Knowing how to make music well (v)

In this series of five blogs (scroll down for the full story) I set out to bring to the fore the question of purpose in a music education for all children as part of a general education.

I have argued that finding purpose for music education and the search for what might be thought of as good music education is in constant need of attention, lest what passes as advocacy becomes conflated with purpose, or that the discourse of ‘learnification’ and ‘effectiveness’ distract from it.

Each of the three purposes proposed are sourced from Gert Biesta’s framework for considering the purpose of education, or as he sometimes puts it: what education is for. [1] In appropriating Biesta’s framework I have been able to develop a way of approaching discussion about the purposes of a music education, or if you prefer: what is music education for? [2]

It is emphasised that the enquiry has addressed a music eduction for all children as part of a general education. This needs repeating because this limits the question to music education as practiced within an institutional framework, normally the school. So, not a specialist music education nor a music education for ‘all’, implying music education wherever, whenever and life long. Of course, the solutions proposed may well be applicable to ‘all’, and as made clear in the second blog, emphasis may be placed differently across the framework as circumstances call for. In this way I think there is scope to answer Kathryn’s questions.

MayorsMusic2016 music is a contested territory like everything else in schools What’s the goal? Who decides? Is there learner choice?

But now let me take one more step and place the purpose of music education within the broadest framework I know – education for human flourishing-music education for human flourishing.

In the broadest terms an education should enable the child to live well and fully flourish as a human being now and throughout their lives. To expand the source of this statement one commentator writes:

‘In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says that eudaimonia means ‘doing and living well and being content’. For Aristotle this implies that eudaimonia involves activity and a striving for excellence. It is human nature to strive for self-development. Therefore the best form of eudemonia is gained by the proper development of one’s best powers and the most humane attitude. This identifies us as ‘rational animals’. It follows that eudemonia for a human being is the attainment of excellence (arête) through the use and application of reason.’ [1]

Eudaimonia represents a life-long goal. There is no point of arrival and ‘happiness’, merely being a state of mind, is not what Aristotle is thinking of. And ‘well-being’ misses the mark too.


The concept of human flourishing enables highlighting and attending to the structures that prevent this from being the case, to inequity and social injustice.

Our hope is that in every school, every classroom, every child will be coming to know how to make music well, working with and against existing musical cultures while being subjectively enriched.



[1] Biesta, G. (2013) The Beautiful Risk of Education. Paradigm Publishers. See pages 127-130.

[2] The question of purpose, of course, can’t be separated from many other questions – what is the nature of music, the nature of music-making, childhood, society, the kind of society we would wish for, the kind of musical society we might wish for and so on. While not starting from these kinds of questions they are always close to surface of what has been written in the five blogs.

[3] Apologies for not being able to acknowledge the source.





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