Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Music Education Sucks!

You may have read a government report published recently regarding how music education in schools is considered inadequate in many instances. I forget the exact statistics involved - which doesn't matter because everyone knows that 74% of published statistics are made up on the spot. Ahem. In any case, the report showed that music lessons haven't really moved on since I was at school. The reason seems to be, according once again to the government report, that a lot of school music teachers are, and I quote, 'out of touch with modern trends'.
Well hallelujah - someone's noticed at long bloody last!
Back in my murky past as a guitar teacher I had the opportunity to teach in a school (I won't mention its name) as a supply teacher. I guess they were desperate or something... Anyway, I had to teach classes full of young people according to the prevailing syllabus of the day and top of the list was 'instruments of the orchestra'. Now, you probably don't need me to tell you that the average 14-15 year old doesn't give a rat's ass about classical music. To them, it's what you listen to in preparation for old age and death and so the job definitely wasn't an easy one. No matter, I was told - the syllabus is written by wise men for us to follow and who are we to question them?
Well I wish someone had because that was 22 years ago and it doesn't look to me like anything has really changed since. Last week I was shown a mock GCSE music paper and at least 70% of it was based on classical music and orchestral instruments. Why don't they learn? Kids don't want to hear a load of dead guys' music and so why not play them something they do want to listen to instead? After all, music is music - it's not like Bach employed a wholly other set of rules when he sat down at his mighty organ to compose. There aren't one set of regulations for classical music and another for popular/rock/blues/prog/metal. It's basically the same - especially if you're teaching kids about time signatures, minims, quavers and other assorted delights.
So what do we do? For one thing, we need to start teaching the teachers differently in order to get rid of the compound errors inherent in the system. After all, it's probably true that all music teachers in schools today were taught by the previous generation of educators - and this is something that has been going on unchecked for years. So let's change things...
Want some suggestions? When I was teaching, the syllabus insisted that I played my class Debussy's La Mer and banged on about 'impressionism in music'. Boring. I could see the kids glaze over after the first few sentences... Until, that is, I suggested that possibly modern day film music had carried on the tradition of painting pictures with music. Take Star Wars, for instance... You should have seen the change in mood in the classroom that day - Star Wars? Now you're talking, matey! Using this root I was able to get across loads of information - did they realise that the instrument at the beginning of Jaws was a double bass? No? Well now you know what one sounds like. Job done!
So come on, people - everyone agrees that music is an important art form so why not teach the next generation in a way that holds their imagination and let them discover the classics in their own time, eh?

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