All people are musical. Australians whether they recognise their own musicality or not share their life with music. Music marks many of the major events in our lives. It defines our childhood and our youth. A relationship with music is something that we share from our cradles to our graves.

In addition to this relationship with music, participation in active music making has been shown to assist in personal, social, creative and intellectual development. Arguably these benefits are evident across the population, though most research to date suggests the benefits associated with music participation are greatest in childhood through to adolescence.

Music is also economically significant though the industry is fragmented and not frequently viewed as a whole. Estimates suggest that music activity directly accounts for around $7 billion worth of economic activity and employs over 100,000 people. In GDP terms this makes music a statistically significant industry.

Music activity also indirectly supports other economic activity in areas such as tourism, recreation, health and fitness, religious observance and other cultural pursuits. In these instances music is not the primary source of the activity but represents some added value to the activity. A simple example is a night at the musical theatre. The direct economic activity is the $100 seat to say Billy Elliot or Wicked. The indirect impact is the $100 restaurant meal that was consumed before the show, the $50 after theatre drinks, the $25 car parking charges, or in some cases the $200 hotel room and the $500 flight to Sydney or Melbourne for some of the attendees.

Given the importance of music in these and other contexts what role and purpose should music have in Australian education?

This paper has been divided into the sections shown in the table of contents above. In reality they are not discrete areas of activity but at least to some extent dependent on each other. The divisions are simply for ease of access.

The challenge for us in coming to the MCA summit is to account for the varying needs of the community with respect to their relationship with music and how that relationship can be enhanced through education.

It won’t be the same education for the occasional audience member as it is for the committed concert goer. Nor will it be the same education for the teacher or the professional musician. Or will it?

The word crisis is used in reference to several of these sectors. We can probably find references to crises in every one of them if we had looked a little harder.

If we are genuinely confronted by a series of crises in music education then we need to work out ways of overcoming them. Whether that is “back to the future” or “doing something different because we know the outcomes of continuing to do what we have always done”.

Primary Music Education

We have the benefit of the 2005 National Review of School Music Education (NRSME1) to provide an overview of the situation in both primary and secondary schools across Australia.

In brief the Review showed that:

  • The status afforded music education is low – despite quite wide recognition or awareness that music learning brings with it broader educational benefits and outcomes.
  • Provision of music education was particularly weak in primary schools
  • There is a significant differential between the levels of provision in the State and Catholic system compared to that of the independent school system. (Data extrapolated from the 2001 Stevens report 2 (an MCA initiative) and referred to in the NRSME suggested that as few as 23% of state system school students could access a meaningful music education whereas 88% of independent school students had the benefit of meaningful and ongoing music learning). These figures are now frequently quoted by Government.
  • Music education is in most jurisdictions not mandatory and bundled as one of 5 or 6 arts subjects depending on the jurisdiction.
  • There are few trained specialist music teachers in the State and Catholic primary systems. Music education, as a result, is most often delivered by generalist teachers, few of which have the skills and more importantly the confidence to deliver effective music programs.
  • As a result even in many schools where music is available it is ad hoc, or based around a music/arts experience such as Join the Chorus or the Schools Spectacular rather than being a continuous, sequential and developmental program.
  • Where music is successful in a school (and there are many where that is so) it is highly reliant on the school leadership, either by the principal or school council. In many cases examples of best practice come from schools that have had a supportive leadership for music over many years. In short music has become part of that school’s tradition.
  • There are a number of major barriers to establishing a music program. These are:
    • The availability of suitably qualified and experienced teachers.
    • Finding time for music within the curriculum.
    • Physical resources such as rooms and equipment.
    • Financial resources for securing the equipment.

Individually they are sufficient to exclude music learning from the school, though they are mostly found in combination – the lack of a suitable teacher and as a result a reluctance to invest in resources is a typical scenario.

In summary, music education provision in primary schools is poor, some would say in crisis. With relatively few teachers skilled and confident in music there appears little opportunity to break the cycle of low level of provision or poor quality delivery.

Internationally, there are examples of countries where music at the primary level has a much higher status. Certainly countries like Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Hungary, Finland, Norway, Sweden and France have afforded music education in primary much greater status in terms of policy position, time in the curriculum, specific assessment of outcomes and achievements, as well as requiring all generalist primary teachers to have a range of their own musical skills which usually means the use of their singing voice and accompaniment instruments such as keyboard or guitar.

It is not just the wealthy western nations; countries like Morocco and Tunisia provide music with a higher status than we do here in Australia.

Arguably the most relevant model for Australia at this time is the UK. Since 1999 music education has had an increasing status under the Blair and Brown governments. This increased status has resulted in increasing teacher skills and increased resources. Estimates regarding the provision of music education in UK schools in 1999 were similar or possibly lower than our own now (around 20%). Forecasts from the UK suggest that music education will be universally provided in UK schools from Key State 1 to 3 (from K to Year 9/10) by 2012.

Since the Review here in Australia there has been a little movement, initially from the Howard Government and more recently the Rudd Government. It, like the provision of music education is primary schools, is ad hoc and has certainly not been measured against the recommendations of the NRSME, nor the Guidelines for Effective Music Education contained within that document.

In brief the notable activities stemming from the NRSME have been:

  • The National Music Workshop (2006)3 which brought together a wide range of stakeholders to consider and endorse the Review. The Workshop also made recommendation on a number of actions points to continue the agenda. These action points included:
  • The establishment of a working group to continue to work with government on the music education agenda. This has since become known as the Music Education Advisory Group (MEAG).
  • The establishment of a music education portal to encourage sharing and skill development amongst teachers and jurisdictions. To date this has not been funded; however, a scoping study was completed in 2007.
  • The establishment of a status raising, PR awareness annual music education event. This developed into Music. Count Us In which was funded in 2007 and again in 2008.
  • Grants have been provided to The Song Room, Musica Viva and The Australian Children’s Music Foundation totalling around $3 million over three years. While these funds are welcome they do reinforce the ad hoc nature of the support being offered by the Federal Government(s) at this time. None of these grants are at a level where they are capable of creating a systemic change.
  • Two of the States (NT and SA) have taken some action in relation to the NRSME. The most comprehensive is South Australia which plans to provide all Year 5 students with instrumental music over time. This is to be supported by a program of ‘music fundamentals’ from R-4 and continued programs beyond year 5 that ultimately end in vocational studies. These changes require some new approaches and it will take time to see if the provision of instrumental music can in fact be extended from the current 9,000 students to the forecast 50,000 plus students over the next four or five years as planned.

The Rudd Federal Government came to the 2007 election with a policy to “create a comprehensive music education in our schools and educational institutions.” Subsequently, the Cultural Ministers’ Council 4 meeting in early 2008 agreed that they “initiate action to increase access to school music education, with an initial focus on primary schools which have no music programs”.

The issue here is that the CMC initiative and the policy more generally have not allocated funding, or at least certainly not the kind of funding that is required to implement a program of systemic changes.

Sadly, there has been no significant action on the primary education agenda in the past six months. The music education agenda really needs a champion, in this case the Minister, Julia Gillard; however, in the scheme of things, music education is but a minor part of her ‘superportfolio’.

Secondary Music Education

Like primary music education we again have the benefit of the 2005 National Review of School Music Education (NRSME) to provide an overview of the situation with respect to secondary schools across Australia.

Generally speaking the issues concerning secondary education in music are not as profound as those in the primary sector, though the Review does not paint an especially rosy picture in this case either.

In brief the Review showed that:

  • Most State systems provided some classroom music learning in years 7 and 8, and in some cases year 9.
  • Instrumental/vocal learning opportunities were highly variable, ad hoc or haphazard.
  • Like primary schools, music has a low status in the secondary sector, although it does benefit from having a specialist teacher cohort and the unbundling of the arts into dedicated disciplines in most jurisdictions. This low status is often demonstrated though the quality of resources and facilities available to teachers and students.
  • Provision varies significantly from one jurisdiction to another.
  • A major difficulty for the secondary music sector is that students arrive with a highly varied skill set as a result of their primary experience. Many students have little or no prior music learning while others, either via music education at their primary school or more likely private music lessons may have considerable music experience and skill. This makes the commencement of music education in secondary school very daunting for many teachers and students.
  • Gifted and talented students are given access to specialist schools in some jurisdictions, though this talent or gift is not recognised by the systems until they are of secondary school age. Gifted and talented students outside of metropolitan areas have far fewer opportunities.
  • Giftedness is most often recognised in the area of instrumental or vocal performance, there is less recognition of other high level music skills such as composition.
  • Outcomes could be further enhanced if there were a greater level of interaction and co-ordination between the classroom and instrumental/vocal teachers. The NRSME believes that in too many instances these two elements of a music curriculum (being classroom and instrumental) are dealt with in isolation to the detriment of the program overall.
  • The NRSME also raised the question of student relevance with respect to the secondary music curriculum and its ability to meet student needs. The issue is that in many instances there is a disconnect between the content of school music and the teenaged students’ personal musical interests. Mostly this situation stems from inadequate music education in the primary school, the need for teenagers to be learning the basics of music at a time when they are highly motivated by music but their formal and informal music experiences are contradictory.
  • On the positive side of the ledger the NRSME found that in many cases where programs existed these programs were producing high quality outcomes.
  • The NRSME also recommended that more effort be made in the area of music technology. Certainly, we are seeing more use of technology in some of the better equipped schools. Despite this there has been no music capability built into the computers being provided to schools under the Rudd governments “education revolution”.

The NRSME and the activities that have followed it have tended to have a much stronger focus on primary education. This has not been with the intention of diminishing secondary music education but rather the view that if music was significantly better provisioned and resourced in the primary sector a number of benefits would flow into the secondary system. In short, the notion that a rising tide floats all boats.

Overall: School-Based Music

There is little doubt that overall provision in State school lags behind the independent school system. Many Catholic system schools also lag their independent equivalents. Students attending independent schools are more likely to receive:

  • A continuous, sequential music education from K through to year 12 (for those that elect to continue at this level) and certainly from K to 9 or 10.
  • Have a broader range of musical activities – in many cases being offered a broader range of instruments.

Data is limited on the actual provision of music in schools. The most often quoted figures come from extrapolations based on the 2001 Stevens Report, Trends in the Provision of School Music Education. This data suggested that as few as 23% of state school students have access to a quality music program. By comparison 88% of independent school students have ready access to music learning.

There is no requirement to collect data on music provision nor are there any clear definitions of what is, or what is not a music program. That was until the NRSME developed its Guidelines for Effective Music Education in 2005. These guidelines, however, are yet to be implemented in any co-ordinated way in any jurisdiction.

In addition, the independent school programs usually have a higher status and are better resourced than most State system schools. top

Current matters concerning school music education

National Curriculum

Music (and the arts more generally) are yet to be considered or allocated a place in the schedule of hearings by the National Curriculum Review under Professor McGaw. Arts education groups, including some of those involved in music education, are beginning to agitate for the arts to be included in the second tier of the review. This second tier currently focuses on history and geography and follows the first tier subject areas of English, maths and science.

In 2006, the attendees of the National Music Workshop agreed that there were good reasons to support a national curriculum in music.

SA Music Trials

A series of music trials have been underway for some time in South Australia. The motivation for these trials came from the Minister’s desire to extend the reach of instrumental music to a greater number of students. The plan was to ensure that all year 5 students had a full year of instrumental learning.

Much of the activity was based around the Wider Opportunities program from the UK. That program provides for whole of class music learning. In simple terms it is something of a hybrid between classroom and instrumental teaching traditions.

Wider Opportunities5 has been a success in the UK. Trinity Guildhall has trained over 1,500 teachers in the approach with a further 3,000 to be trained in the coming three years. In combination with other programs the provision of instrumental music in the UK has apparently doubled since 2002 and is on track to be universally provided by 2012.

Nick Beach from Trinity Guildhall 6 was a recent visitor to the SA trials and spoke to Music in Action about the whole of class approach. In the article, to appear in September 2008, Beach said that, ‘for years and years, Local Authority music services have been able to provide around only 10 percent or so of students with the opportunity of an instrumental music education. This was not a case of any fundamental shortfall in effort by the music services, but a realisation that there is a very real barrier in terms of music education provision that cannot be overcome by doing things the way they had always been done.’

Furthermore according to Beach this is the ‘most exciting period for music education’ that he has seen in the last 20 or more years in England and it stems from a Government commitment to music education, coupled with a sector committed to making the improvements and changes necessary to achieve a renaissance in music education in England. The Music Manifesto7 has become the outward and visible sign of the renewal of British music education

Maybe it is time to look at new ways of doing things like we are seeing from the UK. The outcomes of the SA trials will be known toward the end of 2008.

Music Education funding

There have been small allocations of funding to a number of groups in the past year. These include The Song Room, Musica Viva and the Australian Children’s Music Foundation. These funds were previously proposed by the Howard Government though they were approved by the Rudd Government a few months ago.

The only new funding approved to date by the Labor Government was for staging Music. Count Us In8 again in 2008. That culminates at the end of October.

In all this funding has totalled around $2.7 million.

Cultural Ministers Meeting

In February 2008 the Cultural Ministers agreed that more emphasis should be placed on arts education in Australian schools. It was agreed that the initial focus would be on music, and that primary schools with no music programs would be the priority.

Music Education Advisory Group (MEAG)

This group was formed as a result of the National Music Workshop in 2006 and convened by then Minister Julie Bishop in 2007. Since the election Minister Gillard has continued to support MEAG.

In March 2008 MEAG made its first program recommendations to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. These programs included the music education portal recommended by the attendees of the National Music Workshop. MEAG has had no advice from the Minister since March on the progress of its recommendations.

Pre-school music education

Pre-school music fell outside the remit of the NRSME. That fact that pre-school music education was not considered by the NRSME has been a source of some criticism. Certainly the decision to confine the NRSME to school-based music education has limited our knowledge in this area, as it has in the area of tertiary music.

Because of this less is known, or maybe more appropriately, less information is documented and on the public record, regarding the status and provision of music within pre-school education in Australia than is the case in either primary or secondary education.

The decision not to include pre-school education in the NRSME, in hindsight, means that we are less well informed than we might have otherwise be in light of the significant political interest being directed to early childhood education, both the States and with the Rudd Federal Government.

In States such as South Australia and Victoria (and possibly others), early childhood responsibilities have moved in recent times into the departments of education rather than remaining with social services as they have historically done. This represents a significant move toward the integration of all educational activities in the respective jurisdictions.

Given these actions, music now probably finds itself knowing less than it should with respect to either of the two early childhood settings: Kindergartens and pre-schools or childcare centres.

Notwithstanding a lack of recent documented information regarding music education in pre-schools it is not unreasonable to suggest that many of the issues concerning primary music education can be applied to pre-school music learning. Typically, these issues would mostly concern the status of music in pre-school, teacher skills and confidence, teacher training and education, and resources.

Early childhood music educator Peter DeVries, writing in Music Forum in 20069, offered the following on the question. According to DeVries, “little is known about the content and practice of early childhood music programs. However, research does tell us that early childhood teachers do not feel confident about teaching music, believing they lack requisite musical knowledge and skills. Some early childhood researchers are critical about the delivery of music instruction in early childhood settings, noting that day care and early childhood programs are often lacking in musical direction, with an absence of planned music lessons. Others have criticised early childhood music programs for being teaching, rather than learning, oriented and advocate for more child-initiated music activities”.

In this Music Forum article, DeVries also referenced research undertaken by Nita Temmerman. Temmerman’s 1998 research provided “the most comprehensive examination of music instruction in the nation’s early childhood music settings”. Forty music education programs were surveyed, indicating “that early childhood music programs in Australia attempt to include what music educators agree are the essential elements of a music program for young children. These are active participation in a variety of music-making experiences aimed at fostering children’s enjoyment of music. Aims of such programs focus on enjoyment of music, rhythmic games, proficiency in singing and singing games, along with listening, creating, moving and aural activities”.

However, there is a likely divide in pre-school education in music just as there is a demonstrated divide in school music provision. Once again it is system-based. In the case of pre-schools the situation described above might see these pre-schools as the better equipped in terms of music education provision. But DeVries asks in his article, “what of child care centres?”

DeVries continues. “Although research points to the important role carers can play in these settings and music skills that childcare workers value, the focus of research in these centres has tended to be on children’s free musical play, sidelining the role childcare workers play in providing music-making opportunities for the children in their care. That is, there has been little focus as to what childcare workers actually do when it comes to providing ongoing music-making opportunities for young children (there are exceptions, namely the work of Susan Young in England)”.

A critical issue in the sector is the provision of skilled workers. The 2001 report to the Minister for Family and Community Services, recommended the formulation of a national agenda for childcare. Chief amongst the recommendations was a focus on professional development of childcare staff including the need to attract, train and retain skilled workers. If it is hard to find and retain workers generally in this area, it is likely to be even more difficult to find workers with music skills.

This continues the circle of disadvantage that is evident in primary schools and evident in this sector too. Teachers lacking musical skills generally means that their students will lack access to music and musical skills. These deficits are then repeated with each generation.

This is consistent with an Australian Bureau of Statistics assessment in 2002 that in Australia childcare is in a state of crisis, a result of the absence of nationally recognised measures with respect to early education.

DeVries goes on to highlight this lack of standards with respect to music in the early childhood settings with the following comparison. “In terms of music programs in childcare centres in Australia, there is little guidance for staff in terms of state or national standards, unlike America, where MENC (The National Association for Music Education) has formulated Prekindergarten Standards for Music Education, under the content standards of singing, playing instruments, creating music, responding to music and understanding music”.

Certainly, the role and status of music in early childhood education appears to lag many other OECD countries. There is the MENC example above. Hong Kong since 2001 has afforded music a higher status and has sought to improve its early childhood teachers’ abilities with respect to music. Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, as well as several European and Scandinavian countries also ensure music has a higher status within their early childhood curriculum than is evident here in Australia.

The Commonwealth Child Care Advisory Council requires that childcare centres in Australia provide programs that foster creative and aesthetic development using movement, music and visual-spatial forms of expression. Without this the centre cannot be accredited. What is lacking however, is any real guidance from the Council on how this is to be achieved.

In many ways this is similar to the provision of music in primary schools. Government policy says that the arts (and music specifically) are to be included within the primary curriculum. The reality is that through lack of resources, either personnel, physical or monetary that the delivery becomes optional.

It appears that the key issues in early childhood education do marry with those of primary music education, in particular, the issues of status and teacher training and skills.

These unfortunate similarities are illustrated in an interview with Paula Melville-Clark, music lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) and director of the USQ Junior Academy of Music conducted by Early Childhood Australia. She was asked whether she thought musical play is still on the periphery of many early childhood programs and, if so, in what ways can it be made more of a priority?

Melville-Clark responded by saying that she thought musical play was the least understood of the subject areas in the early childhood curriculum. As a result is was indeed on the periphery of many early childhood programs.

In terms of improving this situation the answers seem to follow a familiar path. Firstly, music needs to have a higher status in early childhood education. In Melville-Clark’s words, “the importance of music education in the development of the whole child needs to be understood by curriculum developers, academics and educators”. Research in this area is needed to support this thrust.

Secondly, teachers need to be better trained. According to Melville-Clark, “teachers need to be aware of when and how they can include music in the daily lives of the children in their care. This takes specialist training, which will require musically qualified and experienced early childhood practitioners in our universities to teach student teachers, as well as units of study devoted to music education as opposed to including music within general expressive arts units”.

There is, however, in the private sector a strong core of providers who specialise in early music education. Organisations such as Forte, Yamaha, Suzuki and others are focused on providing early music education, some from birth but most from the age of three years or so. Demand is quite strong for these services and the major groups named would account for 10,000 or more students in their own right.

Generally the courses offered are based around the development of fundamental musical skills together with introductory instrumental activity.

This is a parent driven market. That is to say that the parents of these children are motivated by either:

  • An awareness of their child’s interest in music and sound
  • Their own view that music is something their children should experience
  • That these courses are a precursor to formal lessons – usually piano or violin and the grade examination system
  • That music is one of a portfolio of experiences that the parent intends to ensure that their child accesses. Other activities within that portfolio are often gymnastics, visual arts, dance and almost universally learning to swim
  • That the non-musical benefits associated with involvement in music will assist their children as they prepare for school.

These systems are successful in their own right, in some cases both here and internationally. They certainly provide a number of Australian pre-schoolers with some musical experiences as a minimum and for others the start of a career in music. Arguably they are the largest provides of music education in this country outside of Government.

Availability and cost however are barriers that reduce the potential of these operations to serving only a very small percentage of the total pre-school population.

Tertiary music education

Vocational education in music

Opportunities for further vocation learning in a range of music and music related disciplines, primarily though Technical and Further Education providers along with a small number of accredited private institutions, exist for post secondary students wishing to continue their musical studies.

These courses of study range from certificate level to degree and are available from around 40 institutions, including in some regional centres. In addition to instrumental music the courses offered in these institutions may include other streams such as musical theatre, audio production, music management and composition.

While not exclusively the case, the provision of instrumental learning tends to focus on jazz and contemporary styles.

To the best of my knowledge there are no consolidated or national figures regarding the provision of vocational music education. However, some analysis was done in 2007 of the number of students involved in vocational music education within Victoria in 2007.

That analysis showed that in 2007 around 600 students were involved in vocational music courses within Victoria. If we were to extrapolate that figure to a national level then we would likely have around 2,400 students involved in vocational music study across Australia. (This is based on the assumption that the Victorian numbers represent around 25% of the total VET student body – a result proportional with Victoria’s share of the total Australian population).

The distribution by course of these Victorian students was as follows:

  • Music performance 43%
  • Composition 4%
  • Audio production 36%
  • Music business 16%
  • Music theatre 2%

Music in Universities

There are currently 29 tertiary institutions offering some form of Bachelor’s degree in music, music education or creative arts degrees in Australia. There is at least one institution in each of the state or territory capitals offering these qualifications along with regional institutions in both New South Wales and Queensland.

Over the past 100 years the number of tertiary music schools has increased from 2 that date back to pre-1900 (Adelaide and Melbourne) to the current 29. Throughout that period the sector has seen a) significant growth in the 1960s and 1970s and b) the subsuming of stand-alone tertiary conservatoriums and schools of music into universities.

While it has been suggested that there are too many tertiary institutions offering music (Hannan 2000)10, recent data shows that demand within the creative arts category is growing at a healthy rate and certainly above the national average growth for all university course categories.

There appears to be no formal measurement of the demand side, that is the numbers of graduates placed into the community, however the AMC survey from 2002 suggests that there are “good indicators of their graduates’ employability”. Without this data it is really impossible to say whether we have too many or too few music graduates at this time. What we do know is that most graduates are likely to have an employment portfolio, that is to say, a range of income earning activities rather than being engaged by a single employer.

One issue that appears to afflict the sector is the status of music schools within the larger university structure. According to Roennfedt in his 2007 paper for NACTMUS11, Music in Australian Tertiary Institutions, 22 universities offer at least an undergraduate degree in music, and yet hardly any of them present to the public a structure that places the music school or faculty at the upper level of visibility’. It seems status is an issue for music throughout our educational structures and systems. Michael Hannan in his 2000 paper outlined a number of other issues for the tertiary music sector. These include:

  • Concerns over funding.
  • The ability of the tertiary sector to deliver the kinds of graduates with the kinds of skills the industry demands.
  • The ability of the tertiary sector to deliver the kinds of skills their graduates will require upon entering the workforce
  • The impact of cross-disciplinary core units resulting in courses become more generalised.
  • The tension between academic and practical (vocational) musical requirements.

Elsewhere, other issues have been raised:

  • Access to music technology facilities – an increasingly important element in music creation and performance.
  • A dependency on student numbers and quotas rather than selection by merit.
  • Clashing cultures – populist courses aimed at securing student numbers versus elitist ‘traditions’.
  • The institutions’ capacity to offer a greater range of studies – e.g. world music, contemporary programs, music technology etc etc
  • Music is increasing administered by a department head who is not a musician (not always a negative).
  • Need to recognise that many graduates will have portfolio careers – performing, teaching, producing and so on. Their degree may only have prepared them for one of those activities. For example, the performer will often teach, however, very little of their degree work will have had them focusing on pedagogy.

Despite the challenges being faced by tertiary music schools it is fair to say that they continue to produce quality musicians.

The same cannot be said of the provision of music within education degrees across Australia.

The issues of teacher training, especially primary generalist teachers has and continues to be a major issue. Frequent studies dating from Bartle (1971)12 through to the NRSME in 2005 have found that most generalist primary teachers have ‘neither the skills or confidence’ to effectively deliver music education in their classrooms.

The issue is this. Unless pre-service primary teachers have had a significant personal music experience the few hours provided to them during their courses cannot provide them with both the musical skills and the pedagogy to be effective in the classroom.

In most cases music is taught through an arts course rather than a music specific course within the university. In most of the 30 education degree courses examined by the MCA and published in Music Forum (Rachel Hocking, May 2008) it found that typically a little more than 3% of the total curriculum time is given to the arts. In most cases that means that less than 1% of the total time spent qualifying for a education degree (primary) is allocated to the learning of music and music pedagogy. Typically this means the time allocated to music learning is between 12 and 28 hours across the duration of a four year course. Just enough time to “scare people off” as at least one teacher education expert has been known to say.

This is a serious issue and a major barrier if we are to break the cycle of poor provision and disadvantage that afflicts many Australian primary schools. Here the issue of status is again raised though the resolution of the issue does not lie solely with the universities. As things currently stand, no matter how poorly trained the pre-service teachers are with respect to music they will be accepted by the various State Institutes of Teaching as qualified and accredited primary teachers provided they have had their dozen or so hours of music training while they were undergraduates at university.

The inadequacies of teacher training coupled with limited opportunities for on-going professional development means that many of these teachers continue to have significant deficits in providing a music education to their students. These deficits will be handed on to the next generation making it progressively less likely that undergraduate primary teachers come to university with a background in music sufficient to overcome the lack of training while they are there.

The solution to this issue can take one of two forms:

  • The Federal and State Governments together with universities agree to give music a higher priority in pre-service teacher training and thereby up skilling the future workforce. Then in conjunction with teacher registration bodies music skills are recognised as a requirement of future accreditation, or
  • Like the English have done with the Music Manifesto, provide greater access to schools by specialist musicians to work beside classroom teachers. Together the combination of generalist and specialist provides a meaningful music education to an increasing number of English primary students.

Private provision of music education

According to research undertaken by the Australian Music Association in 2001 and again in 2007, private music lessons are the single largest source of music learning. The Australian Attitudes to Music studies showed that around 36% of those learning an instrument or voice had private lessons – usually one to one with a private teacher. The location could be a private home or as part of a commercial music school, like Yamaha, Forte or others of their type. Another alternative was at a music school associated with a music retail store.

By comparison as few as 21% of respondents indicated that they had instrumental or vocal lessons while at school.

In many respects this approach is the one that most of us are familiar with and is probably the basis on which many of the careers of our professional players are based. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that there are in excess of 8,500 individuals listed in the 2006 Census as stating their main occupation as music teacher.

There are few formal structures within this sector. State based professional bodies exist and provide support to the sector. Likewise examination bodies, such as the Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB13) and others provide syllabuses for the development of students and in many instances have become a core part of the teachers’ approach to developing their students. The AMEB, for instance, is known to have in excess of 100,000 examination candidates per annum.

This model is probably the one most familiar to people. It certainly works as a model but there is a suggestion that it appeals to only a relatively small percentage of the potential music making population.

In many respects it plays to some of the myths concerning music such as “you have to be talented to want to continue to do it”.

It also feeds perceptions of isolation, that somehow playing became practice and so on.

While it is the ideal approach for some it is far from ideal for others. Which leads us to the growth in “teach-yourself”.


A significant number of people who commence the learning of an instrument (or voice) do so with the intention to teach themselves. The data shows that this trend is increasing. According to the Australian Attitudes to Music survey in 2001 31% of respondents said they were self taught. In 2007 that number had increased to 36%. Similar trends are evident in the Attitudes surveys conducted in both the UK and US.

Significantly, more people appear to have taught themselves than those who have accessed instrumental music learning at school.

Guitar is the instrument most commonly self taught, though drums and keyboard also feature prominently in the data. Nearly 70% of those who teach themselves play guitar (in one form or other).

There is no doubt that there is a good deal of ‘teach-yourself’ DVD, CD and computer and on-line learning opportunities available. Each of the major publishers, such as Hal Leonard, Music Sales or Alfred have series available in most formats for most instruments.

Unfortunately the Attitudes surveys do not delve into the motivation of learners. So we have no sense of the reason why this choice in selecting a mode of learning was made. It could be that perceptions of what music lessons are like have influenced the decision, or that teaching yourself is the least costly mode of learning.

There is little doubt that the teach-yourself approach significantly boosts the number of people playing an instrument. However, it also adds to the ‘wastage’ amongst players: 90% of those people who commence playing an instrument have given up before they have turned 20; about 70% of those before they have left school. (Australian Attitudes to Music 2007). This is not to suggest that informal learning is a bad thing but that it might be leaving a lot of people unfulfilled. Possibly the result of a lack of formal learning taking place either before or in conjunction with the informal activity.

Other informal and non-formal learning

With the possible exception of the deficits in primary music education, opportunities for music learning outside of the private lesson or teach-yourself seem to be limited. It is not that they don’t exist, it is just that they are limited and are built around a less obvious infrastructure than say, sports in our community.

There are community groups such as choirs and bands that offer some informal learning and experience. There are also programs like Weekend Warriors14 and other contemporary-based music programs that are experiential in nature.

We also see other community activities as part of festivals, for example, that bring non-musicians into music making for a short period of time.

Once again according to the AMA’s Attitudes to Music study, a massive 88% of the population has a desire to sing or play an instrument. This same research suggests that as few as 12% of the population actually do make music in any sustained way.

What is it that we are missing when just 10% or so of our population actually involve themselves in something that is in some many respects a vital part of who and what we are?

One of the issues appears to be the type and mode of music experience available to the community. As successful in many ways as it is, the private lesson, long term has limited appeal, while teach-yourself is either for the very confident or more likely the uncommitted.

What is in the middle ground for these people, who can range from children to pensioners? What do they need educationally and when? What infrastructure is required to sustain this interest?

Maybe one of the measures of success for music education lies in developing opportunities for those who do not see opportunity in what already exists?


Ian Harvey. Briefing paper submitted to MCA Summit on 28 August 2008. Entered on knowledge base 14 September 2008.


  1. NRSME↩︎
  9. The Future of Tertiary Music Training in Australia↩︎
  10. Michael Hannan, The Future of Tertiary Music Training in Australia, 2000↩︎

Executive Officer Australian Music Association, Director of sales and marketing consultants Morton Group, Past Treasurer MCA.

The Australian Music Association (AMA) provides an annual statistical analysis for its members.

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