How Electronic Music is Saving School Curriculums | Features | MN2S

The quality of school music lessons has reportedly been on the decline for years. Electronic music can turn this around.

Over the past five years the number of students taking music at A level dropped by 22%. This is not because children are losing interest in making music. The problem could be with the curriculum. While future generations of DJs learn the ropes of music production on their computers in their free time, many school music classes are failing to move with the times.

Electronic Music Schools MN2S

Ofsted has repeatedly deemed music lessons at more than half of the England’s schools ‘inadequate’ – the educational advisory board’s worst possible rating – and only 7% were given the top rating of ‘outstanding’. Some schools have pupils copy out information from textbooks during music lessons. Others focus strictly on performance, making it difficult for anyone without prior instrumental tuition to participate.

But there is another way. Some music teachers and institutions are banking on incorporating electronic music into the syllabus as a way to encourage pupils’ participation and to improve the quality of the lessons.

Music technology as its own subject

The world of education made its first steps towards this model in 2008 when ‘music technology’ was introduced as an A level option for 16 year-old pupils. Whereas the traditional ‘music’ course focused on classical composers and notational literacy, music technology was designed to combine a study of popular music and recording techniques.

This was a step in the right direction. Not only was music technology more applicable and relevant to the modern music world, but it was also more accessible to those who didn’t already play an instrument, as it offered ground-up tutorials on the latest computer production software and equipment. The downside of this was low uptake, from schools and from students. The 22% drop in pupils taking music to A level includes stats for music tech.

Luckily, music tech has been chosen as one of the subjects due for a revamp for 2017, so we may see increased interest from pupils and schools alike.

Electronic music in the classroom

Though teaching pure music technology at A level is definitely an effective way to improve school music education, it doesn’t do anything to address potential problems with music lessons for younger children.

Electronic music specialists Ableton have tapped into a way to do this. Last year they encouraged DJs to return their old equipment in exchange for a discount on new models. They then sent the refurbished second hand equipment to schools around the country.

The scheme has been very well received, with teachers saying it has changed the way they speak to children about music, and shifted the focus away from classical theory, thus opening music up to many more pupils. As well as providing equipment, Ableton are offering tuition to teachers to help them learn to use their products. Now, in music lessons across the country, pupils are able to compose, record and mix their own electronic music productions.

Similar projects have taken off in America. One teacher. Jonathan Kalafer from New Jersey, was so enamoured with the simplicity and effectiveness of FL Studio that he created his own music-teaching program that teaches children to use it. He says children are drawn to computer music software in a way they are not to traditional music schooling, so much so that the software can even be used to teach other subjects such as maths and English.

Is this the future of music education?

The truth is, we do not know. Kalafer says he has encountered resistance from classically minded music teachers, and though more UK schools are picking up electronic equipment and thus broadening the pool of potential pupils, most exam boards to do not require it on the curriculum.

Electronic Music Classroom

Still, things might keep moving in this direction. When Ofsted found that music uptake was down yet again last year, they published a report titled ‘Music in Schools: wider and wider still’ which strongly encouraged teachers to incorporate electronic music into their lessons. Teachers that have taken this on board all seem to agree that music technology helps them in the classroom.

Images used:

Keyboard with iPad by rodtuk
Elementary School Orchestra by Stilfehler
Students Record a Radio Show by Wesley Fryer

All licensed under CC 2.0

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