In praise of systematic enquiry

It is now some five years ago since I had the privilege of reading the doctoral submission of Leslie Linton of the University of Western Ontario. The title: Interpretive Reproduction and informal Learning in the Grade One Classroom. [1] And I have now read Leslie’s chapter in the book ‘Twentieth Century Music Education’: Informal Learning and Non-Formal Teaching, Approaches in School and Community Contexts’ published by the Canadian Music Educators’ Association in 2016.

Leslie worked for six months mostly as a non-participant observer alongside a class music teacher developing an informal pedagogy, which brought together the research findings of Lucy Green [2] and Kathy Marsh [3]. Leslie’s was a planned informal learning. (‘In at the Deep End’ just didn’t work!) 

Leslie designed three units of work, each having its own set of informal learning principles.

Unit 1 Listening and copying vocally
Unit 2 Playing familiar melodies by ear
Unit 3 Listening and copying vocally and harmonically

The research was carried out in the context of Canada’s adherence to Kodaly, Orff and Dalcroze concepts, methods and principles, chiefly Kodaly. These ways of working are well established in North America and fit well with the curriculum goals set out by the province, in this case Ontario. [4]

Leslie’s approach disrupted the teacher-led, sequentially prescribed curriculum and adherence to a Kodaly approach. [5]

Underpinning the planned informal learning approach was the recognition that the children’s musical experience beyond the school (their musical enculturation) was vast and it was through YouTube clips, for example, that the children learnt to sing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy so well in tune. This was a revelation to their class teacher. 

What became clear was that the established school music programme underestimated the pupils’ capabilities. This was chiefly the result of disregarding the pupil’s well-developed processes of musical enculturation. 

The step-by-step approach (simple to complex) offered by ‘Kodaly’ showed no appreciation of the pupils’ capacity to work with what were complex rhythmic and melodic musical materials in their own musical lives, their immediate social heritage. In this respect the formal curriculum was regressive and oppressive.[Late edit: regressive and oppressive is OTT, although regressive may have some credibility. Thanks to @WyHighPerArts for challenging my unreasonable use of language.]

In becoming agents of their own musical education with the teacher as partner in this, these pupils were developing understanding of what learning music and becoming a musician involved. The data arising in response to Leslie’s third research question: How do Grade One students describe their experiences with informal learning? showed the emergence of what Lucy Green refers to as ‘critical musicality’ or what others more generally identify with critical pedagogy. 

In all this there is a way of thinking about childhood, not as a state of immaturity where the child is moved step-by-step up a ladder but as abounding with agency and social maturity. 

In recent weeks I have written blogs on learning to think critically about music as it works in tandem with learning to think in sound. There is no doubt that these children were doing both in abundance and out-striping curriculum expectations.

Leslie’s research, of which only a taste has been given here, raises important questions about our conceptions of childhood and how we think children learn and develop, and for what purpose. More research like that reported here is urgently needed if we are to better understand and develop planned informal pedagogies in music. At the moment practice is running ahead theory. While this is exciting it may be counterproductive.


[1] Grade 1 equates with Year 2 in England i.e. 6-7 year olds.
[2] Green, L. (2008) Music, informal learning and the school: A new classroom pedagogy. London: Ashgate.
[3] Marsh, K. (2008) The musical playground. London: Oxford University Press.
[4] North American music educators appear to be less eclectic in forming pedagogy than is the case in England.
[5] Both Leslie and the class teacher were trained in the Kodaly concept.

7 thoughts on “In praise of systematic enquiry

  1. janethoskyns

    Fascinating and, as always, thought provoking. A topic about which, as you say, the research is running way behind the practice just now. How so called informal learning actually influences and directs the directions of musical learners needs to be far more thoroughly investigated and analysed.

  2. Yes agreed.

    Interesting that so-called traditional pedagogies (K, O, D) emphasise the development of musicianship. I think there might be more than one kind of musicianship and many ways to many kinds.

    1. Lindsay Radick

      An insistence on fixed progress points designed by someone else is part of the problem? (Maybe it works better for the teaching of technique as per the success of the a ABRSM grade schemes)

  3. This has piqued my curiosity. What were these 7 year olds picking out tunes on? As a music teacher trained in D and K, currently training class teachers how to use musical activities more widely, I always come back to the point that in order to lead a class in musical exploration and learning, the teacher must have secure musical skills and understanding. If this is in place, the method is not so important.

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