Developing a shared sense of purpose for music
Developing music in the school involves consultation and collaboration between the partners in education. Good communication helps to develop a common purpose and ensures the involvement of boards of management, parents and teachers. Parents play a vital role in nurturing children's interest and development in music throughout their primary school years.
There is also a special need to support class teachers so that they can teach music, make music with children and develop positive attitudes towards music. This may mean seeking the support of organisations outside the school and working in collaboration with them in a spirit of involvement and inclusiveness.
The board of management will provide support for the development and implementation of the school plan for music within the resources available to it. This will involve consultation with all the partners. The music programme will be reviewed as part of the board's overall review of the school plan.
Planning for music in the school should
- result from clear decision-making among the teaching staff
- seek to utilise the interest and aptitudes of individual teachers to the full
- provide real help and support for the teacher
- determine how the school intends to phase in the introduction of the music programme
- involve review and evaluation
- identify how the plan will be communicated fully to the partners in the educational work of the school
- be supported, facilitated and reviewed by the board of management.
The principal and teachers
The principal can provide the initial support for music in the school by raising awareness of its importance as an integral part of a child-centred curriculum. He/she should also ensure that
- teachers are supported in their teaching by colleagues within or outside the school
- the school promotes a balance of listening and responding, performing and composing activities
- sufficient time is allocated to music education in all classes
- a timetable for specific resources is drawn up.
Since music is an essential aspect of an integrated and child-centred curriculum, the class teacher is the most suitable person to present rounded musical experiences in listening and responding, performing and composing in most circumstances. In addition to a wealth of teaching expertise from throughout the curriculum, the teacher brings skills of planning, questioning, organising and motivating children, as well as an understanding of child development and learning.
The role of the teacher could be described as
- establishing a musical environment that embraces the approach to music in the school and that links naturally with other areas of the curriculum
- devising a programme of work that seeks to meet the needs of the children in the class
- providing a range of musical experiences through a variety of approaches
- facilitating, motivating and responding to the children's work
- evaluating the programme and assessing the children's work
- communicating information with parents, in line with the school policy, about the programme in music and the child's progress
- participating in listening, singing, playing and improvising activities.
As with all other subjects, the general organisation for the teaching of music will require co-ordination. A member of staff, particularly in larger schools, may have a special interest or expertise in music, and he/she may wish to take responsibility for the general organisation of the teaching of music in the school. The staff member need not have specialist skills but may enable the expertise of individual teachers to be availed of by others. This expertise may be in choral music, Irish traditional music, playing the piano, leading composing projects, appreciation of pop music or technology. Therefore the coordinating role could include functions such as
- creating a positive musical environment, which encourages and values spontaneous sharing of ideas, skills and resources among teachers and pupils alike
- assisting colleagues in the preparation of schemes of work and in subsequent implementation
- collecting and communicating information about in-service training, school visits and tours or musical events
- maintaining and monitoring resources in the school.
Facilities and resources
The available resources, their locations and the timetabling of their use should be considered in the process of school planning. These may include
- hardware and software, such as taperecorders, audio and video recordings, computer technology and keyboards
- percussion instruments and melodic instruments
- teachers' books, song collections, 'ideas' books, etc.
Basic minimum equipment
To implement the music curriculum, schools will require a basic set of equipment, which should be considered at the planning stage. While many percussion instruments can be made from scrap material, it is important that children have experience of playing highquality instruments. A suggested minimum number of percussion instruments would include instruments that demonstrate different timbres (sound qualities) and different techniques in playing, for example drum, tambourine and triangle. All schools (ideally, all classrooms) should possess a high-quality tape-recorder or CD player, both for the purpose of playing recordings to the children and for recording their musical compositions. Each teacher should have access to a pitching instrument, for example a tuning fork, pitch pipe or quality recorder.
Identifying support for implementation
Support for implementation can be found among many agencies in the community that will be willing to contribute their experience and expertise to the future lovers of music in society as listeners, performers and composers. The most immediate group to be sought by any school will be the families of the children.
The contribution of parents and relatives of the children
Parents as educators
Parents play a crucial role in the implementation of music policy in the school. Since the foundations of music are best set in the early years, the musical experiences acquired in the home are of immense value and should always be encouraged.
Similarly, musical experiences acquired at school may be extended in the home by the parents and the child through
- singing together songs learned at school, or elsewhere
- listening to music together
- playing with 'found' sounds.
Parents and continuing support
The work of senior pupils in the primary school needs to be cherished in a similar way to the emerging musicianship of the young child. It is important that parents continue to be involved in planning issues and be informed of pupil progress at all stages. Parents can give valuable support to the music activities of the older child by
- encouraging active listening
- discussing attitudes towards and taste in music
- allowing time and space to practise or improvise on an instrument
- encouraging positive attitudes to music in general and to schoolbased activities in particular.
Parents as listeners, performers and composers
Parents can also contribute effectively to music in schools by attending school or classroom events, playing the role of critical listeners or supportive audience members or assisting in the supervision of movement of children. The skills of parent-musicians should also be included when planning for live performances or when creating a class composition.
For the parent, support for musical activity leads to a better understanding of the life and work of the school, while the teacher may gain a greater insight into the child's growth in music and development as a whole child.
The local library
Local libraries can offer support for classroom projects in a variety of ways. Apart from books, which typically contain information on composers and their works, and orchestral instruments, libraries are increasingly offering audio and visual resources, which can be of immense value to schools in both the planning and the implementation of the music curriculum. Many librarians are able to make material available to schools on a block loan. They can also offer information on local or national arts initiatives, festivals or special lectures.
In addition, special music libraries, such as the Central Music Library in Dublin or those found in universities or colleges of music, can provide sources of information on music education, through books and music journals, as well as maintaining an extensive range of recordings on CD, cassette or vinyl. It is important when embarking on any project to discuss the requirements of the school well in advance and to maintain contact throughout the school year.
Local music organisations and societies
Music organisations abound in most communities, urban and rural. These range from highly visible groups, such as music societies, traditional musicians, dance and music theatre groups to amateur choirs and orchestras. Less obvious patrons of music can include local composers and musicians living in the community, performers and composers from other cultures, professional musicians from orchestras and rock groups, singers, conductors and music publishers, all of whom can contribute to a lively programme.
Computers and computer software
Multimedia technology offers high-tech support for listening in the classroom by stimulating the children both visually and aurally. A multimedia computer (containing a CD drive, a sound card, and a pair of loudspeakers or headphones) is designed to combine sound with visual images. The images can include pictures, motion pictures, animation, graphics or charts, standard notation or text. Many children become familiar with multimedia through interactive video games that mix animation with sound effects and music. The greatest advantage of multimedia is its ability to capture the children's attention through presentations that are inherently motivating.
Multimedia technology is ideally suited for individual or small-group work in the classroom, where the use of headphones can eliminate possible distractions for other children. By clicking a mouse button, children can instantly go to any section of a piece of music, hear various instruments demonstrated, receive background information or attempt a puzzle related to the piece of music. The multimedia software industry is constantly expanding and several music multimedia applications are available that are suitable for classroom use.
Keyboards and synthesisers give access to a wide range of sounds and sound effects, which can provide stimulus and ideas for creative music-making. They are widely available to many pupils and in most instances can be used to encourage music-making outside the classroom. The use of built-in features can develop many musical elements in the classroom -- pulse, tempo, rhythm, timbre etc. -- and be used to explore various musical styles, for example rap, tango, disco or rock. Automatic accompaniments can also be used effectively by teachers or pupils with limited performance skills to add an extra dimension to classroom singing or playing.
Radio, television and video
Several television and radio stations broadcast classroom-based music programmes every season. Like other technological advances, they combine aural and visual stimuli, and many programmes are aimed at specific age groups. They can also present opportunities for integration with other subject areas. Live broadcasts, which usually employ a range of the latest techniques and resources, can provide a highly motivating starting point for classroom activity. Alternatively, recordings from previous years and commercial videos can be examined in their entirety in advance and are therefore more useful to teachers in planning for integrated musical activity in the curriculum.
Festivals, competitions and special events
Many towns and cities hold music competitions, feiseanna, arts festivals or special parades to mark events of national or local significance. Schools too maintain traditions of concerts, pantomimes or arts days or weeks at various times in the school year. Each of these events, whether competitive or non-competitive in nature, can be very motivating for both the teacher and the children, by virtue of the fact that they are usually open to the public. In devising the school plan in music, staff should take the following considerations into account with respect to special music events:
- special events should complement and not replace classroom music
- children should have opportunities to participate in and enjoy both competitive and non-competitive music-making activities
- schools should aim to include all children or as many as possible, not just the most talented performers
- related arts activities, for example pantomime, opera and drama, should be integrated with objectives in the visual arts, dance and drama curricula, as well as other subject areas, where possible.
It should also be remembered that many of these events can be arranged successfully within the confines of the classroom itself: a 'lunchtime concert' on a hot summer's day with invitations issued free to family members can be as stimulating as any externally organised festival.
Education centres and other inservice training providers
Local education centres and other agencies provide support for schools, teachers and parents who wish to enrich their knowledge and skills in music and enhance their pedagogical and assessment techniques.
Professional performers and performances
Several national bodies, such as the National Concert Hall, the Ark, the National Chamber Choir and RTE, arrange music concerts and workshops for teachers and children at primary level. In addition, through support from organisations such as the Arts Council, the Music Association of Ireland and Music Network, it is possible to arrange performances in the school from a wide range of professional musicians. Such schemes enhance the children's musical experience considerably, bringing real performance closer to their lives. As with other special events, school planning should take into consideration the relevance to the curriculum of the programmes on offer and the balance between school-based activity and external agencies.
Most communities include local professional and amateur musicians of high quality who can contribute richly to the quality, diversity and depth of the school music curriculum through regular performing, class or small-group tutoring, demonstrating, coaching and providing feedback.
Artists in residence
'Artist in residence' schemes provide a unique opportunity for children to observe the professional performer, composer or music educator in action. As these schemes require sustained involvement by both the school and the artist, they can be of greater benefit to schools than once-off concerts or workshops. For the artist, the opportunity to become involved with children's creative energies can be exciting and refreshing. Similarly, for the children, the experience of working with and being accepted by a professional musician can be of immense and lifelong benefit.