Music Education Solutions

Understanding Musical Learning: Music v Music Education

Dr Elizabeth Stafford explores themes from Unit 1 of the Level 4 Certificate for Music Educators.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the company of young people, whether as a parent, teacher or as a passer-by, will instantly recognise that music is extremely important to young people’s lives. Music, like clothing, hairstyles and body art, helps young people explore and create their own identity, and helps them to forge friendships with like-minded peers. The importance of music continues into adulthood; it would be extremely rare to find an adult who didn’t like or listen to music, apart from on religious grounds.

But here we are talking about ‘music’ not ‘music education’. A study conducted by Youth Music found that ‘91% of children and young people aged 7-19 say they like listening to music, but only 39% report engaging in music-making activities.’ This statistic suggests that there is a disconnect between enjoyment of music and engagement with music education.

Most musicians would argue that music education is important for its own sake. However, music has also been proven to have an impact on many other aspects of children & young people’s development, and much of the advocacy for music education now centres round these ‘extra-musical’ benefits.

• Critical evaluation skills
• Leadership skills
• Collaborative skills
• Communication Skills
• Emotional Intelligence
• Thinking & Reasoning skills
• Creative Skills
• Academic skills (particularly English and Maths)

This advocacy argument may work on teachers and parents, but is probably not going to work on children & young people! So how can we help to bridge the gap between their enjoyment of music and engagement with music education?

The simple answer is to ask them! Ask children and young people why they do or do not engage in music education activities. Find out if there are alterations that can be made to existing activities to make them more appealing. Discover new types of activities that could be offered to suit children and young people’s requirements.

If we want more children and young people to engage with music education, then we need to tap into their enthusiasm for music. This may be at odds with our own interests and expertise! As educators it is important to find ways to bridge the musical gap between our pupils and ourselves, and that means valuing and respecting their musical interests.

Copyright © 2018 Music Education Solutions Limited. All Rights Reserved.

TP Resource Awards Logo 5-RGB

We are delighted to announce that the KS1 Music Teaching Resource which we developed in conjunction with award-winning brass instrument developers Warwick Music Group, has won the Music category of the 2018 Teach Primary Resource Awards with the maximum rating of 5 stars!


Developed with mini-musician’s little hands in mind, the creators of pBuzz, Warwick Music Group, wanted to enable any teacher to use the instrument as a resource, whether they were a musician or not. Working in partnership with Music Education Solutions a step-by-step guide and support system for schools was designed.

The resulting pBuzz KS1 Music Teaching Resource introduces pBuzz to Years 1 and 2 through lesson plans, assessment trackers, teacher support videos, specially composed music, teacher development materials and cross-curricular activities. The resource covers the entire National Curriculum for Music at KS1, and is specifically designed for use by non-specialist teachers who may lack confidence in teaching music.

Writing about the resource, music category judge Gary Spruce said “The accompanying lesson plans are pedagogically sound and are well structured to support children’s musical development.”

Further information about the Teach Primary Resource Awards, including the full list of winners and all the judges’ comments can be found in the next edition of Teach Primary, which is due out on 12th October 2018.

Music Education Solutions would like to thank our amazing team without whom we could not have developed this award-winning resource: Elizabeth Stafford (Writer / Vocalist / Project Leader); Kay Charlton (Composer / Trumpeter / Music Producer); Jenni Axtell (Writer); Dave Smith (Video Producer); Steve Pretty (Recording / Mastering); Susie Riddell (Presenter); Thomas Green (Guitarist).

We’re delighted to announce that we have been shortlisted for the Birmingham Awards in the Contribution to Education category! The awards will be decided by a combination of a public vote and a judging panel, and the winners will be announced on 24th November.

Please vote for us here:



Every month in 2018 we’re celebrating our 10th birthday by publishing top ten tips for teachers! This month’s – very much tongue-in-cheek – tips are written by Dr Elizabeth Stafford. We hope they make you smile!

  1. Set your ground rules early – don’t touch those instruments when I’m speaking, or else!


  1. Appoint some music monitors – you know the type, those keen beans who love to hang out in the music department at lunchtime. Guess what, they will love running errands too. Although maybe stop short of sending them out for Starbucks…


  1. Make friends with the PE teacher – you want them as your ally not your nemesis. Instead of ‘I can’t come to orchestra, I have football practice,’ try, ‘Mrs Music and Mr PE excused me from my maths homework as I have FAR TOO MANY important extra curricular responsibilities.’


  1. Don’t reinvent all of the wheels – unless whatever you did last year resulted in criminal charges, you’re probably doing ok. Pick one or two things about your teaching to change or develop, but don’t feel the need to start from scratch again – remember, even if you are bored to tears by the same old topics and repertoire, this is the first time your pupils have encountered them so they’ll be excited even if you aren’t!


  1. Stock up your repair kit. In my first lesson this year, ten, yes TEN instruments fell apart within the first 15 minutes. You need glue, packing tape, elastic bands, paperclips, a screwdriver, and while you’re there why not stock up on random items such as rosin and valve oil too.


  1. Sharpen, like, 100 pencils – or get your music monitors to do it (see point 2 above)


  1. Practise saying NO early – ‘No I can’t teach the whole school a 3 part harmony song for Harvest Assembly tomorrow!’ You’ll thank me when it gets to Christmas and everyone knows to just let you do your own thing…


  1. Commandeer an iPad and fill it with videos of your classes as assessment evidence – then when the SLT ask for assessment data, suggest they watch 300 hours of beginner recorder lessons…


  1. Never, EVER, let a pupil open their own music stand. You know how this is going to end (see point 5 above). Only you or the fully trained music monitors (see point 2 above) must touch those musical Rubik’s Cubes.


  1. Take pleasure in the small things – that pupil who finally gets the notes in the right order, the band who pull together to give a great rendition of their favourite song, the choir that can get to the end of a performance without someone crying, the bottle of single malt that you swig directly out of as soon as the bell goes for half term. It’s the little things in life that keep you going….


Copyright © 2018 Music Education Solutions Ltd. All rights reserved.

To celebrate Music Education Solutions® 10th Birthday, we’re posting our top ten tips for different aspects of music education each month during 2018! This month’s Top Ten gives advice on teaching World Music, and is written by guest blogger Mike Simpson of Inspire-Works.

  1. Do your research. There are many great resources available on the web showing the key characteristics of many world-music genres/styles. Try not to make any assumptions about what a world-music style should sound like.
  1. Decide what key characteristics are important to share with the class. For example: West African music is full of call & response, the music is lead by rhythmic ‘signals’ played by the Master Drummer on their drum (not a whistle); Indonesian gamelan music centres around the largest gong with it marking the end of each cycle and the structure of the music is often dictated by the dancers who the drummer is watching closely to play rhythmic cues to signal to the gamelan orchestra when to change tunes, dynamics or tempo.
  1. Keep it practical. Benjamin Franklin said “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Demonstrate the key characteristics of the genre/style by getting the class to play them!
  1. Teach it aurally. Most world-music genres are best learnt aurally – as they are in their culture – the use of conventional music notation is very much a western-classical tradition! In Bali, gamelan is taught by two different aural styles; meguru panggul  and meguru uger-uger. For the first method (translated as ‘teach by following the stick/hammer’) the teacher sits either next to or on the reverse side of the instrument from the student and plays the melody/rhythm with the student copying. This teaching style is useful for modelling good technique and teaching big chunks of music quickly but each student only knows their part and may not understand how their part fits in with the wider structure and instrumentation. The Balinese say teaching by the second method, where the teacher is never addressing individuals but the whole group and each student therefore understands how their part fits with others, is a better aural teaching method.
  1. Use whatever instrumental resources you’ve already got. For example: Most hand-drums are good substitutes for West African djembes; The school drum kit can be pulled apart and used as the core of a samba band (toms and bass drum for surdos, snare for caixa); Create a classroom gamelan with glockenspiels/xylophones (using pentatonic notes A C D E G to replicate the slendro scale) and suspended cymbals played with soft sticks near the bell to replicate the gongs.
  1. Find out why the music is played in that culture. For example: West African music is often dubbed ‘music for purpose’ – every piece is played for a particular reason/occasion. In the Malinke tradition in West Africa (where the djembe originates), any piece titled “Soli” is played at a circumcision – knowing this may determine your repertoire selection! Samba drummers in Rio are always accompanying the samba enredo (song) that is given to their samba school as the theme for the competition at that year’s Rio Carnival. This will have determined the structure and feel of the music, choreography and also the design of the costumes.
  1. Understand that the culture has defined the music. For example: Respect for instruments and the teacher is paramount to Japanese taiko drumming which is evident in the martial-arts-like movements the drummers perform before and during each piece. Even when using classroom instruments to play gamelan, it’s important the students take their shoes off and understand why the Indonesians show respect to instruments by removing their shoes. West African music is passed down generations aurally by the Griot (the story-teller) who is also the voice of the community and passes on the history of the local area. The former West African slaves in Trinidad & Tobago carried forward this tradition with the Calypsonians voicing the feeling of the community through call & response songs which developed into calypso music.
  1. Try to immerse them in the culture to better understand the music. Use the web to put it all in context: Make sure the students see videos of the music in it’s cultural context. Show them pictures of the landscape and people. Show them videos of the music. Let them sample some of the food!
  1. Watch the videos before you show them to the class! Behaviours or clothing (or lack of it!) that are acceptable in one culture may not be appropriate to show to children in our culture. The Inspire-works YouTube channel has playlists of videos sourced from across the globe that are appropriate for classes to watch to back up your teaching.
  1. Have fun! Caribbean steel pans music is known as the sunniest music on earth, the Rio Carnival is the largest party in the world, dhol drums are played on mass at Punjabi weddings – try to pass on to your students some of the joy celebrated in the music’s home culture!


Copyright © 2018 Music Education Solutions® Limited. All Rights Reserved.

To celebrate Music Education Solutions® 10th Birthday, we’re posting our top ten tips for different aspects of music education each month during 2018! This month’s Top Ten gives advice on leading singing in the classroom, and is written by Dr Elizabeth Stafford.

  1. It’s about THEIR singing not YOUR singing. You don’t have to be an amazing singer yourself to help your pupils sing better. (In fact some of the best known choral conductors are pretty average singers!)
  2. Confidence is key. Fake it till you make it – if you act like you know what you’re doing, your pupils won’t question you, even if you feel more Florence Foster Jenkins than Florence Welch!
  3. Singing is a physical activity. Get your class warmed up by doing some PE style starters to get them moving, and encourage them throughout your session to put real physical energy into their singing.
  4. Vocal warm ups don’t have to be scales. You can sing a simple song, play a singing game, make random noises, anything that gives your voice a little workout before singing.
  5. Invest in the best resources. Nothing makes a singing session fall flat like repertoire with twee words that your Granny used to sing when she was at school. Try Out of the Ark, Edgy Productions, and Sing Up, for some really exciting, up-to-the-minute repertoire.
  6. Careful of your posture. Your pupils don’t always have to stand up to sing, but if they do sit down, make sure they’re not tilting their heads up to see you or the whiteboard. Their chins should be at a natural level, not pointing upwards, so you need to make sure that any resources you use, including your own conducting, are at eye level.
  7. Use your hands. You don’t have to conduct like a maestro, but just showing where the tune goes up and down with your hands can be an enormous help to your pupils when they’re learning how a song goes.
  8. Take a deep breath. Almost every common singing problem can be headed off by taking a lovely relaxed deep breath before you start each line. Encourage your pupils to breath into their tummies (yes, we know this is biologically impossible!) rather than raising their shoulders when they breathe.
  9. Don’t be American! Unless you are American, in which case continue as you were! Encourage your pupils to use their own accent to sing (they don’t have to put a posh English one on either!), as this will keep them relaxed and result in a better overall sound
  10. Enjoy it! Singing is meant to be fun!

Copyright © 2018 Music Education Solutions® Limited. All Rights Reserved.


Music Education Solutions has been nominated for not one, but TWO awards!

We are finalists in the Educational Resource Provider of the Year category at the Education Awards, alongside the Shakespeare Schools Foundation and Shoutout UK. Judging has already taken place, and the winner will be announced on 6th July at a ceremony at Edgbaston County Cricket Ground.

Our pBuzz KS1 Music Teaching Resource which we created in partnership with Warwick Music Group has been shortlisted in the Best Music Resource category at the Teach Primary Resource Awards. The winners will be featured in the October issue of Teach Primary.

We’re really delighted to have been nominated for both these awards!

Every month in 2018 we’re giving away fabulous prizes to celebrate our 10th Birthday. June is our birthday month, so we have an extra special prize on offer!

You could win a free 1.5 hour INSET session for your school, music hub or service!

Check our Facebook page for all the details of how to enter. Good luck!

For a limited period, we are offering early bird discounts on bookings for our three main events, the Singing Strategy Symposium, Curriculum Music Conference, and First Access Forum. Check the Courses and Events page for full details.