collecting anything that might be inspiration. It was apparent early on in Art that works took time to produce and the research phase was a lengthy one, and an individualized one; I would explore my own interests and any technical matters (such as to do with medium) would be discussed as we went. I don’t recall any didactic teaching of the whole class. I recall a community of individuals – particularly in the sixth form – that were able to pursue interests and create art we felt ownership of.

I found a report (https://www.nfer.ac.uk/nfer/publications/VAL01/VAL01.pdf ) about Art in the secondary schools from 2004. It ‘presents the findings from a year long study designed to ascertain the content of the art curriculum at key stage 3 and 4, with particular reference to the inclusion of contemporary art practice’. ‘In total, 54 art teaching staff were interviewed. They were questioned about curriculum design and content, and their perceptions of the factors affecting curriculum choice. Their perceptions of the outcomes of the art curriculum in their schools were also elicited’. Interestingly it was identified in this report that Art teachers in schools that identified as using contemporary art practices (CAP) had staff who ‘were more likely to have worked as professional artists before entering teaching, and thus may be able to share a more thorough understanding of the art production process with their pupils’. They also noted there was a scarcity in courses for Art teachers on art or teaching, but CPD on assessment was a common occurrence. Interestingly ‘in describing their curriculum approach, heads of department in CAP identified schools were more likely to focus on pupil experience, the importance of ideas, current events and external stimuli (such as gallery exhibitions)’. This report is now ten years old but it was republished as an online document in 2012.

The report was interested in the content of the Art curriculum: ‘There was a general consensus that, within the [“school art”] literature, time limitations were causing the arts to be taught through knowledge and skills-based approaches, with the distinct possibility that more conceptual approaches and notions of creativity were being neglected. Something that stuck in my mind from the section on the interviews with the head of department: ‘the interviewees were asked whether or not they viewed themselves as practising artists at the time of interview. There was a general consensus that, despite a desire to continue working as an artist, the pressures of teaching left the interviewees with little time to explore this, particularly for full-time members of staff and those with young children. A number of interviewees commented that the majority of their energy and artistic creativity went into helping their pupils achieve’. It goes on to mention that ‘despite these time constraints it was recognised that maintaining an interest in producing art, outside of school, was beneficial for teachers wishing to continually develop their areas of expertise and interest and was also beneficial for the pupils’. How many music teachers keep up with their own musical interests or have these been marginalized due to school workloads? Do Music teachers perceive themselves as ‘musicians’?

Interesting how Year 9 is perceived as an important year for encouraging students to select the subject for GCSE and to aid this the teachers interviewed in the report mentioned trying to make Year 9 similar to the method of working at GCSE. ‘Year 9 stood out within this overall curriculum approach; as the year before GCSE it was often seen as an opportunity to ‘sell’ the GCSE course to those pupils who had yet to choose their options. Pupils in year 9 were also encouraged to begin working in a GCSE format through the introduction of sketch books, design sheets and project-based work as preparation for those individuals intending to study art. Thus, in the majority of schools the emphasis of the art curriculum began to shift away from being primarily skills-based to the introduction of more exploratory art work in year 9’. There was plenty of discussion about the links between KS3 and KS4 during the Teach Through Music professional development year [http://www.sound-connections.org.uk/teach-through-music/inspire-events]. If we want more to take GCSE Music (or an alternative course of study) should we be introducing the working habits expected of KS4 Music students in the final year of KS3 Music? Is KS3 the end of the journey of compulsory Music or do we still see it as a chance to make that one last sell for students to carry on to KS4?

Music was very different for me. I had a wonderfully inspiring Music teacher at KS3 and first year of GCSE. I will never forget being given Poulenc’s Flute Sonata when I was in Year 9 and he remarked “you’ll need to blow raspberries down the flute at one point” (referring to the double-tonguing…). I was always treated like an individual. Again, I don’t recall much didactic teaching. My interest in composition was encouraged from Year 9 and I remember being given songs to model my own work on. I always felt the challenge and the marvel of once learning how to modulate in a composition I was working on. The difference for me was we spent less time on the process in Music than in Art. I would spend considerable amounts of time on the musical processes at home and just show the tip of iceberg to my teacher. In Art, the process was always on show and the teacher-meddling was always interrogative and specific. I never remember being given a number at school in Music or Art. Only feedback, and precise feedback at that. Above all my Music and Art teachers were musicians and artists; I was in awe of their skills as practitioners and often oblivious to their pedagogical processes (unlike those pupils that spot when a pedagogical gimick is being adopted by an entire school and lesson after lesson they are bombarded by the same pedagogical approach…). The arts teaching I experienced helped me be the teacher I am today; constantly developing my practice through research, concerts, performing, learning, masterclasses, choirs etc. I’m just like them. A learner.

I like the questions that come near the end of the report I mentioned previously on Art curriculum ‘School Art: What’s in it?’. I’ve re-written them to be about Music – all I’ve done is replace the word art/artist with music/musician… I wonder if these questions have now been addressed in Art education. Have they been addressed in music? In this respect art and music share a similar issue: how do they navigate between the past and the present, between skills and content, and to what extent do they involve issues. Most importantly what is the pupil experience and how much of a priority is the experience for them in curriculum planning? Do we plan for the pupils we want or for the pupils we have?

  • How would a change to a more even balance between the teaching of skills and addressing issues and meaning in music, lead to a different selection of references and media?
  • Is there evidence that enabling teachers to develop as practising musicians result in a broader or more effective music education for school pupils?
  • Should personal [teacher] preference be a criterion for the selection of music to include in the school music curriculum?
  • To what extent can contemporary music be intellectually accessible to pupils?
  • Would the greater prioritisation of issues and meaning in music, often claimed to be enabled by the inclusion of contemporary music practice, deter pupils from choosing music as an option at GCSE?

Dr Steven Berryman


Steven Berryman studied at Cardiff University and Royal Holloway, University of London, and completed a PhD in composition with Arlene Sierra. His composition teachers included Anthony Powers, Simon Holt and Judith Weir. Steven’s orchestral piece, Cypher (2010), was selected by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for performance in their Welsh Composers Showcase in 2011. Steven’s output is diverse and includes music for Jamie Zubairi’s one-man show, Unbroken Line, incidental music for Corpo Lixa da Alma (premiered at Cena Brasil Internacional 2012 in Rio de Janeiro), and a musical for a female-only cast, Juniper Dreams (2011).


Steven will be the Director of Music at City of London School for Girls (from September 2015) and has previously taught at the North London Collegiate School and the Junior Department of the Royal Academy of Music. In addition to his teaching he has examined and moderated for GCSE and A-level Music and in 2014-15 Steven was a Fellow for Teach Through Music (Trinity Laban). He has contributed to Music Teacher magazine, Music Education UK and presented for conferences and courses on various aspects of the Music curriculum for audiences of teachers and students. He will contribute composition sections to forthcoming Rhinegold books and a chapter for ‘Creative Teaching for Creative Learning in Higher Music Education’ edited Elizabeth Haddon and Pamela Burnard (published Ashgate 2016). Steven is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.


June 2016



17 thoughts on “Are Art and Music so different?

  1. Thank you Steven for providing such a rich account and raising a good number of interesting questions.
    The first bullet point:
    How would a change to a more even balance between the teaching of skills and addressing issues and meaning in music, lead to a different selection of references and media?
    In the first GCSE music cohort (1988?) one of my pupils produced what I thought was a remarkable composition. By today’s criteria it might claim a C rather than than the ‘A’ I awarded and which was approved.
    The piece was titled ‘Forty years of peace’ and created on a Korg synthesiser. At the time it encapsculated my ideals of musical imagination and creativity and justified the place of composing in the GCSE examination and in the curriculum more generally.
    The piece addressed an issue and meaning in music. It highlighted what I have come to refer to as the existential strand within a music education. What is created was of significance to the felt life of the pupil. It drew on what we might think of as the pupil’s inner world of dreams and imagination. The private was made public.
    For the pupil his imagination drew together interest in the cold war and its images into the medium of music, musical thought, ideas, motives and shaped into an arch-like form.
    This kind of process Steven suggests in much more commonplace in Art than in Music. Yes, year 9 could address issues. I have previously given the example of the issues embedded in Steve Reich’s Different Trains, Schubert’s The Erlking, Egyptian urban hip-hop.
    So to bullet point 5:
    Would the greater prioritisation of issues and meaning in music, often claimed to be enabled by the inclusion of contemporary music practice, deter pupils from choosing music as an option at GCSE?
    I think not.

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by jfin107 | August 3, 2015, 9:30 am
    • Gosh, such a lot in here…. thanks Stephen for keeping us cogitating and reflecting.

      I couldn’t agree more John with this and your further comment below.

      It does seem that we are eternally asking the same essential questions without ever feeling satisfied that we have found the answers; I have no doubt about the rough and parallel roads of self-discovery and self-flagellation that Art and Music teachers travel. What interests me more is whether such journeys are true for all teachers, or is it defined by the Arts by their very nature? For example, does a Maths teacher consider their practice of mathematics paramount to their teaching; do they consider themselves Mathematicians as such and ensure they join Mensa or moonlight as accountants for local charities ? Do Geography teachers regularly study local town planning initiatives and engage with local authorities over development issues, actively try to decrease their carbon footprint, get involved in coastal erosion defence development, or maybe go on weekly orienteering exercises?

      Are we perhaps more conscious of our need to ensure we are practising our Art, and thoughful about the need to balance theory and skills, experience and practical experiementation, because we are more a practice based subject than a knowledge based one? I think it likely that we all do more demonstrating than explaining; whether through recordings of other artists or our own playing, it is the practical result of the knowledge that counts not the knowledge for its own sake.

      I have always found it valuable to play with as well as for my students. They can learn so much by playing alongside in concerts and so appreciate the leveller that music is in performance, the shared ownership as well as the seat-of-your-pants risk taking it sometimes involves. To be able to give anecdotal evidence of what it is like in the real world of performance, whatever one’s genre is of interest, can be an inspiration – not only for students but also for the teacher, to keep us remembering what music means to us. But I think the greatest benefit to pupils is the live experience alongside the teacher as equals. Then they understand that the music itself is so much more than any one of us or our particular skill. It can affect us equally deeply, whether teacher or pupil, in that moment of performance as we realise the sometimes almost spiritual connection that can occur in the silent communications between performers as well as the connection with the audience – be it in those silent pin drop, hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck moments within a performance or the moment the audience realises it is finished and spontaneously expresses their appreciation.

      The greatest moments for musicians I think we would all agree are the ones beyond words, the ones that make us cry or feel deeply happy. Isn’t that what we should be trying to get pupils to experience – both the transient power of music to transcend the moment as well as the deep, healing, transformative power of music to change lives? They might experience this as audience, performer, sound engineer, producer, composer….does it matter how? What matters is that music matters to them at the end of it, whether through expression or appreciation, contemporary or Baroque, and that their lives are the richer for the experience.

      Liked by 2 people

      Posted by Caroline Dearing | August 5, 2015, 3:25 pm
  2. John’s description of GCSE in 1988 is in stark contrast to the specification we have today. There was a small window of opportunity for exam boards to do something interesting within the constraints provided by Ofqual, but none of them chose to consider these more interesting opportunities.

    Look at some of the wonderful words in John’s comment. Words such as encapsulating ideals, musical imagination, inner world of dreams etc.

    Then look again at the latest GCSE spec – and weep.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by davidashworth | August 3, 2015, 1:15 pm
  3. To what extent can contemporary music be intellectually accessible to pupils?

    The facile answer is that it depends on the music – and it depends on the pupils. Some, but I suspect not much, contemporary music is instantly accessible to all. You hear it and you ‘get’ what it is saying. And this, of course, applies just as much to teachers as to their students.

    However, most pieces need ‘working at’ in some way. It can be tough hearing a new work for the first time and getting more than a superficial understanding of what is going on, unless you are steeped in the idiom, as a composer or performer. Therein, I think, lies the answer. We are far more likely to understand a cultural artifact or process if we are involved in it ourselves.

    There are ways in which music teachers and their students can go about this, which mirror to some extent, what art departments do.

    Let’s consider the composition process. The best way to find out why and how a composer puts a piece of music together is simply to ask them. That is one of the most powerful reasons for using contemporary music in classrooms. The people who make it are, by and large, still alive and many of them are more than happy to talk about their music.

    When I worked with David Bedford on The Wreck of the Titanic, the commission included him making a short series of videos explaining some aspects of the compositional process. On one of these, he explains how he used the rhythms of Morse distress signals to generate powerful, driving, urgent rhythms which became distorted over time – as did the original Morse signals between boats. Over the top of this, he overlays a transformed version of one of the tunes played by the ship’s musicians Alexander’s Ragtime Band. He transforms this by slowing it down hugely and putting it into a minor key, which is tonally slightly at odds with the underpinning Morse code rhythms. So a passage which can sound complex and inaccessible on first hearing becoming a powerful and riveting listening experience for students who are party to this knowledge.

    Getting in touch with composers is much easier these days. They are no longer remote inaccessible figures. Many will have Facebook or Twitter accounts and so initial contact can be made. Some will work with organisations such as Sound and Music or for contemporary ensembles, and will perhaps have already prepared appropriate supporting materials. Much of this can be sourced online. Or it may be a question of finding local composers who would be willing to come into your school and unpick some of their compositional thinking.

    The real intellectual understanding comes, of course, when students try these ideas out for themselves. This is when the teachers roll their sleeves up and get to work!

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by davidashworth | August 4, 2015, 7:31 am
    • Absolutely ….had a wonderful interaction with Michael Price a few years back when I stopped the whole school for a few lessons while Michael climbed Mt Kilimanjaro with some disabled adults to follow his video blog and compose some directly inspired 30 second soundscapes / melodies / motifs which he then chose, amongst others’, to utilise in the final score for the film of his adventure. The lucky pupils were invited to Abbey Road to watch the final recording session of the score. Michael proved to have such generosity of spirit towards the pupils, emailing personal and appreciative critical feedback to all the composers whose entries were sent in. Sometimes you just have to say STOP THE LESSON PLAN! and go with the flow, as Matt says in his impassioned poolside pondering.


      Posted by Caroline | August 26, 2015, 7:08 pm
  4. Taking a cue from David’s example of David Bedford, there is an urgent need for a book to be written by a diverse range of composers for pupils setting out their processes. More urgent than GCSE Guides.
    This morning I was seeing how young composers were being taught at their Sound and Music Summer School. Most obviously pupils were being offered unimagined possibilities – teacher as mediator of contemporary cultural knowledge expanding pupil’s minds ‘addressing issues and meaning in music.’

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by jfin107 | August 4, 2015, 2:26 pm
  5. Birmingham Contemporary Music Group did a resource that explained processes of composers http://bcmg.s3.amazonaws.com/assets/File/975.pdf – it is something I’m very keen on and wrote a proposal for such a book (as you mention John) that I am still keen to pursue further.


    Posted by Steven Berryman | August 5, 2015, 3:10 pm
  6. Steven asks:
    Should personal [teacher] preference be a criterion for the selection of music to include in the school music curriculum?

    My answer is yes absolutely, providing there is some purpose beyond mere self indulgence. Not that there is anything wrong with teachers actually enjoying what they are doing….

    It is important that teachers share music they enjoy because, when they do, the enthusiasm shines through. Enthusiasm on display is engaging and infectious. This is why radio programmes such as Desert Island Discs and Private Passions are so popular and long standing. We learn more about people through the music they like, and the cultural context interviewees provide can be enlightening. It is also the reason why DJs such as the late John Peel and Brian Matthew are so highly respected. They enjoy and connect with the music they play and as a consequence attract large and loyal followings. You don’t get this with the likes of Tony Blackburn, David Jacobs et al. Shallow media figures – long since forgotten.

    Indeed, John Peel on Private Passions was the only guest who asked the presenter to surprise him by choosing a piece he should know. Michael Berkley’s choice, Conlan Nancarrow’s piano rolls, so gripped him, he took it and played it on Radio 1.

    It’s not just the radio. Recent books by David Toop, Ian MacDonald and Alex Ross, provide musical analysis alongside personal connections and reflections with the music they share – and this is a powerful mix. They write eclectically, moving freely across genres. You learn much about music, familiar and unfamiliar, and the net result is that you want to go and explore further. On Amazon, there is such a thing as the Alex Ross phenomenon. Select one of the recordings he refers to, look it up on Amazon and you will find that customers who bought this also bought……others from the Ross discography.

    One favourite of mine, which I sometimes play for my classes, is from the Mothers of Invention Burnt Weeny Sandwich: Igor’s Boogie parts I and II. Short, humorous pieces which capture some of the essence of his [Stravinsky’s] musical style – the use of ostinato, bitonality and a penchant for the use of woodwind instruments. Zappa deftly combines these trumpet and woodwind sounds with a drum kit played ‘orchestrally’ [part I] and the judicious use of car horn [part 2]. These short, lightly textured pieces are easy enough to unpick and can pave the way for further fruitful musical exploration, whether it be Zappa, Stravinsky or beyond.

    John Peel once said: “I like startling things…things that make you stop and think goodness me, what is that?” That sounds to me like a great starting point for a music lesson….

    In Culture & Anarchy, Matthew Arnold makes the case for recognizing the importance of the social as well as intellectual dimension to what we understand as culture. Sharing the music we like with others goes some way towards making this happen.

    Liked by 3 people

    Posted by davidashworth | August 19, 2015, 9:19 am
  7. Absolutely agree – I firmly believe that if pupils are enthused to learn they can engage with concepts and sounds way beyond their comfort zone as part of the shared exploration of the music galaxy …going where no class has gone before?!

    But teacher preference does need to be just one criterion, for the very reason that David so aptly explains, re John Peel’s legacy (I must say I have found Radio 2’s Jonny Walker to have the same infectious explorative energy and enthusiasm, and even to an extent Jo Wiley); it is vital that we share in the exploration and put ourselves in the learning zone with our pupils. This results in them witnessing our enthusiasm and wonder of discovery in action, not merely have a description, however vivid, of our own experience. The shared ‘dialogue in the moment’ – particularly when listening together to something which some of us are unsure we find appealing or find hard to engage with – is I think some of the best learning that can happen.

    Equally, composing together can be a great way in to challenging each of us to extend the boundaries of our accepted tonalities. Rather than modeling how to compose by pulling apart a great composer’s work first I find that pupils often find this task more approachable and useful of they have first learnt to build ideas as a group and enjoy sharing in the gradual formation of ‘our piece’.

    Composition workshop situations are particularly conducive to such exploration. Equally though are lesson starters in the round, where a little motif can be developed by us all at the suggestion of one or more individuals, maybe over a number of lessons, then building, building ideas into the motif, with much repetition of the constituent parts each week, to explore how it can be transformed or developed until the final ‘performance’ – which can be both more rhythmically and tonally complex and more challenging than you would have thought possible for your pupils to either engage with, let alone perform. (Minimalist music can be a great springboard for this.)

    Then they are ready to be played a more challenging piece and analyse it, as John F. suggests. They can better understand the composite parts when they have all shared in the reverse – a compositional build.

    But we must always clearly remain an explorer in our pupils’ eyes; it has to be a constantly evolving learning journey for us if our teaching and our pupils’ learning is to remain vital and self-motivating for us all. What a wonderful job we have to nurture such evolution of creative thinking.

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by buzz440grooves | August 21, 2015, 12:17 pm
  8. Music and Art – a response…

    I have taken a lot of time to mull over Dr Berryman’s article – including some time by the pool. There were a lot of sympathetic strings as I read about his Art teacher inspiring and supporting creativity but I also had a Niggle. A large, persistent niggle. It has taken most of the summer break for me to distil and identify the Niggle but, at last, I think I’ve got it.

    Having been teaching for almost a quarter of a century now, I have seen massive change in teaching and learning concepts. Most of them are good but some have quite a subtle negativity that you only realise when it has absorbed you, a bit like educational not-so-quick sand. Since the early ‘90’s there has been a huge emphasis on targets, achievement, levels and assessment. This has channelled teachers in the classroom and those who train teachers. We had the plenary, the three part lesson, working in groups, flipped learning and various other fantastic teaching ideas presented to teachers everywhere. I found that a lot of the time, Music as a subject already did such things, for example – the Q & A following a performance is a plenary, set task-practise-perform is your three-part lesson, small group work has always been part of a music lesson, more able students teaching those less able, and, for goodness sake, don’t let me get started about levels and assessments!! Over all of this the dark shadow of Ofsted has turned from being an exterior force of badness to the “resident evil” of the SLT on a learning walk “which has nothing to do with your performance management assessment”, of course… Music has absorbed these things and often led the way for other subjects to see how they can copy musical pedagogies and learning styles in their lessons. And somewhere along the line we forgot who we really are.

    Music should be expressive. Music should be a work of Art. Music should be Personal. Music should provoke, entertain, educate, communicate. Music should dare to be original and different.

    As teachers involved in this wonderful phenomenon of acoustic art it is our place to open and unlock these doors for the next generation – to open the gate and let them play (literally!). But too many teachers have forgotten how to do this. Too many teachers are looking over their shoulder as the E-Bacc slowly hoovers up GCSE classes, trying to hit the targets set by tests done in English and Maths with no reference to originality or creativity at all. Most of us are probably wondering when the next inspection round is coming too – will they see the “progression in the lesson” which is natural to all of the E-Bacc subjects but (arguably) damn difficult to do for all 35 kids in the space of a twenty-minute observation! Stuff the arty stuff – I want my pay-rise – I work longer hours than the Head teacher as it is!!

    There’s my Niggle. I thought Music was all about the kind of stuff Dr. Berryman was describing in his Art classes. When I “do” Graphic score composition in year 7, I’m looking for who has good ideas, who can be original, who is communicating and expressing. I want students to find their own way before we get anywhere near “doing it right”. And for me, who cares what “bad habits” they are picking up – this is Music and they need to learn to not be afraid of it, to be the master of it, to use it as part of their everyday life in a positive and meaningful way, to be aware of it and appreciate what it is doing to them as they hear it. Once they see the potential, the students want to know the how, almost universally, as they eventually see that there is a better way to build, a more reliable way of accessing, a few disciplines or short cuts that will get them to where they want to go faster and more effectively. Sadly, it seems that we have been “pedagogied out” of our subject and shoe horned into being like the rest of them. The Niggle is that this article was directed at most of my teaching colleagues across the UK – that most Music teachers are not like the Art teacher, that lessons are formulaic or full of repetitive drudgery, that Music is just another IT lesson but with headphones.

    Have we forgotten that we must be practitioners before we teach? Has the hurly burly of 21st century teaching stripped us of the essential elements for performing, composing and listening critically? When was the last time you noodled a new composition just for your own entertainment? When was your last “gig”? Where have you listened to live music in the last few months? Do you use programs like GarageBand, Cubase or Sibelius to create for your own pleasure? Call me old fashioned but I want to be known as the school musician rather than the boss of yet another “department” that just reflects a grey, dreary, assessment filled world for this generation of students. I want students to look forward to music like they do with Art and PE: somewhere different, somewhere exciting, somewhere they can learn by doing, somewhere that doesn’t put you in a box because you can’t spell, do long division or control a fountain pen. Somewhere for you to be You.
    So, in response to Dr Berryman’s Art misquotes:

    • How would a change to a more even balance between the teaching of skills and addressing issues and meaning in music, lead to a different selection of references and media?

    Be ready to ask good questions. Step away from the lesson plan and follow where the students are going. Know what is going on in music – what the issues are; not just in Classical music but in the “chart music” students live with and the “underground” scene near your school (pirate internet and/or radio gets a lot of young customers). Choose provocative music. Be ready to explain the “why” of the sounds, not just how they are produced. Get Geographical, Historical, Biographical and any other “–cal” that will help students understand and engage with the world of controlled (and uncontrolled) sound

    • Is there evidence that enabling teachers to develop as practising musicians result in a broader or more effective music education for school pupils?

    I would argue “yes, yes and yes again” BUT with a proviso: it’s not terribly helpful if you are an expert on opera, folk music, “Screamo” rock, or even the ukulele and the ocarina unless you bring that into your classroom and use it. This means you have to be vulnerable, as performing carries risk no matter how experienced you are (“its all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order Mr Preview…”). You are also revealing a little of what you find the most precious, personal and possibly even private. It takes bravery and a thick skin at times. But “pearls to swine” might just be seeds to fertile soil – there’s no way to find out unless you go and find out!

    • Should personal [teacher] preference be a criterion for the selection of music to include in the school music curriculum?

    I think that this will be inevitable to a certain extent, although teachers should actively and rigorously make sure that they are including as wide a scope of music as possible, not just their own taste. This becomes very important at GCSE and above where you get no choice as to the music under study. Teachers should get used to this as well as students.

    • To what extent can contemporary music be intellectually accessible to pupils?

    You have to open that door. You might find that students get stuck and reject it out of hand, but you might also find that students run with it. I found this out when I introduced Taiko drumming a couple of years ago. My initial reservations were blown away in Dan Jones’s training session, but the students took to it far beyond my expectations. I have experienced the same for Webern, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Cage, Reich, Berio and Stockhausen to name but a few. From year 7 to 13, students will listen and form opinion, ready to argue their case based on what they hear. Give their opinion validity and more will join in the discussion. Sometimes it just takes a short introduction or one careful question / comparison and you will find that students will demonstrate an inquiring mind. Make it a habit and be positive, respecting whatever they say: in response to “that’s just noise” I always ask “why?” and to “that music is s***” I respond with “well, I can’t smell anything so I think you need a better word or phrase – too lazy to use swear words”…

    • Would the greater prioritisation of issues and meaning in music, often claimed to be enabled by the inclusion of contemporary music practice, deter pupils from choosing music as an option at GCSE?

    This can be good or bad. GCSE syllabuses have a very limited scope, thanks to the commandments from Ofqual. Many music teachers I know will happily use lots of contemporary musical ideas throughout their work in key stage three, including World music, Avant-garde classical and, of course, the pop/rock/chart music genres. Between the two there is a bit of a chasm to cross. Key stage three must prepare students for GCSE, so you need to include the sorts of music that you might study for the GCSE, to familiarize students with those sound worlds. But this can also be alienating and cause students to back away from the GCSE Music if it is not handled subtly.
    Over the last couple of years, though, my main battle has been with parents (who still consider music to be an “easy” or low ranking subject) and the fight we all have with our SLT’s over class sizes and space in the timetable to do more than just one Arts subject. I think we have a lot to address when attracting more students to GCSE music – issues and meaning and inclusion of contemporary music practice is only one of the strands we have to bind to get this right!

    Liked by 3 people

    Posted by Matt Allen | August 25, 2015, 5:16 pm
    • As always, Matt, a well thought out response, and one that makes me think ‘yes, I think that!!’ Maybe it’s our shared music ed upbringing… 🙂 My favourite bit is the one about being ‘pedagogied out’ …so true.


      Posted by MissWerry | August 26, 2015, 10:13 pm
  9. Lots of extremely interesting points here! I am absolutely with Caroline on the need to make music alongside our students, and that the most powerful musical experiences are the ones that are beyond words (a lot of John F’s writings have been making me think about this a lot lately, too). And with David on the need for teachers to take the lead in choosing repertoire for teaching – I feel very strongly about this. You can’t know what you don’t know, and I see part of our role as exposing our students to carefully selected pieces that widen their horizons, and provoke thoughts and feelings, as well as stimulating the students’ own music. We are likely to know a lot more music than our students, so we are in a good position to do this: students will just stick to what they already know otherwise. I very much liked buzz440grooves’ description of collective composing as well.

    Going back to Steven’s original post, I note that the 2004 research into art teaching cites ‘time constraints’ as the reason for the emphasis on a ‘knowledge and skills-based’ curriculum. With an hour a week for Years 7-9 being the best we can hope for in most schools (and very often it is less), we are necessarily forced to cherry-pick what we cover and how we do this. Not wasting this time should be our number 1 priority, and increasingly I feel the weight of that responsibility to make the best decisions! This part of John F’s ‘Sitting by Lake Geneva’ blog of August 14th particularly resonated:

    What is it ‘to know music’, ‘what is the nature of musical knowledge?’ Without clarity here dealing with issues such as assessment become confused. Assessment without an epistemological basis will be a birth-strangled babe and cause no end of confusion. And this is why cognitive-feeling is such an important idea.

    We really need to stand firm against thieves of our curriculum time – silly diktats requiring literacy/numeracy/British values/ridiculous ‘evidencing’ of progress. The epistemology of music, and of its teaching and assessment, is something that all of us need to think about, and talk about.

    Liked by 3 people

    Posted by misswerry | August 26, 2015, 10:40 am
    • Just to clarify, Caroline is buzz440grooves!
      Jane’s comments on timetabling issues and Matt’s oh so wonderfully passionate and spot on blast on all things sensible and real make my heart sing ….here is more evidence that we all feel so constrained. So perhaps we need to have a nationwide boycott of the curriculum and start our own national music academy syllabus?! Who’s afraid of the OFSTED wolf?

      Liked by 1 person

      Posted by Caroline | August 26, 2015, 6:58 pm
  10. Without realising it Ofsted has over-reached itself in recent years setting out what is in effect ‘its’ philosophy of music education. It is of course blind to this. First it latched on to a deficient notion of musical understanding and then a narrowly conceived notion of the theory of music while engaging in the rhetoric of creativity.

    Ofsted could be doing important work on the provision of music education to all children and holding the government to account for its failures in this respect. Perhaps it is.

    This is off the topic of Steve’s post.


    Posted by jfin107 | August 27, 2015, 7:47 am

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