Popular Music in the School

I took part in some consultancy work at the weekend on the new A Level Music Syllabus. Although the details are confidential for the moment, it got me thinking about the state of popular music based education during the school aged years. It seems to me that there are still some vestiges of the old pre national curriculum ethos in government legislation – where certain types of music are considered more worthy of analysis than others, making it very difficult for awarding bodies to be truly innovative. This mind set goes back as far as Plato – where certain types of art were considered more appropriate than others for the ‘well being of the state’. Being a ‘popular music person’ – I was hopeful when the national curriculum came about 30 years ago – that some barriers were being broken down – but boy this is a slow process. The 2nd factor is once popular music is accepted into a mainstream school curriculum – how do we encourage students to analyse it? Once again in my view – it is here where we need to get the balance between the ‘ease of marking’, the importance of the score – and providing some radical (in the school system at least) methodological techniques that enable school aged children to understand how popular music works. This has to include a  production perspective through to the text itself (which is not necessarily a score) – through to the reception of the music. This reception can be not only be collective (i.e. how audiences consume) but also how individual listeners make sense of what they hear. It is this where I think the most work has to be done, as current government legislation tends to focus on music production (in its broadest sense) and the text itself – with minimal opportunities for semiotic based appraisal.

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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