After the Music Learning Revolution

Is there such a thing as an effective balance between student directed informal learning and teacher directed formal learning?’

That was the question before the panel at the first debate of the day at the Music Learning Revolution Festival of Innovation last Friday.

Debating questions need to be questioned, interrogated – where do they come from, what provokes them and so on. And have you noticed politicians sometimes say ‘I don’t accept the premise of the question’. In a playful mood I might say:

What if we reset the question and replaced ‘teacher directed formal learning’ with ‘pupil directed formal learning’?

And ‘student directed informal learning’ with ‘teacher directed informal learning’?

Formal, informal – zombie categories? [1]

Fortunately Chris Philpott was at hand to clear the ground and helpfully draw attention to Goren Folkestadt’s clarification.

This is perhaps best communicated from Chris’ previous writing.

Chris writes:

‘For Folkestad the crucial issue here is of the intentionality of the learner. Formal learning is found when the minds of pupils and teachers are directed to learning how to play music. Informal learning is found when minds are directed to playing and making music. Furthermore, ‘’what characterises most learning situations is the instant switch between these learning styles and the dialectic interaction between them’’ [2] We can characterise this as ‘flipping’ …’ [3] [4]

Chris illustrated this through his own learning in a Brass Band, how the formality of learning the F and G March became the informality of playing F and G inside Beethoven’s Egmont Overture.

Fortunately Fiona Sexton was on the panel and able to exemplify the concept of flipping in her work as a secondary school teacher. This was not only in terms of the instant switch between the informal and the formal moment but also in terms of sometimes directing pupil groupings as well as leading more sustained passages of formal teaching. Fiona finding balance and equilibrium.

But let me flip to a different debate.

What music and why?

Fortunately Emily Segal was on this panel. Emily told something of her journey to being a teacher who listened closely to her pupils and how mutual enrichments were nurtured. As in the case of Fiona* what Emily* described resembled a kind of negotiated curriculum resting on dialogue and trust. [5]

Dialogue – listening – reciprocation – respect – mutual recognition – trust.

All very complex, subtle and potentially elusive.

(I attempted to capture the subtleties involved in making a negotiated curriculum in

What music and why?

Perhaps a better question is:

Whose music and why? [6]

Next week the question: Can you only teach music if you are a trained music educator? Will I be able to leave my comfort zone? See

* Both Fiona and Emily are Musical Futures Teaching Associates.


[1] Have you seen SOLE= self organised learning?

[2] Folkestad, G. (2006) ‘Formal and Informal Learning Situations or Practices vs Formal and Informal Ways of Learning’, in British Journal of Music Education, 23 (2): 135-45.

[3] Philpott, C. (2013) Assessment for self-directed learning, in (eds) Chris Philpott and Gary Spruce, Debates in Music Teaching. Routledge: London.

[4] See for an analysis of a year 8 lesson using Folkstad’s scheme.

[5] Shepherd, J., Virden, P., Vulliamy, G. and Wishart, T. (1980) Whose Music? A Sociology of Musical Languages. New Brunswick: Transaction Books.

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