Finding the right pitch

5th January 1996 at 00:00
MAKING SENSE OF MUSIC - FOUNDATIONS FOR MUSIC EDUCATION. By Colin Durrant and Graham Welch. Cassell Education Pounds 12.99.

Music is proving a major worry for many "generalist" primary teachers. Part of the problem lies in their perception of the subject - they see it as an activity pursued by highly-skilled professionals for consumption by passive audiences.

One solution, according to Durrant and Welch, is to recognise that humans are pre-programmed to react to music - what they need is a framework of experiences within which they can be musically educated. In this context, teachers become facilitators and organisers - rather than highly-accomplished executants - and develop as "adult learners" alongside the child. They will gain further confidence if they can be shown how strategies already in operation in other areas of the curriculum can also be applied to teaching the subject.

On this basis, the authors present a sequence of composing, listening and performance activities which are progressive, can be pursued by generalists as well as specialists, and have a clear rationale.

The advice on singing and other vocal activities, firmly based on wide-ranging research, is readable and realistic in its expectations. Here, as in other sections, the generalist teacher is given excellent guidance on how to evaluate and give qualitative feedback on children's work. There is a consistent emphasis on the process, as well as product.

For me, the most succesful section is "listening and appraising". Here the authors recognise the difficulties of gaining access to pupils' personal, covert, mental responses but, through a series of carefully-devised strategies, give practical guidelines on how to deal with the situation. The approaches are realistic, manageable and firmly based on a theoretical framework. The authors' skill in welding a range of research findings into a coherent statement is particularly evident here.

The only problem is some of the terminology: references to "a change of key" and "transposing the melody down in pitch then up" could cause considerable anxieties. A glossary of musical terms might have helped. But there can be no development without challenge. When generalists face such difficulties, that is the time to seek the advice of co-ordinator colleagues and make use of their expertise.

This is a stimulating, thought-provoking book which teachers should find useful and enjoyable.

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