The New Music Curriculum

The government has announced a new “Model Music Curriculum” – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teaching-music-in-schools

Here is the press release:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-music-curriculum-to-help-schools-deliver-world-class-teaching

The Model Music Curriculum (MMC) outlines a complex and prescriptive approach to learning music. It’s been developed “by a panel of 15 music education specialists – teachers, education leaders and musicians from across the UK”.

It focuses on four aspects of music education:

  • Singing
  • Listening
  • Composing
  • Performing/Instrumental Performance

It has suggested a range of music to listen to throughout Key Stages 1 to 3.

Headline from the Daily Telegraph, referring to the new curriculum – “Major revamp of music syllabus: Every child should study Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven”.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2021/03/25/major-revamp-music-syllabus-every-child-should-study-mozart/ (subscription/paywall)

 

“Every pupil in the country should study Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven at school under a major revamp of the music syllabus, the Government will announce on Friday.

Learning about the “musical giants of the past” is an important part of a child’s education, according to the schools minister Nick Gibb who has overseen the publication of a new “model” music curriculum.

The guidance states that children as young as five should be exposed to recorded performances including Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca, Handel’s Hallelujah from Messiah and Mussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain.”

The experts have, in point of fact, also suggested children and young people should listen to The Beatles, Oasis, Duke Ellington, John Williams and a range of world music genres -but that isn’t the headline. For the government and the Telegraph, it’s all about dead white composers and elitism.

“Musicianship” in the MMC is focused on musical notation and musical terminology.

For more information, here are the links to the new curriculum.

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/973433/Model_Music_Curriculum_Key_Stage_1__2_FINAL.pdf

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/973434/Model_Music_Curriculum_Key_Stage_3.pdf

The Appendices are worth a read too.

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/973436/Model_Music_Curriculum_Appendices.pdf

Whilst we will always welcome a focus on music and music education, something we’ve advocated for decades, we have significant reservations about prescribing a single way of learning music and the provision of a menu of compositions.

There are some decent songs on the list. There are fabulous composers and impressive performers – but they are the choices of 15 people. A different 15 people would likely have come up with a completely different set. On a different day, those same 15 people might have chosen a whole new set of songs – according to their mood.

The point is music and musical choices are as individual as each and every one of us. It’s as much about the emotions and feelings of a given time as it is about the merits of a particular song. It cannot possibly be prescribed. Whilst we are completely aware that this list of compositions is a guide and not a stipulation, it sets a dangerous precedent – especially for those teachers who aren’t musically oriented and don’t immediately know an alternative set of songs to the ones suggested in this document.

For instance, the world of Blues is large, complex, diverse – full of sounds from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and yet, throughout the KS1 and 2 curriculum, the only Blues song suggested to listen to is “Runaway Blues” by Ma Rainey – suggested to listen to for EVERY child in EVERY year of primary school!

 

Well, that’s going to fully turn a generation of musicians to a life of an amazing musical genre.

It’s not just the Blues. Want to introduce young people to “Art Pop”? Apparently they have to listen to Kate Bush’s “Wild Man” for six years of their lives and when they’re grown up KS3 folk, they can listen to Freddie Mercury singing “I want to break free” – as long as the teacher contextualises this with the song’s description from the appendices: “Banned in some countries for Freddie Mercury’s gender bending turn in the accompanying video, this song is often heard through the lens of Mercury’s bisexuality”.

There’s even a reference to Sea Shanties specifically. Thanks to TikTok and social media, it was an experience for some for a short while. It’s not a genre that requires perpetual study just because it was popular for one small moment in the troubled Covid times.

In composition and performance, knowledge of crotchets, minims, allegro and adagio is a must by the end of Year 3. By Year 8, young people should know the notation for “one ledger line” and “Bass clef G to C”.

Cliché it may be, but neither John Lennon nor Paul McCartney ever learned musical notation prior to composing the familiar Beatles songs we know – some of which are musical phenomena because they weren’t restricted by the formalities of music theory and traditions.

Schools Minister, Nick Gibb says,

“This is about levelling up, it is making sure that the state sector is delivering the quality of education that the best schools in the state sector take for granted and indeed the best independent schools take for granted.”

Enabling children and young people to learn how to improvise, experiment and find their own musical voice, free from musical impositions, might well be seen as a better form of “levelling”.

As Professor Michael Spitzer said recently on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme,


“Music is innate. It’s not about talent. It should be improvisatory and active. Everybody should make music. In the west, we freeze music on paper.”

See our previous post – https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/2021/03/24/i-was-born-with-music-inside-me/

We’d be fascinated to hear Professor Spitzer’s views on the new music curriculum. Like us, we think he’d be encouraged by the equal emphasis given to “performance” as to “listening”. Again, we’ve consistently expressed the desire for all children to learn a musical instrument. We’re equally convinced that he too might have reservations about knowledge of musical notation being the conduit to musical composition, given his comments on the subject.

From an article in the Financial Times, he said,

“The mystique of scores blinded us to the reality that music is a universal birthright, rather than the preserve of the talented few”.

https://www.ft.com/content/523b245c-d818-4921-b795-2b81f4bd44ba (subscription/paywall)

There are positives in the new music curriculum [N.B. Music is already a compulsory curriculum subject]. The fact that time has been afforded to the subject is progress indeed. Yet, equally there are reservations – the detail of which we’ll expand on in subsequent posts.

As long as prescription is kept to a minimum and the diverse ways of music-making are embraced, then that has to be a positive change. An imposed hierarchy of listening is, frankly, intolerable.

See also concerns raised by Dr. Jonathan Savage, Managing Director of UCAN Play back in January 2019 – https://www.ucanplay.org.uk/a-model-music-curriculum/

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 https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/ or see our website at www.3diassociates.com.
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