Inside the silence

In last week’s blog I told about a music teacher’s playful dialogue with a year 7 class.

The teacher wrote:

‘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 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.’

So, what’s going on here?

In the silence music is thought and felt. It’s that old friend foundational listening. Marion knows what we are talking about.

Dr Marion Long@Rhythm4Reading Sep 19

@Johnfinney8 @MMAmusicnews The power of the magic silence in a Year 7 classroom, achieved through listening together #musiceducation #trust

Minds-bodies are compelled to engage and did you notice that the teacher connects the idea of engagement with ‘being in flow’, a likely reference to Csicksentmihalyi’s flow theory? [1]

To be in flow involves losing a sense of self, distractions are excluded from consciousness, there is no worry of failure, time is distorted.

This is optimal experience.

Altogether a reasonable way of thinking about ‘musical engagement’.

Engagement is its own reward.

In this case the teacher leads the pupils inward, feeling and thinking inside the silence. An example of deep engagement in the moment we might say.

The song wasn’t selected in order to illustrate a key word or two, to advance theoretical knowledge or the pupil’s skill in notational audiation.

It was simply thought to be a beautiful song and there was a beautiful sound to be made.

And of course there was no stress to assess. No climbing some imaginary ladder of progression.

Perhaps a time in itself.

And pupils may have been learning to be a little more discriminating, discerning and curious about music?

Once upon a time assessment in music was near synonymous with learning to discriminate and discern what was valuable and worthwhile.

Perhaps it might be again or is the past really a foreign country?


[1] Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper: New York.

See Custodero, L. (2005) ‘Observable indicators of flow experience: a developmental perspective on musical engagement in young children form infancy to school age’ Music Education Research, 7 (2), 185-209.

Also Ambrose, K. (2013) Performing Samba, Finding ‘Flow’: Fostering Engagement in the Classroom. In (eds) John Finney and Felicity Laurence, Masterclass in Music Education: Transforming Teaching and Learning. Bloomsbury: London.

Also on the topic of ‘engagement’ see and a Jennie Francis reply.


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