No composing before Key stage 4!

There is abroad the idea, and now shaped into an ideology, that knowledge comes before creativity. Such is the fervour of this poisition that in the case of music this is taken to mean that children should be protected from the art of composing until they reach the age of 14. This is the age that marks the transition from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4 and when a requirement of the GCSE exam taken at age 16 is that music is composed and presented for examination.

By knowledge is meant knowledge about musical notation (and sometimes referred to as ‘the theory of music’) and knowledge about the music of composers from the past. It might encompass knowledge of how to sing and play well, how to sight sing, but I rather think this will not be included in this particular conception of knowledge.

In pronouncing ‘no composing before Key stage 4’ we see highly stipulative definitions of both knowledge and creativity.

In an act of music educational conciliation I offer the following – how to incorporate knowledge of notation into your teaching in Year 7 and how this can enable musical composition. And how to broaden conceptions of both musical knowledge and creativity.

Notation is often introduced through playing the keyboard or some other instrument. Often teachers are mindful that this shouldn’t be some kind of code cracking exercise but that this involves aural grasp of what is to be played, so let’s sing it first, think-imagine sound etc.

Or let’s approach this through sight-singing? Here are some ideas.

Sing songs that have characteristic use of simple time rhythms ta tate ta ta-a  = crotchet, quavers, minum.

I realize that this takes Year 7 back in so far as they are capable of much more complex rhythms. But stay with me.

Up my sleeve I have the slow movement of Beethoven 7 and the rhythm ta tate ta ta  etc. and its four two bar phrases [late correction].

Introduce pitch- soh, la, me as found in song repertoire; play with a variety of patterns and variety of rhythms;

Use a two-line stave with sight singing of soh-me-la (G,E,A) with hand signs. Lots of playing with this over time, drills and starters.

Move to staff notation still on a two-line stave with ta tate etc rhythms.

Whole class instrumental call-copy using EGA patterns. Then call-respond.

Compose say Marches (have a characterful title eg March to the …; March for a…) using EGAD (two four bar phrases or say two one bar phrases plus on two bar phrase) add drone or ostinato bass. Notate on two-line stave; play each other’s marches; add missing three lines; add treble clef.

Sight singing in two parts. Two part songs.

Listen to In the Hall of the Mountain King – tate tate tate ta etc; rhythmically notate …….

So, year 7 composing with much knowledge: knowledge embodied, knowledge of processes and if the pupils’ creativity has been awakened, thought of as a life force, then we might expect aesthetic knowledge too.

What I have offered is a closed form of music education but one that makes sense of pupils composing music before Key Stage 4 as a source of providing a rich and varied form of musical knowledge and with the possibility of nurturing the creative impulse.

We might now be emboldened to engage in whole class improvisation using Beethoven’s rhythm as a starting point. Perhaps playful improvisation might contribute to fluent and expressive performance of music in general. Thus we move from closed forms to open forms.

Perhaps we might be inspired by Grieg’s creativity and conceive of a workshop approach as seen here:

https://jfin107.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/working-with-the-hidden-hand-of-edvard-grieg/

Walford Davies, Master of the King’s Music  1934-1941 and Professor of Music at Aberystwyth University, is remembered in music education for his radio broadcasts for children at the beginning of the second world war. Music education historian Gordon Cox has this to say about his convictions.

‘His central concern was that ‘rhythmic melody’ could be regarded as a veritable mother tongue. He pointed to children who could rap out rhythm and develop four bar tunes: he had received such examples from four-year olds.

At the heart of his thinking, however, was the belief that written sounds were a trifle compared with the experience of the thing itself. The priority was first to teach children by ear, encouraging hearty team singing, then cultivating a decent tone, and developing the ability to sing by sight. But he was adamant that only when musical construction and design were addressed would ‘the full Hamlet’ be achieved. Therefore children should be given the chance to design their own tunes.’ [1]

Should not the ‘full Hamlet’ be available before Key Stage 4?

Should we not note the way in which very young children work on the songs their parents sing to them, playfully transforming the musical material?

Should we not note children’s capacity ‘to rap out rhythm’?

Should we ignore young children’s spontaneous song making so common in mid childhood and adolescence?

Should we really deny children’s creative impulse until the age of age 14 when music in school is no longer compulsory?

Should we not develop a plural concept of musical knowledge along with variegated notions of creativity?

Note:

[1] Cox, G. (2002) Living Music in Schools 1923-1999: Studies in the History of Music Education in England. Ashgate. (pp. 33-34)

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “No composing before Key stage 4!

  1. pepperdog

    Many of your ideas are great, especially the rhythm and solfege but should be done in Primary School. In fact I start them in Year 1. I don’t think it is specifically notation that is defined by knowledge but in general performing, basic theory and aural skills. Asking children to compose in small peer groups with instruments they can’t play or even name and no idea how music can be structured is not going to result in good composing. Especially as the teacher will only be present with your group for ten minutes max once a week. If we are going to go for the long haul then let’s establish a knowledge and performance based Primary curriculum so our Secondary colleagues have something to work with when they go into Year 7. And composition will later flourish. What you are suggesting is as if there is absolutely no music going on in primary schools. I dearly hope you are mistaken here.

    1. The assumption by those advocating no composing until Key stage 4 seems to be that there is not only no music going on in Primary School but that children have no musical enculturation or creative impulse prior to Key Stage 4. Both mistaken.

  2. pepperdog

    I agree with you that both of these assumptions are wrong but I think it is the group model of composition in Key Stage 3 that is being criticized. An interesting discussion to have would be whether the people who are criticizing group composition would still feel the same way about individual composition. But the problem is always that most students do not have good enough performing skills to compose music on their own without it being pretty awful! I can’t speak for anyone else but for me group composition is a massive waste of resources and time. The time would better be spent performing music that already exists. And this is something that many students have criticized themselves about their musical education. They say “we just messed around in groups and only did a bit of work when the teacher came round.” Surely we need to abandon this model?

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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 )

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s