More Able Musicians

High ability in any field or subject is best recognised in the early years or so Francoys Gagné (2004) would have us believe. Although there is justification that for many able pupils that their ability has been recognised early, within music education this becomes a little more difficult. If a child's family has an established musical background, the more likely that they will have had an earlier exposure to music than their peers. Their parents will also know which attributes of high musical ability to look for in their children.

For other pupils, musical experiences and the opportunity to play instruments at home may be limited, therefore school music acts as a way into learning about various instruments and basic theory, however the quality of this can also depend on the skills and confidence of the classroom teacher! If teachers take the attitude that a child either possesses musical ability or does not, they may be faced with a rather small class. There will always be late bloomers who discover that they are musical in the latter stages of Primary School and beyond, so how can teachers make this experience worthwhile and discover these musically more able students at the same time?

Where does musical learning take place?

Musical learning can happen in a variety of contexts, not just in the classroom. Primary teachers may be surprised at the number of children in their classes who go to music lessons or musical activities. Musical learning can then be divided into two large groups, the formal (the classroom or any private lessons) and the informal (at home with family and friends, etc) (Cope and Smith, 1997). Peter Cope and Lucy Green (2008) feel that there is a division between the two approaches, one which will lead to technical expertise and proficiency, the other which encourages participation for all, regardless of ability. These are quite large generalisations and the two areas do share some common skills (collaboration, emotion and enjoyment) and they do have implications for your class lesson planning. Swanwick and Tillman (1986) studied the way in which young children composed music. Their research suggested that learning is best when it is in the vernacular and culture of the child, in other words, where the child understands it. Swanwick and Tillman believe that learning was most effective when built upon songs which the children already knew, for example, simple nursery rhymes. This is where music can be used for pupil development in a number of subjects, building upon what a child already knows and using this to build skills in other areas, for example, language development through nursery rhymes. Green (2008) is in support of Swanwick and Tillman's work, considering that musical development should start at what the children currently know and can do (highly able or otherwise), 'keeping it real' with musical events outside of the classroom.

Music across the curriculum
Why is music important for learning across the curriculum? Music is a great subject for cross-curricular links

Music and language
Language is developed through singing, vocabulary, expression in words. Can also act as a gateway into learning Modern Languages and foreign songs.

Music and social subjects
Non-threatening introduction to historical events, songs and music of different eras, folk music, etc.

Music and Personal and Social Education (PSE)
Music as a tool for exploration of emotions and emotions connected to events and people.

Music and mathematics
This is possibly one of the most renowned areas where musical ability can be found. The ability to recognise and process patterns and shapes.

Find out more information on the more able musician in our SNAP booklet A Little Class Music: A Guide for the non-specialist Primary Teacher by Angela Jaap. Please click the link on the right to download your copy.