Why Music Educators Really Understand Skills – BJME editorial

I have been a bit busy and haven’t had time for a blog entry for a while. However, please have a read of my latest editorial for British Journal of Music Education entitled “Why Music Educators Really Understand Skills” available at https://bit.ly/2J4L2EF (Hopefully it’s open access!) which provides my current thinking on this matter.

I wonder if this is another peculiarly English phenomenon?

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3 Responses to Why Music Educators Really Understand Skills – BJME editorial

  1. Chris Philpott says:

    Sorry to take time to get round to this – much water under the bridge since the blog I know and I don’t yet do Twitter!

    I agree with all that Martin says. Some current trends in curriculum content and pedagogy in the music classroom appear to have ignored the thinking of the last 50 years or so. Sorry if what appears below is old hat but we clearly need reminding.

    There is nothing wrong with a ‘knowledge-based curriculum’ (KBC?) providing we have a decent definition of knowledge that is true to the nature of the discipline itself.

    Knowing about music has its place but a curriculum based on this definition of knowledge is indeed a barren and unmusical curriculum. However, a curriculum based on skills (know how) can be equally desolate. I have observed pupils battling valiantly with the task of learning to play 4 chords on a keyboard (and such like) to be assessed at four levels, without many of them achieving the fluency that would make this a truly musical experience for them.

    What remains missing from much of the debate about a KBC is (since he makes an appearance in the editorial) Swanwick’s notion of knowledge ‘of’ music by acquaintance (adapted from Louis Arnaud Reid). This for Swanwick is an understanding relationship as we come to know the meaning of music and not just its skills and facts. Also, for him this type of knowledge was the priority for music educators in pursuit of the very reason why we engage with music at all i.e. because it means something to us. I suspect such a definition gets relatively short shrift in practice because it is ‘hard’ (how do we assess it for goodness sake), and yet without it being foregrounded we risk alienating pupils and ultimately an unmusical curriculum.

    Of course Swanwick understood the symbiotic relationship between ‘know how’ and ‘knowledge of’ music and built a developmental and experiential model which embraces this very idea. I like what Martin has to say about the physical embodiment of musical knowledge and this is exactly what is happening here i.e. the to and fro of knowing meaning and skills as we develop as musicians. And yet, all the while ‘knowing music’ remains hierarchically the most important aim of music education.

    Facts give interesting differentiation to knowing music, but to be honest we could do without them and still be musically literate (as many are).

    Bring on a KBC.

  2. Vanessa Young says:

    Indeed! Couldn’t agree more – especially with your last statement. When I was doing my Music Education Diploma, one of our tutors asked us for a definition of a musician. None of the ones we proffered were deemed appropriate. The ‘correct’ answer was “someone who can read a score on a train!”. Just think how many musicians that would cut out! We soon put him right…

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