(Re)learning how to teach music in the secondary school – summary

Summary of Blog post 1

Why did we start? Thanks to Twitter and a group of fellow music educators I have started a collaborative blogging effort to work through a selection of the tasks in the edited volume ‘Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School‘. The venture was inspired by a tweet I saw from Christine Counsell.


The first task is a self-reflective one.


It was Vaughan Fleischfresser that suggested ‘that it is passion that makes a good teacher. After all, without passion for teaching, or their subject, any teacher will struggle to inspire or get the best out of their pupils’ and ‘it is perseverance that makes a good teacher’. David House saw a good teacher as ‘someone who cares for their students: physical and mental wellbeing, curiosity, love of learning, independence, development of knowledge and skills, presenting all in an ordered environment’. Liz Dunbar felt good teachers put students first, ‘someone who can imagine receiving the task for the first time themselves, and think about what processes are going on in a student’s mind as they ‘parse’ what is being asked of them’. Liz highlighted the need to balance the familiar with the unfamiliar whilst cultivating a community of trust. Jimmy Rotherham agreed that the starting point should be students and good music teachers ‘[have] musicality – they don’t have to be virtuoso, but they must have a secure grasp of the materials they are teaching’. Jimmy does suggest that there really isn’t an archetypal good music teacher, but he encourages teachers to be magpies: ‘exposure to more approaches and more teachers enabled me to adapt and adopt best practise to discover and develop what worked for me’. James Manwaring highlighted that good teachers ‘will facilitate learning both in and out of the classroom and will see all music making opportunities as a chance to learn something about music’. I agree with them all and recalled my own experiences of someone I felt was a good music teacher when I reminisced about my school music teacher who was ‘inspirational because they [didn’t] hold you back but help[ed me] move forward; they [made] the subject seem like a garden of endless joy and cultivate a curiosity to explore, create and play’. 

Kate Wheeler shared the importance of good music teachers being ‘approachable, kind, inspirational, dedicated and enthusiastic’. Kate felt it was important to ‘value your subject and show that you love what you are professing can only have a positive effect on the young people you are educating’. Alex Laing reminded us that good teachers are endless learners: ‘a good teacher will also know that they themselves are always learning more and new elements to their subject. The teaching itself will encourage a teacher to think and reflect on their own topic, and how better they might communicate to the learners’. 

I think we all agreed a good music lesson started with sound: ‘a ‘musical’ music lesson involves listening to, discussing, experimenting with, and creating sounds, all with a focus on discovering the tools needed for pupils to organise sound in a way that helps them express, communicate, and connect with themselves and others through music’. Liz shared this sentiment suggesting we ask students to ‘show me you understand this by making it in sound’ and that  ‘it’s also about making sure that the sound response is a ‘musical’ response. Simply making a noise that happens to fulfil the brief isn’t good enough – each response, no matter how simple, needs to be a musical one’. I like that Liz reminds us ‘a musical music lesson is also one where everyone feel like a musician and is treated like a musician. There are no exceptions and everyone in the room regardless of their starting point, responds as a musician’. Jimmy Rotherham asked us to find:

‘where is the sweet spot, that’s the” just right” porridge,  between the extremes of direct, formal instruction and child led, learning through discovery? Between teacher talk and student voice? Between work and play? Between rest and activity? Between the extremes of strictly sequenced learning and adaptive improvisation? Between the static approach of traditional choral singing and the expansive movement of Dalcroze? Between the improvisatory approach of Orff and the carefully prepared tonesets of Kodály.Between the supposedly “high” art of Mozart and the “low” culture of Stormzy? Between what children find easy and what stretches them? Between multiculturalism and Cultural Imperialism?

James Manwaring agreed that the language of musical lessons is music: ‘A lesson confined to a page of writing, even if the writing is about music, is not musical. It is a merely an English lesson where the students are writing about music’. I agree with James that ‘whomever walks into the [class]room should have no doubt they have witnessed a music(al) lesson, and the pupils (and teacher) should feel they are behaving as musicians. Kate Wheeler wrote ‘a good music lesson should include varying elements of practical activities in order to stimulate engagement backed up with specific subject knowledge so pupils are able to demonstrate an understanding of the topic being covered’. Alex Laing too felt that music lessons should prioritise a range of musical activities but felt ‘even when exploring some of the more dry elements of academic music it should be possible to be engaging’.

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