Music - It's no use winging it

6th January 2012 at 00:00
Music can transform lives, but it isn't as simple as do-re-mi

Did you hear that sound? It's a soft one. Music is required and must be produced at the drop of a hat. Making music, other departments seem to assume, is pretty much like plugging your iPod into the dock. You give out the instruments and the kids play. Hey presto. Or is it hey prestissimo? I'm never sure.

I've been asked to provide music for all sorts of contexts and circumstances in school over the years. And often there are (unwittingly) high expectations: "It would be great if we could have some music for the blah-blah evening. Nothing much - a 16-piece jazz band would be fine." Then there's the urgent "Have you got anyone who could play Grieg's piano concerto this afternoon? Mr Very Important is coming and we need something to set the mood."

It can be hard to respond honestly without sounding as if you're being awkward. "We don't have any music like that", "We need time to rehearse" and other such excuses sound pretty pathetic. But I want my music to be more than a tablecloth for an elaborate meal. I want to deliver more.

Music has the power to form and transform. It can bring unity and cultural diversity, build confidence, give a sense of achievement and is the shortcut to the emotions. It should be at the heart of every school. The reach of music can be huge and provide powerful incentives to learning. The buzz created by break-time busking, live lounge-style informal concerts or the big musical event can have a lasting impact.

And it can't be all razzle-dazzle. For every successful musical showcase there are hours of hard work and grind. Not, perhaps, so glamorous, but character-forming, relationship-building and learning-centred nevertheless. But it's worth it. The tingle factor when the band finally gets that jazz rhythm right overcomes the terror of the cacophony at the first rehearsal; the flow that happens when the rock guitar group finds a balance between great riffs and improvising has the power to wipe out the memory of the back strain suffered from carrying large guitar amplifiers. These are the bittersweet sensations that are music education.

When we have to produce music for the next drop-of-a-hat moment, perhaps we should summarise our own manifesto. We need time to rehearse. We need space to create music. We need partnership, not pressure. This transformation of expectation could lead to even greater achievement. Let's leave behind the culture of hat-dropping and instead make music in schools a jaw-dropping experience for everyone.

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

What else?

Extra-curricular music-making can immeasurably enrich the life of a school. Consider what this could mean for your own setting by using these starting points:

- Teaching Secondary Music, edited by Jayne Price and Jonathan Savage (SAGE, 2012). The chapter on developing performing opportunities contains practical ideas and approaches.

- Breaking the Mould is a downloadable PDF that forms part of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation's Musical Futures programme. It contains lots of ideas for personalising learning in the context of extra-curricular music-making.

- Extra-curricular Music in UK Schools: investigating the aims, experiences and impact of adolescent musical participation by Stephanie Pitts (2008) is an interesting research paper on the value of extra-curricular music.

In the forums

Are music teachers undervalued? Join the discussion.

Music teachers offer advice on increasing engagement in their lessons on the TES music forum, and some are worried about planned cuts to the training of music teachers.

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