What is good music education?

In last week’s blog I reported on year 8’s ‘beautiful work’ and suggested that music had a strong presence in the school because it enriched the pupil’s knowledge and understanding of the world they were growing into. Quite a wild claim and a rather big idea, you might say.

Well, pupils were knowing how to make Blues music; how to improvise freely and knowing that a particular cultural practice has social-cultural-political significance. So not so unreasonable.

And it does connect with the three music educational purposes I have been working on, expressed here in question form.

  1. What does a music education qualify people to do; what knowledge and dispositions are needed in order to make music well and to think about it critically?
  2. How will a music education induct newcomers into existing practices, into the cultures of making-music, which practices, which cultures of music making? How will a music education recognise the cultural energy pupils already possess’?
  3. How will a music education help children and young people to become unique individuals, subjectively enriched and able to feel a sense of personal freedom, even emancipation through a music education? [1]

But what about the teacher in this case?

The music teacher in collaboration with the teachers of History and Drama took time to fine tune their purposes and in the light of these made judgements about how they would teach and the kind of education they were taking responsibility for. Gert Biesta sees the teacher as one who is continually making judgements in what are always ‘new, unique and concrete sitiuations.’ [2]


‘Sometimes education needs to be flexible and personalised; in other cases it needs to be strict, structured and general. In some cases education needs to be centred on the student; in other cases it needs to be centred on the teacher. In some cases everything that we expect from students should be visible and clear to them; in other cases we need to work with a sense of mystery and openness.’ [3]

There could be many more ‘sometimes education needs to be … ‘

And for ‘education’ we can read ‘music education’.

Biesta’s point is that we need to be clear about what we seek to bring about. Purposes will need to be balanced. There will be trade offs.

In seeing every situation as new and unique the teacher will be a natural risk taker, one who is an artist rather than a technician. It is this that helps to avoid categroical statements about how a teacher should be –  instructor, stand back supporter, interventionist, co-musician, director, facilitator, didact etc.. In this way fads and fashions are kept at bay.

Biesta likes to ask ‘what is good education?’ And to begin to answer this we need to work out what education is for, what music education is for. This will involve working out what is the nature of music, what is music in the world, what is education. And it is this that comes to be represented by the purposes I have set out above. As Jason Kubilius maintains, simply promoting music as a good thing is a deceit and misses the mark. [4]


[1] For fuller context see https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/what-is-music-education-for-in-the-age-of-measurement/?preview=true&preview_id=1132&preview_nonce=f7de6ffb9b&post_format=standard and https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2015/03/13/music-education-without-a-centre/?preview=true&preview_id=1250&preview_nonce=1f68e4cd81&post_format=standard

I am persisting in discussing the purposes of a music education in which the school plays an essential role. I am not at all convinced by the proposal that the achievment of a strong musical identity is the ultimate goal of a music education. While such achievment is worthy, even necessary, I don’t think this it is sufficient in the context of the school and its purposes.

[2] Biesta, G. (2015) Good Education and the Teacher: Reclaiming Educational Professionalism in (eds.) J. Evers, J. and R. Kneyber, Flip the System: Changing Education from the Ground Up. Routledge: London.

[3] Ibid page 82.

[4] See https://teachingmusicking.wordpress.com/ which has got me thinking more about purposes 1 and 2 above. 1 is about ‘qualification’ and 2 about ‘socialisation’.


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