Charts won't make you a hit with pupils

9th July 2004 at 01:00
Would-be trendy music teachers should not attempt to impress pupils by playing the latest chart hits in class, according to one of the subject's key co-ordinators.

Speaking at the Office for Standards in Education's music conference this week, Tony Knight, principal music officer for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, acknowledged that music is one of the few subjects which teenagers will voluntarily study in their spare time.

"There's a lot of homework going on," he told the conference. "Lots of children listen to music for themselves at home, and sing karaoke."

But he condemned teachers who recklessly appropriate this "homework", in an attempt to be seen to be in touch with the latest trends.

He said: "Most recent pop music is as much an emotional response as a musical one. You remember what you were doing when you listened to it. It's part of your identification with a friendship group. So teachers should be sensitive about using stuff from home. You shouldn't ask them to bring in their favourite pop music and talk about it."

Instead, teachers should ask pupils to suggest songs that have been important to them in the past, or ask a member of staff to contribute favourite songs. In this way, they can harness skills that pupils have already begun to cultivate by listening to more current music at home.

"They will tell you within seconds which group, which song and even which version of a song is playing," Mr Knight said. "They have the discrimination, but they don't know why they are discriminating, that they are recognising sounds and timbres. We need to make the implicit explicit."

Mr Knight's observations were backed by other music educators at the conference. Phil Heeley, of Somerset local authority, believes that teachers should harness skills developed at home when introducing music technology.

He said: "Most children play computer games in their spare time. They're happy with technology, and not afraid to experiment with something new."

But Diana Pogson, head of music at Warriner comprehensive, in Oxfordshire, insists that there is a place for contemporary music in the classroom.

"You have to tempt them," she said. "If you can demonstrate your own enjoyment of that music, it gives a common meeting ground across the generations."

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