Blog post first published 28th April 2014 and updated 5th December 2016
Is it possible to define what a 5, 7, 11 and 14 year old musician ‘might’ look like?
This is the topic of various conversations going on at the moment surrounding the new National Curriculum for music. Something about this makes me feel slightly nervous, probably because this sort of debate inevitably opens up the much larger can of worms of what does it mean to be a musician, and that is a question that should never be attempted in a brainstorming meeting.
We all know that music is not merely a ‘subject’, it is a force that feeds through the majority of our lives, whether we are aware of it or not. It is something that makes us move uncontrollably, it evokes emotions, it is deeply personal as well as being a social activity, in many cases it defines who we are. Music learning is not just about skills, knowledge and understanding: it is about passion, energy, inspiration, creativity, all of those things that are far harder to measure.
Music learning, participating and consuming happens constantly outside of formal systems, all over the world, and in an infinite number of ways. The Internet has dramatically increased the possibilities for music listening, sharing, producing, performing, collaborating and learning. And in this very real world, your age bears little relevance.
So attempting to define what a 5, 7, 11, 14 year old musical learner might look like inside the classroom seems an impossible task. A 7-year-old self-taught drummer may have a different set of skills and experiences from a 7-year-old grade 3 guitar player. A 5-year-old beatboxer might be far more musically skilled than an 11-year old beatboxer. And in any one class there will be a huge cross-section in terms of skills, knowledge, ability, enthusiasm and engagement.
Would it not be equally as effective to try to agree on what classroom conditions might need to be in place for groups of learners in various age groups? For example: What does it feel/sound like when they walk into the classroom? What sorts of musical experiences should they have been exposed to? What resources should they have access to? What role might technology play? How often do they have the opportunity to collaborate in small groups, large groups? How often can they learn independently? What leadership styles should the teacher be adopting? How might in and out of school learning be connected? How sophisticated might their own interests be and how could these be supported?
The majority of those working in music education would (or should) consider themselves as musicians. Our job now is to craft stimulating approaches to the curriculum, designed to meet the needs of the widest range of students, and to ensure the environment they are working in fully supports their progression.