Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Education

"It Was the Right Beat": Children's Need for Immediately Accessible Music

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Education

"It Was the Right Beat": Children's Need for Immediately Accessible Music

Article excerpt


In Australia, the inequalities which exist in the opportunities available for all children to access classroom music education are well-documented (Bamford, 2006; Caldwell & Vaughan, 2012; Department of Education Science and Training, 2005). Classroom music education in Australian primary schools is often fragmented and contextual with each of the seven states and territories implementing different curricula. Most recently, the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into music in schools noted the integral role of music in children's lives. However, it found that there are programs of significantly varying quality across Victorian primary schools. Some schools offer sequential and developmentally appropriate music programs. Other schools offer tokenistic programs (Parliament of Victoria, Education and Training Committee, 2013). Frequently, school principals and teachers may be unaware of the benefits of music learning programs. Or, they may have had inadequate or unsatisfactory music learning experiences themselves, and do not see the value of music learning for their students. This impacts most on children from rural or disadvantaged backgrounds whose parents are often unable to access or afford quality instrumental music tuition (Parliament of Victoria, Education and Training Committee, 2013).

In many primary schools, the marginalization of the arts and absence of specialist music teachers (Caldwell & Vaughan, 2012) suggests that there may be limited musical role models for children. The result is that the musical values of many children and their main source of knowledge about music-making, are determined by the powerful celebrity culture as portrayed by the media (Gale & Densmore, 2000). Increasingly, in Western post-modern societies in which the values associated with consumerism are prevalent (Giroux, 2010; Woodford, 2014), many children are likely to have few opportunities to participate in first-hand social music-making (Regelski, 2007; Small, 1998). Artist-in-Residence programs may be one of the few opportunities for many children to have experiences of music beyond the mainstream culture.

Artist-in-Residence programs are often used by schools to augment the curriculum, or to compensate for the absence of specialist learning programs. The role and value of diverse Artist-in-Residence music programs in Victorian schools has been extensively documented (Caldwell & Vaughan, 2012; Donelan, Irvine, Imms, Jeanneret, & O'Toole, 2009; Nethsinghe, 2009). Although Artist-in-Residence music programs can be culturally enriching, they are likely to offer restricted opportunities for acquiring and developing measurable musical skills and music learning processes. Nevertheless, Artists-in-Residence model artistic practice, and the pedagogic approaches of artists are frequently different from those of classroom teachers. This can be of benefit to students, and may potentially help develop children's sense of identity, musical self-efficacy and confidence (Caldwell & Vaughan, 2012; Galton, 2010).

In some Australian Artist-in-Residence programs, non-tuned percussion instruments such as djembe drums have been used successfully to develop musical skills and self-efficacy (Joseph, 2010; Joseph & Heading, 2010). The use of mbiras in Zimbabwean primary school classroom music education highlights the potential of diverse instruments to offer engaging and inclusive music-making experiences (Marx, 1990). Madin has pioneered Australian marimbas in schools programs (Rankin, 2001). Importantly, the provision of opportunities for children to make music first-hand on a diversity of accessible instruments embodies democratic ideals which Allsup (2012) suggests should be at the heart of public education.

The use of specially designed marimbas and other non-commercial tuned instruments in Australian schools contexts has been insufficiently explored. This paper will document some of the findings of a case study in which the researcher sought to explore the meaning that children made of their participation in a marimba Artist-in-Residence program. …

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