Knowing how to make music well (ii)

In last week’s blog I began to test Gert Biesta’s framewok for discerning purposes in education by applying this to music education. In doing this I made clear that I was considering the purposes of music education for all children in the context of a general education.

In addressing the first of Biesta’s three functions – ‘Qualification’, I proposed that:

All children be equipped with the knowledge, skills and understandings to make music well.

I made the point that the qualification function is often seen as a sufficient aim. However, the second, socialisation, as I will show, looms large.

Socialisation – the process of inserting newcomers into a social order involving the transmission of the social norms required to maintain common ways of living, shared beliefs and values that are thought to bind us together. While socialisation functions as a continual process beyond the confines of the school, in school we quickly learn that we don’t hug our primary school teacher, that there are times to move to music and times to be still, that it is good to be kind to other people both near and far away through the songs sung, that singing is a normal thing to do, that music is something that can be learnt about and so on.

Legislators from Plato to Morgan have paid great attention to the socialisation function of education.

For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for example, singing was seen as the vehicle by which children would be inducted into a social order that is of course also a moral order.

In 1836 civil servant Kay proposed that singing is: ‘an important means of forming an industrious, brave, loyal and religious people’ [1], the kind of sentiment that led to an ongoing comittment to forge and preserve a common song repertoire.

In another place we see the socialisation function expressed as the induction of the young into

‘… an unbroken tradition of cultural possessions that will fill the lives of children with joy and happiness and that should help, by means of its ability to build up the people and community, in bringing up children to become men aware of their German heritage, so that they may feel the kinship with their home and people.’ [2]

This is Germany 1939.

And now in our own time, and with the cause of preserving a common heritage of song abandoned, there is the political ambition to create a common conversation around an agreed canon of musical works. (We have a hundred pieces of classical music for Primary Schools.) At the same time Ofsted will be monitoring the inculcation of British Values.

But all this brings into play a counter position that wishes to contest the existing social order by offering visions of a society transformed. So not maintainers and sustainers but rather disrupters and transformers.

Paulo Freire puts the matter in stark format:

‘Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.’ [3]

And Christopher Small writing in 1977 is arguing for creative activity to be placed at the centre of music education so that it becomes:

‘… possible to control our own musical destiny, provide our own music rather than leave it to someone else to provide, then perhaps some of the other outside expertise that controls our lives can be brought under control also.’ [4]

The tension between the maintainance (and indeed restoration) of ways of life (culture) and their transformation is great.

To relieve the tensison I will say simply that: we inherit cutures of music making that are global as well as national and local in origin with scope for their regeneration and transformation.

Thus, if pupils are to become qualfied in making music well they will need to be:

Inducted into existing cultures of making music with the potential for the regeneration and creative transformation of practice.

Our first and second purposes interact. Making music well requires knowledge, skills and understandings of musical cultures.

In making problematic the taken for granted insertion of the child into the existing social order we reach into our third category.

3. Subjectification (an ugly word) – the process of becoming a subject; becoming independent from the social order, an autonomous subjective self with the possibility of living creatively and critically. This involves the growth of self-awareness, consciousness of the process of induction into the social order, of constraints and potentials, of the possibility for personal agency.

Thus our third purpose.

The child becoming a unique individual, subjectively enriched and able to know a sense of personal freedom, even emancipation through music making.

So, in summary, the three purposes overlapping and interacting:

1. To equip all children with the knowledge, skills and understandings to make music well.

2. To induct all children into existing cultures of making-music with the potential for the regeneration and creative transformation of practice.

3.To enable all children to become unique individuals, subjectively enriched and able to know a sense of personal freedom, even emancipation through music making well.

Emphasis can be place differently at different stages, times and as circumstances call for.

And now a talking point.

In a liberal democracy should there be a settled agreement about the purposes of music education?

Next week Felicity Laurence reports on a sequence of music teaching through which we can reflect on the purposes of music education and consider how they might be reflected in the music making of ten year old children.


[1] Kay, J. (1836) Quoted in ‘Composers and the Nature of Music Education’. Ian Laurence

[2] Source lost!

[3] Freire, P.  (2000) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Penguin. Page 30.

[4] Small, C. (1977) Music, society, Education. Calder. Page 214.







2 thoughts on “Knowing how to make music well (ii)

  1. I am working in Northern Ireland at the moment and have been very moved by relevance of the music of Ireland to the children’s playing. The rhythmic character of the melodies emerges with tangible resonance not only with their personal voice, but tells also of the wider community and its landscape. Very meaningful. Very beautiful. I’ve been privileged to hear this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s