Musical Education at Risk, and Developing Musical Intelligence

Let’s pause for a moment and think about what the world would be like if every one of us could play a musical instrument – if we could come home at the end of a busy day and relax with some creative improvisation, and could jam with friends. Wouldn’t we have a more peaceful, more mellow, more enjoyable, more stress-free and more creative world?

Sadly, some people don’t really care for music, do they? []

That said, even the most philistine of our fellow citizens ought to recognise that for a great many of us listening to music and music making is a crucial part of our lives. They should therefore care whether or not our children receive a proper education in music. It is, after all, included in the National Curriculum.

Since Venezuela has devised a way to enable every child to learn to play a musical instrument of their choice (‘The System‘) then surely a country such as Britain should be able to as well.

[“Music has to be recognized as an agent of social development, in the highest sense because it transmits the highest values – solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion. And it has the ability to unite an entire community, and to express sublime feelings” – José Antonio Abreu]

School music under threat

Cuts and the back-door privatisation of services are putting children’s musical education at risk

by Christopher Walters

It is a tense time for music services, and the 10,000 staff they employ, as they wait to hear, early next month, which bids have been successful. The uncertainty, compounded by local authority budget cuts across the board, has prompted some to make big staffing changes.

In Bedford Borough music service all teachers have been put on risk of redundancy, and some have taken a voluntary pay cut to preserve the music service and their jobs. In Gloucestershire, dozens of music teachers face unemployment after the county council asked all 200 music service staff to reapply for their jobs or for voluntary redundancy, as part of a restructuring exercise. Meanwhile, music service teachers in Salford, Leicestershire, Nottingham, Brighton and several London boroughs are also reporting threats to their employment.

According to Diane Widdison, national organiser for teaching at the Musicians’ Union, morale among teachers in music services is at an all-time low. The MU has urged local authorities not to embark on restructuring until they know the outcome of the hub bids, but the damage could already have been done. “Who is going to be attracted to work for music services now?” she says. “It’s going to be even more part-time, even more self-employed, with even fewer training opportunities.”

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, is worried that the uncertainty is causing good music teachers to jump ship and find employment elsewhere.

Over the next three years . . . funding [will be] slashed, as the government pares back its budget for music services from £82.5m a year to just £60m.

So here we have it – the greed of the bankers and financiers causes the economy and the financial system to collapse. We, the people, then have to hand over trillions of pounds, euros and dollars to those same people to prop up the existing system (which remains unreformed). The millionaire bankers and financiers continue to grab millions in bonuses year after year, just for doing their rubbish jobs. And in the meantime the music budget for the nation’s children is cut by over £20m in one year alone. The music budget was already inadequate to provide children with even basic tuition in music. We can presume that bankers’ children will NOT have their private music tutors laid off in this time of public austerity and continuing private greed.

We like this comment by freespeechoneeach (whom we presume is a Roy Harper fan) –

It should be equally inconceivable for a child to go through Primary education without music as it would be to go without painting and drawing. But most kids get no actual music education at all. And school managers appoint one teacher per establishment to play piano in assembly, if that.

In my PGCE, I received, in total, one half- hour talk on the subject of music. No practical work at all, no assignment, nothing. In my teaching practices, again, no music. In nine years as a Primary class teacher, I never met one other teacher remotely interested in giving music lessons to their classes.

This is a national scandal of major proportions. Music has unique developmental benefits, it is extremely good for both socialisation and mental health. It’s also supportive of study in all other curriculum areas. Britain fails its children most grievously here.

It’s just a thought, but no doubt the £20m cut in music budgets could be easily restored if a small consortium of bankers got together to make up the deficit from their bonus pool. Obviously we couldn’t expect them to give up any of their meagre basic salaries.


And so to some positive thoughts on learning to play music.

Musical Intelligence, and the Path to Life Itself

Today’s thoughts are on the subject of ‘musical intelligence’, and whether indeed it exists. We’ve thought about this at 3Di and have concluded that it doesn’t exist – at least not as a separate and specific human intelligence, as is suggested by Howard Gardner and others.

There are, we maintain, SIX separate human intelligences, and only six. Musicality, and musical expression, takes place as a result of an interaction between (and through a combination of) those six intelligences. To play a musical instrument requires the use of the intellect, the body, the spirit, and the personal ‘voice’. It requires the use of our senses, our instincts, our intuition, our knowledge and our thoughts. To play as part of a duo, trio, band, orchestra, etc, also requires empathy and social intelligence.

To give a better insight into these matters we’re going to use some quotes from the best book we’ve come across on the subject of learning to play a musical instrument, which considers what sorts of intelligence, aptitudes, attitudes and skills are required. Zen Guitar is written by Philip Toshio Sudo, and is published by Simon and Schuster.

The author obviously writes from the viewpoint of one who practices Zen philosophy throughout the whole of his life, and also applies it to his creativity and his desire to find a musical ‘voice’, through which self-expression can flow. The book is also, however, a guide to Zen thought and practice, and an exposition of human intelligences.

“Over the years I’ve learned from many different teachers, both Japanese and American. As the product of these two cultures, I’ve sought a way to blend the wisdom of East and West into a universal philosophy of life. The way I’ve found is Zen Guitar.

Zen Guitar is nothing more than playing the song we’re all born with inside – the song that makes us human. Any one of us can do it. The music is waiting there to be unlocked. This dojo will give you the key.

As the name implies, Zen Guitar is based on the principles of Zen Philosophy. Zen is most easily understood as a commonsense approach to all things. Some people come to know Zen through meditation, others through the martial arts, or archery, or flower arranging. All these are paths to the same wisdom. Here we seek to know zen through music.

I named this the Zen Guitar Dojo becuase it is a place of work and contemplation. Dojo is a Japanese word meaning, literally, “Place of the Way” – the ultimate Way of life and death that governs nature and the universe. It is through our endeavors in the dojo that we discover the Way.

A good dojo is like a school, practice hall and temple rolled into one. The aim is to train body, mind and spirit together, at the same time.

[And a good school is like a dojo, practice space and secular temple rolled into one, which trains and develops all six intelligences all at once.]

All that’s required to make a dojo is the proper frame of mind.

[How true this is. A Free School, for example, can either be a place that inhibits the development of our six intelligences, or it can be a place that facilitates that development – of body, mind and spirit. It all depends on the frame of mind, and the practices that flow from it.]

My approach to the guitar brings in various teachings from the zen arts of Asia: martial arts such as karate and aikido, brush-style calligraphy, samurai swordsmanship, and the Japanese tea ceremony. As in the tradition of these great arts, I believe that learning to play the guitar is inseparable from learning to harmonise body, mind and spirit. To truly play from your soul, you must have all aspects of yourself working together as one.

[Or as we say at 3Di, all six of your intelligences.]

As you develop this harmony, it will carry through to everything you do. In other words, what you learn in this dojo will apply to your work, school, athletics, relationships, home life – how you think, feel and hear all day long. Because, ultimately, the path of Zen Guitar is the path of life itself.

You should know from the beginning that Zen Guitar is not a conventional how-to program of instruction. [ie It’s not didactic, as with most musical tuition, and most schooling for that matter.]

It is alternative, meaning it requires a do-it-yourself spirit. There are no chords or tunings or music theory in this dojo . . . All of that is information. Information is something you can get from a gamut of sources – magazines, books, classes, friends, videos, computer networks. The world is swimming in information. Any student with enough dedication knows how to acquire information.

But information alone cannot teach you what you need to know to play your song. At the Zen Guitar Dojo, our aim is not to acquire information but wisdom. The idea here is to train and to experience; it is only through the experience of our senses that we truly gain wisdom . . .

Just as no words can teach us how to ride a bicycle, the only way we can learn to play our song is through the direct experience of our bodies. To learn through experience – that is the path of Zen Guitar. There is a zen saying, “Paths cannot be taught, they can only be taken.” So it is with Zen Guitar.

My function here is to act as your guide. I do so in the spirit of the Japanese sensei – not “teacher”, as the word is commonly translated but, literally, “one who has gone before”. I do not claim to know all the answers. But what I have learned, I’ll gladly share with those who wish to make a similar journey. If I can inspire you to follow your own path, this dojo will have served its purpose.

To be continued.

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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