What makes a great music department?

What makes a great music department?
Research has shown that in addition to improving students’ self-confidence and team work, music can help students progress in crucial learning areas such as English, Science and Maths.

For example, studies from Melbourne University’s Professor Brian Caldwell, have found that students studying music gained a year in literacy scores versus students not studying music.

Other research, by Dr Anita Collins from the University of Canberra, has found that learning a musical instrument lights up all functions of the brain in a unique way, and improves vocal, vocabulary and memory skills.

Recognising the benefits of music education, a range of initiatives are underway to highlight the value of this subject for students and teachers across Australia and put the theory into practice.

Perhaps the most far-reaching work being done in this regard is by Musica Viva, Australia's oldest independent professional performing arts organisation.

The Musica Viva In Schools (MVIS) program reaches 1,300 schools nationwide, delivering high quality curriculum-aligned music education.

Musica Viva has also been a key member of the Australian Major Performing Arts Group advocating to government to move its Innovation agenda from a STEM approach to STEAM (A for Arts), arguing that a STEAM-based approach will optimise academic results and higher order thinking, collaborative practices and social skills.

Michael Sollis, Musica Viva’s artistic director of education, says that while almost every school has a music department, the education they deliver can vary depending on the resources and expertise available.

So what makes a great music department?

“What makes a good music program in a school is having staff [generalist or specialist teachers] who are confident and comfortable encouraging students to participate in and create music,” Sollis told The Educator.

“But unfortunately, most schools across Australia don't have a music department, especially primary schools.”

Sollis pointed out that many generalist teachers find teaching music challenging due to a “false belief” that they need to be an expert, but added that this is not the case.

“Everyone can make and enjoy music. And you don’t even need to be resourced with expensive instruments,” he said.

“Providing opportunities for teachers is vital to build this confidence. Even specialist teachers benefit from the opportunities to exchange ideas and refresh their practice through professional development and easy to use resources.

“There is no better way to facilitate this than through the joy of live performance, which will also be one of the most valuable musical experiences a child can have.”

Sollis said that NAPLAN has seen an increased focus on numeracy and literacy and STEM subjects, which he said means “a diminished focus” in many schools on the arts in general, including music.

“With teachers being so time poor and stretched, there are fewer incentives for them to teach music. This is especially a problem for those who already may be intimidated by the subject,” he said.

“Musica Viva’s 2018 program resources, as always, draw clear curriculum links both to music and to broader curriculum, in order to make it easier to integrate music education into everyday classroom activities.”

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