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How To Get The Most From Practical Music Making In The Classroom

The National Plan for Music Education states that every child should have the opportunity to play a musical instrument and sing.
However in the current economic climate, the gap between those who can afford instrumental tuition and those that can’t seems to be widening. The sector response seems to advocate “more of the same” and suggests that if the ‘experts’ can’t fix it then it can’t be fixed. Where are the solutions?
For many, classroom music is the only access to music that they will get. How can we make the best of this precious time by placing practical music-making at the heart of what is on offer in schools? Can we ensure that it is inclusive, engaging, relevant and that the benefits of playing and creating music can impact on as many students as possible?
Here are my top 5 suggestions for getting the most out of practical music in the classroom:

  • Ground it in reality. How often do you see classes? Work out what can realistically be achieved in the time that you have. Use practical music making to create an ethos where students build key musical skills, play together as a class and in groups, develop the confidence to perform to others and explore their creativity through singing, composing and improvising.
  • Make the best choices for the space and resources you have. If you only have one room think about some classroom workshopping or singing. If you have break-out spaces, how will you use small group work to consolidate musical outcomes? Plan long-term for resourcing the department in line with your vision and ethos
  • Set up your space for practical music. Does your classroom or music room look like a place where they will be making music? Or could it be a maths classroom with keyboards in? How you set up your space sets out the expectations of what will happen there. Taking out the desks, having equipment set up and allowing them to use all the instruments from the start lets students know they will be expected to play and keeps lessons musical
  • What is the purpose of music lessons? Do you know what they have done before so that you can build on it? Can you come up with a baseline assessment that allows every student to show what they can do regardless of the previous musical experience they have had? Make some music, create something together and as you work through the process learn about them as musicians and work out how best to nurture and develop what you find there.
  • How can you keep music authentic and as close to the real-world experiences of the students themselves? If a parent walked into your music lesson, would they recognize what they hear there as music? Student voice and student choice can help make sure that they get what they want from their music lessons. Make your classes care by listening to their aspirations and wishes for their musical future.

Anna Gower has recently embarked on a new full time role as Head of Programmes for Musical Futures having previously worked in secondary schools as a classroom music teacher, Advanced Skills Teacher Head of Music and a freelance music education consultant.

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