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.

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