Instrumental skills v musical knowledge

Music Mark @musicmarkuk

Great panel discussing Future of Music in Curriculum. @danfrancismusic @hantsmusichub @musicforall @aboorchestras @TrinityC_L #MusicMark2017

John finney‏@Johnfinney8 Nov 25

A Pandora’s Box. (Too) Many separate strands emerging and some conceptual confusions that need a whole conference to sort out. Fun to listen to. Thank you.

This was my twitter response to the Music Mark conference session of Friday last. The session was titled ‘instrumental skills v musical knowledge’. (See Anna’s crystalline after-thinking on the session.)

The session was once again seeking to create a coherent view about the place of music in the school curriculum so that its future would be secure and valid. In response to Dan’s blog which Anna read as Dan’s contribution to the presentation in his absence, the following questions have come to mind which might form the basis of the imaginary conference that I referred to above. There could be a number of others and I acknowledge that I will fail in doing full justice to Dan’s blog.

  1. What are the ends of a music education for all children and young people as part of a general education?
  2. What is the distinction between a knowledge-rich and a skills-rich curriculum?
  3. In what ways can classroom experience be ‘relevant’ to the lives of our pupils?
  4. To what extent is a music education concerned with the development of generic skills and dispositions thought to be of value to, for example, the creative industries, and more generally the future (creative) citizen?

These are mighty complex questions and I will only give a brief response here. It does really need a whole conference.

Ends

If ends are expressed as purposes I propose three.

  1. To equip all children and young people with the knowledge, skills, dispositions and understandings so that they will know how to make music well.
  2. To induct all children and young people into existing musical traditions and their practices of making-music with the potential for their regeneration and creative transformation.
  3. To enable all children and young people to become unique individuals, subjectively enriched and able to know a sense of personal freedom, even emancipation through making music well.

When we make music in the world we strive to make it well and if we have sufficient ‘know how’, ‘know that’, ’embodied knowledge’ and ‘musical knowingness’ we succeed. By achieving the end of knowing how to make music well we are in touch with the richest kind of knowledge possible. And we can confidently speak about a know-how-based music curriculum allowing the skills-knowledge debate to be transcended. The instrumental skills v musical knowledge dichotomy is dissolved.

Means

But to be really rich it will need more than making ‘my’ music well. It will require pupils to be introduced to and taught how to critically engage with a range of existing musical practices. Of course we will need to make judgements about which musical practices. I would say culturally significant practices.

I propose a dialogic approach that creates space for negotiation where the wisdom of the teacher and the musical minds of their pupils together create a curriculum. (Music teacher Eleanor provides an example.) In this process the teacher (and the pupil) have a responsibility to bring to the table challenging and even disruptive material – the voice of Cathy Berberian in Eleanor’s case, and for me Steve Reich’s Different Trains, Billy Holiday’s Strange Fruit, Bob Marley’s Exodus, Schubert’s Erl King might be among my selection (carefully considering age and stage).

And now I am touching on relevance, that most slippery of concepts. My examples, and they are only examples, ooze with relevance because they are rich in human interest and are able to draw creative and highly personal musical responses from both pupil and teacher. The example of Different Trains is particularly rich. It is this kind of contextual richness that gives substance to music as a curriculum subject so that it is much more than learning to play an instrument, finding your musical voice or being a musician.

And now the question that is central to Dan’s blog.

To what extent is a music education concerned with the development of generic skills and dispositions thought to be of value to, for example, the creative industries, and more generally the future (creative) citizen?

One major confusion arises when skills (like knowledge) are talked about in an undifferentiated way. Is a skills-based music curriculum referring to musical skills or is it including what are labelled as 21st century skills and which are not subject specific but generic?

Dan is right to challenge the idea of music for its own sake and for nothing else. This is an untenable position. Wayne Bowman has a view on this.

I take the view that if we seek out the ends as set out in 1, 2 and 3 above, all kinds of benefits are likely to accrue (epiphenomena). 1, 2 and 3 above move beyond music for its own sake while not claiming to support specifics such as the creative industries or making the creative citizen of the future. This would be to make promises that can’t be kept. (To serve the creative industries, for example, would require a specialist component in a music education, that is, a vocational pathway and this is not the concern of a general music education.)

But then, you may start from quite a different place to my 1. 2. and 3.

Final thought

Ours is a liquid modern music education where it is near impossible to establish and maintain an agreed framework, where it is in a perpetual state of formation and reformation. Dan’s blog captures this state of flux and accompanying anxiety well. And it is for this reason, if no other, that we should attend much more to music educational ends or as I prefer, purposes.

But should ends determine means? Perhaps ends and means need always to be in  conversation with an ultimate eye on human flourishing.

 

Have you noticed that I now know how to make use of hyperlinks?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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