Not another model curriculum dream.

No. I was there and wide awake.

This was the meeting of Music Mark members at the Music and Performing Arts Centre in Northampton. It was a consultation on the government’s model music curriculum.

The discussion was framed by the idea of four areas of music learning: skills, knowledge, understanding and experiences.

The exercises given sought to elaborate on the first three of these and to place them in a nine year trajectory through the key stages of the school curriculum. There was no discussion of the category, experiences. This seems rather odd, for without experiencing music there can be no musical education. I will return to this category later.

Discussions were lively and satisfying with some valiant attempts at conceptual clarification. It’s always good to know how each other are understanding things.

You see, I have come away, perhaps like some others, wondering about the categories that were presented.

But first I must say that it is to be praised that a model music curriculum will insist on the centrality of musical knowledge and the growth of the musical mind in the musical education of the nation’s children and young people. Without this there can be no music education.

Over the past fifty years a distinguished body of scholarship has contributed to understanding the nature of musical knowledge and how it is to be distinguished from musical knowledge reduced to matters of fact, a set of abstractions, true statements and ‘knowing that’, often referred to as propositional knowledge, the paradigm example being scientific knowledge and thought of as theoretical knowledge (Aristotle’s episteme).

A science curriculum understandably will be made up of the ‘knowing that’ variety. A music curriculum will differ in a significant respect. Musical knowledge as delineated through the scholarship of L. A. Reid, Swanwick, Scruton and Philpott and Spruce, for example, gives significance to the varieties of musical knowledge – knowing how, experience knowledge, knowledge by acquaintance, embodied knowledge, for example. Importantly none of these varieties is reducible to ‘knowing that’. 

Conceptually, musical knowledge can not be expressed soley or even predominantly through a conception of knowledge that is of the ‘knowing that’ variety.

But further still, Roger Scruton shows how knowing how can usefully be thought of as being interchangeable with skill. 

So no skills-knowledge dichotomy.

And as L. A. Reid shows, understanding is existentially interchangeable with knowing, with knowledge.

Those of us with extended musical educations will know people without such learning and who have very fine levels of musical understanding gained through, well, experiencing music. So what about the experiences category that is presented as an area of musical learning?

Is this the experience of music gained through singing, playing etc., through the makings and doings of music? I don’t know. Just what is understood by experiences? Is this a case of L. A. Reid’s experience knowledge?

Let us hope for greater conceptual clarity in due course.


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