Taking the F word out of music

28th November 2008 at 00:00

F is for fear - fear harboured by many primary teachers at the prospect of teaching music. A considerable number who feel they can't sing, read music or play a few chords are terrified of having to teach it to their charges, says David McDonald, manager of the Scottish Arts Council's Youth Music Initiative.

YMI's mission is to take the fear factor out of classroom music teaching. "It's not replacing music specialists; it's giving classroom teachers the skills and resources to use music with confidence in the classroom so children do engage," he says.

A study of the first three years of the scheme, by researchers at the Centre for Public Policy at Northumbria University, concluded that the initiative had met or exceeded all of its key aims - to widen, organise, promote and sustain participation in music. Broader personal, social and educational benefits for the children included improved concentration, group-working skills and behaviour, and increased confidence and self-esteem. The target of all pupils in Scotland having access to one year's free music tuition by the time they reach P6 is being sustained, and opportunities for out-of-school hours participation are being created.

Under the YMI umbrella, a diverse range of projects and musical genres has been explored in and beyond Scotland's classrooms.

Aileen Roan, a principal teacher at Gargieston Primary in East Ayrshire, trialled the ABC Creative Music pack - the Apple Banana Carrot method developed by Tom and Phil Bancroft - with her P7s. Aimed at infant and middle levels, the approach explores the process of music making and creativity, rather than the end results. "It doesn't require you to read music, to sing, to play an instrument," she says. "You can come at it as a total novice."

The Gargieston P7s studied the music of four countries and taught the method to a P2 class (the pack suggested P3). They then recorded and made a CD, and packaged and sold it as an enterprise topic.

"It covers ICT, PSD, the expressive arts," says Miss Roan. "You could go off at a tangent and look at history, geography, anything. It fits really well with A Curriculum for Excellence because there is so much scope for taking it broader."

At the Scottish Association for Music Education conference in Stirling this term, Lucinda Geoghegan, an education consultant for the National Youth Choir of Scotland, demonstrated a Kodaly singing workshop, walking around in a circle shaking hands and singing. "NYCoS is trying to up-skill teachers and give them the skill to engage their whole class," she says.

Also under the YMI banner, Brian Cope of Drake Music Scotland introduced "Figurenotes" - a notation system he claims "is going to revolutionise the way we teach music to people with learning difficulties", while its application, he says, is wider. It is used in mainstream schooling in Finland, Italy, Japan and Estonia, with colour and shape to denote pitch and octave level. It also makes the transition to conventional notation simple and can "accelerate access to notation" for early years.

"Oh dear, it's just another system," exclaims a lecturer at a teacher training college, who feels more political backing is needed to make the most of these initiatives.



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