Thoughts on music curriculum design

Classroom Pedagogy

Curriculum design is something I have always thoroughly enjoyed and in twenty years of teaching in four different departments I have never tired of re-writing and tinkering with the department curriculum. In my mind it is the core of a successful department too. Get this right and the rest follows in terms of co-curricular engagement. 

Recently at BCCS we have re-centred our schemes around new concepts. Several years ago our schemes were quite traditional: Blues, EDM, song writing, Minimalism and the like. Three longer topics a year has always been my personal preference as it allows for deeper learning, time for development of skills and time for meaningful musical progression. Half term projects are, for me, too tokenistic and don’t allow time to really drill down into the guts of the learning.

Something we have been thinking about a lot is the decolonisation of our curriculum. As Nate Holder has shared as part of his inspiring and important work – ‘diversification is not the same as decolonisation’ and there is much work to do in terms of giving students authentic and rich musical experiences that are not purely moments of musical tourism. So as we evolve our schemes we are now centring our curriculum around broader concepts: ‘Music as social justice’ ‘Reinventing the blues’ and ‘Creating musical ensemble’ are some of the initial headings. 
Each scheme has a core musical product/assessment task, a set of theoretical concepts to embed, a list of knowledge to cover, plus key assessment strands (ensemble/performance/improvisation/compositions etc) but the content is very fluid and that is what we are currently exploring.

Reflecting the student community is important here too while also accepting our teacher responsibility as the gatekeepers/enablers of some musical knowledge. It is important we as teachers are expert in what we do yet equally acknowledge that we also have much to learn and our students often come in to our classrooms with musical experiences beyond our own. ‘Music as social justice’ for example can cover a range of genres: reggae, ska, mento, rock, punk and more. Dipping into Shostakovich can sit alongside Damien Marley and Dave while lyrics can be toasted or sung while looking at effective text settling over chords or drum patterns. Reinventing the Blues starts with very traditional blues and then evolves through jazz among other genres while spending time understanding chord construction and extensions beyond our previous centralisation of the 12 bar chord progression.

This is all very much a thinking process and a starting point as opposing to a finishing one. Covid has meant that the schemes have had to be rejigged to cover some lost threshold concepts, but has also encouraged some creativity. But this a shift and a beginning I am excited about. Not sure it’s perfect, but rethinking and exploring is part of the fun.


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