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 sync, lip-sync, lip-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

On track 16 of the Naxos recording of Lully’s Ballet Music of the Sun King the kazoo is substituted for the trumpet marine.



Audit culture and the music teacher

It was in 1995 that I received my first communication from a secondary school music teacher telling about the problem of mis-recognition. That is, being observed teaching music and not being understood, of not fitting with the template of the observer. [1]

Last week, and twenty years later, Anna Gower told of the long conversation over time with her line manager that has been productive and by the sound of it, mutually rewarding. Anna is now understood. [2]

Sadly, Anna’s blog also told of the continuing and all too common professional degrading of other music teachers where the heavy hand of managerialism leaves the teacher compromised and demoralised.

I had thought this to be specifically a Key Stage 3 problem, for it is in secondary school that music comes under the same scrutiny as other subjects.

But this week I heard another story and this time coming from Key Stage 2. The music lesson focusing on pentatonic tonality was being inspected. The observer thought the lesson needed to be more challenging for some by allowing the use of more than five notes.

(Is the kind of conversation needed to release this observer from ignorance too tortuous and complex to contemplate?)

Anna ends her blog with a request for help in identifying an authority that might be able to arrest this sorry state of affairs. Could it be Ofsted, a subject organization, an intervention by a minister of state, the OECD? Isn’t there somebody out there with power and authority to address this most serious of problems holding back the development of music in our schools?

All that can be offered, so it seems, is sympathy and a willingness to rant alongside Anna.

The utopian solution is to call for the abolition of the audit culture that pervades education systems throughout the world justified as it is in terms of a global race for economic ascendency. The commitment to neo-liberal values gives education a particular trajectory and this means that the language and logic of financial auditing along with rampant managerialism is the order of the day.

The teacher is no longer accountable in the sense of being ‘responsible’. Instead, ‘accountable’ now means ‘checked out’ for compliance with the systems working within the school, working on the school.

There is talk of ‘evidencing’, ‘proving’, ‘efficiency’, ‘cost effectiveness’ – the language of audit culture representing the logic of a market orientated education system. There are no signs that this will change. [3]

The intensity of the audit culture varies from school to school, from academy chain to academy chain. Where it operates at its most severe there is little scope for the teacher’s voice, little scope for a music educational dialogue between music teacher and line manager.

Anna shows how there can be a productive dialogue. There is an ongoing conversation with a line manager over some time bearing fruit and not unconnected with the ways in which the fruits of the music classroom are visible throughout the school.

So there can be mutual understanding in place of mis-recognition. Accountability can be replaced by a sense of mutual responsibility with trust at its heart.

Contrast Anna’s sustained dialogue with her line manager and the primary teacher faced with a stranger’s ignorance of both music and music educational practice and where limited or no scope for dialogue presents itself.

While there will always be the ignorance of strangers and the ignorance of line managers, Anna offers a way forward showing that it is possible to grow a sense of mutual responsibility and mutual understanding.

Anna describes a year 7 music lesson observed. From the description there is a dialogic approach thriving on a commitment to unpredictable outcomes in a climate of mutual responsibility and trust.

The observing line manager understands how this works.

So what can be done beyond expressing sympathy?

1.Attend to the education of music teachers so that they become articulate about their values, principles of practice and the basis for their micro pedagogical decisions. [4]
2.Find an organization committed to music education willing to commission research into the extent of the problem.
3.Create thickly described case studies of music teachers in dialogue with line managers including transcripts of conversations. Detail is needed for others to be able to generalize to their situation.

Point two is wishful thinking I fear. And point three therefore ambitious.

This leaves point 1 and I can’t find this in the The National Plan for Music.


[1] By the mid 1990s the full ramifications of the 1988 Education Reform Act were beginning to be felt. A new set of values were being established. See Bonnett, M. (1996) New era values and the teacher-pupil relationship as a form of the poetic. British Journal of Educational Studies, 44(1), 27-41.
[2] See http://peertopeer.ning/discussion/can-anyone-help
[3] For hope see Biesta, G. (2010) Good Education in the Age of Measurement: Ethics, Politics, Democracy. Paradigm Publishers: London.
[4] This is not about articulating the ‘power of music’. This is a distraction from articulating values and a music educational rationale. These are not dependant on claims about the power of music.

Music education euro-centric or worldview?

In my blog of January 29th I drew attention to the ways in which Art and Music are constituted as GCSE subjects. In the case of Art, and unlike Music, students are thought of as burgeoning artists lightly burdened by contextual and theoretical knowledge. Knowing how to master processes of making is highly valued.

In Art the processes of making are considered educationally valuable and therefore assessed (valuable=valued=assessed).

This is not the case in Music.

In last week’s blog I moved on to consider the potential for Areas of Study to bring together subject content in a meaningful way. The statement below is encouraging.

‘An area of study might be, for example, a genre, style, musical device, idiom, musical process, period of time, cultural tradition or contextual influence.’ [1]

And these are only examples.

I proposed that here is an opportunity to include not just a range of music, but to create ‘difference’ by designing Areas of Study that open up different ways of thinking about the ways in which music is practiced.

In particular I pointed out that euro-centric norms can be avoided and in their place a wider view of music and musical practices adopted, what in wider educational circles is called a ‘worldview’ (nothing to do with world music). The distinction between a euro-centric and a worldview perspective is important.

Through a worldview lens all roads no longer lead from and to the mandatory Area of Study – Western European Art Music (WEAM) 1650-1910. Other Areas of Study are not seen through the lens of the mandatory study, although as noted in last week’s blog the list of subject content at present makes this problematic.

My example of four possible Areas of study attempted to create what I called a ‘dialogue of difference’. Each Area of Study would take students to a strange place. If not strange it would need to be made strange. Two examples I suggested were ‘Tonal Stereotypes WEAM 1650-1910’ and ‘The Global Hip Hop Diaspora’. The later might range across Islamic Hip Hop in Luton (or some strain of Hip Hop where you are), urban dissent in Cairo and Sao Palo fusions.

But enough of this, for I suspect that I may be engaged in a dialogue of the deaf and going beyond the scope of official thought and the capacity of those regulating the subject to think differently.

Nevertheless, it’s always good to imagine what might be, even what will never be, how music education at this level might be different, how it might connect with developments in musical scholarship which are rather more sensitive to a changing world than the iteration of GCSE Music syllabuses seem to be.

Is there nothing music education could learn from art education?


[1] See

Dialogue and Difference in GCSE Music

In last week’s blog I considered the balance of exam and no-exam assessment for Art and Music in the GCSE to be first taught in 2016. I highlighted differences in the way Art and Music approach processes of ‘making and thinking’ as sources of valuing what is important (what is assessed). [1]

Now I am thinking about another issue that aroused disquiet amongst those responding to the draft proposals – the singling out of a mandatory area of study.

In the new GCSE for Music, as in the old, the Area of Study acts as the structuring device. It is the place where with imaginative planning all things come together and make sense. The Area of Study can be thought of as the place where music is lived and re-lived together here and now in the classroom, while being in touch with the then and there, the how and why, the who and what of musical practice. There should be at least four areas of study.

In dealing with areas of study the draft subject content for GCSE Music published in July 2014 proposed that

  • at least one area of study must be drawn from music composed in the western classical tradition between 1700 and 1900 [2]

This caused some turbulence, contributed to an ISM campaign and there was a minor twitter storm.

It was seen by many as a symbolic marker of the way GCSE as a whole would be narrowly centered on one segment of the western classical tradition. One argument runs like this:

1700-1900 in the western classical tradition (WCT) marks the establishment of tonality and conveniently secures the theoretical template for everything else.

The list of subject content confirms this.

As a mandatory area of study the WCT 1700-1900 would in effect define other areas of study as Other waiting to be accommodated to ‘the chosen one’, WCT 1700-1900, ‘the special one’.

The list of subject content confirms this.

The objection to a mandatory area of study is that all others would be viewed from the perspective of ‘the chosen one’, ‘the special one’. This would encourage a process of ‘sameing’ bringing the ‘other’ into the totalizing orbit of the ‘special one’ with the ensuing violence done to ‘difference’. Why should other areas be made sense of through the prism of WCT 1700-1900?

The list of subject content presented justifies this question.

94% of those responding to the consultation (606 respondents) declared that the proposed content in Music was inappropriate. In response the government’s final judgment reads

  • at least one area of study must be drawn from music composed in the Western classical Tradition with all or the majority being composed between 1650 and 1910 [3]

The concession is minimal, the doctrine reinforced.

However, we note that:

‘An area of study might be, for example, a genre, style, musical device, idiom, musical process, period of time, cultural tradition or contextual influence.’ [2]

I take this statement as an invitation to uncover different ways of understanding music and musical practices and to explore different ways of studying music. So here might be a potential antidote to the hegemony of the mandatory 1650-1910 WCT.

So, let’s consider, for example, four areas of study working as a ‘dialogue of difference’ and offering alternative ways of thinking about music and thus furthering critical thought about musical practices.

The Hip Hop Diaspora: three case studies 1) local 2) far away 3) ……..

The Great American Songbook 1920-1950: making a canon

The rough and smooth of music 1750-2015: the uses of music in society and culture

Diatonic stereotypes 1650-1910

Some elaboration for this one. (I’m getting some really good ideas for the three above as well.)

Heinrich Biber’s Passacaglia in G minor composed in 1676 is for solo violin and shows Biber’s variation technique. The notes G-F-Eb-D are repeated sixty five times. These are the first four notes of the descending melodic minor scale or if you prefer the diatonic tetrachord. The pattern is a Baroque stereotype.

Other stereotypes 1650-1910 – any ideas?

In order to counteract the process of ‘sameing’ and its threat to ‘difference’, careful thought will need to be given to areas of study.

The example above attempts to explore what this might mean. In this example subject content would be defined in fresh and interesting ways. Means and ends could keep up a conversation.

What is urgently needed now is imagination from the exam boards and a conversation with teachers and pupils. In this way some of the tensions existing between differing standpoints might be alleviated and a GCSE in music might emerge that is more than a minor variation of the existing one.


[1] See

For ‘making and thinking’ read ‘performing, composing, appraising’.

[2] See

For the source of governmental ideology see blog below 18.12.2014

[3] See