Human voices going for a song;Music for the millennium;Letter

5th June 1998 at 01:00
Why have so many correspondents, including Music for Youth, The Federation of Music Services, and Sir Simon Rattle, assumed that "music" in primary school means "instrument teaching" and that its decline is the main issue? Are there not other, more pressing needs for music in the primary school?

In his recent article (TES, May 22) David Blunkett says: "Music is, and will remain, a compulsory subject in the national curriculum." So, schools must ensure that all pupils receive their entitlement. To be equitable, the music curriculum must be defined as "what is taught in class to all pupils" and schools must provide this. Other music activity (such as instrument teaching) may not involve all pupils and, therefore, ought to be described as the "extended music curriculum".

Primary schools, therefore, should prioritise: first, an entitlement for all pupils; second, a class-based programme; third, opportunities to take music outside the classroom. The number of primary "specialist" teachers will never be sufficient for the size of the task.

Working with primary teachers for the past 35 years, it has been my experience that, up to the end of Year 4, music can be taught effectively by at least 90 per cent - if they are helped to find confidence through in-service training, have access to appropriate resources, are provided with professional in-class support - and use the singing voice.

Use of the singing voice, not just for the singing of songs but as a medium for individual and group musical response, is as essential to music learning as speaking is to language. With an instrumental response, the instrument makes the sound; with a vocal response, the child makes the sound - and the music is internalised. This distinction is significant for the quality of music learning in the primary school. Finding the singing voice, internalising, improvising vocally, understanding pitch relationships, reading from notation vocally and composing vocally are essential to learning progression and the development of musicianship. All are achievable by primary pupils and most teachers.

Fifty-seven years ago, Zolt n Kod ly said of music education in his native Hungary "We put up the fancy spires first. When we saw that the whole edifice was shaky, we set to building the walls. We still have to make the foundations."

Are we not failing to put first things first?

Michael Stocks, Director of curriculum and training Voices Foundation, Director, British Kod ly Academy Summer School, London

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