Researching innovative approaches to music education for primary-aged children

Published: 6 Oct 2016

Author: Anna Williams
Researching innovative approaches to music education for primary-aged children

Anna Williams, a music teacher and music education charity project manager from East Finchley in north London, recently returned from six weeks in Australia, where she researched approaches to primary music education in state schools. Her travels were enabled by a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship Award, in partnership with the Finzi Trust.

Anna’s Fellowship focused on innovative approaches to providing music education to communities facing challenges related to geographical isolation, socio-economic background, high population turnover or where English is spoken as an additional language. Whilst teaching in east London, Anna has seen first hand the limitations faced by children from these backgrounds in accessing the benefits of high quality music education. While, frequently, infrastructure – such as free instrumental lessons – is in place, many children and their families do not take advantage of these opportunities. Anna visited Australian programmes that are proving highly effective in engaging these groups in sustained music education.

In rural New South Wales, Anna attended the Moorambilla Voices camps. The programme provides intensive choral education for young people from remote parts of the region. Its residential nature, uncompromisingly high expectations for the quality of the members’ performance, and a pedagogic approach that develops members’ deep musical knowledge through practical activity and development of cultural identity, has proven highly effective.

In Melbourne, Anna focused on three contrasting music programmes. The first, the Musical Futures programme, a popular music-focused approach to learning developed in the UK for secondary schools, is being successfully practiced in Australian primary schools with children as young as seven. Anna observed how the approach – in which children rehearse self-chosen covers of songs – develops independent learning as well as strong teamwork and ensemble skills, helping children to self-direct musical discoveries.

Meanwhile, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s (MSO) Pizzicato Effect programme, which provides strings education to children facing socio-economic challenges, demonstrated the importance of teacher collaboration and a holistic approach to instrumental education involving choral and ensemble training alongside instrument tuition.

The trip finished with a placement with an expert in Orff method, in which notation and elements of music are taught through kinaesthetic activities helping children to develop musicianship through creativity.

“It was incredibly inspiring to see in action projects that are finding ways to pass on to children a deep understanding and love of music through engaging, practical and sustained activities. Strong support from people in positions of education and arts leadership and the resulting freedom felt by teachers to plan programmes using their expertise as musicians and educators was a particular strength across all the projects I visited. This relaxed and autonomous culture was reflected in the honesty with which teachers spoke about the successes and challenges for their work, as well as the consistently warm welcome I received” –Anna Williams

Anna has now returned to work in London and has already begun implementing elements of these programmes into her own practice. From Moorambilla, the emphasis on cultural identity embodiment has inspired Anna’s approach to choral teaching at her own school. From Musical Futures, the student-led, carousel model of skills-building has already been utilised, while teaching notation and violin pitch simply through paper cups is already proving effective thanks to the inspiration of MSO and Orff method. She will soon present her findings to music teacher colleagues around Newham.

Anna kept a blog about her travels, which can be found here.

Moorambilla featured Anna’s visit on their website.

Notes to editors

Contact: annasarahwilliams@gmail.com

Twitter: @annaspananna

Instagram: @annaspananna

The Finzi Trust

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust established a small partnership with The Finzi Trust for two Fellowships a year from 2013, to offer educational opportunities to musicians (trained or amateur), to create new initiatives and greater diversity of those involved in music. The Finzi Trust seeks to further the music, ideals and work of the English composer Gerald Finzi (1901-1956), and awards Finzi Scholarships to those wishing to broaden their horizons or take a new path: their focus is arts based in the widest sense, but must have a musical foundation.