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.
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.