Issue 10: Curriculum
What’s really surprising about the music curriculum for primary school students is that there isn’t one. Actually there is, but the curriculum is mostly considered to be part of the ‘Arts’ domain, along with visual art, drama and media (ACARA 2015). This is kind of like my experience in primary school, where we’d do drama and music in alternating terms. So it’d be term 1: drama, term 2: music, term 3: drama, and term 4: music. All of this was taught by one teacher, who I now pity for having to juggle the two subjects for every single class in the school.
In the US the No Child Left Behind Act was implemented in 2001, which some academics see as being a makeshift national curriculum for musical education (Walker 2007). In Australia- as previously stated- there is no national curriculum either so each individual states are responsible for their own music curriculum (Walker 2007). In December 2005 there was a national enquiry into music education in Victoria done by the Australian Federal government, which many academics consider to be a rarity, as very few reports on musical education in Australia have been published (Walker 2007). The report stated that music was a low priority in schools’ curriculum and teaching, and included several comments highlighting the importance of music lessons for students (Walker 2007).
The Victorian Music Workshop Report, which was done by the National Review of School Music Education, recommended that a curriculum that was relevant, sequential and continuous would need to be implemented in Victoria to give students a proper music education (School Music Action Group). In addition to this, they stated that having a national curriculum for teaching music would make music more standardised (School Music Action Group). This would (ideally) result in all music programs having a fixed benchmark, but would they would also be fluid enough to allow teachers to modify the program to accommodate their own experience and knowledge (School Music Action Group). Some of the other changes the report recommended was that music be separated from the other ‘Arts’ subjects and that more technology would be used to teach students about music (School Music Action Group). I have to say that these ideas will make learning music far more appealing than it was in 2005.
The lack of standardisation of music curricula in Australia has also been noted in a Senate review in November 2007 (McMillan 2011). This report claimed that giving every primary school student access to music lessons from a specialist would greatly benefit the students, and noted that there were no specific requirements for teaching music to primary school children (McMillan 2011). I think that giving music lessons to primary school children is a very good idea. I had music lessons throughout year 7 as part of the curriculum and it was one of the high points of the year.
As part of the AusVELS, music is studied as part of the Arts curriculum and doesn’t have any particular focuses. It’s mostly wide- ranging and based around an outcome. For example, year 2’s are expected to use noisemaking objects and body percussion to accompany a song which they’ve learnt (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority 2015). At the moment, music curriculum in Australia is mostly defined by concepts, with specialist music teachers trained to teach performance, composition and listening (Walker 2007).
A PhD in the US who has worked as a music teacher and designed several music education programs has stated that having a sequential music curriculum will allow a music teacher to build on students’ pre-existing knowledge (Guderian 2012). She also claimed that allowing students to creatively apply what they’ve learnt makes it easier for them to retain the knowledge, and simultaneously makes the subject more engaging for them (Guderian 2012). I have to agree with this. In primary school we did no creative music, instead simply regurgitating pre-existing songs and doing research on a famous music composer. As a result, no one was particularly thrilled to be doing music.
The importance of schools having a good music curriculum has been continually stated in reports, studies, and a variety of research in Australia and overseas. A study done in the US showed that if a primary (or elementary) school had a comprehensive music program, then a student’s success in other subjects would be significantly higher than a student at a school which did not have a music program (Abeles, Burrton and Horowitz, 1999).
In a recent conversation with a primary school teacher they told me that their school has no music curriculum at all, and instead concentrates on visual art. This is a prime example of the lack of a structured music curriculum in Australian schools. Since the benefits of music curricula are well documented and supported in a lot of academic texts I can’t understand why there is no proper curriculum yet, despite the calls for music subjects to be given a proper curriculum and a greater priority when deciding which Arts subject to teach.
Walker 2007, R, (2007), Music Education: Cultural Values, Social Change and Innovation, Illinois: Charles C Thomas Publisher.
Abeles, H, Burton, J, Horowitz, R, (1999). Learning In and Through the Arts: Curriculum Implications. Studies in Art Education, 41(3), 228- 257, retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy2.acu.edu.au/docview/199810346?OpenUrlRefId=info:xri/sid:primo&accountid=8194
School Music Action Group, (unknown), Victorian Music Workshop Report, retrieved from http://leo.acu.edu.au/pluginfile.php/1179076/mod_resource/content/2/Vic%20Music%20Workshop%20report%20May.pdf
McMillan, J, (2011), Music Curriculum for the 21st Century: Classroom and Studio Piano Teacher, Training. Perspectives from Australia and Malaysia. Musicworks: Journal of the Australian Council of Orff Schulwerk, 16, 27- 36, retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.ezproxy2.acu.edu.au/fullText;dn=687937541057754;res=IELHSS
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, (2015), Music Curriculum: Foundation to year 10, retrieved from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/the-arts/music/curriculum/f-10?layout=1
Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, (2015), AusVELS, retrieved from: http://ausvels.vcaa.vic.edu.au/The-Arts/Curriculum
Guderian, LV, (2012), Music Improvisation and Composition in the General Music Curriculum, General Music Today, 25, 6- 14, DOI: 10.1177/1048371311415404
I agree with all of the points that Charles has raised above. It is extremely important for each and every school in Australia to have a strong music curriculum, as music education has links to many areas such as literacy and numeracy-based skills (Catterall & Waldrof, 1999). Furthermore, students who participate in high-quality school music programs score higher on standardised tests than those who have no involvement in music education programs making it extremely important that not only are music curriculums implemented, but that the curriculums are of high standard (Johnson & Memmott, 2007). Furthermore, it is not only important that music needs to be a part of each schools curriculum, but how that particular curriculum is focussed. For example, in a study by Bauer and Berg (2001) they state that when the subjects of the experiment were planning learning activities for music classrooms, the focus was more heavily weighted on the ‘performance’ aspects rather than ‘music education through performance’. The subjects were more concerned with the extracurricular benefits of music instruction rather than the curricular aspects (Bauer & Berg, 2001). Therefore, the way in which teachers interpret the music curriculum must also be noted as a key issue when discussing the implementation of music curriculums around Australia.
Bauer, W., & Berg, M. (2001). Influences on instrumental teaching. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, No. 150, 53-66.
Catterall, J.S., & Waldorf, L. (1999). Chicago arts partnerships in education. Executive summary evaluation. In E Fiske (Ed), Champions of change: the impact of the arts on learning, Washington DC: The Arts Partnership and the President’s Committee of the Arts and Humanities (pp. (viii – x).
Johnson, C. M., & Memmott, J. E. (2007). Examination of relationships between participation in school music programs of differing quality and standardized test results. Journal of Research in Music Education, 54(4), 293-307.
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