Making a Music Curriculum

The music curriculum can be defined as a dynamic set of musical processes and practices framed within historical and contemporary cultural discourse that comprise the musical encounters of pupils and teachers.

For what purposes do we make a curriculum?

To musically equip children and young people to understand themselves, both as individuals and as members of a complex and rapidly changing society as future citizens in that democratic society. 

We therefore:

  • equip all pupils with the knowledge, skills, dispositions and understandings to make music well.
  • induct pupils into existing cultures of making-music as a source of creative and critical engagement.
  • enable all pupils to become unique individuals, subjectively enriched and able to know a sense of personal freedom through music made well.

What are our intentions?

By the end of Year 9 pupils will have songs, melodies, riffs, rhythms and the character-feel of much music in their heads and bodies. They will be able to recall this music at will. It will be an integral part of their learning how to make music well as shown in their technical know how, fluency, expressive control and in their musical relationships with others.

This will be achieved by introducing contextually rich music/musical material which keeps offering fresh insights and challenges. Pupils will explore unexpected pathways into deeper learning, responding with flexibility to follow new turnings.

The pupil’s music making will always reach a musically meaningful standard. When this is achieved there will be value in assessing the work.

Pupils will be able to reflect on their music making and the music making of others through talk, reading and writing about music.

They will come to understand how music functions in the world, why and how it is made, how music is used and how music is given meaning. There will be a recognition that music has ‘human interest’; social, cultural and political.

Classes will work as a community of music makers and critics where the relationship between pupil, teacher and what is being learnt creates an open musical discourse.

Depth, provenance and critical engagement in the year 7 classroom

In this secondary school year 7 pupils are learning to sing O Waly Waly.

The teacher has selected O Waly, Waly ‘simply because it is a beautiful song’ and is intent on teaching the class to make a beautiful sound.

I’m interested to know whether the singing is accompanied or unaccompanied.

The teacher adds:

‘I play the piano, sometimes big, juicy, arpeggiated chords, and sometimes simple, still chords. Always with much dynamic contrast and rubato. They follow me well, and enjoy it when I prolong the silence before the penultimate line. When they get it right, it is magical.’

‘I select these three verses. The meanings of the whole song are complex, so just three verses.’

The water is wide, and I can’t get over

And neither have I wings to fly

Build me a boat that can carry two

And both shall row, My love and I

There is a ship, and she sails the sea

She’s loaded deep, as deep can be

But not so deep as the love I’m in

I know not if I sink or swim

Oh love is gentle, love is kind

As sweet as a flower, when first it’s new

But love grows old and waxes cold

And fades away, like morning dew.

But wait a minute. What’s this:

‘I prolong the silence before the penultimate line.’

The teacher explains:

‘I think the silence creates a moment where not a single student can escape from being musical or from being ‘in flow’. In that silence, every student is compelled to engage in musical feeling, watching, breathing, pitching, and enjoying a resolution. All bodies need to be dancing together.’

O Waly, Waly is a song of good provenance as they say. [1] Some claim it as a song from the sixteenth century, some that it has Irish origins, some say Scottish, some English.

An internet search shows a great many performance versions and arrangements, and even a discussion forum relating to its provenance.

A Pete Seeger version of the song is near the top of the internet library along with responses from listeners. One response told that the performance was intended to draw attention to the pollution of the Hudson River. Well, we know Pete Seeger was a political activist.

As you will have noted, the teacher’s choice of O Waly Waly is leading me to open up a conversation with the song and to examine its provenance. I am reminded of Chris Philpott writing:

‘Each piece of music (whether we are performing or creating it) comes with an ‘attitude’ of its own and along with our own values and beliefs (which Gadamer calls ‘prejudices’)  engages in a playful dialogue in order to construct meaning.’ [2]

The teacher above achieves this playful dialogue with the ‘silence’ before the penultinate line of each verse. I have taken the idea of playful dialogue to a second level in searching out the song’s provenance. And I have only just begun.

O Waly Waly – the teacher has something of a treasure in her hands opening up ‘complex webs of meaning’ and placing interpretation at the heart of a music education. And this means critical engagement, and rather more than what is usually taken as appraising.

This seems to me to be worthwhile opening up the possibility of depth and rigour.


[1] Provenance seems to have two meanings, the first begets the second.  First ‘origin’, and then ‘history-lineage’; we find the term provenance much used in relation to antiques. What is its source, origin, its life history, its condition, how has it been looked after?

If ‘musical provenance’ is important, as Ofsted suggests, we should ask ourselves: is the content of what is brought to the classroom rich, thick with possibilities? Will it defy easy assimilation and mastery?  Will it call forth thinking? Will it defy methods of assessment that prohibit openness? Will activities defy being matched with tidily delineated outcomes?

It is interesting to note that after Mark Phillips HMI introduced the concept of ‘provenance’ and its addition to the criteria for making judgments about a music department’s quality of provision, nobody has taken a blind bit of notice. I think it a valuable idea that as I have tried to show can enhance an enfebbled notion of appraising.

[2] Philpott, C. (2013) The justification for music in the curriculum, in (eds) Chris Philpott and Gary Spruce, Debates in Music Teaching. Routledge: London.

Teaching musical composition (a blog revisited)

‘The things that stimulate children to improvise and compose music are essentially those things that motivate all composers: personal experiences, things seen and heard (including other works of the imagination: literature, poetry, paintings and sculpture) or hear about: significant events past and present, things of joy and things of tragedy: sounds themselves: shapes and patterns. Eventually the piece, as it begins to grow through working on the ideas, takes over and dictates its own directions. In a sense then, starting points are not all that important. What is important is that they should stimulate musical ideas of distinctive character that can be worked upon and developed (i.e., made to ‘go on’ in time).’ [1]

Teaching musical composition is likely to continue to be something of a conundrum and certainly when it is framed by the requirements of a public examination; for example, the UK General Certificate of Secondary Education. A good number of teachers opt for what they consider to be a reliable formulaeic approach even if it means all students produce near identical waltzes. It gets the grade. That’s justification enough they say.

On the other hand there are those teachers who remain intrigued by how we learn to compose and even compose themselves to better understand the process which their students are being asked to engage with. I am one of those teachers. I have been composing quite a lot lately and thinking about the nature of musical ideas, where they come from, how they are ‘sculpted’ and made to mean, what happens to them and how they work to make a whole where there is some sense of completion and a musical work. This of course is a pretty traditional view of composing music. The goal is to find closure, completion and quite likely some sense of organic unity rather than making what is infinitely open and incomplete, another way of thinking about composing. I am sure there are many more.

Some teachers, I am one, are interested in the student’s impulse to compose, what gets them started, what is it that draws them on, what is it that needs to be expressed? In all this it is the musical idea that holds most fascination, where it comes from, what’s it for? Without idea there is nothing. Without some concept of what the work is there is nothing. The impressive LIC report [2] thinks of this as being related to the idea of ‘intentionality’, one of the ten themes emerging from the research. [3]

So, it was with great interest that I entered a year 10 GCSE composing classroom to talk with a group of embryonic composers and to find out what kind of musical ideas they were having and what they were doing with them. They had worked on a composition using the stimulus of images from a graffiti exhibition. The choice was theirs. I knew nothing else about the teaching process they had been part of and I was reminded of the view that composition teaching only really begins when the pupil has created something, only then is the composer’s thinking made available.

What struck me about the work of these beginning composers was the originality of their ideas. I encountered no musical idea that wasn’t fresh, imaginative. No derivations, no plagarisms, nothing ordinary. Every musical idea had a character of its own, a sensuous particularity, and the more I listened to each the more I wanted to hear it again to better understand its particularity and to see in it what I had previously failed to see/hear. Sharing this process with its maker was how I was being a teacher of composition. These conversations can rightly be thought of as assessment, not assessment as measuring but as a dialogue where interpretation, judgement and discrimination are at work. [4] 

I should explain that the music had been made through the programme pro-tools and that may have assisted in creating musical ideas that were refined and seemingly well-intentioned. But, and it was a big but: why so many ideas? In each case, weren’t there more than enough ideas, enough ideas for quite a few compositions? And as I listened even more closely it wasn’t that the ideas were being thrown away without any kind of development. It was unusual for this to be the case. The question became one about time span and what kind of time span did the material need to do the material justice? Was all the material needed? 

What I felt to be most important as a teacher of composition was to affirm what was being presented to me [5] and to sharpen each composer’s perception of what they had made, and together review the innumerable compositional techniques at work, many unbeknown to the composer. Thus analysis conversed with intuition. [6] Indeed, I moved steadily towards an analytical orientation. I wanted to help the composers make visual schemes of their compositions in order to objectify what was there as a way of thinking about the work as pieces of architecture and to create talking points: whys, hows and what ifs? I wanted to draw in what other composers had done and think about why they had done this or that, and why not that. How did they manage material within their time spans? [7]

As a teacher I was being both facilitator and mediator, mediating knowledge and culture, a pretty basic call upon being a teacher through which the teacher, the pupil and what is being learnt at best find a poetic unity. 


[1] Paynter, J. (1995) Working on one’s inner world, in (ed) Edwin Webb Powers of Being: David Holbrook and his work, Associated University Presses, Inc.

[2] See Listen Imagine Compose (LIC) Report (2014) Martin Fautley,
[3] See Witkin (1974) ‘The intelligence of Feeling’ for depth attention to ‘intentionality’ within the creative process.
[4] See LIC theme 4.
[5] Judgement, discrimination, interpretation at the heart of musical-artistic-aesthetic hermeneutic understanding ie. assessment with an epistemological basis.
[6] The interplay between intuition and analyis- see Swanwick, K. (1994) Musical Knowledge: Intution, Analysis and Music Education, Routledge.
[7] LIC theme 7.Advertisements

Five dimensions of good enough music teaching

1. Ethical commitment

The teacher’s disposition towards nurturing the pupil-teacher relationship that makes teaching possible

 2. Cultural mediation

The teacher’s disposition towards expressing authority through the transmission and sharing of cultural knowledge in the medium of music, involving instruction that is responsive to the receptivity of the pupils.

3. Thinking bodies

The teacher’s disposition towards recognising music-making as a form of embodied knowing in action. 

4. Facilitation

The teacher’s disposition towards enabling the expression of musical thought in the medium of music.

5. Critical intention

The teacher’s disposition towards promoting enquiry, curiosity,thoughtfulness, discrimination, questioning – calling for a growing awareness of what music is, how music is used, how music is given meaning and how meanings are continually negotiated and re-negotiated – a recognition that music has ‘human interest’ – social, cultural and political. 

Two exemplars

1. Here the teacher’s scheme of work was underpinned by the question: what does music mean? In lesson two the class was set the task of composing a piece dedicated to the victims of the recent Japanese tsunami and earthquake.

I did not observe this teaching but the teacher writes:

‘All students sat in a circle playing barred instruments. The first third of their piece used the Japanese semi-tone major 3rd scale on B (B-C-E-F-A). Against the backdrop of a pianissimo rolled E, an F was gradually faded in and out, exploring the initial tensions of the tsunami. The B-C was then added to emphasise the nervous mood. All the notes gradually underwent a crescendo and were sustained fortissimo for a few moments before a sudden silence. A similar process was repeated, this time using a second, more blues-like Japanese scale. The familiarity of the sound led one student to interpret this section as the reaction of the international community.’

(And the following I have constructed from the teacher’s reflections.)

And now another pupil has the idea of using the two scales at the same time. And so the lessons proceed in dialogic fashion, with the teacher skillfully leading the way provoking thoughtful questions that challenge assumptions about music and its meanings. And now the introduction of the composition task: to make a soundtrack for a montage of if images of the recent Egyptian revolution using the Japanese scales. Why Japanese scales, some pupils ask? More dialogic work follows, with more thinking nurtured by the teacher’s gently teasing responses.

2. Who wants to start the conversation?

This was the question asked by the teacher at the beginning of a year 8 music lesson today. Last music lesson of the term. Previous project completed and now an introduction to next term’s work. So what was the conversation to be about? The class had entered to Mars from Holst’s The Planet Suite and had settled quickly and attended to the music. White boards given out and pupils asked to write down a question they would like to ask another pupil, the teacher or their visitor (me) about the music.

And so now the question from the teacher:

Teacher: ‘Does anybody want to start the conversation?’

The first question is directed to the teacher:

Holly: ‘Why did you pick this piece of music?’

Teacher: ‘It is a piece to react to; a piece to feel and think about. It’s a piece to respond to’.

Second question from Holly to Samantha: ‘What is your favourite part of the music?’

Samantha: ‘I like all of it. And you want to know what is going to happen next’.

Next: ‘Have you ever heard music like this before?’

Now the Star Wars connection comes out and is in play as part of the conversation. Then an interesting turn.

Pupil: ‘Was this music composed by a boy or a girl?’

Pupil:  ‘Boy, its loud and dramatic.’

Pupil: ‘What was going through her mind when she composed it?’

Back to Star Wars: ‘Do you think this music is scary?’

[Toby is away with fairies and balancing his pencil on outstretched fingers.]

Teacher intervention: ‘Let’s listen again, how does it start?’

Pupils: ‘Really low notes’; ‘it folds in and folds out’; ‘tapping’.

Teacher links these responses to earlier pupil questions.

Now composing as a whole class. Each inventing a response.

The insistent rhythm is introduced through a neumonic on the board as one possibility.

Samantha wants to tell me that she has been playing her drum in unconventional ways in the last project. She beams when she says unconventional. I repeat the word with a reciprocal beam.

Whole class improvising very quietly to start with and sustain their musical ideas with Toby bringing the piece to an end on cymbal with music at its loudest. The class are pleased with what they have done. Quite a few faces lighting up.

One boy on keyboard has replicated Holst’s c g f# figure but held down the g and f sharp to create a dissonance. The teacher and class receive this with admiration. Now a short time to rehearse and refine their ideas. I teach Samantha the rhythmic figure. Then some silent time to imagine what they will be playing.

Off we go again. Class applaud themselves at the end. Listen to Holst again with attention.

Musical taste groups and the connoisseurship of infancy

An interesting pastime has been developing on social media during this period of social isolation.  Like so much use of social media this particular phenomena works to bring groups of people together. 

In this case I will call them taste groups – those sharing a common interest, commitment and knowledge, and often dependant upon a considerable degree of connoisseurship. 

Two examples come to mind.

For the connoisseurs of the Anglican musical tradition you can take part in a knock out event seeking to determine the most valued setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimmitus.  Of course, you will need to know your settings in order to take part.

Another example sees connoisseurs of the music of Bob Dylan taking part in on-line polling to reveal his best. 

But now a third example away from social media.

Then this week I watched Dolly Parton at the Grand Ole Opry. [1] And there I saw an audience with intimate knowledge of the Country and Western oeuvre and of Dolly’s in particular – another group of connoisseurseurs.

Sandra E. Trehub and Franziska Dege write 

‘The term connoisseur is generally reserved for experts in matters of             taste, especially with reference to the expressive and culinary arts. In the             case of music, a connoisseur might be a discerning listener in a narrow or             literal sense-having keen perceptual skills-or in a broader, more             important sense-distinguishing musical compositions and performances             of high quality from those of lesser quality. The latter sense necessitates             extensive knowledge of the musical conventions of a particular culture,             such knowledge being beyond the reach of inexperienced listeners.’ [2]

This is the introduction to their chapter Reflections on Infants as musical connoisseurs.

What we discover is that the scientific research into infant’s musical behaviour shows them to qualify as connoisseurs in a different sense.

The writers report on how infant’s 

‘… precocious music listening skills, excellent memory for music, highly musical environment, and intense interest in expressive musical performances compensate for their obvious ignorance of musical conventions.’ [3]

We learn that infants can detect pitch differences of a semi-tone or less, for example.

The chapter is bursting with research evidence. Some hundred studies are cited. We can see how the foundations of musical behaviour are being laid. [4]

I wonder if we know just what it is that children bring to their school music lessons or can begin to grasp the richness of their musical enculturation.


[1]The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly American country music stage concert in Nashville, Tennessee, founded on November 28, 1925, by George D. Hay as a one-hour radio “barn dance” on WSM

[2] Trehub, S. E. and Dege, F. (2016) Reflections on infants as musical connoisseurs, in (ed) Gary E. McPherson, The Child as Musician: A handbook of musical development, Oxford University Press: Oxford.

[3] Ibid.

[4] It is fascinating to read about the methods used by researchers into this fine-tuning of infant ears.

Mabel’s model music curriculum

Mabel is aged 14 months and until recently I have been in her company most days. I have observed her taking and making of music. These observations haven’t been systematic. 

But observation is never without theories in mind albeit often vague, ill-formed and unarticulated ones. I am not up to date with what is known about young children’s musical development, although I am reading ‘The Psychology of Musical Development’ by David Hargreaves and Alex Lamont [1] and there is ‘The Child as Musician’ edited by Gary McPherson [2] with illuminating chapters on prenatal development, infants as musical connoissers and musical play.

Mabel, like all coming into the world now has been exposed to music throughout her life and her coming to life. The mobile phone has served to pacify her with carefully selected tracks and car journeys have been accompanied by medleys of children’s favourites. Then, until recently, there has been regular attendance at baby and mother music sessions in the local library. And it is in these sessions that bodily gestures have been learnt in response to the singing and moving. Notably there is the sideways upper body shuffle and then there is hand clapping. There is the waving of hands above the head, a rocking back and forth when sitting and a bobbing up and down when standing. There is lip trilling, blowing raspberries, the imitating of the coffee machine’s whirring and the sound of an aeroplane over-head. Mabel bangs and drums on a variety of objects and there is banging and tapping of her feet to accompany meal times in her high chair. A favourite object is a hand held jingle. And before the lockdown Mable had sat on my lap at the keyboard imitating my actions. Mabel’s first clatterings on the keys were a ‘gross’ success. 

For a while now Mabel has known that in these ways her taking and making of music, her proto musical performances, pleases her carers. She is being musically socialised and a nascent form of creativity is being nurtured. Mabel’s music curriculum is being established – indeed, perhaps a model one.

Mabel’s musical utterances take the form of bodily gestures. They have a strong knowing element, yes cognitive – or rather – shall we say – a matter of cognitive-feeling. We might even speculate that mind-body musical schemas are being created … differentiating-integrating-differentiating-integrating… There’s the kinaesthetic-aural dual coding, well-regulated cognitive loading and an emerging working musical memory as well as a long term one. 

I may not see Mabel for a while. I wonder how she will have musically developed by the time we meet again. 

Why is it so in vogue to speak of musical progression? What about musical development?


[1] Hargreaves, D. and Lamont, A. (2017) The Psychology of Musical Development. Cambridge University Press.

[2] McPherson, Gary E. (2015) The Child as Musician: A Handbook of Musical Development. Oxford University Press.

In praise of sub-vocalization, lip-syncing and playing the kazoo

One of the core beliefs of those making a case for singing in the school curriculum is its complementarity to the playing of instruments. According to Kemp, being musical through use of the voice, relying as it does on action within, and unseen, is less cognitive and more subjective than knowing through instruments. [1] Some kind of subjective-objective balance is proposed.

The voice within, the instrument without.

Well, there’s a compact rationale for you.

Many vocal advocates highly prize the power of silent singing (sub-vocalizing), the thinking and feeling of music in mind – (body), and thought of as a foundational form of listening.

But what about the art of Lip sync?

‘Lip synclip-synclip-synch (short for lip synchronization) is a technical term for matching lip movements with sung or spoken vocals. The term can refer to any of a number of different techniques and processes, in the context of live performances and recordings.’ [2]

Here the voice is disembodied, the lip syncer is wearing a mask.

We could think of this as sub-vocalizing with lips moving, a sort of musical ventriloquism. Much listening required in this, much attentive listening. [3]

But now let’s introduce that much neglected instrument, the kazoo patented in 1883. This is an instrument through which humming and other vocalise is transformed into instrumental timbres. Is there a kazoo-ukelele orchestra out there? [4]

Sub-vocalization, lip-synchronization and kazoo playing offer in their different ways forms of intensive listening experience and, of course, the experience of thinking in sound. Thinking in sound – is this what is meant by music as the target language? ‘The target language’ – what an unfortunate expression that is.


[1] Kemp, A. E. (1990) Kinaesthesia and development in music micro-technology, British Journal of Music Education, 7, 223-229.

[2] See

[3] Lip syncing is a cultural practice and I’m not sure about reducing it to psychological behaviour. What do you think?

[4] See

Foundational listening in the music classroom

In 1899 William McNaught identified three mental faculties that all methods of teaching listening assumed children to possess.

  1. the observation of what is heard at any given moment
  2. the recollection of what has previously been heard
  3. the comparison of what we hear now with what we have recently heard [1]

We would perhaps want to add

  1. the prediction of what is to come

McNaught was writing about the teaching of listening and the methods by which children are taught to listen. [2]

Might it be a good thing to teach children that they possess the potential to

  1. observe what is heard at any given moment
  2. recollect what has previously been heard
  3. compare what they hear now with what has recently been heard
  4. predict what is to come? [3]

This would require some deliberate teaching about how to think in sound.

Powerful knowledge and valuable know how for those acquiring it, an example of meta-cognition. [4]

Pupils would of course learn to do this anyway in their own time and without being taught.

Deliberate teaching implies formal learning with the intention of empowering the pupil and overcoming the unpredictability of ‘own time’ learning.

McNaught’s bigger picture was the teaching of sight-singing.

If you can sight-sing you really can claim to be able to read music.

I have often wondered what is meant when we talk about reading music. What is actually meant? Clearly it is more than cracking a code-decoding symbols.

Sadly, there is no shortage of poorly conceived approaches used to teach children to read music in 2020, and perhaps rather more than there were in 1899.

McNaught was getting close.


[1] McNaught, W. G. (1899-2000) ‘The Psychology of Sight-Singing’, Proceedings of the Musical Association 26, 33-35 cited in G. Cox (1993) A History of Music Education in England 1872-1928, Scolar Press: Aldershot.

[2] This was before the gramophone and the music appreciation movement. The idea of listening was embedded in the act of making music – singing and playing.

[3] In Lucy Green’s theory of musical meaning ‘inherent’ musical meaning works in the same way. For a thorough discussion of the significance of inherent meaning see Green, L. (2005) Meaning, autonomy and authenticity in the music classroom, (pp. 3-19) Professorial Lecture. Institute of Education: London.

[4] Furthermore, this might lead to think of listening as being a foundational element of a curriculum rather than a part of the listening, composing, performing trinity.Advertisements

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Relational Pedagogy

Relational pedagogy is valued for its willingness to create a clear space that allows and even calls each person to articulate his or her own values and beliefs.  

The freedom of the ‘dialogic’ allowing for exchange: inviting voices to be heard, so that each becomes more aware of their own views/musicianship and able to understand each other, requiring attentiveness and responsiveness to the ‘other’ (person and their music); allowing thinking to be called forth and connecting with lived experience (existential concerns and human interests), providing the teacher with a responsibility to place something of significance before the child. Music education as an ethical pursuit. 

Informal Music Learning in the Year 2 Classroom

As an important supplement to last week’s blog I have reprinted Leslie Linton’s account of her research first published in the Music Mark Magazine 2013, a publication now defunct. I have not been able to activate the photographs that form part of it.

The work is an example of systematic enquiry seeking to better understand a significant issue in music education at this time. It may encourage others to similarly engage in enquiry.

One interesting finding from the research noted how much the children knew about how they were learning and how they were thriving on thinking about their musical thinking (metacognition).

Informal Music Learning in the Year 2 Classroom

Leslie Linton

The University of Western Ontario

October 2013

In January 2011, I travelled to England, along with a team of researchers from the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, elementary and secondary school teachers, a principal, and a school board superintendent for a week of intensive training on the Musical Futures informal music learning approach. We visited a number of Musical Futures Champion Schools, spoke to Chris Philpott and his colleagues at the University of Greenwich about their activities preparing student teachers to work with informal music learning and attended a lecture and roundtable discussion session with the informal music learning project’s originator Professor Lucy Green. 

Upon our return to Canada, we launched a pilot project introducing informal music learning to two schools (one elementary and one secondary) in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. The success of this project has attracted interest from other music educators across Canada and is leading the way to a new chapter in music education in Canada.  Numerous professional development days, conferences, and demonstrations of the Musical Futures Program (especially informal learning) have piqued the interest of music educators across Canada. Many schools are beginning to adapt their current programs to include informal learning approaches with great success. 

The success of ‘Musical Futures Canada’ has provided an interesting situation for Canadian music teachers.  Canadian music education is very different from the sorts of models found in the UK as will be discussed later in this article. Teachers and students have been faced with considerable challenges to their previous conceptions of what music education is and their previous self-conceptions of roles of learner, teacher and musician. 

The elementary school where the research took place was a Catholic elementary school in a rural area in Southwestern Ontario and included Junior Kindergarten through grade 8 students (UK year 1 through year 9). As a research assistant assigned to the elementary school, working in the pilot project with grades 6,7, and 8 (UK year 7,8, and 9). I was completely amazed at the level of interest and engagement in informal learning demonstrated by the students. The participating grades had music class once per week, and rarely – if ever – was a student absent on that day. Their enjoyment was overwhelmingly strong and passionate, so much so that the music teacher gave up her lunch breaks to provide students with extra rehearsal time. 

My interest in the younger grades began as I watched the process of new students entering the second year of the pilot project.  They had not yet had the opportunity to learn in such a way, and their adjustments were not as much musical ones as they were in terms of learning style and social interaction.  Subsequently, I wondered what this program would look like if all students had the opportunity to participate in music classes through informal learning approaches, and whether or not it would be possible for the very young students to achieve these levels of cooperation, collaboration, communication and creativity. As a result, I wondered what their music making capabilities would be like if they already had the skills to work together, solve problems, create, motivate, and take charge of their learning.

In this article I will describe the most significant results of the study I consequently undertook; presenting one theme arising from the data related to each research question.  The first is the transition from the formal to informal approach, and how I accomplished this. The second is the skills that were learned by the students, and finally, I will discuss what informal learning ‘looks like’ and ‘sounds like’ with young children.

Background of Elementary General Music Education in Canada

Typically, music education in the elementary grades is based on formal approaches following the philosophies of Kodaly, Orff and Dalcroze.  There is a specific set of skills that are taught according to grade level as a whole class in a formal style.  Even compositional or improvisational activities at an early age are ‘formalized’ through the pedagogy that is used featuring structured exercises to develop an understanding of Western Art Music traditions.  At around grade 4 (UK year 5) many students begin learning the recorder, until grade 7 and 8, (UK year 8 and 9) where formal band instruction often begins and continues throughout secondary school. The wind band tradition is prevalent in all provinces across Canada, although some programs begin in elementary school and others in secondary school, depending on the school board and funding.  Canada is a vast country with pockets of multicultural musical traditions interspersed throughout cities, communities and provinces, all of which affect the music education program in some way shape or form.  Although it is difficult to generalize in terms of what every Canadian student experiences in their music education, we can extract a few salient points that prompted my research.

  1. Most elementary students experience general music education, which is taught formally based on the philosophies of Kodaly, Orff and Dalcroze.
  2. The field of education is changing and looking towards 21stCentury learning skills and these skills are not often reflected in the formal music classroom.
  3. Most students in Canada experience formal music education and now some are involved with Musical Futures.  There is a strong and sudden shift between approaches which may have a negative effect on teachers and learners as they negotiate between the two pedagogies.

While the success of the Musical Futures program has been well noted in the targeted grades of the Canadian pilot project, (grades 7 and 8 in the elementary school, and grades 9, 10 and 11in the secondary school), I worried about the disconnect between pedagogical approaches facing younger students and how this might affect their learning.  I also wondered if an informal approach in the early grades would change the musical skills that students acquired, specifically, would they be the same as those prescribed in the Kodaly, Orff, and Dalcroze approaches?  With this in mind, I developed a research study aimed at investigating whether or not such a program could not only be possible with very young students, but might actually benefit their learning in the music classroom and further connect to the type of learning they will experience with Musical Futures.  

Theoretical framework 

My main starting points came from Lucy Green’s research (2002, 2005, 2008), Katherine Marsh’s (2008) investigation of children’s music on the playground, and further Harwood & Marsh’s (2012) development of children’s musical cultures compared to Green’s (2002) study on popular musicians and informal learning. I found no documented studies which apply the main tenets of informal learning in the school setting to very young children. Therefore, by joining Green’s principles of informal learning to young children’s playground practices as Harwood & Marsh’s research (2012) has done, and by adding a pedagogical connection to the planned informal learning study, an approach was devised as follows: 

Informal LearningPrinciples(Green, 2008)Playground & Out-of-school practices   (Harwood & Marsh, 2012)Planned Informal Learning(Linton, 2013a)
1.  The learner chooses the music for personal goals. 1. The learner chooses the music to meet social and personal goals.1. Learner chooses the music to meet social and personal goals
2. Copying music by ear is the primary method of skill acquisition. 2. Copying music is achieved through aural/oral and visual methods. Movement, eye, ear, and gestural coordination is essential for learning.2. Music is presented holistically and copied by ear.  Music is presented aurally and explored visually.
3. Learning takes place in peer or friendship groups. 3. Learning takes place in friendship groups or familial groups.  There are many levels of participation (observer to song leader) and children participate or withdraw at will.3. Learning takes place according to friendship groups, which guide their choices of music.  Students are presented with a choice of music.
4. Skills are acquired in a haphazard manner, non-linear manner.4. Skills develop according to repertoire selected.  Holistic repetition is preferred.4. Skills are explored through repertoire and teacher facilitated activities.  Repetition is encouraged.
5. Emphasis is on creativity through listening, performing, composing, and improvising.5. Communal improvisation and composition occurs occasionally according to accepted conventions.5. Students are able to create through listening, performing, and improvising.

Table 1: Planned informal learning: An extension of Harwood & Marsh’s (2012) comparative chart. (Linton, 2013a)

Research design

Using this chart to guide the study provided a framework from which I designed three informal units guided by the following research questions:

Research Question 1: Can informal learning pedagogy, developed from the musical practices of popular musicians (Green, 2008), be successfully adapted for (Grade One) students?

Research Question 2:What adaptations are necessary for informal learning pedagogy to succeed in Canadian elementary schools, which are heavily focused on the more formal approaches of Kodaly, Orff, and Dalcroze?

Research Question 3: Can the informal learning practices of children’s playground activities as described by Marsh (2008) and Harwood & Marsh (2012) be transferred to the classroom, in effect bringing childhood culture to the classroom? 


In this study I worked with two classes of grade one (UK year 2) students. Each class had 18 students with an equal representation of males and females, as well as a mixture of European ethnicities.  The principal arranged the schedule so that both classes occurred at the same time of day (11:10-11:45), on alternating days. 

The participating teacher was a music specialist teacher with an Honours Bachelor of Music Education, Bachelor of Education, Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Music and additional training in Kodaly methodology. With over 20 years of experience, she was a willing participant but was also aware that she was still required to ensure that students met the curricular expectations.

Description of informal Units

Unit 1 – Listening and copying vocally

Three songs were selected from a list generated by discussion with the students, and approved by the teacher and principal of the school.  The three songs were; ‘Trouble’ by Taylor Swift, ‘Firework’ by Katy Perry and ‘Go, Diego Go’ which is the theme song to the Nickelodeon Junior television show ‘Diego’.  I purchased the sheet music and audio files of each piece, along with 3 small MP3 players and 3 small portable speakers. I used the freeware audio program Pitch Shifter to change the tempo of the songs, so each MP3 player had one song with three tempos; the original song unchanged, medium and slow.  

In this unit, the students selected their groups according to the music they wanted to sing. They were all given lyric sheets for their piece, along with a task sheet. In some lessons, they were to set their own goals that was a new activity for the students. Some goals were verbal and some were written on the sheet of paper. At the end of the unit each group sang their song either with or without the MP3 player.  

        Figure 1- Student Achievement Chart for the Diego group

Figure 2 – A screen shot of three girls practicing Taylor Swift’s ‘Trouble’. 

Unit 2 – Playing familiar melodies by ear

In Unit 2, students formed friendship groups of any size, and were given a xylophone along with an instruction sheet with a list of familiar songs. Their task was to figure out how to play the first phrase of a selected song. The unit culminated with performances for either the teacher, researcher or the class.

Figure 3– Student Achievement chart – the sticker indicates that this group figured out the song on the xylophone. 

Figure 4 – Students working together to figure out a melody

Unit 3 – Playing harmony and singing melodies by ear

The final unit involved singing a melody and playing harmony on a ukulele at the same time, after learning an unfamiliar song. I chose Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and used English lyrics. The students indicated that they were not familiar with the tune even after it was played. I chose two YouTube videos to ‘teach’ the song to the students. The first was a flash mob with a full orchestra and choir ( The second video featured the Muppets character Beakersinging the tune “Ode to Joy” to the sound “mee” (  The video includes intricate harmonies and is a 6-way split screen ending with Beaker’s experiment exploding at the end of the song. The students asked to see the video several times, as it is very entertaining.  

I chose the key of C-Major for this song for several reasons:

  • Differentiated learning – the C chord is easy to play on ukulele, and the G-chord is difficult.
  • Some students were taking piano lessons, and most piano method books start in ‘C-Position’. Using this key may have provided a link between school music and music at home through the piano, and allowing them to learn it by ear on another instrument.
  • All of the xylophones and other Orff instruments are in the key of C-Major, which facilitated the addition of other instruments in their performance.

The students were given a lyric sheet of the English words, a ukulele, and two chord sheets for C-chord and G-chord. The students were instructed to sing the song while playing the chords, and that they could do this in any formulation they wished.  Some alternated chords between peers, some conducted and sang while others played, and some used percussion instruments.  This unit was by far their favourite for several reasons, all discussed later in the analysis section.   The unit culminated with performances by each group. Some students indicated that they had ukuleles at home, however, none knew how to play specific chords or melodies, nor were they aware that the instrument needed to be tuned a certain way.

Figure 5 – Ukuleles were always tuned before class.

Figure 6 – Students learning ‘Ode to Joy’ from a YouTube video of the Muppets character Beaker.


This study utilized an action research methodology. In this 6-month qualitative study, the regular music specialist teacher and I worked alongside one another to deliver 3 informal learning units that I designed. Approximately 460 hours of audio/visual data was collected, along with researcher field notes, teacher field notes, and mid/ post-study interviews with all students and the teacher.  

At the conclusion of the study, the recorded video was transcribed and further divided into categories, themes and then specific codes.  A codes to theory framework (Saldana, 2012) was used to refine themes and produce one overarching category.

Research Question1, Theme 1 – Transitioning from the Formal to the Informal

My initial attempt at dropping the students ‘in at the deep end’ as it is described in the Musical Futures document, and successfully accomplished with older students, presented extreme challenges to students.  One student asked me, “When are you going to start teaching us?” These young students had already been well socialized into the expected patterns of school through two years of kindergarten, and perhaps preschool or daycare: that they are to listen to the teacher and only do what they are told to do. For example, kindergarten students are told when it is playtime, when it is story time, and how to walk down the halls. They begin to rely on instructions as information and knowledge, and when asked to do something without instruction, they have a difficult time. 

The formal versus informal approach should not be thought of as a dichotomy, but instead as a continuum (Folkestad, 2006).  In addition, the formal approach is focused more towards ‘how to learn to play music’, whereas the informal approach is directed towards ‘playing music’ (ibid). Informal learning pedagogy may enable teachers and students to participate in emergent pedagogies thereby positively affecting their potential to become lifelong learners of music. To address this very important issue, I developed a process to transition along the formal-informal continuum, and used improvisation as the element which disrupted traditional teaching and learning and encouraged more flexible boundaries and musical risk taking. I created the following diagram to guide the various lessons, which occurred over approximately one month. 

Table 2: Transition from Formal to Informal with Improvisation as the link (Linton, 2013b)

This diagram begins with the Formal Instruction circle; the first point is that the teacher chooses music.  This is a common occurrence in all music classes.  The second point refers to learning visually – through music notation. At an early age such as the grade one students in the study, visual cues are very important. Although formal notation was not used in the study units, it was noted that the absence of visual cues initially hindered their overall performances in Unit 1. For example, from my field notes:

‘I have been so puzzled by the difficulty the students are having with Unit 1; singing along to their favourite songs with the audio recording. I have watched them struggle in their groups, on their own, and even asked them why it was difficult (to which they had no answer).  I wondered what was so different from regular music classes, and I even wondered if the Unit design was wrong. Then today something amazing happened. I watched the teacher teach them a new song at the end of class. She played the intricate piano part as she taught it because it was going to be for their next mass. It was a very complicated piece, with words they hardly knew how to pronounce. To my amazement, they all sang the correct words, correct pitch and rhythm. I had an “Ah-ha!” moment that almost knocked me off my chair.  All the students were indeed learning visually but not by notation; they were watching every move she made. They watched her mouth, shoulders, eyes, eyebrows, and her upper torso.  These were theirformal cues they use for how to sing the song, and in Unit 1 I have taken their formal cues away and forced them to use their ears instead. I think they are experiencing the ‘sudden shift’ into informal learning.’

It occurred to me as we went along through formal activities into improvisation, that many students were uncomfortable. Some would freeze when it was their turn, some would refuse, and others looked worried and anxious. It was not immediately evident whether they were uncomfortable being the centre of attention , or with the musical activity, or both.  The teacher mentioned that it was difficult to watch her students in an uncomfortable situation, however, I encouraged her and the class to continue with the improvisational activities.  It turned out to have a tremendous impact on the socialization between students and bonding with the whole class.  They displayed moments of empathy when a student showed discomfort, and after a short while every ‘improvisation’ received an enthusiastic round of applause and shouts of ‘Good job!’ and ‘Well done!’. An interim interview with the music teacher illustrates some of the transitions the students faced:

Interim interview – Music teacher

Teacher – But you still need to prep for this, you need to prep for the uncomfortableness, with little games, focusing activities, improvisation, just like you did.

Leslie – Right. The feeling of the isolation within the group.

Teacher – And we treat them like a little blob.

Leslie – And I think that is why they are little uncomfortable, because they are doing something different than their neighbour and they keep looking over and noticing that.

Teacher – That’s an interesting thing yes, and they are 6 now.  We have always been having them doing the same things up until now.

Musically, some students had extreme difficulty with small, short improvisation activities and would ask me to tell them what to do. Others began the transition with more ease and allowed their imagination to guide their actions. By the end of the transition, all students were quite adept at improvisational activities and were ready to move to the informal part.  Many began creating songs at home and writing them down in their Language class during journal time.  These spontaneous moments of creativity were met with great joy and appreciation during music class when they would perform their compositions and then teach the entire class.  Many would tell the ‘composer’ how much they liked their song.

Figure 8- Composition “Bad Boy”

Figure 9 – Composition “If I could fly” with lines indicating duration of specific notes.

In summary, the transitional phase from formal to informal appeared to be a critical aspect in the development of their creativity and confidence. Creative aspects were seen through the many compositions that were brought to the class. This seemed to connect music classes to other classes, and to activities at home.  Their confidence increased as their improvisations were always met with applause and praise. The most significant aspect, however, was the bonding and support offered between students.  Their kindness and trust in each other while emotionally vulnerable during musical improvisations demonstrated a depth of maturity in empathic behaviour. This type of relationship continued into their informal groups and became an essential element of their learning process.

Research Question 2, Theme 1 – Adapting expectations to meet the potential of 21stCentury Learners

One of the most alarming aspects about elementary general music education is the lack of focus on the potential of the child as an independent, intelligent and engaged learner. Curriculum expectations dictating the skills required in music for each grade have not changed in many years, yet, mathematics, science, and language arts have all moved forward; so that children now learn concepts in grade 1 that may have been previously found in grade 3. Although music education is not only about the skills acquired, the curriculum skill expectations are an indication of what an influential body of music educators believe children can do – and most importantly, may become what educators will allow them to do.

One of the informal units in this study showed that students are able to play the C-Major chord and the G-Major chord on the ukulele, alternating when necessary, while singing in-tune to the theme of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”.  This skill – to play and hear the chord progression I-V is listed in the Grade 5 expectations. It should be noted that in my research classes all students were able to do this with the exception of one special needs student with decreased motor function in her arms.

Prior to this unit, none of the students indicated that they had heard the theme ‘Ode to Joy’.  I used two YouTube videos to teach the song to them. One was a flash mob with full orchestra and sung in German.  The other was a Muppets character ‘Beaker’ who sang the tune to the sound ‘me’ (strong emphasis on ‘e’).  From there, the students were given chord sheets to follow and the English lyrics. I provided copies of chord sheets and lyrics so that in the future if the students forgot, they could reference them easily.  I also hoped that perhaps when taken home, another family member (parent etc.) might look at the sheets and try playing along.  At the end of the study, the students took home a binder of all activities undertaken during the study.  I provided this binder to all students and included lyric sheets, sheet music, colouring activites, etc so that they could view their progress at any time. 

The students formed groups of varying sizes; containing anywhere from 2-7 children, and created different versions of the song.  Although all could switch from C-Chord to G-Chord while singing, some groups split the parts; C-Chord plays and sings, then another person plays the G-Chord and sings. These spontaneous solos were very interesting as students had to be concentrating on the other person and following exactly where they were in in the song in order to join in with their partner at the right time.  Other groups added percussion instruments, and other groups had conductors.

Figure 10 – Boy demonstrating the C-Chord. Note the green dots that assisted in locating the G-Chord

Figure 11 – Girl demonstrating the C-Chord. Note the lyrics sheet in the background that she followed while playing, without indicators of chord changes.

In post-interview questioning, the majority of students indicated that this was their favourite unit.  They liked playing the instrument and having the freedom to choose how they were going to present the song. They also indicated that they ‘felt like a real musician’ because they could play and sing.

Interview Transcript: Researcher (Leslie) and two girls

Leslie –  What did you like best that we did over the past 6 months?

Girl 1 – Ukulele

Girl 2 – Ukulele

Leslie – Why do you like it?

Girl 1 – That we get to make music with it.

Leslie – What does that mean, that you get to make music with it?

Girl 1 – That we get to play with it.

Girl 2 – Like with the frets.

Leslie – So if you were singing but not playing ukulele would you feel like you were making music?

Girl 1 – No

Girl 2 – No, not really

Leslie – But you feel like you are making music with the ukulele?

Both – Ya

Leslie – So what does it mean to make music? If you are someone who can make music, what can you do?

Girl 1 – You can play an instrument

Girl 2 – You can play the melody and harmony

These type of comments were found in almost every student interview; that if you can play an instrument you are a musician.  The students have pre-existing notions of what it means to be a musician and it is interesting that at such a young age they are able to verbalize the values that they hear and see in the music that surrounds them.

Research Question3, Theme 1 – Childhood culture; What does it sound like?

This question is an important theme in the informal learning process. At first, just like the older students, it appears that there is very little learning happening.  To outsiders it might look chaotic, noisy, unstructured, and that the children are not on-task. Taking a closer look, however, shows a completely different story.  

For example, this event took place during a music class when they were working on Unit 2.  Their task was to figure out ‘Mary had a little lamb’ by ear and play it on the xylophone.

Video observation – Group of 4 students; 2 girls, 2 boys.

All 4 students are playing different notes on the small xylophones at the same time. One girl does a glissando up and down, and then the other 3 copy and play glissandos. There is no conversation between the students while they play the glissandos. They watch each other and look to each other, smiling occasionally. This continues for about 2 minutes until the teacher enters the room. She approaches the group and they stop playing. The teacher starts singing Mary had a little lamb on solfege and the students begin playing mi-re-do as instructed. The teacher leaves and they return to playing glissandos.

After approximately 3 minutes of constant glissandos, they start playing Twinkle Twinkle little star.  The teacher returns and asks them to play Mary had a little lamb.  They play part of the song but it appears far from completion. The teacher leaves again and the students play glissandos non-stop until the entire class returns. 

Each group is asked to demonstrate their progress with Mary had a little lamb. As other groups are playing the 4 students in the observation group are quietly whispering to each other back and forth. When it is their turn to play for the class, the following occurs:

The girl begins the group by counting them in ‘1-2-3’.  

They play the entire piece together (2 phrases) in unison with every note correct.  They all play without letting the notes ring; they hold their mallets on each bar.  The piece ends with a girl playing one glissando up the xylophone.

This situation is very interesting for a number of reasons.  First, we have a group of students who initially appear not to be ‘on task’ and need to be reminded by the teacher to keep practicing the assigned song.  Second, we see that this group is actually quite well-coordinated and have decided to be ‘on-their-own-task’ by doing something they find more engaging; the glissandos.Third, while observing this video we could correctly assume that when asked to perform the piece, the students would be unable to do so; partially because they have not played it through once, and because they only played glissandos for 15 minutes. However, they figure out the notes before it is their turn, decide to change the texture of the sound by holding the mallets on the bars, one person counts the group in and the same person ends the piece with a flourish.

These students are obviously quite capable of playing a simple nursery tune, which leads us to wonder to what extent educators underestimate the abilities of students, and misinterpret their behaviours? Perhaps these behaviours may serve as indicators that the students are capable of more differentiated tasks.  

Another feature of the students in this study was their imagination and creativity.  It seemed that the informal learning process nourished and encouraged these musical extensions and provided a source of joy and excitement for students. One student, interviewed below, was particularly passionate about music:

Interview Transcript

Leslie – You had a journal, right?

Girl – Yes.

Leslie – You had some very interesting compositions in your journal.

Girl– Does composition mean songs?

Leslie – Yes it means making up songs.

Leslie– First of all, how old are you?

Girl – I am 6 ½

Leslie – And what is your favourite subject in school?

Girl – Music! (with great exuberance) 

Leslie– What makes music your favourite subject?

Girl – Well, I kinda want to be a singer when I grow up.  And like I have dreams, and I was thinking about this in class.  In my closet its like a little fort, and I was imagining that there is a lever and you pull the lever and it would like make a hole in the floor and there are music notes leading down to a music land.

Leslie – That is great, is this real?

Girl – No, but I wish it was!

Leslie – So you want to be a singer – do you listen to music now at home?

Girl – Yes, um for my birthday and for some presents I usually get CD’s.

Leslie – Oh and, what kind of CD’s?

Girl – Well I have a (inaudible) from my godparents and like its about Jesus and that stuff.  I just love this one song.  It is called J-e-s-u-s. (She sings a little of the song.)And its like so the dad’s part, mom’s part, older sister who broke her leg in the last show and I got to sing live.  And the other is Minipops. My favourite one on minipops is Party in the USA.  

Leslie – Who is the singer of that?

Girl – I think it is Hanna Montana.  She is my favourite person right after Taylor Swift.  She’s my favourite.

Leslie – What is your favourite Taylor Swift song?

Girl – Probably ‘Trouble’.

Leslie– What is one thing that you find easy in music class?

Girl– I would say that in music class it was easy to sing on the microphone.  Once I sang it and someone in grade 3 plays the drums and Mrs. D. played the piano.  I sang Rolling in the Deep. (she starts singing it)

Leslie – Good for you!

Girl – It was kind of like a band. I was over in the corner with all the grade 7 and 8 instruments.

Leslie –  What has your favourite thing that we have done since I got here?

Girl – Um probably Ode to Joy because we did a group of 4 and that was really cool.

Leslie – What was your least favourite thing?

Girl – I don’t have one.  

Leslie – Let’s say you are really good at music, what can someone do?

Girl – Probably play instruments, and sing without stage fright, do videos, do concerts, all that stuff.

Leslie – What’s stage fright?

Girl – Its when someone goes on stage and they are frozen.

Leslie – Do you have that?

Girl – No.  But the ——- do.  They live in the states and we are going to visit them.

Leslie – Let’s say that you are the teacher, what would you do?

Girl – I would probably do 10 times Taylor Swift Trouble, then 10 times Rolling in the Deep.  Then everyone would get a turn to go on the drums, bass, and microphone.  You can keep track of who had a chance to have a turn.

Leslie – You would be a good music teacher, I want to be in your class! 

This interview demonstrates how important music is in this young girl’s life as she imagines the ‘musicland’ in her closet and asks for CD’s for her birthday.  Among the other interviews, all students showed a preference for specific musicians and were quite enthusiastic when describing their favourite songs and groups of musicians. The difference between this group of students and other student not in the study, is that their favourite songs were a part of their learning in the music classroom. This element assisted in connecting their learning to home activities and connecting home activities to the school music program. Some students mentioned that their parents would try and play along with them, either through an instrument such as guitar and piano, or sing along with the songs they were learning. Her imagination about being the music teacher was interesting and there were other interviews of children with ideas about what music education should look like. It was also interesting that she imagined the music program with the instruments used for the upper years; drums, bass guitar, and microphone. In this study I specifically chose not to use those instruments to more closely duplicate what is typically found in Canadian music classrooms. This student’s proactive and engaged attitude about learning is especially important for continued interest and participation in musical activities. When given some freedom of choice, it appeared that the students become empowered and seemed to gain ownership over their learning; an essential element in every subject area.

The Sociology of Childhood and Informal Learning

This study is informed both my music education research on informal learning and by research in the ‘new sociology of childhood’, which emphasizes  that children exercise agency in interpreting and reproducing childhood, while acknowledging that they are part of the overall social structure of childhood (Corsaro, 2011).  Peer cultures and agency influence behavior and learning in music education, even in the grade one classroom. This is possible because of the informal learning approach, as it is not a linear approach to development.  

According to Morrow (2011, p. 21-22) there are three main points to consider in the new sociology of childhood:

1.     Children are agents and active participants in the construction of knowledge.

2.     Childhood is a variable of social analysis because the ideas of childhood change through space and time.

3.     Childhood is also structural in that it is a permanent social category where the members change but its relationship to adulthood continues.

The new sociology of childhood is still a relatively young branch within the field of sociology and has yet to find its way into the general social structural analysis (Bühler-Niederberger, 2010). Understanding different perspectives is essential to the new sociology of childhood, which challenges researchers to question how we can better respect children in our thinking, how we can elevate the status of youth while drawing on the complexities of the everyday experiences of children and how we can use the diversity of the discipline to keep children’s best interests at the forefront (Morrow, 2011).The results of this study will provide insight into the appropriateness and success of informal music pedagogy in facilitating primary students’ agentic learning of music.


It is hoped that this study may result in a broader conception of expectations of music outcomes and schooling for young children that acknowledges the roleinformal learning may play. Informal learning may result in uncertainty surrounding the role of the teacher. However, the shift in focus away from the teacher to the learner is what is critical for music educators. Those who have been immersed in the western art tradition (whether as musicians or non-musicians, teachers or students) may have specific ideas of what constitutes ‘teaching music’ versus ‘learning music’ versus ‘musicking’ (Small, 1998) and values associated with each.  Addressing these beliefs may require further research and reform our expectations with respect to the values involved in the teaching and learning of music.  

Elementary music education may benefit from informal approaches as students in this study became extremely engaged in their own learning, often seeking additional musical information which was outside of their current tasks. When given the opportunity to become autonomous learners in the music classroom, the students in this study became collaborative learners, creative in their musical performances, communicated with each other both verbally (while in the planning stages; teaching each other, encouraging each other, etc.) and non-verbally (while playing music together), and displayed advanced critical thinking skills through their analysis, discussion, reflection and informed responses to their musical tasks and projects.

In shifting the focus away from how the teacher teaches and towards how the learner learns, we may begin to remove expectations concerning what each individual elementary music program should look like.  The shift away from prescriptive approaches and pedagogies may disrupt teachers’ beliefs with respect to the nature and purposes of music education as well as challenge their understandings of their roles as professional musician/teachers. This will in essence redefine and re-form the nature of music learning and the values associated with ways of learning in all settings whether formal or informal.


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Linton, L. (2013a/b). Informal Learning in the Grade 1 ClassroomPaper presented at the 8thInternational Conference for Research in Music Education, April 9-13, 2013, Exeter, UK. 

Marsh, K. (2008). The Musical playground. London: Oxford University Press

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Wright, R. & Kannelopolous, P. (2012). Informal music learning, improvisation, and teacher education. In Karlsen, S & Vakeva, L. (eds), Future prospects for music education: Corroborating informal learning pedagogy. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.


Flashmob of Ode to Joy

Beaker singing Ode to Joy