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Why aren't 14 year olds able to read music?

Discussion in 'Music' started by Phantom of the Opera, Jun 20, 2007.

  1. Normally i try not to get involved with conflict on here, but the follow sentence by the OP really got my goat:

    "If all you want are a few strummers and warblers who don;t really understand what's really going on in the music then your approach is fine."

    my OH is a professional guitarist, and works almost entirely by ear. He, and many of his colleagues, can analyse music of all genres in incredible detail, after only one listening. He can remember huge chunks of music and play things back having heard them only once. Using computer software, he is able to generate scores for those colleagues that prefer to work from notation. He uses chord boxes and rhythmic notation when teaching his pupils, who generally make excellent progress since he encourages them to listen - to their own playing and to that of others - rather than just playing what is on the page in front of them. As gizzy said, this approach helps to develop the inner ear and deeper musical understanding. Indeed, many of his pupils do extremely well at GCSE and A level, because they really listen when performing, composing and appraising. In particular, i've found that pupils who learn mainly by ear are particularly good at picking up on things like cadences and structure, and rhythmic changes. I'd say that they DEFINITELY 'understand what is going on in the music'.

    I was 'brought up' reading music, and until recently, my aural skills were relatively poor. OH frequently notices things about my playing (intonation, rhythmic accuracy etc) that i don't pick up on. While i have benefitted enormously from being able to read music, i make a huge effort with my own pupils to incorporate 'playing by ear' into their learning.

    anyway, i suppose i just want to say that we shouldn't tar everyone with the same brush. it's a bit like the people who say that my driving an automatic car isn't 'real driving'...
  2. "whats wrong with playing by ear ?"
    Nothing is wrong with playing by ear and yes many parts of the workd have a totally aural way of music making and many people don't even read or write to communicate; perhaps you think we should not teach them to be literate or numerate either. We now seme to have this inverted snobbery of belittling and ridiculing our own cultural history of writing down music? Playing by ear is very useful but if a child wants to learn the recorder or an instrument they need to be musically literate in order to music make with others at schol etc. The vast majority of primary school teachers would not be able to teach children to play by ear but they could teach music literacy. Also other cultures learn by sitting one to one for many hours with a teacher e.g. Sitar, this is not realistic with classes of 30 and non specialist teachers. the way that other cultures learn does not necessarily transpire to work in our classrooms.

    "what about jazz ? funk ? soul ? gamelan ? hip-hop ?
    whats wrong with kids learning about music they already like ?"
    Why do some people think we have to constantly entertain kids and always give them their choice? Teach them to understand the basics to a good level until they are in a position to choose for themselves, until them give them something useful.
  3. YesMrBronson

    YesMrBronson New commenter

    JulesDH: "perhaps you think we should not teach them to be literate or numerate either."

    That's rather a leap Jules. Learning to read music can't be equated with learning to read words and numbers. The vast majority of pupils will never need to read music in their lives after the age of 14. The same can not be said of literacy and numeracy skills which are essential. Bottom line: The ability to read music is only important to musicians. It's very difficult to become a fluent music reader without playing an instrument. Most pupils don't play instruments and thus they are poor music readers. I should like to suggest (though I freely concede a lack of empirical evidence) that most music readers learned (and certainly honed) their music reading skills OUTSIDE their 'normal' music lessons - i.e. their music reading improved during band/orchestra practice; private instrumental lessons etc.

    The above provides a third possible reason to go with the OP's somewhat simplistic 'thick kids/lazy, **** teachers' choice.
  4. i the t

    Latin - the basis of so many European languages.

    German - useful only in 2 specific ones.

    Latin is an exciting and vibrant language (taught properly) and teaches pupils the fundamentals of languages including their own. To dismiss it is... well, not unexpected for someone who wants to through the notation baby out with the both water.
  5. POTO.

    Could you inform us how you teach notation across KS3? And how many of your students attain their NC levels?

    Also, what type of school do you teach in and how do you justify only allowing competent note readers to start their GCSE Music course?

    Do you fast track any students through GCSE?
  6. i the t

    i the t New commenter

    @ julesdh -

    like someone said after your comment, i dont think theres a necessity for pupils to read music (certainly not comparable to literacy or numeracy in terms of employability). i dont recommend music as a career path for students cause i dont think the industry offers security to musicians.

    however, i do think music offers valuable social and communication skills and to acheive that theres no need for the rigour of standard notation at ks3.
    i do projects on graphic notation, grid notation and do look at the basics of music notation but spend majority of time doing practical stuff which i know they benefit from.

    anyrode, all the notationalists are clearly at odds with the Musical Futures ethos so how about taking up your futile case with them and find out what their research has gleaned on the concept of informal music education v traditional at ks3?
  7. ipod

    We not only teach notation in KS3 but before in KS1 and 2. By KS3 most are competent.

    The type of school I teach at is neither here nor there but, safe to say, its not a failing state school that constantly makes excuses for failing their kids.

    We don't restrict GCSE to the goo note readers - we don't need to - they can all read notation.

    Fast track - no. We put pupils in for GCSE when they are ready. Most in Year 9, though increasing numbers miss it out totally and work to A-level.
  8. I must say I do find it frustrating the way teachers keep singling out specific Key Stages in debates like this. The process of education starts in Reception (or earlier) and continues until at least 16 years of age. We shouldn't need to be concerned about how do you do it in Key Stage 3 if we are progressing from good teaching in Key Stages 1 and 2. Notation is easy and fun to learnt (particularly if usd as a tool to help performance and composition) back in Year 1 onwards.
  9. erp77

    erp77 New commenter

    But POT, in many schools there is no progression. It all starts at KS3 in yr7.
    It shouldn't be like this but in far to many cases it is. There is NO music in many primary schools. Or if there is then it is only the odd peri coming in and teaching to a small handfull or the odd whole-school workshop here and there
  10. erp77

    erp77 New commenter

    oops *POTO*
  11. bod99

    bod99 New commenter

    ipod - POTO doesn't teach in a state school and consistently tells us that state school teachers are failing their pupils. It's very tedious to keep reading, especially when he gives little information about his own school set up.
    He also tells us that it is the fault of headteachers in primaries not getting in music specialist (in another thread). Speaking as a primary music specialist I can say that many heads are trying but there are very few of us out there who travel to different schools providing quality music teaching. I've had to turn down a couple of job offers already this term.
    What I'd like to see is secondaries offering more guidance to primaries about what they expect by the start of KS3. I know there are the NC levels but if you want children reading music to some degree then tell us exactly how far you'd like them to have got and I would certainly try to ensure they'd all got there.
    I also agree with the posting about those who read fluently learning OUTSIDE curriculum lessons. I hope that wider opps is making some headway with this.
    I think it's sad that POTO would make children feel that they've failed or can't succeed at music if they can't read standard notation... I know djembe players, egyptian drummers and folk musicians who would all disagree. It's a narrow view.
    I DO teach notation, but I also allow the children space to be creative in their composition. I see children making amazing compositions which I wouldn't be able to easily notate because they're NOT told that staff notation is the be all and end all. It's just one way of making a record of music.
  12. bod99

    bod99 New commenter

    POTO why did you start this thread? Just so you can criticise state schools again? If your school is so good, then why are you concerned with what everyone else is doing? Why not share your planning for teaching staff notation on the resources site so that you're actually being helpful? How much outreach work does your school do? I'd love to hear more about it.
  13. erp77 - what a crazy generalisation! I wish you'd been at my concert last night! Two primary schools with a combined total 180 of junior age children in their whole schools put on a charity concert. I also included twelve of my peri woodwind pupils.

    Our orchestra consisted of about 20 violins, no violas sadly, although one of the Y5 first violins is just taking it up, 5 cellos, one double bass, four of whom were in year 3, about 15 recorders, descants and trebles, 8 clarinets, 9 flutes, 2 saxes, 2 cornets, 2 percussionists. I must have missed someone. Solos included the slow mvt of Mozart clarinet quintet and Mozart sonata in C, and the Elephant - the full version.

    Orchestra pieces incldued (in arrangements of course) Purcell Rondeau, Finlandia sung by the choir too, theme from Beethoven 7, some Firework music, etc etc.

    Choirs sang too, a huge variety of music -there were 70 children at leats involved in one or other of the 4 choirs taking part. So 134 children - at least 64 of whom were reading music in the orchestra. 18 sang in one of my choirs from music too - although some of them were from the orchestra. That's 122 from a total junior age possibility of 180, plus my 12 woodwind pupils from another primary school.

    But no music happens in primary schools!!!
  14. They were, of course, all state schools. And my chorister group sang in two parts from the music - although I take no credit for that other than teaching them the piece - they represent four church or cathedral choirs - we just put them together for our school events. Maybe worth adding that only 5 of them were girls.
  15. xg!

    xg! New commenter

    Learning to read notation is not as important as being able to play by ear and sing. It's taken me 15 years of playing classical piano to studying jazz and world music to realise this. I'm in total awe of some of the kids in my school who come in and play really difficult pieces on the piano who turn around and say they learnt it by ear!
  16. To the original poster, who implied I was a lazy teacher as I did not believe in labouring the point over music theory to my mixed ability, and somewhat challengingly behaved, students.

    I see my role as a music teacher to inspire students to love music and to explore music, and hopefully to engage them enough to develop a lifelong interest. Many students I teach will never have heard classical, non western, or even jazz music in their homes. I see my role as broadening their horizons beyond hip hop, but also explaining the musical origins of hip hop to them so they can see where it comes from. I am not a lazy teacher, my lessons are nearly always practical, noisy and enthusiastic and the students by and large, love them, and they achieve.

    I think OPs are right in saying most music notation is learnt from private music lessons rather than in classrooms. And I don;t know what planet you're living on if you think music notation isn't difficult to read. It may not be as adults, but beyond the basic 'notes on the treble clef' understanding the complexities of rhythm etc are beyond some students, who have low literacy and numeracy levels anyway. Why not come and teach in my school for a while, and see how you feel then....
  17. "its not a failing state school that constantly makes excuses for failing their kids."

    excuses, hmm.

    I'm not saying that there aren't ever any "excuses" being made, but you need to be able to distinguish between excuses and reasons.

    It's quite simple (as anyone will know if they've ever been in the kind of relationship where you start being stood up, let down etc)

    If a "reason" is given, and you manage to alter circumstances so that that reason no longer applies, and another "reason" miraculously appears in its place, it wasn't a reason, it was an excuse.

    Some of the reasons for low standards in some schools may actually be excuses for poor teaching or management, but I think far more of them are genuine *reasons*. And one of them, if I may put it delicately, is the catchment area. Now, I know this will bring a knee-jerk reaction from POTO of "that's right, go on, blame the pupils for your shortcomings as a teacher" which I for one will dismiss as total ignorance if it appears.

    Among the problems in these catchment areas are poor parenting, low average IQ and a lack of a whole raft of cultural traditions. As far as reading music is concerned, compare your school, POTO, with one where only a *very* small percentage of the children hear any music of good quality outside of school, where very few of the parents have any musical tradition in their families, particularly of reading music, where there's almost zero culture or tradition of buying music lessons for their children (in our KS2 of about 200 we have a sum total of two, one guitar and one piano) and the budget needs SO much spent on Special Needs that there's not enough to buy in peris in addition to paying for a classroom specialist; and even when they do get instruments, as they did for two years while we were flirting with SoundStart, it became obvious that there was also very little value at home placed on practising (how many children in YOUR school come and say they aren't *allowed* to play their instrument in the house?)

    ALL of my y6 have been taught how to name the stave notes in the treble clef. They have been taught how to follow rhythm with at least quavers while hanging it to a pulse. They've been taught to follow the course of a melody so that they can move by step, skip or repeat. They have been taught to use this as a guide when following music for singing. And at the time we were working on this, most of them were able to show that they'd learnt this to some degree.

    But all this was before SATs set in. I would think less than half of them can now pick out an unknown tune on a keyboard or xylophone from notation. Why? Because children do not remember every single thing they've been taught, they remember what they particularly need to or what they have a particular interest in. Add to this that it's a skill that needs to be practised - when is that going to happen?

    BTW, ours is not a failing school, for all of its problems, because we have excellent management. But "Children start here with levels of knowledge and skills which are well below those expected nationally." (ofsted) HT was told that many of our reception year are as much as a year behind expectation. This is the raw material on which we strive hard to build. The last inspection described us as a "good" school, with two categories "satisfactory", three "outstanding" and all the rest "good". But the level of ability in the learners remains modest - why? Because for all that they are lovely kids, they come from a heritage of low academic ability and moderate intelligence.

    And these are *reasons*, not excuses. If you transplanted our school, management, staff, the lot, into one area I could name in our city, there would be no stopping the progress made. Bring into ours, by comparison, teachers who have only been used to children from a well-heeled catchment, and I sincerely believe they'd find it hard to cope.

    I had a friend teaching in this school for two years; he'd been on the GTP, working in what he called "leafy villages". All the pupils almost without exception were destined from the start of y6 to get level 5 in all three subjects at SATs without sweat. "About half the parents had a PhD" he told me. He found our school a tremendous culture shock, and after two years he moved on. He said he didn't think he was the right sort of teacher for us, and attributed the problem to (not "blamed the problem on", note) the catchment area.

    Anyone who thinks this isn't true hasn't had that experience.
  18. I've been following this thread since last night, when it began. First i was cross with the comments made by POTO (my students are not thick) - then i was REALLY cross with the arrogance a person who shouts in many forums about a range of issues. Having now caught up on additional comments posted yesterday, i actually feel sorry for the Phantom. This person clearly has issues with the state system. Music education has moved on while POTO has not. Why are you so secretive about your set up? It's clear you work in the 'privilaged' sector (which in itself is ironic), so just tell us. Stop wasting our time with your outdated comments and opinions.

    You win - yes notation is important, but let us introduce it as and when ness. I would hate it if all pupils in years 1-5 had to learn an idditional language, just when they're getting to grips with their own. Let them sing and discover music in a safe and non-threatening environment. Yes, some may want to learn notation, some will already be able to. So what? Can you fly a plane? Are you a qualified life guard? Can you juggle? Do you understand what i'm getting at?

    IS POTO affraid that music will die? Affraid that there will be no more 'proper' musicans? Come on! Have faith in the children WE teach. There's a wonderful world out there - open your eyes!
  19. bod99

    bod99 New commenter

    I worked in a "leafy village" for many years. We had a band of 90 children in a school of 135. Most of KS2 could read music and those who couldn't could at least follow it enough to play in the band on colourcoded bell parts.
    I've just done an instrument demo in a school where we're expecting takeup of about 30+ children, most of whom will have their own instrument bought by parents.
    I know the area where Gizzy teaches and she certainly has a challenge on her hands. I liked the lines about "reasons" and "excuses", Gizzy. That's why I asked POTO about his outreach work - I assume he's taking his excellence out into deprived schools nearby who have to cope with mere state school teachers.
    Am I being thick or is there nowhere in the NC which specifies that children should be reading staff notation at the end of KS2? We're supposed to introduce notationS. Mine can all notate but often in a more useful and creative way than "proper" music writing.
  20. Oh, and while we're at it, Phantom, you must think we were born yesterday if you expect us to swllow this false analogy:

    "Latin - the basis of so many European languages.

    German - useful only in 2 specific ones."

    "the basis of" is not the equivalent of "useful only in".

    German is of practical use. People speak it, read it, write it, sing it. Latin is only (unless you are in a few professions in which it is used for technical purposes, or a particular brand of classical musician) of historical or analytical use. Outside of the vatican, almost nobody converses in it.

    And it's not even the basis of anywhere near half the languages of Europe (unless your acceptance of Europe stops at the old EEC). I would guess Russian has as strong a pull. I'll put this to them on Modern Languages when I have more time.


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