You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t enjoy music. But it wouldn’t be too hard to find someone who didn’t enjoy their music education. For many, our first foray into music is learning the recorder in primary school. And for many, this is also our last.
“We were all poisoned by the recorder in primary school. It was an awful way to learn music, and, of course, nobody has picked up the recorder since,” says Dr Paul Evans, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at UNSW Arts & Social Sciences.
While there are many benefits inherent to learning music, Dr Evans says music education in schools is not always that great. The typical approach to music education is one that simply ticks the box.
“High-quality music education experiences are few and far between,” the expert in education says. “There are plenty of great teachers. But in many cases, music has a low priority in schools and curriculums. We can do much better.”
Music education can be make or break
Many people still manage to have great music experiences in school despite this, he says. But many also resent music for reasons, in many cases, that don’t relate to music itself.
“People often share with me their passionate stories about how music education really fulfilled them as people,” he says.
“But others say things like when I learned piano, the nuns would wrap me over the hands with the ruler, or the band director wasn’t very kind or didn’t care. Or, instead of me giving me this fantastic social experience, it alienated me from my friends because while they were having fun at lunchtime, I had to go to rehearsal.”
Poor music education can actually lead to bad outcomes, he says. Bad experiences with music education can not only discourage people from pursuing music but leave them scarred.
“People take their experience to heart and they live with it for the rest of their lives sometimes,” he says.
Make music fun again
The quality of music education in schools varies considerably in Australia, with many public and regional schools under-resourced.
“It’s an equity issue,” Dr Evans says. “Regional schools, for example, tend to have lower-quality music education, with some exceptions, whereas many independent schools tend to have a very highly resourced music education.
Dr Evans says we also need to improve the quality of music education in primary schools, where teachers often have no training in music education. A possible solution could be to employ more specialist music educators in primary schools.
“To me, that seems like a good model. Specialist music teachers can deliver the high-quality music education that everyone deserves,” he says.
Ultimately, Dr Evans says it’s important to put enjoyment back into music education in schools. And that means, saying goodbye to the recorder.
“The whole point of music is really to do an activity that you feel comes from within, that is related to you, that is fulfilling. If you’re not enjoying it, then that could be a sign something is wrong.”