Offering a praxial approach

Our seventeenth post in our (re)learning to teach music series. The posts over this week and last week focus on the tasks in Gary Spruce’s chapter ‘Culture, society and musical learning’. This is week four of the collaborative blogging of the tasks in Learning to teach music in the secondary school, and this post is the last exploring Gary’s chapter. 

  • To what extend for you agree with the arguments out forward in the chapter for a praxial approach to music education?
  • Do you think this approach has anything to offer to your own teaching and the music education of the students you teach?
  • What do you think are the deficiencies in the arguments presented here and do you feel that a critique presented of the ‘aesthetic ideology’ is a fair one?

Vaughan Fleischfresser @VFleischfresser

What I’ve taken from revisiting this chapter is the importance of questioning what we’re doing in our classroom, and why we’re doing it. Often, I feel, we fall into the ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’ justification, or ‘that’s the way we have to do it’. Why? Whether it be the music we choose, or the approach we take to teaching it, tradition and habit can become our worst enemies. Having said that, that which becomes habitual usually does so because it provides meaning and comfort to us as teachers, therefore we shouldn’t dismiss such things outright. What I’m trying to convey here is that, in my opinion, the best version of us as music teachers is the one that embraces and implements a broad range of music from a broad range of countries and historical periods, embraces and implements an understanding and knowing of said music from all possible social, cultural, and musical viewpoints, and constantly reflects upon the effectiveness of such decisions in ensuring all our pupils develop a love and appreciation of music that has meaning and benefit to them.

I believe achieving this optimum version of ourselves is best achieved through a blending of the different approaches put forward in this chapter. As discussed in previous blogs, I agree with the arguments put forward for a praxial approach, because music isn’t created in a vacuum. It’s a reaction to the world around the composer, the performer, and the listener. To exclude this from a child’s music education is neglectful. Additionally, I believe that engaging pupils in the aesthetics and mechanics of individual pieces of music is also important, as we all learn, engage, and connect to music in different ways. We think differently. We value differently. We learn differently. Therefore, we need to teach differently. One size does not fit all. I’ve blogged at length regarding my thoughts on the benefits of the praxial approach, so won’t revisit them here, however I will reiterate that I would never exclusively use the praxial approach, nor would I exclusively use the aesthetic approach. I believe the best of music education is situated somewhere in between the two.

Regarding the arguments and critique presented of the aesthetic ideology, I feel they do have value if looked at from a purely ‘one or the other viewpoint’, as they challenge that which has been the norm for so many teachers as they’ve grown through the music education system. To extend this chapter could be to look at how the two approaches could complement each other for the betterment of music education. We can’t erase or ignore the system that we have, just as we shouldn’t think that it’s best system possible. Music education can and should try to improve itself at every opportunity. How can the aesthetic and praxial approach work in tandem? This is the journey of discovery that many music teachers find themselves on at the moment. A journey of trying to provide a rich and broad experience of music within the curriculum and assessment requirements that govern our practice.

Whatever the case may be, this chapter has confirmed my desire to ensure that I’m doing all I can to bring the full picture of music into the lives of my pupils. While we can debate the composition of a picture, I hope we can all agree that a picture without all its parts is lacking something, and it’s that something that could unlock the power of music for one, or all, of our pupils. Therefore, we must ensure we present the full picture, all of it, whether we like it or not.

David House @House_dg

To what extend for you agree with the arguments out forward in the chapter for a praxial approach to music education? I have a great deal of sympathy with the arguments, I understand the notion that teaching Gamelan music in a typical classroom [using Orff-style instruments] is a dilution and mis-representation of the original and very far removed from its context. By the same token learning a Byrd Mass in a centrally heated room, with electric light, at A440, with girls in the choir ready for performance in a concert, or learning about the Blues on keyboards in a mixed-sex, mixed-race classroom as part of a democratic society can be seen as equally misrepresentative. There is not a binary argument here, and I will return to this in the third part of the exercise.

Do you think this approach has anything to offer to your own teaching and the music education of the students you teach? I think the approach has a good deal of validity, and contextualising music can give a great deal of perspective to the music in question. Gaining an understanding of why, how and for what purpose music was created is vital. I have certainly been guilty of neglecting aspects of this during my teaching career, often in the haste to ensure that musical features and stylistic traits are understood and put into some form of examination context. I will most definitely be returning to a consideration of how better to implement such a praxial approach.

What do you think are the deficiencies in the arguments presented here and do you feel that a critique presented of the ‘aesthetic ideology’ is a fair one? The chapter does seem to imply a somewhat binary approach where it appears to me there is considerable nuance. Returning to my Gamelan example, it was noticeable on a recent textbook photo of a Gamelan in a “traditional” setting to see tourists in the background leaving me with a strong suspicion that such performances are really staged and no longer part of the prevailing culture. The same could be said for context overall – Pachelbel’s Canon is as likely to be heard at a wedding reception, in a restaurant or on a video game as it is to be in a concert or any more conventional setting. It does seem that, in the Summary to the chapter, there is a warning against “too narrow” a conception of music for a curriculum leading to “impoverished” provision. It is problematic knowing what to include and what to omit if one is always concerned about what those choices say about implicit values, and it raises fundamental questions about the integrity and professionalism of teachers in choosing curriculum content. I would encourage you to read the very interesting, coherent and apposite blog by Jimmy Rotheram @MusicEdu4all “decolonising the music curriculum” and sign up for the online conference on May 13th to discover more and think through these issues further .

Liz Gleed @MrsGleedMusic

I agree with a lot of what was put forward in this chapter. Along with reading the fantastic blog from Jimmy Rotheram in The Teacherist today and some work this year with One Bristol Curriculum, engaging with this felt deeply relevant. Over the past few years as a curriculum leader I have been consumed with curriculum planning, qualifying what is meant by deep knowledge and preparing how to articulate how and why we design our music curriculum the way we do at BCCS.

On reflection I believe we do plan for a praxial approach to music education, but I wonder if this is always explicit to the students or seen within our outcomes as much as I want. In a busy scheme of work are we being brave enough to give them a serious amount of time to explore ‘African Music’? Or are we pushing our students forward to cover core concepts of a musical genre where they automatically create outcomes that nod to the headlines of the style, but are then exemplified by western musical practices? I believe curriculum design can be powerful here, not just developing an ‘Indian music’ scheme but by exploring Indian music on its own authentic terms with celebration and time to explore it with improvisation and composition.

Reflecting on whether a curriculum was multicultural or intercultural is also a powerful thinking point. At A Level we explore how Gamelan and music from the East was so pivotal at the turn of the century and inspiring Debussy and Ravel. But how often are there much deeper connections to be made and more authentically modern connections to explore? Putting all music on an equal footing and relevance is vital in the message we send to them about what we value. I really want my students to see their music curriculum as relevant and for them, but not as tokenism or a patronising nod where they actually have a deeper understanding of a style than I do. Quality of musicking is also paramount, the musical learning should be authentic and steer away from the most obvious of stereotypes. I think this can often be a vital place to reach out and engage with a range of musicians for delivery of the different styles to both continue our own musical development and heighten the learning experiences of our students.

Ewan McIntosh @ETMcINTOSH

I agree with the idea of taking a paraxial approach to teaching music and agree that having an intercultural rather than multi cultural approach can be helpful. I think that it has a lot to offer both pupil and teachers in terms of their own understanding of different cultural and socio economic factors that may have influenced the composition and development of these musics.

One of the problems that I can see is that of time; music is taught as a minority subject in most schools in the time that is allocated it in the curriculum. This means that many teachers are forced to try and set their 3 or in some cases 2 year KS3 curriculum in Secondary schools (I am not a primary teacher so I do not know off hand how much curriculum time is allocated to music; if it is like some of the feeder schools that my pupils go to, then there is a large variety from zero to up to 2 hrs a week) then trying to teach children not only the notation and musical conventions of Western music but also other musics and trying them to learn it as though they were part of the culture that created the music, is a challenge not just for pupil but also for the teacher. As much as I would love to go to Sub-Saharan Africa and study the music in the context it is composed and performed, financial and time constraints and pesky things like families prevent this. I can read lots of books and watch couples videos but I will still probably not gain the correct cultural insights to be able to teach the music effectively using a paraxial approach. I do what most teachers do; read a bit, learn a bit and try and pass the knowledge and musical understanding on as best I can through a mixture of performing, composing and listening activities. It may not be culturally perfect, but it works.

Steven Berryman @steven_berryman

I’m taking editorial privilege this evening and I won’t offer my own post and just tease out some thoughts from the response shared today. It’s been a good chapter to engage with, and thanks to Gary for commenting on a previous post as we worked through the tasks. 

I like how nearly everyone has flagged up the blog by Jimmy (link in David’s post above). It’s remarkable pertinent on all accounts, and how we demonstrate our values of all musics is a challenge for the music teacher; but I do feel strongly the music curriculum should reflect the community being taught, whilst being a balance between the known and unknown (as we’d discussed in previous posts). Our pupils represent a vital resource of musical expertise and we should honour that expertise by granting it a place in the classroom. I admire Liz’s honesty in that our we delivering non-western schemes with authenticity, but Ewan flags up the challenge of authenticity when we can’t always engage with musical cultures in person. David highlights how keen he is to revisit his approaches and how the examinations have meant a seemingly restricted approach is adopted to prepare for the test. 

I’m quite excited to see where our music curriculums will be in the autumn. The conversations so far have been rich and generous in sharing insights into our classrooms. As we move to chapter three I hope this dialogue continues with the same verve. 



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