Music Is Still A Gate-Kept Subject For Most: What We Can Do To Change It

As a life-long musician who has had access to a high quality music education since the age of four, I consider myself a privileged anomaly by todays standards. Now, as a secondary music teacher and piano tutor, I see far too many instances of children feeling as though the music curriculum is out of reach for them.

This is because, in my opinion, music lessons and the art of music is seen as such a skill, it is almost treated as an exclusive members-only club that grants admittance based on whether you can play an instrument or have some form of musical background. This is something we must, as musicians and music educators, bring to an end.

The answer to this is quite simply by allowing “non-musicians” into our world and showing them that anyone can access music and most importantly, achieve something within it. Further, attaining that achievement does not have to mean the performance of a Mozart concerto or the demonstration of supreme theoretical understanding, it could be creating something using loops on GarageBand or Logic Pro, it could be the performance of a simple melodic idea on the keyboard, a verse for a pop song.

Another thing we as music educators must do is remember that the students we are teaching are precisely that, STUDENTS. As such, it is important that we treat every achievement or creation presented to us by our students as something incredible, every single time, no matter how simplistic it may sound to our trained, experienced ears. This sounds like I am trying to advocate for a lack of standards for the work our students produce, this is not the case. However, we must start from the bottom and build upwards to provide students with the confidence to evolve that basic loop project into their own song, composed entirely with MIDI input.

Further to this point, when students are performing it is also important to remember that although they may make mistakes throughout and they may only be able to produce the simplest version of the task you set them, to celebrate that performance as if they have performed an absolute masterpiece.

It can be hard not to wince when everything single note they produce is out of tune, their ensemble performances are not remotely in time or they get the lyrics horrendously wrong but it takes immense courage to bear your soul to a classroom full of your peers and open yourself up to ridicule. To this end, it is down to us as teachers, in charge of our country’s musical future, to shower them with praise and make them feel on top of the world.

Essentially, fostering a positive musical environment in the classroom is about allowing students to be creative and explore the endless possibilities that music and the creation of it has to offer. This is not to say that we should completely neglect the teaching of music theory or challenge our pupils to gain an understanding of what they would see as “difficult” musical concepts, I am merely suggesting that we build from the ground up, allowing them to create something and reach small wins, first, before scaring them off with the complex language, rules and expectations of traditional music education.

It is all about pulling them in, generating an interest in our great subject and breaking down the barriers. Showing the students in our classrooms that they can “do” music and may even be quite good at it, if given the chance to shine.

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Gary Cunningham

Musician | Music Educator | Brand Founder | Music Education Advocate