The National Curriculum in England states that “music is a universal language that embodies one of the highest forms of creativity” as justification of the programme of study. In a country where the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is increasingly becoming the precedent of performance measures in schools, the value of music and the arts as a whole is becoming all too often questioned.
McDaniel, J (2015, online) states that “some argue that music programs in schools can detract from academics and hinder students’ learning in more important areas”. It is incredibly unjust to swiftly brush music under the carpet in lieu of there being, by opinion, more important areas within the curriculum. As a subject very different from what the EBacc presents, it is impossible to comment that it’s position within the curriculum is unfounded due to it hindering the learning of pupils in other areas, nor is it explicitly proven.
On the contrary, Swanwick (1997, p.4) states that music “persists in our educational systems because it is a form of human discourse as old as the human race” and that “an insight into these ideas, as into any significant idea, can be intrinsically rewarding”. Swanwick is presenting the justification of music on the notion that every human culture has valued music, that is it inherited and passed on, and is a universally experienced form of human expression (Finney J, 2016).
Petress, K (2000, p. 111) states that music education teaches values including “self discipline, one needs to learn and be self disciplined to practice, to take instruction and criticism and to perform whether solo or as a member of the group”. When shifting the focus to personal experience as a music teacher, pupils who were often shy and timid at the start of their high school journey by the end of KS3 demonstrate an inept ability to perform and rise to the challenge. The “one positive and one target” ethos is predominant in my classroom, and as a result, pupils are encouraged with positivity but critiqued simultaneously. The ability to peer and self-assess in these situations provides stability across the curriculum in regards to reflective practice, and pupils take these skills throughout academia. O’Neill (2000, p. 257) states that “research on participation in non-musical activities indicates that music may bring about improvements in peer relationships”. When in a performance environment, pupils are undeniably feeling pressure of which the class teacher may not fully grasp. When giving and receiving feedback, whether that be from a peer, self-reflection or a position of authority, a level of trust and respect has to be developed between the pupil and those present within the classroom in order for the system to work. If there is a breakdown of respect and trust, feedback could turn argumentative and targeted. The overarching result from the development of trust, ability to self and peer-evaluate and build a level of confidence and positivity undeniably reaches out into other curriculum subjects. While the focus of a music lesson is fundamentally the music, the skills acquired from the ‘doing’ aspect of music are skills that enable a pupil to be set up for life, regardless of whether they take music on at Key Stage Four or not.
Petress, K (2000, p. 112) continues that music education also teaches the value of knowledge, studying music demands that one also learn some level of music theory, history and cultural sensitivity”. The National Curriculum for Music supports this value for knowledge and states that pupils should “develop a deepening understanding of the music that they perform and to which they listen, and its history”. As part of Key Stage Three at my current school, pupils are taught a wide variety of genres stemming from Folk, Reggae, disco, African and Samba music alongside Baroque, Classical and Modern orchestral music. Pupils are taught of the origins of the music which they are performing and are asked to consider this in their performance. Pupils are also encouraged to use stave and percussion notation throughout the course of the lesson, to incorporate a level of musical theory to their performances. Spruce, G (2016, p.21) states that “an important part of music education is to develop students’ (and perhaps our own) understanding of how music and perpetuate arguably undesirable stereotyping and sustain oppressive hegemonies”. Relating this to above, the importance of a diverse, open-minded and critically thoughtful approach towards musics of the world helps pupils to develop these thought processes outside of the classroom.
Petress, K (2000, p. 112) furthers with his article, also sighting that music education values teamwork “in multi-person performances, musicians have to work as a team for their performance to be appreciated and valued”. In a working world, the eventuality that a pupil will be required to work within a team environment is an almost guaranteed certainty. Speaking from a personal experience, quite often the music classes executed by myself centre around keyboard performances on a solo basis. The work ethic within the class began to slip quite substantially, with enthusiasm levels dipping and a more nonchalant attitude to performance creeping in. The following class, a class performance aspect was introduced where by all members of the class worked as a team to perform the same piece of music. The listening aspect challenged pupils adequately, and the positive reinforcement of the teacher chanting “come on team!” raised enthusiasm levels astoundingly. Pupils began offering to assist those struggling, pupils began to critically evaluate their work in a positive manner. The notion of team work is something prevalent in all walks of life, not specifically music, but the music classroom is undeniably a great place to begin this positive teamwork ethos.
There are a world of justifications for the importance of music within the National Curriculum, as well as for further and independent study away from this. While this post seeks to not devalue any of the EBacc subjects in any way, there are skills taught within the music classroom with ease that are not so easily planned for in other environments. A “doing” subject, music involves more practical elements than most subjects, and as a result extends far beyond just the musical aspect of the classroom. As Philpott, C (2016, p.216) states, “it is important we do not see music as an isolated school subject, but its unique contribution to the wider education of our young people”.
Cooke, Evans, Philpott and Spruce (2016) Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience. 3rd Edition. Routledge: New York. Pp. 18-22, 207-216.
Department for Education (2013) Music Programmes of Study: Key Stage 3 National Curriculum in England. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/239088/SECONDARY_national_curriculum_-_Music.pdf [Accessed: 15/04/2017] Pp. 1-2
McDaniel, J. (2015) Negatives of Music in School [online] Available at: http://classroom.synonym.com/negatives-music-school-8136295.html [Accessed: 15/04/2017]
North, Hargreaves and O’Neill (2000) The Importance of Music to Adolescents. [online] Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/dcde/061c829d517f4a55c2144305544ee4787ec9.pdf [Accessed: 15/04/2017] Pp. 256- 261
Petress, K. (2000) The Importance of Music Education [online] Available at: https://fac.teachers.ab.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/FAC.teachers.ab.ca/Advocacy%20Articles/6.pdf [Accessed: 15/04/2017] Pp. 111-113
Brooks, V, Abbott, I & Huddleston, P (2012) Preparing to Teach in Secondary Schools 3rd edition, Maidenhead: Open University Press
Philpott, S, Sruce, G. (2012) Debates in Music Teaching. New York: Routledge