Friday, 2 January 2009
Instrumental tuition for the unworthy
Should primary schools screen out children who may not excel and bar them from instrumental tuition? For some years my local primary school has administered just such a test. I only became aware of its existence when my youngest child failed – much to my surprise because I had considered her quite musical. She could carry a tune and was able to mimic her favourite pop stars with a fair degree of accuracy. When I asked her about the test it turned out to have had a strong written component. No allowance had been made for the fact that my daughter had just joined from a Rudolf Steiner school where children are taught to read and write at a later stage of their development and at a slower pace. I let it go. Piano lessons (private, not at school) were going well and she was enjoying life. On top of this, the music teacher was about to leave and I hoped that the test would leave with her
I was prompted to obtain a copy of the music test when my barber told me that, much to his surprise, his own daughter had been considered 'musical' and was to learn the viola at the school. Obviously the test had survived the change of music teacher. The test is divided into four sections; pitch, tunes, chords and rhythm. Instructions are given, questions asked and then a tape is played and the children write their answers.
Now call me thorough but these exercises need to be practised for the concepts to be understood. The instruction to the test administrator is 'Pause and check children understand'. My suspicion is that very few seven or eight year olds understood. In fact they understood so little that they couldn't even begin to explain. The silence around them just made them feel they were alone in not understanding. The answers are 'multiple choice' meaning you have a reasonable chance of success depending regardless of ability. It also means that the person marking the results has no real clue as to whether or not the question was understood.
I will not reproduce the test here as I find it abhorrent but I will email it to you on request. My point is not just that the test is flawed. I don't believe it should be replaced by a better one. My point is that everyone should have the opportunity to learn, whether they are future Mozarts or Hendrixes or not. If there aren't enough instruments to go round then draw straws. Are seven year olds barred from P.E. because they exhibit poor co-ordination? Of course not! Everyone can benefit from instrumental tuition. (More on teaching woodwind to disturbed and disabled children in a later post.)
With Christmas crackers a recent memory you've probably had enough of bad jokes. Please indulge me anyway: the kids that supposedly can't tell a high pitch from a low one, can't tell one tune from another and can't distinguish between two different rhythms, what happens to them? I'll tell you what happens to them. They get to join the school choir! Ho! Ho! Ho!