Music in UK schools has experienced an agonising decline in interest, passion and GCSE uptake, and it is easy to blame the Coronavirus pandemic. As COVID swept the UK out of the comfort of our 32 Keyboard classrooms and into online lessons, practical music lessons became difficult to scaffold and model through the screen. The lack of free Digital Audio Workspaces, small budget departments struggled to create meaningful practical music opportunities from home.
After returning to the classroom armed with a concoction of anxiety struggles and lacking social development, it is no wonder that there was a 3.8 percent decrease in GCSE Music uptake in 2021.
The bigger picture tells a different story- there has been a 27 percent drop in GCSE uptake since 2010.
GCSE Music is a challenging subject. The expected base knowledge of Grade Five theory, a new sets of vocabulary to learn and use in context, performance, composition and appraising attributes, the list goes on. Whilst finding time to master a theory that is estimated by ABRSM to take five or so years, it is also expected that students focus their time on increasing their performance ability, complete essays as homework AND focus on their core subjects, which are deemed frequently as more important than anything else (debatable, but not a topic for this edition). Students with classical training or instrumental lessons are at an advantage but, unfortunately, many schools don’t have the budget to fund instrumental lessons for their disadvantaged students.
There are more accessible courses, with BTECS and Technology courses becoming available along side GCSE. These are based on industry experience, creating music in the modern world and becoming a musician as a full-time job without the focus on historical music. Many classical, old school teachers are still against the BTECs and Technology courses that are on offer, unwilling to relearn what they have been doing for years. The GCSE prepares young musicians for the throws of a conservatoire or Performance Degree, whereas the BTEC prepares students for the popular music scene and Contemporary music degrees.
In a world where anyone can download software and create an album using electronic instruments and high quality phone recordings, what is the future for music education?
As Educators we work to improve the skills of the ’97%’. We must consider soft skills and life skills involved in Music and how that will benefit the majority of students who will not go on to take music to a higher educational level. There may be more benefit in teaching music with focus on collaboration, metacognition and making decisions within a workplace environment. Contemporary ways to learn and create music, such as learning piano using Youtube or play-along tablature for guitar, enable students to create and play music at home with greater ease. This approach would reduce the quality of classic musicology and understanding of Western Classical Music and traditional notation but would it improve the quality of music produced by the 97%?
Many artists now use DAW (Digital Audio Workspaces) to create music without need for music theory. Music technology is a rising trade that is not commonly approached in KS3 in UK schools due to funding. Using technology more widely in musical education may lead to an increase in..
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