Music should be central to every child’s learning from as young as three. Let us rethink the place music has in our classrooms today.
Soaring charges for music tuition. Cuts to music teachers. Widening inequality between pupils from advantaged and disadvantaged families. Scotland’s music education is in trouble.
And that, says Abi Rooley-Towle, our new guest contributor, is an opportunity to radically rethink how we teach music in schools, with benefits for everyone,
In her first article for Sceptical Scot [published Saturday 25 May] Abi sets out five fundamental principles for teaching and learning music. From the start, she believes, it has to be enjoyable: “Is this a joyful or growing experience? Are the children engaged and actively exploring in some way?”
She speaks (and sings) from experience. By some pretty odd twists and turns she has ended up in a ‘tumbledy cottage’ in a remote reach of Moray – where the council is one of the growing number of Scottish local authorities charging for instrumental music tuition. (To date, 21 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities have introduced or increased charges for music lessons. Inevitably, poorer pupils are disproportionately affected.)
Singing is like breathing
Abi, a singer-songwriter, is also a holistic music teacher trained in the Kodály method. Indeed, with hindsight, her almost accidental career path would have been difficult to avoid. Her parents ran the Early Music Centre in London. As a young child she watched people make lutes, fascinated by the intricate carvings. ‘My sister and I played among the wood shavings whilst our father played his lute,’ she writes in her blog biography.
However, after her parents separated it took her a long time to rediscover her natural love of music. (In another of those odd twists and turns, she explains when we speak on the phone, she eventually began to sing again when she was asked to lead the chants at the Buddhist centre where she met her husband). That’s a story in its own right. The point here is that for Abi, singing is like breathing: everyone can do it. What’s more, it’s the best, and cheapest way, to lay the foundation for music education. But it goes further than that.
Songs are also a great vehicle for learning about the world, nature, different culture, history and a humanitarian caring element. Co-ordinated singing games help develop the brain, memory and sequencing.
All it takes is a little imagination, creativity and music becomes the medium through which an extended amount of learning can be reached. With this in mind, music should be central to a child’s learning from as young as three. It is met with such enthusiasm and joy no matter the background or ability of the child, and it can be used to bridge attainment gaps and lack of interest in learning.
Children learn through play
With this approach, the voice and the human body are the best instruments for learning music at an early age, she says. (‘Cheaper too!’). It’s based on an understanding of child development. ‘Expecting a young child, for instance, to learn the piano or violin and also to practice is often a recipe for failure or lack of enjoyment. Practice is a concept that does not sit well with children – they learn through play. Practice should be banned until they reach for it naturally! ‘
Abi recently led a Kodály music workshop at the Woodland Nursery in Glasgow where young children learn outdoors through creative play (Sceptical Scot readers will also hear echoes of Upstart Scotland and Sue Palmer’s much-read, powerful article Silence of the Weans on the value of outdoor play, learning and wellbeing).
It’s an emotive issue that is likely to gather force. Beneath the roar of Brexit, evidence is growing that unequal access to music tuition is widening the attainment gap between children of affluent families and those living in poverty. As the What’s Going On Now study reported earlier this year, ‘Case studies illuminated the ways in which access to music is becoming increasingly inequitable in different communities. This occurs not just between different schools and communities but within them.’
Making music should be a fundamental right for all young people – there is ample evidence on the huge social, emotional, cultural and cognitive benefits of participation in making music.
Bring it back into the classroom in primary schools and watch the benefits spread across literacy, numeracy and social interaction. Organiser: What’s Going On Now
What’s Going On Now research, commissioned by Creative Scotland, adds to the increasing evidence of the wider value of music education. So who pays for it? As austerity continues, councils are struggling to provide essential services. Political pressure is building on both the Scottish Government and local authorities. While the debate continues, Abi Rooley-Towle argues for a fundamental change in Scotland’s approach to music education. Now read on: Radically rethinking primary music education for the 21st Century
Featured image: Happy Days: Images by Ophelia BY-NC-ND 2.0
Music and Literacy Upstart Scotland
What’s Going on Now? Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Last Waltz for Music Tuition in Scottish Schools The Herald
Music Tuition in Schools Inquiry Scottish Parliament Education and Skills Committee