“Children hate your music lessons!”

OK let’s dive straight in: this is a blog post about differences in attitudes regarding the teaching of music. The biggest problem I have is how some attitudes could potentially limit what children are allowed to learn.

Context:

  • I am music subject coordinator
  • I have a few years’ experience playing in orchestras and singing in choirs from a young age (although, when compare to my musician friends, I am distinctly mediocre!)
  • I play a number of instruments and have the usual qualifications
  • I am an ordinary full-time teacher of UKS2 children in a UK primary school
  • I love all kinds of music

My beliefs:

  • All children should be given the opportunity to learn to read music
  • All children should be given the opportunity to learn to play a tuned instrument
  • All children should be given the opportunity to play said instrument in ensemble (performance and teamwork)
  • All children should be given the opportunity to learn about the best that has been composed, arranged and performed
  • All children should be allowed to experience music of all kinds

Funnily enough, this is pretty much what the new curriculum requires. So, with an extremely limited budget, I have: upgraded resources, musical visits and experiences, improved my own teaching as well as endeavoring to help fellow colleagues as much as possible. If Ofsted come, I have my vision and evidence of progress ready to share with inspectors. So far this academic year, my own class have been taught recorder to pretty much grade 1 by myself and have achieved all of the outcomes listed under ‘my beliefs’ above. Parents are happy with the extra-curricular music clubs I run (although I would do a club every lunchtime and after school if it weren’t for the hours of marking I do every day!) and with their children’s learning. The trouble is many in education seem to think otherwise.

‘Different’ beliefs:

  • The music coordinator is probably somehow weirdly gifted at music
  • Music is a niche, pointless subject that nobody, especially children, cares about
  • Children don’t want to learn to play the recorder or any other tuned instrument
  • Children don’t want to learn to read music
  • Children don’t want to hear and play classical, folk, blues etc music, only pop tunes
  • Children find ‘real’ music lessons boring, repetitive, off-putting and hard
  • Children would much rather, and should only be allowed to, sing their way to high self-esteem

Needless to say, I disagree!

My riposte:

  • I am not weirdly gifted. I was given opportunities, for free, and I worked extremely hard at becoming a musician. The ‘talent’ I have is the result of many years of practice, and the music I play for a mere minute or two masks many hours of frustration, pain and even tears shed. I am who I am because I am a musician.
  • Children do want to learn to read music and play an instrument and even though the learning part is hard, the increase in interest,¬†enthusiasm (as well as feedback from children excited about the subject) and pride is tangible and wonderful to observe. All the children, regardless of SEN or background, have experienced this success.
  • Children do want to hear all kinds of music, but I find this happens when they actually learn to read music and play and instrument, experiencing said music for themselves.
  • Children, in reflection, are appreciative of music lessons and a trad/strict teacher who makes them work hard towards the goals outlined above; learning to play an instrument requires enormous amounts of discipline and focus.
  • Children learn to listen, focus and work as a team when they learn to play an instrument and play in ensemble.
  • Nothing hones grit and resilience like the mental and physical pain barriers that must be overcome in order to become a competent musician!
  • Children learn that a true musician is someone who wants to bring joy to others, not someone who wants to hog the limelight and show off.
  • Learning to play a simple, tuned instrument, reading music and being exposed to all kinds of great music opens up so many opportunities in life and learning!

Children deserve great music lessons.

Who’s with me?

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