I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. In these times of overbearing economic strictures being placed on education, the financial viability of music courses at KS4 and KS5 is a hot potato in schools. I’ve always been very lucky that, so far, my school has accepted that A-level music will always be a loss-leader, but every year reality threatens the future of this way of thinking.
Like many other schools, our uptake at GCSE is affected by an options system that works against us. Not intentionally, and I remain ever grateful that we never went down the ‘EBac or bust’ route. But we are the sort of school where lots of students want to do triple science, and this seriously cuts down what else they can choose. Many students say they’d love to do music, but can’t fit it in.
This aside, I still want to try to break down that feeling of ‘I’m not a musician’ that many students seem to have ingrained. Deliberately avoiding doing anything that gives anybody that impression, or reinforces that impression, is not enough. Many students have it by the time they arrive in Year 7.
At the start of the year, I asked all my students (by way of a questionnaire on Google Forms) how musical they think they are. This was very illuminating, and I very much hope that when I ask again at the end of the year, I will have been able to persuade them that they are more musical than they thought they were. I know it seems (and is) very un-scientific, but it’s self-identification as musicians that is the hub of what I’m getting at here.
So how am I planning on achieving this? For a start, we are doing much more workshopping in lessons this year – really trying to teach practical musical skills using a wider range of instruments, and giving them ‘more real’ musical experiences than we did before. Making music lessons more like our extra-curricular sessions, if you like.
I am also spending time talking to classes and individuals about the whole ‘you can’t do this YET, but if you practise you will’ idea. We are devoting our corridor display to resilience this year, with students and teachers alike giving details of how they’ve worked at their musical doings and thinkings. ‘It’s not magic – it’s practice!’ is something I’m saying a lot.
Alongside all of this is a feeling that harping on about key words is a waste of time and breath. Yes, I say ‘talk like a musician’ to my students, but I am adopting a more natural approach to language acquisition: if students have played a bass line, then they are likely to know what one is. OK, there is a problem with students forgetting things between lessons, so they do need reminding, but we can do this with more ‘doing music’ (or musicking) rather than talking/writing about it.
This is very much an ongoing process: I most certainly do not pretend to have all the answers here, and any further suggestions are most welcome. I will report back about how it all goes.