Top Ten Tips for Whole Class Instrumental Teaching


To celebrate Music Education Solutions® 10th Birthday, we’re posting our top ten tips for different types of teaching each month during 2018! This month’s list is written by Dr Elizabeth Stafford

  1. Don’t listen to anyone who says whole class instrumental teaching ‘doesn’t work!’ If it doesn’t work for them, it’s because they’re not doing it right! There is a reason that so much funding has consistently been put into whole class instrumental teaching since 2003, and it’s not just to do with economies of scale!
  2. It doesn’t matter what you call it. Wider Opportunities, First Access, WCIT, WCET, it’s all the same thing! So don’t get hung up on the terminology. Although, if we could have a vote just to call it one thing and stick to it, you wouldn’t hear us complaining!
  3. Treat it as a music lesson, not an instrumental lesson. This is where most people who think ‘whole class instrumental teaching doesn’t work’ go wrong (see above.) It’s not about perfecting instrumental technique and getting everyone to Grade 1 standard at the same time as they would have got there with individual lessons (although good for you if you can do that too – you overachiever, you!) It’s about using an instrument as the carrier for musical learning – after all, the majority are probably not going to carry on playing that instrument at the end of the programme, so why not focus on some transferrable musical skills that they can take forward instead!
  4. Watch it before you do it. If you haven’t taught whole class instrumental before, don’t assume that it’s just like teaching a normal small group lesson but with loads more kids. It’s a different beast entirely. And if you’re a primary teacher who’s introducing a whole class instrumental programme, don’t assume it’s just like primary music, but with instruments. The best whole class programmes meet in the middle between instrumental and primary music pedagogy, and the best way to understand how that works is to watch someone else do it (as long as that person isn’t one of the ‘it doesn’t work naysayers!). If you can’t get out to watch a lesson live, there are some great video examples on the Music Mark and Inspire Music websites.
  5. Involve the school. Even if your whole class instrumental programme is used as PPA cover, it doesn’t mean that’s the end of any chance of school involvement. Whole class instrumental programmes are most effective when they are integrated with the other musical things going on at school. At the very least you should find out what the pupils have done before, what other musical things they will be doing during the year, and what the school is hoping you will have covered by the time you hand them back at the end of the programme. Which leads us on to…
  6. Have a continuation plan. It would be a shame if all the things that your pupils learn with you get forgotten once your whole class instrumental programme ends. ACE encourages music hubs to have continuation programmes in place, but of course not all schools are willing or able to host these. And what about the children who don’t elect to join the instrumental continuation groups? Chat with the music coordinator to ensure that the school is ready to develop all the pupils musically from where you left off, and is ready to help some of the pupils access instrumental continuation routes, even if these are not available on site.
  7. Be creative. We’ve already said that this is a music lesson not an instrumental lesson, so that means you can include elements such as improvisation and composition which might not ordinarily be included in a traditional instrumental lesson. Even if your pupils have only mastered a couple of notes, they can still make up a short tune of their own to share with the class – plus while your pupils are busy getting creative, this gives you an opportunity to go round and assist anyone who really does need some extra technical input!
  8. Use your voices. Did we mention that this was not just an instrumental lesson?! Using singing and chanting is a fantastic way to internalise music. Whether you want to get to know a melody before playing it, explore concepts such as dynamics and timbre, or simply develop a stronger sense of pulse, singing activities can be just the ticket!
  9. Read the research. Music Education Solutions®, Music Mark, Youth Music and even Ofsted have all published reports about whole class instrumental teaching. There is a wealth of research out there for you to discover, which will help you to plan and improve your whole class instrumental programmes.
  10. Attend the First Access Forum. This national event for whole class instrumental teachers happens each year in June and is a great opportunity to chat to other teachers about your whole class instrumental challenges! This year’s event is in Birmingham on 8th June 2018, or catch next year’s event in Leeds on 25th June 2019!