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


9 thoughts on “Music education euro-centric or worldview?

  1. davidashworth

    The statement you quote above can indeed be seen as encouraging. This provides an opportunity for looking at Areas of Study in a completely different way – in a way that could transform the way we teach GCSE, for the better.

    I just hope that teachers and exam boards do not skim over this game-changer and revert to ‘business as usual’. And I suspect some teachers would appreciate some help in imagining what some of the possibilities might be.

    The two suggestions you outline make a helpful start. What we now need is a big list of possible sketches for Areas of Study. Not something that teachers would use prescriptively, but something which might open eyes and ears to new possibilities.

    This is the sort of thing you and I and others would enjoy doing, and I’m sure teachers would find it helpful if we were to go ahead and do this. However, teachers might rightly be cautious about embarking on new paths which did not have some official sanction or badge of approval. So exam boards/DfE/Ofqual/Ofsted might need to help out here.

    Once again, where’s QCA when you need them most?

  2. I think there needs to be conversations with Exam Boards, that is those within who have good knowledge of music and music scholarship. Do they exist, or am I refering to chief examiners? Difficult to penetrate.

  3. davidashworth

    Agreed – very difficult to establish dialogue. This is especially the case since a communication lockdown of sorts was imposed on their staff, following scandals re leaking privileged information.

  4. John and David agree with you both about QCA and exam boards. When the curricular restructure came in Scotland for music what seems to have been incredibly popular with teachers who were scratching their heads and concerned about stepping outside previously established structure they had been using for years was one simple thing…….a closed (by invitation only) facebook group where people shared, and continue to share, their ideas and resources. This was started by a couple of people who worked for SQA and Education Scotland. Are there some brave pioneering people out there who would get something rolling for GCSE I wonder?

  5. Hello.
    I’m Marie – OCR’s Subject Specialist for Music, leading the development of the Music GCSE and A Level reformed qualifications.
    I am very interested in the views displayed, and in fact am attempting to “push” a change in the way we approach areas of study as a means to link and integrate the subject content with the skills of listening, performing and composing in a musical and meaningful way. I am a huge believer that music needs to be taught musically and want to design specs that encourage teachers to teach musically and practically, teaching the importance of the process – that way I think the outcomes – the only bit we are allowed to assess – will be successful performances and compositions and musical students.
    (A bit about me – ex music teacher and HoD of a secondary and an FE music dept.)
    You can get me on

  6. davidashworth

    Great to hear from someone who works for an exam board! John and I were talking the other day – and saying how difficult it seemed to open up these particular lines of communication.

    Marie – are you going to be at the Music Expo? John and I are both there on the Friday…and it would be good to talk.

    PS you might also find my blog at of interest, as it touches on some of the issues John raises.

  7. Hello Marie, thank you for responding. It’s really good to be able to talk to a GCSE Exam Board Subject Specialist. I had feared that Exam Boards worked in secret and mysterious ways.
    Yes, the challenge will be to create Areas of Study and specifications that do what you are aiming for.
    In the past I have blogged about how GCSE and music education more generally could be framed through ‘Making and Thinking’ and what critical thinking might mean.
    It strikes me as a step forward to accept listening as underpining Making (Composing and Performing) and Critical Thinking (Appraising) opening up a greater sense of integration and whatever emerges as the 40% exam. So no longer a ‘listening’ exam as such.
    You will have read in my blogs an attempt at fresh ways of thinking about musical practices (music). The main point is that now is an opportunity to imagine possibilities. Could there be a community music project, for example?
    PS. The GCE Music London Board exam of 1960 required candidates to write out in staff notation one of four national songs. It was an interesting aural test requiring musical thinking. I don’t suggest this be reintroduced. However, I wonder in what ways candidates could work with notation imaginatively.

  8. Marie

    Hi both,
    I am indeed at the expo – I have a stand and will be talking at a panel session on the Friday too.
    I’m off to a meeting now so will be in touch!

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