For some regions, this World Music Day or fête de la musique (21st June) will signal a welcome return to live events and continued public celebrations for the day. Events like these help to bring music and its benefits back into our lives.
A recent survey by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) in the UK, showed that during the pandemic music became completely absent from some school curriculums. This may also be the case in other nations.
But music education in schools was already suffering a decline before the pandemic with a reduction in students taking A-level and GCSE. (Weale, 2018)
There is some evidence that the introduction of The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) had an unintended negative impact on the uptake of music (Lepowska, 2016). Students were encouraged to take five core subjects – English, Maths, a science, a language and History or Geography – leaving less room and value for the take-up of Music in their options.
The reality in education is that every decision has an impact. In this instance, the knock-on impact was that schools struggled to fill their uptake on music courses resulting in cuts in budgets. This then limited the ability to hire specialist teachers and provide tuition and instruments. The playing space and lesson time has also been given less priority to ‘academic studies’
The fall of music?
During the pandemic, the music and performing arts education was hit hard by venue and school closures and restrictions on singing and playing instruments.
Many schools tried to plug the gaps with virtual field trips and educational content available on digital resources. Unfortunately, these are not a replacement for the immersive experience of live music and performances.
However, whilst there was a standstill on music and performance in the outside world, the UK Music report discovered that over 1 million people took up a musical instrument over lockdown.
Certainly, post-pandemic there does appear to be a wider recognition of the ability of music to provide a benefit overall in health and state of mind.
Why do we need music?
Although there is little scientific evidence to support the claim that studying music has cognitive and academic benefits (Sala 2020), a study of vulnerable children who were introduced to music education (Aleman 2017) showed that they developed improved self-control and reduced behavioural difficulties.
Music can also provide a refuge for many – as seen in the pandemic response, and often reported in interviews and reflections by industry ‘big hitters’.
During her ISM Annual Conference opening speech, Deborah Annett’s acknowledged the importance of the pursuit of academic knowledge in the curriculum. She highlighted the importance of music in the provision of key life skills, such as social interaction, the ability to take apart assertions and assumptions, and confidence and performance.
Following a review of the music curriculum, the Department for Education released a New Model Music Curriculum (Gibb, 2021) this focuses on Key Stages 1, 2, and 3 to support all children to have access to high-quality music education.
This has received a mixed response from musicians and organizations in the industry. Whilst many recognise that the new curriculum highlights the “intrinsic qualities of music as a subject in its own right” some are concerned it doesn’t go far enough. On this point, Simon Toyne, of the Music Teachers Association said “Music in school needs time. […] This cannot be achieved through short sound bites, or teaching on a carousel system’.
Deborah Annetts ISM Chief Executive believes there needs to be a more diverse approach to education curriculum generally. If music GCSE disappears there is a greater risk of music disappearing throughout the school, and they will continue to lobby for change on this.
World Music Day and a local offshoot of this #TuneupTuesday are an example of initiatives that have been established to shine a light on music.
To sum up, music education is a way of leading children to make music and learn through it. It is an experience that can bring enjoyment and skills, but a chance to join in a collective experience.
We all need to consider not just the benefits of music, but the consequences of its absence.
Weale, S (2018, Oct 19) Music disappearing from curriculum, school survey shows. The Guardian Newspaper https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/oct/10/music-disappearing-school-curriculum-england-survey-gcse-a-level
Lepkowska, D (2016, Mar 16) Special Report: Music and the EBacc SecEd The Voice for Secondary Education, https://www.sec-ed.co.uk/news/special-report-music-and-the-ebacc/
Sherwood, H (2020, Dec 6) Music education in UK schools devastated by pandemic, survey finds https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/dec/06/music-education-in-uk-schools-devastated-by-pandemic-survey-finds
Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP, (2021, Mar 26) DfE: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-music-curriculum-to-help-schools-deliver-world-class-teaching
Toyne, S (2021) The New Model Music Curriculum, Response from the Music Teachers’ Association https://www.musicteachers.org/model-music-curriculum/#:~:text=Response%20from%20the%20Music%20Teachers%E2%80%99%20Association%3A%20The%20value,music%20as%20a%20subject%20in%20its%20own%20right.
Sala, G., Gobet, F. Cognitive and academic benefits of music training with children: A multilevel meta-analysis. Mem Cogn 48, 1429–1441 (2020). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-020-01060-2
Alemán, X., Duryea, S., Guerra, N.G. et al. The Effects of Musical Training on Child Development: a Randomized Trial of El Sistema in Venezuela. Prev Sci 18, 865–878 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-016-0727-3