Knowledge: categorically

Our twentieth post in our (re)learning to teach music series. The posts over this week and next week focus on the tasks in Chris Philpotts’s chapter – the third in Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School. 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 first exploring Chris’s chapter. 

What do think about Swanwick’s hierarchy? Can category 1 develop without 2 and 3? Do we need to learn 2 and 3 before 1? Is it possible to have category as the overriding priority What are the priorities for your department?

Here’s a summary of the reading in GIF form – there are three slides. 



Vaughan Fleischfresser @VFleischfresser

Mike Morgan @MikeMMusicED

It is interesting to see Swawick take on music knowledge. My initial thought when reading the beginning chapter was mainly centered on the know-how. This is something I have seen a focus on in departments I have worked in over the years. Then when we have the know-how we would move onto the knowledge about. I find this type of knowledge is usually held for exam music curriculum. Where pupils will analyse set works and have to know ‘about’ the music for their exams.

I guess ‘getting to know’ a piece of music at analysis level does require some element of knowledge about the music. Without this knowledge about the music, how can we take it further? Pupils need to know what the technical aspects are. By this time, we would also assume that our pupils would have a know-how for their instruments, so once these are embedded I would be more inclined to provide objectives for student to explore the potential of a piece of music and display their knowledge of (Maybe compose a new second section to a piece or perform a song in a different style). This is something I am exploring in teach the new IB Music where they have a section of ‘Experimenting with Music’. My thoughts are ‘How can pupils experiment with music without their knowledge about and how?’

Could I look at teaching holistically in a different way? I have been guilty in the past of teaching topics and focusing on the how and about. Could I begin to implement changes in my teaching to allow pupils to build these relationships in music even further?

One thing I am exploring next year the idea of teaching by concepts. So we will spend a term discovering rhythm and all its delights. We will use genres such as African, Samba, Reggae etc. and explore the concepts of rhythm in these. I would then allow pupils to choose one and explore that in a way they see fit, but only focusing on the rhythmic aspects of the music. We would then move on to the next term of discovering melody, and applying what we learnt in that to perform, compose and react using these. Could this open a opportunity for pupils to display their knowledge of music? While it has been something I have thought about, this idea could help me structure it in a more meaningful way.

David House @House_dg

What do you think about Swanwick’s hierarchy? I like the way Swanwick has introduced three categories, and totally understand and agree with Category 1 – that it is hard to pinpoint and plan for this – very often I find that certain students instinctively “get” the idiom that the class is working in and can adapt and mould their musical responses accordingly whereas others need to be led along multiple paths to get to that stage. I rather like the way that in Category 2 the emphasis is placed on musical engagement equating to skill acquisition and literature studies [that type of phrasing accords well with, dare I say it, an SLT type of understanding of how subjects tick]. I am also a firm advocate of developing skills in human interaction are so important – from the place of a student within a whole classroom ensemble down to pair work, and from teacher-directed lessons to situations where students work more independently, music lessons cannot run unless the correct relationships are in place and a clear feeling of responsibility is apparent.

Can Category 1 develop without Categories 2 & 3? Yes, I think it can – but in a way that cannot be planned. As I said earlier, there are occasions where some students just “get it” [I have had very similar conversations with Maths teachers] and it is then hard for them to articulate how and why, and equally hard at times to unpick the processes so that they understand and can reapply them in other situations.

Do we need to learn 2 & 3 before 1? No, we do not need to but in a class situation I feel that it is preferable to do this. It is certainly the way that I work – see final answer.

Is it possible to have a category as the overriding priority? It is – I would then venture that this might depend on the nature of the department, and teacher in question. I return to this in the final answer.

What is the priority for your department? We work from a basis of inclusivity and wanting to offer equal opportunities to all our students, as well as appropriate challenge. Our starting point in Y7 is getting a whole class to work together in making music, whatever their previous experience – a “Class Orchestra”. This aligns with Category 3, and so this is our priority. Through the understanding of being part of an ensemble we will introduce a coherent, and sequenced programme of study to cover musical features, stylistic traits and awareness of both genre and history. In many ways Category 1 is the product, and we are aware that it will become apparent for different students at different times in their musical journeys.

Ewan McIntosh @ETMcINTOSH

I agree with Swanwick in that the ‘knowing of’ music is vitally important. Music lessons should always contain some sort of music, and ones that do not are in my view not successful music lessons. The category 2 and 3 objectives do serve the category 1 as you need to know ‘of’ before you can know ‘how and about’. I think that you can know category 2 things about music, without the category 1 but then this brings in the paradox of knowing; I can know Beethoven 5 is in C minor and moves to C major at the end but I can learn this without every hearing the piece; therefore defeating the object of the knowing. That is why the GCSE and A level qualifications rely so heavily on listening for their formal (non coursework) exams. You cannot do well in the exam if you have not heard any music as just learning the fact about say Chopin’s Raindrop prelude will not help you when the extra is playing 4 times. I would like to think that all three categories would be important to a music department and that during teaching all three would be covered, mostly simultaneously as pupils will be performing, listening and learning abut and of music.

Steven Berryman @steven_berryman

I love having the editorial privilege of seeing the responses as they appear during the day and I think Vaughan’s video illustrates so clearly how many of us think about the categories of knowledge. I’ve written about knowledge/skills before and I think there is a great deal of strength in advocating for these categories when we are discussing the idiosyncrasies of music with non-music colleagues. We can’t escape that knowledge-rich agenda, but we can join in and show how wealthy our knowledge is in music. I am tempted, thinking about my experiences of teaching from Year 3 to postgraduates, and much of my experience with advanced/specialist musicians, I think the categories exist more on the same plane for me rather than in a sequence or hierarchy. I wonder too if the categories have different weighting depending on your expertise level, and the needs of your training or education? A musicologist might have a philological focus to their work and whilst I imagine they would be involved heavily in the performance and practice of their area of expertise they might be more a listener than a performer. I do not believe everyone has to be a performer of music to be an able to engage with music on their terms, and some might be satisfied with being musical appreciators. In the context of the secondary classroom it’s a different story, when our aim will be inclusivity and ensuring all pupils can engage with music. 

My department priority has always been experience music through music; some pupils have wanted to experience music through the study of theoretical concepts and have taken genuine joy in learning the structures and procedures that govern certain musical practices. I would always connect a compositional technique to sound, even when teaching grade 8 music theory, as these practices remain living and make sense (to me anyway) when they are indulged at an instrument. Some pupils do not have the keyboard fluency to engage with score-reading/counterpoint at a keyboard instrument, but they do have sophisticated and advanced skills on a non-keyboard instrument. 

I prefer a pupil-centered approach; if I’m teaching a class of highly-skilled instrumentalists then the objectives I set might prioritise different knowledge categories for one lesson to the next. Overall there should be no doubt we’re teaching music lessons but I am inclined to avoid settling on any hierarchy and on prioritising one category for all pupils at all phases. 




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