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Composing the Future

On 1st October 2019, Sound and Music announced the findings of their National Music Educators’ Survey, Can Compose. The report, which is based on responses from over 500 educators, is the first of it’s kind to look specifically at creativity and composers.

Sound and Music believe that composing should be a core element of every child’s music education – and 97% of their respondents agreed.

One of the areas of the report is the identification of 5 key barriers (from the over 600 barriers that were reported) that prevent young people’s progression in composing:

  • Many young people lack the skills, knowledge and confidence to compose their own music
  • There are concerns about the relevance of opportunities for young people 
  • Many educators lack support and training in how to teach composing 
  • There is limited, patchy and unequal access to resources and opportunities 
  • Composing as a core part of music education is undervalued 

These are worrying findings for those of us who believe in the importance of opportunity for creativity and access to music for young people, however not a great surprise to the MWC team who see a wide range of musical opportunities for young people in schools in many areas, but speak to teachers who do not have the skills to teaching composition or do not have access to the necessary resources.

Sound and Music suggest that these findings point to the need for changes in perceptions, provision, practice and policy.

As well as identifying the barriers to young people composing, Sound and Music’s report also identifies 5 outcomes to address the barriers:

  • There should be more opportunities for young people to compose in and out of school 
  • Opportunities for young people to compose should be more relevant and diverse 
  • There should be improved provision of training, support and resources for educators, music education hubs and schools 
  • There should be improved progression pathways through better networks and signposting 
  • More value should be placed on composing

Sound and Music state:

“We want to see a world where more young people have the opportunity, skills and confidence to create their own music; where their creativity and imagination can flourish; and where the composers of the future, key to the success of many of the UK’s creative industries, are nurtured.”

This is a sentiment that we, at MWC, fully support.

Key Findings

Key findings from the report include:

97% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that creating and composing music should be a core element of music education

96%  of respondents agreed that creating and composing music enables children and young people to develop their identity and their wellbeing

97% of respondents also agreed that there should be more opportunities for students to compose their own music

Young peoples’ confidence and performance opportunities

An important point for consideration is that young people’s confidence in composing declines throughout their time in education up to the age of 16. By age of 16 and over, the confidence in composing seems to return a little, however, the number of young people participating in music education in schools at this stage is a very small proportion of all young people. One concern is that many students lack confidence in themselves as composers and worry about being judged. The report suggests this lack of confidence to experiment and make mistakes when learning to compose has its roots in a number of the issues identified throughout the survey. The report further suggests that this lack of confidence is compounded by the systemic deprioritisation of composing compared to performing.

Also highlighted in the Sound and Music report is the fact that opportunities for young people to hear their own compositions performed live are extremely limited. The research found that there is a mismatch between students composing and works being performed.

Teachers confidence and CPD

The research suggests that teachers and educators are not accessing training and Continuing Professional Development focused on composing with only 41% of respondents reporting that they had received composing-focused Continuing Professional Development (CPD) within the last 5 years. Educators seem to value to CPD with 45% of respondents agreeing that “CPD for themselves and colleagues” that be the activity that would most benefit young people. Linked to this is a lack of confidence in educators regarding assessing composing, particularly for exams. Educators’ confidence can be undermined by exam boards’ assessment methodologies, which are not always perceived to be reliable or transparent.

As educators do not always feel confident teaching composing, the report found that schools increasingly rely on external music tuition to fulfil curriculum and examination requirements, which particularly impacts composing,

The question “what would most benefit young people to compose music?”, 38% of those respondents directly involved in teaching music, and 45% of those respondents working for organisations, said that better teaching resources would help them support composing activity.  This was broken down with categories most frequently given as school facilities, equipment and space (34% of responses within this category), including the need for more technology and equipment; insufficient breakout spaces for group composing activity; and a lack of accessible instruments for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. This last point is highlighted in the finding that music educators struggle to support young people who face disabling barriers to composing and creating music.

Also identified as something that would help young people compose was access to composers. The report suggests “Providing young people with more opportunities to work alongside composers, and supporting composers in developing their skills as educators, are two important steps that educators feel the music education sector needs to take.”

Concern about the future of music in schools

A concern that MWC has raised in numerous blogs is the challenge that music as a curriculum subject is being deprioritised. In the Sound and Music report, 78% of respondents identified the deprioritisation of music as a curriculum subject or lack of time for music within the school curriculum as barriers to young people composing their own music.

Recommendations

The report goes on to identify ways to create opportunities and support young people to compose. These recommendations link to key areas:

  • Creating more opportunities for young people to compose both in and out of school
  • More relevant and diverse opportunities for young people to compose
  • An improved offering of training, support and resources for educators, music education hubs and schools
  • Clear signposting to improved progression pathways with better networks
  • A higher value to be placed on composing

To read the full report visit http://soundandmusic.org/projects/can-compose-national-music-educators-survey

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