Embracing the use of ICT to Support Learning to Play an Instrument

Involvement with music is very important to most children and teenagers – performing
and composing, as well as listening…..their engagement and level of motivation, depends
on the level of ownership of their music-making: on their autonomy within it and the
extent to which they can exert control.

(Hargreaves and Marshall)

In the last couple of years I have been saddened by the response of many music educators
and tutors to proposals to use ICT to widen participation rates in the learning of
musical instruments. The response has been essentially to reject the use of ICT because
it will, “put us out of a job.”

This complaint is reminiscent of the past and just as inaccurate now as it was then.
Let me explore the issues.

“The use of ICT will put us out of  a job”

The majority of tutors and peripatetic music teachers working in the school sector
are employed by Music Services who are members of the Federation of Music Services
(FMS). The following information was acquired from the FMS website (some of it no
longer appears on the current website) at http://www.federationmusic.org.uk/ .

The FMS is a registered charity that was created to provide a single effective voice
to help lead and develop national strategy and offer advice on music provision, particularly
through local music service partners. The organisation has agreed the following core

  • Access: opening the world of music to every child
  • Progression: innovative, sustained and structured programmes that enable young people
    to realise their full potential
  • Expertise: well trained professional staff
  • Diversity: music to match all tastes, all backgrounds

So the FMS is interested in “all children”, in “innovative, sustained and structured”
programmes, and in catering for “all musical tastes”. Surely then, its members should
open to considering how ICT can help deliver instrumental tuition to all children
in innovative ways which help to cater for the interests of young people.

There is plenty of evidence that members of the services do indeed strive to fulfil
the majority of these aims. However, the area in which they fall short is that of
reaching every child and in providing ‘sustained’ support.

Great  work is being done under the banner of programmes like  ‘Wider Opportunities’
where whole year groups are being given the opportunity to learn a musical instrument.
The problem is providing for the children beyond that year. These programmes are expensive
of time and staff support and there are insufficient resources to allow all the children
to continue beyond the initial year, as the they focus on providing opportunities
for the next year group.

No matter how the current ‘support cake’ is sliced, there is not enough money to pay
enough staff to provide continuing support for all the children, using current methods.

Let us have a look at the numbers.

FMS member services provide instrumental and vocal tuition for more than 750,000 children,
young people and adults each week and employ more than 10,000 instrumental and vocal
teachers, enriching the communities and schools in which they live and work.

[From the old FMS website.]

Doing the maths this means that each tutor deals with an average of 75 children per
week. One assumes that tutors do not change their pupils every week, so the average
number of pupils each tutor has on their books at any one time is approximately 75.

The FMS website states:

Currently, 147 Local Education Authority Music Services are members of the Federation
representing well over 500,000 pupils and 10,000 teachers.

The number of children in KS2 receiving instrumental lessons through their local service
has risen by 6% since 2002 – from 7% to 13%.  This is an increase of more than
116,000 children in three years.

In KS3 and KS4, the proportion of children receiving instrumental tuition is 8% and
5% respectively   Importantly, in most cases, the tuition extends over a
number of years.

Let us explore these figures and relate them to the number of students in the relevant
age groups in the population.

Taking the situation in KS2 (quoted above):

If 6% = 116,000 then there are 116,000/6 x 100 = 1,933,333 children in KS2. Of whom
87% (100%-13%) or 1,682,000 are not receiving instrumental tuition.

Exploring the situation in KS3 and KS4 (quoted above):

Using government statistics (http://www.statistics.gov.uk/…/index.html).
Assuming that KS3 deals with ages 12,13 and 14 and KS4 with ages 15 and 16[1];
of the 3,769,500 students in these age groups, 554,000 are in private schools. Therefore
in the state system:
KS3 (Ages 12,13,14 = 2,210,100 – 324,644 (private schools) = 1,885,456
KS4 (Ages 15,16 = 1,559,400 – 229,356 (private schools) = 1,330,044

Therefore, if 8% of KS3 and 5% of KS4 are receiving instrumental tuition (FMS figures,
above), then the numbers of those who are not receiving instrumental tuition
are (92% (1,734,620) and 95% (1,263,542 pupils) respectively.

So adding up all those not currently receiving instrumental tuition:

KS2: 1,682,000
KS3: 1,885,456
KS4: 1,330,044
Total: 4,897,500

4,897,500 children are not currently receiving instrumental tuition within the services
who are members of the FMS and for whom the majority of tutors operating in the school
system work.

Assuming a 50% error in the above (highly unlikely), this still leaves 2,448,750
children not receiving instrumental tuition. At 75 pupils per tutor, this would require
an additional 32,650 instrumental tutors at a minimum cost (to someone) of £25 per
hour = £816,250 for a single hours lesson for these children, x 39 weeks (school year)
=  £31,833,750 per year.

All those children who do receive instrumental tuition outside of the state system
are being paid for by someone (usually the parents).

So, given an annual shortfall of 32,650 instrumental tutors at an absolutely minimum
annual cost of £31,833,750 (this figure does not include ‘on-costs’), how on earth
can tutors claim that the technology will “Put us out of a job” ???

Far from it.

Technology, used in conjunction with carefully thought out, “innovative”, “structured”
programmes provides a real opportunity to cater for the “tastes” of the majority of
children on a “sustained” and affordable basis.

It will require the combined efforts of every music teacher, every peripatetic
and other member of music services, plus the relevant programmes employing ICT to
begin to meet the challenge of delivering “instrumental tuition to every child”.

By embracing the use of ICT,  there are opportunities for every music educator/tutor
to support the learning to play instruments of many more children than they are currently
able to without the use of ICT.

Far from ‘threatening your jobs’ ICT is offering the opportunity to engage more pupils
in instrumental learning and give even more students the benefit of your expert knowledge.

Developing the skills of independent learners

Of course, the effective use of ICT to support instrumental tuition will require a
willingness  to embrace change by a “well trained professional staff”  of
music educators and tutors.  They will have to get to terms with the technology
and be able to support the students in developing the skills required to make effective
us of the ICT.

But this is not new.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s there was huge interest in the emerging power of ICT
for supporting the development of ‘independent learning’. There were, arguably, 2
forces which drove this interest:

  1. A recognition by far-sighted teachers that independent learning could ‘open up’ the
    curriculum – allowing learners to pursue their own areas of interest and effectively
    enable ‘individualised’ curricula.
  2. A, mistaken, view by those responsible for budgets that ICT could be used to replace

The second view led to institutions building ‘independent/flexible learning centres’
and sending learners to them for hours on end. Results were not good. Gradually the
penny dropped, and the principles of ‘supported self study’ / ‘flexible learning’
were taken on board.

The proponents of the first ‘force’ had espoused the principles of ‘supported self
study/flexible learning’ for many years, and there were some exciting success results
in LEAs (the distant forerunners of LAs) as far apart as Somerset and Northumberland;
with student grades going up and learners actually ‘enjoying’ what they were doing.
The courses were devised with heavy teacher support/direction in the initial phases,
and this support was withdrawn gradually as the learners acquired the skills of independent
learners and became able to manage their own learning. This allowed pupils to progress
at their own individual paces without ‘holding back’ the other members of a class.

If the benefits of ICT are to be recognised and exploited within Music Education,
there are some challenges facing Music Teachers/Leaders:

1 We will have to recognise that the learners may well have higher levels of skills
in the technology than we do. Or, that the learners will more readily acquire the
skills. At a  NAACE seminar in 2006, a speaker addressed the issue of ‘technology’:

“Technology is what happens after you are born. To the students of today it is just

2 We will need to get to grips with the technology – at least at the level of understanding
its capabilities and limitations – so that we can make effective judgements about
how and when to use it.

3. Taking on board some of the points made by Howard Goodall in his speech at the
Music Manifesto Signatories inaugural conference – we need to:

“Start where the students are at”.

Their music, and the technologies which support the popular music industry, draw heavily
on the use of ICT.

4. The technology presents us with the opportunity to address issues of inclusion
by supporting a wider range of learning opportunities – from whole class teaching,
to individual learning, to after school activities, to mixed aged groups, etc.. In
a whole class environment, supported by adequate ICT resources and appropriately-enabled
instruments, the music teacher/tutor can support instrumental learning for larger
class sizes where the individuals are all learning at their own paces and on different
instruments. In the initial phases of such a situation, the teacher/tutor/leader will
need to direct the learning and ensure that the learners are able to manage the materials
and the technology. In other words, we need to help them develop the skills of independent
learners so that they become increasingly able to manage their own learning and progress
at their own paces.

The choice for music educators and tutors is simple:

Luddite or Learning Support?

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

Adrian Carey

[1] Not strictly accurate given the cut off dates for entry into the school system,
and thus year groups, but close enough to make the point.

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