Music - And on a brighter note

28th October 2011 at 01:00
Music-making should not be the preserve of the naturally gifted

It was that time of year when music teachers finally dare to spend some of their lunchtime in the staffroom, brew in hand. OK, so your arms might be shaking from the sanity test that is coursework marking, but it's always possible to sip from the mug on the table while no one's looking. Choosing his moment, the science teacher sitting next to me on one such occasion sank back into his chair and, avoiding eye contact, pronounced: "Of course, it's easy for you - you only teach the bright kids."

Provocative? Yes. True? Not in my classroom. It can be hard to know how to react to comments like this. Seeking to find common ground in the staffroom can lead to conversations about offspring's rock bands (in their bedrooms) and anecdotes about music teachers from colleagues' own school days. Everybody seems to have a horror story. But when comments like this fly unfettered it's not great for cross-curricular relationships .

As I reflected on my own cohort for that year, I thought about the talented students for whom it had come easy. Finding continual challenges for them was never a walk in the park. Then there were those who could strum only three chords on the guitar - badly.

The differentiation in a music class was always massive. From those playing in national orchestras and composing in their sleep to those who just loved the sound of Slipknot, they all expected to be able to explore the music they were interested in, preferably within five minutes of walking through the door. Alongside this was the reality that everybody needed to learn about minimalism - the exam board said it was important - and you had to find a way to reach everyone. It didn't sound like an easy package deal to me.

Yet this is precisely why I came into music teaching in the first place. Though it can sometimes feel like you're throwing a single bucket of water and trying to get everyone wet, that's the challenge that keeps me focused on delivering the best music education I can for all students. It doesn't matter what their background is and it doesn't matter if they play the didgeridoo or the French horn.

If we are to develop musical understanding while giving young people an engaging music-making experience, careful planning and tailored learning are crucial. Keeping concise records of progress and spending time with each student as part of an Assessment for Learning strategy are essential practice. Slinging a textbook down with a "Read this" expression on our faces is no good - not even for the bright kids.

So I'm sticking firmly to what I believe about the potential of young people. I don't really know what being "bright" means for the music classroom, but I do believe that every student has music in them and that it's my job to fan it into flame. Whatever music teaching is, it's never boring and it's certainly inspiring.

Anthony Anderson is subject leader for music and an advanced skills teacher at Beauchamp College, Leicestershire.

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