MusicDT - To play is to know

1st June 2012 at 01:00
Teach pupils to understand music from the inside out

Everybody seems to have a horror story about their music teacher. Being made to stand behind a pillar at concerts to save the school embarrassment. Auditioning for the choir in front of the whole class while the teacher dishes out sarcastic comments. Sitting underneath the cymbal while the teacher crashes it as a punishment for bad behaviour. Being made to stand in a dustbin because you are "rubbish". I am not making these up. And they are some of the milder examples.

Other approaches to teaching music are not as offensive, but are equally uninspired. Colouring pictures of instruments. Copying vast chunks of text about composers from the whiteboard. Playing rulers instead of recorders. Earning the right to make music by completing notation work.

There is a better way, of course. In fact, there are lots of them. Music should never be something that is done to young people; it needs to be something that inspires and is experienced. Practical music-making is the vehicle for musical understanding. It gives ideas legs and turns on lights of learning. Find a way to light the blue touchpaper of inspiration and you will feel the draught as pupils rush past you, eager to get to their instruments and have a go.

This is to understand music from the inside out. The musical experience is the starting point. So why not let young people discover what sonata form means using rock instruments? Why not let them explore tala with tabla in small groups? Why not urge them to find out what song-writing means with a guitar in hand? If music is a language, it needs to be spoken, not described. Combining focused listening, guided performance and centred composition are foundational learning models in the music classroom. Using music-making as a reward is not.

I know that not everybody has a negative memory of their own music education. For many it is inspiring and life-changing. Music has the power to unlock doors, to challenge and bring out the very best. It builds milestones of achievement and creates confidence - surely all that is good and at the very heart of the best learning.

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

What else?

Anthony Anderson has suggested inspiring ways to get students thinking about expressionist music.

Try Keith Swanwick's classic Teaching Music Musically (Routledge, 1999) for more thinking on the subject.

Bring excitement into the music classroom with HayleyMusic's rhythm and rap lesson.


Teachers are dreaming of unlimited budgets in the TES music forum. What music technology products would you buy if money were no object?

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