I’ve been thinking again recently about what the point of classroom music is. This thinking has been caused not only by the usual reasons of academic inquiry, fuelled by John Finney’s thoughtful comments here, but because I have been sniffing the entrails, and I think that classroom music teaching and learning will become a hot issue in the coming months. So, here are some thoughts…
I think one of the first things I want to observe is that until you’ve actually taught classroom music at KS3, day-in-day-out, over a reasonably long period of time, your ideas will not be based on a sound ontological footing. Yes, we should of course listen to all opinions, absolutely, but anyone can dream up ‘castles in the sky’ when they haven’t had to ‘walk the talk’. Classroom music is not graded music exams writ large, nor is it WCET in the really long term. It is based on the National Curriculum, and forms a linearity between KS2 and KS4 (KS2 music is a whole other issue, I am temporarily ignoring! . What the purpose of GCSE music is involves a whole other set of worries, too!)
Then, what do I think KS3 music isn’t:
Musical appreciation We had musical appreciation back in the 50s and 60s, let’s just say it didn’t end well, and if you want to bring it back, I suggest you take a long, hard look at Enquiry 1 (1968)! This is NOT to say kids should never listen to music, but only listening to music by dead white chaps is not the sole reason for the subject existing
Theory. I have no bones about reading and writing music, I’ve written about it before here, but I don’t think it’s the starting point for musical learning. Paul Harris has written eloquently about simultaneous learningand I think that’s probably how knowledge of staff notation is best acquired.
A free-for-all. Sometimes John Paynter gets a bad rap, but I don’t think simply handing out the instruments and saying “make up a soundscape about the sea” is a good thing either. Neither is untrammelled self-expression necessarily good. I think music has a long history of styles and conventions, and some of these are best learned.
Having said all that, what I do think is that we need to revisit classroom music at KS3 before someone else revisits it for us, especially if that someone else has a cunning money-making wheeze attached to what they think schools want (which I’ve long argued is not the same as what schools need!). We also know how some people with a firm ideology have had the ear of those in power, and we need to be wary of them too.
All of which is to say that I think we need to take a long hard look at KS3 music from within, and then decide what we think it is for. And in my view of this, one of the things may well be that it will look different for different schools, teachers, locales, and kids. Music is so wrapped up with youth identity and cultural coding that a one-size-fits-all probably wont!
So why is all this about assessment? Or isn’t it? Well, I’ve also said often enough that simple things are simple to assess. Whether a kid can hit A-B-C on a glock is easy to assess. Whether said kid can play A-B-C musically is much harder to deal with. In the sense that I think that all assessment starts with curriculum, then it is to curriculum that we should look to as the starting point.
Whoever it was said “the only certainty is doubt” then that’s my position, but maybe I’ll have changed my mind by next week. But how can I be sure I’ve changed my mind? 🙂
Schools Council (1968). Enquiry 1: Young School Leavers. London, HMSO. (NB Now out of print, and I can’t find a web version, sorry!)