Curriculum planning

4 September 2023

Musical conversations and curriculum considerations

Rebecca Lundberg

Subject Lead - Music

Earlier this year, we explained our approach to curriculum and that we have been developing brand-new curricula with our partners to provide entirely optional, high-quality curriculum models and adaptable resources.

Here we will give you a behind-the-scenes look at some of the considerations that have been made in developing our secondary music curriculum.

Curriculum design in music can present some interesting challenges for music teachers. At Oak, we have tackled some of these issues whilst developing our new curricula and teaching resources, whilst carefully considering how best we can support you, as teachers, in managing some of these complications too.

How do we manage the limited time we have to teach music whilst ensuring that pupils are able to make musical connections?

Making best use of allocated music learning time

One of the main considerations when creating music curricula is how we best use the limited time available to teach and secure understanding in a subject that is so complex in terms of progression1.

Finding the balance between depth and breadth is a significant factor for music teachers, particularly when we are aiming for diversity and student relevancy in our curriculum and ultimately we need to make choices about what we can and can’t include. Quite often, less is more in this regard.

One way of managing this at Oak is to ensure a focus on threads throughout the curriculum that promote progression and take into account the complexity of the time needed to develop and embed skills in music. However, the more interesting conversation is the detail behind this and how the musical content sequences throughout.

We, as teachers, need to bring out and celebrate the musical connections across styles, genres and units and use this to drive progression.

Making musical connections

There are interesting conversations in the similarities and contrasts across different styles of music.

Repetition, for example, is a common denominator in almost all musical styles, but within this there is a great deal of variety and potential for different levels of understanding. Ostinato, riffs and motifs are all different examples of using melodic repetition and patterns.

Bass lines across contrasting styles have their own distinct characteristics but the importance of the root note and the bass line to infer the harmony doesn’t necessarily change.

Phrasing in melodies and phrasing in drum beats is another example where we can make exciting connections for our pupils.

Musically they might look and sound different - melodies are looking for a ‘musical gap’ to show the phrase, drum beats are looking to ‘fill’ it in - but the concept of phrasing is the same and allows us to make connections to develop the musical understanding of our pupils.

Looking at this through a compositional lens, characteristics such as sequences and pedals which are used in a variety of styles, are great tools for development and creating melodic and harmonic interest, even at an early stage of musical understanding.

On the surface, they are relatively easy to recreate even though the understanding behind what these devices add to the harmony, feel and effect of a piece is much more complex.

This knowledge and understanding can build over time when sequenced correctly, but pupils can still get the feel of how these devices sound in the music and more importantly a sense of success when using them, as they are potentially so effective. This then allows pupils to experience the magic in the music even though the true understanding might come later.

These common characteristics are one way of driving the development of cumulative knowledge and allowing our pupils to develop stronger links with prior knowledge, providing we make this explicit for them.

Taking this further, there are other characteristics such as sequences and pedals which are used in a variety of different styles. These are great compositional tools as on the surface they are relatively easy to use but the understanding behind what these devices can add to the harmony and feel of a piece is much more complex.

This is the knowledge they can build over time when sequenced correctly, but as a tool, students can still get the feel of how they sound in the music and a sense of success when using them. This allows them to experience the magic in the music even though the true understanding might come later.

This consideration around the difference in knowledge and understanding of playing something, recognising something and understanding something also adds to the difficulties of sequencing for music teachers, but it is the common characteristics that can drive the development of cumulative knowledge if we make this explicit for pupils.

Teaching and sequencing development of composition at KS3 is one of the most difficult skills to manage for a music teacher. For a variety of reasons (assessment guidelines, higher pupil motivation, greater prior knowledge, smaller classes facilitating worthwhile feedback), KS4 doesn’t tend to throw up quite the same issues. Perhaps the biggest difference is the clarity of assessment at that level and the impact this has on planning and delivering compositional advice.

Much of the guidance on teaching composition tends to be quite broad - allowing freedom for creativity, encouraging the creative spark, opportunity to listen to a wide range of music, finding the motivation to compose and a focus on the big picture or where the piece is going etc. Whilst all valid considerations, none of them necessarily help teachers with what progress looks like or how we sequence the skills.

How can Oak help?

Building curriculum sequences should involve this level and type of conversation and these are the considerations that are underpinning our current curriculum planning.

However, these connections can’t be achieved without the input of an expert music teacher. Where Oak is aiming to help is by showing examples of how we can make these connections, how we might articulate this explicitly to our pupils and by offering a stimulus for further musical and intellectual conversations.

Get updates on our new music curriculum

You can now explore our new secondary music curriculum. We're releasing teaching resources for every lesson and unit in the plan over this school year.

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