Skill and knowledge in the music curriculum

Currently there is much talk of knowledge-based education. The minister of state for schools has this to say about it, for example.

A narrative is created whereby skills are set against knowledge. Skills bad-knowledge good.

While knowledge is being conceived of as subject-based, skills are being thought of as generic and it is maintained that curricula based on generic skills such as the ability to problem solve, collaborate and be creative work to counter the primacy of each subject’s store of knowledge.

Mention skill and the wrath of the new guardians of culture is likely to be roused.

Music teachers however, like to speak of a skills-based curriculum and I think they mean ‘musical skills’ and not generic skills.

So what is a skill? I have added musical examples.

noun

1. the ability, coming from one’s knowledge,practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well:

Carpentry was one of his many skills.
Being able to shape a musical phrase when singing folk songs was one of his many musical skills.

 

2. competent excellence in performance;expertness; dexterity:

The dancers performed with skill.
The musicians performed with skill.

 

3. a craft, trade, or job requiring manual dexterity or special training in which a person has competence and experience:

the skill of cabinet making.
the skill of composing music.

TO DO SOMETHING WELL and COMING FROM ONE’S KNOWLEDGE

In this view a skills-based curriculum is built on and for ever permeates our musical knowing.

But now let’s be reminded of how musical knowing can be thought about.

In this I make no mention of skill. Instead I refer to ‘knowing how’. So for example we can say ‘knowing how to make music well’. Is skill interchangeable with knowing how. Well not quite. The once skilful keyboard player sadly lost his/her hands in an accident and now, while having know how, is no longer skilful.

The distinction between skill and knowledge is a valuable one.

And if a music teacher wishes to speak of their skill-based music education then it may be helpful to make clear that these are musical skills derived from and feeding musical knowledge while keeping in mind the particular nature of musical knowledge. 

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One thought on “Skill and knowledge in the music curriculum

  1. The problem is we can have a skills based curriculum and not study/perform music before the Year 2000. A few years back an OFSTED report into Music said that “Classical music, as a serious component of the curriculum, was treated as a step too far in most of the primary and secondary schools surveyed, at least until Key Stage 4. It was felt by teachers and leaders to be too difficult or inaccessible for pupils.” That’s why we need more knowledge in our curriculum because without a focus on content we risk enabling mass ignorance of hundreds of years of fantastic music.

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