In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Classroom Music (Music Forum 13:2), Thomas Canter articulated some good reasons for wanting specialist music teachers in primary schools but more could be said.

  1. If music training of education students improves but general classroom teachers continue to provide the only music lessons then it will take a whole generation of teachers — thirty years or more — before all teachers presenting music are properly trained to do so.
  2. If everyone teaches music, then there is going to be a wide range of commitment to it (and skills, even after the workforce has been renewed in thirty-five years or so) amongst teachers and no effective oversight of the program. For a subject that has historically been regarded as an optional extra, ‘not a real subject’, etc. that is not good.
  3. If specialists take over, only 5% of the number (or less) need to be trained. because each can take music for 20 (or more) classes. That means the workforce renewal occurs much faster, and saves 95% of teachers from at least half a semester (see point 4) of solid work and governments and employers from the expense that entails.
  4. ’Properly trained’ really does mean an unavoidably big investment.

The amount of music typically included in primary education courses was quoted at 4 – 60 hours. and the results are typically teachers who can present a satisfactory music program because of what they have learned outside the standard training (childhood music lessons, adult summer courses or choral experience, etc), teachers who present a very basic listening-based program because of what they learned in their degree, and teachers who feel completely unable to present a music program.

I have recently spent two weeks on the first half of the four-week course offered by Education Queensland to primary school classroom music teachers, the same course Thomas Canter mentioned as having been offered in Mackay. This course was run primarily to assist those who have been working in the role for a year or two without the benefit of much specialist training, but a number of experienced specialists (many of whom had done the ten-week version of the course nearly twenty years ago) took the opportunity to refresh and retrain. All of us worked hard, 8.30 – 4.30 plus several hours homework on each of ten days.

The teacher split the 25 of us into two groups according to our strengths. I have spent very little time as a classroom music teacher but I have been an instrumental teacher almost thirty years, and have incorporated Kodaly methods and terminology in that work for fifteen; I have sung in occasional choirs, composed and arranged music for schools. etc etc — and I was at the bottom of the upper group. Others near my level were competent instrumentalists with general primary training; the lower group had the general primary training but less musical background.

The upper group will emerge from the course with all the essential knowledge and skills, and most of the essential repertoire, to teach music to years P-5, and most will be fine with Years 6-7. The lower group will have all the essential knowledge but will be shaky with the essential skills for upper primary levels and short of repertoire; they will manage pretty well but they still have a lot to learn. If this is the experience of such trainees, the course really does represent the minimum investment to create competent music teachers. With anything significantly less you just can’t expect much beyond ‘sing along to the CD’.

What we have done so far counts as the first third of the complete Australian Kodaly Certificate in Music Education which takes 180 contact hours (more information from KMEIA, the Kodaly Music Education Institute of Australia). We will do another third in June through Education Queensland and some of us are planning to do the final two weeks in our own time and with our own money — you can’t say we lack commitment.

Anyway, there you have it, four more good (I think) reasons to fight for specialist music teachers.


Malcolm Tattersall, Mundingburra OLD. “Free Speech” (letters to the editor), Music Forum Vol. 13 No. 3, May-July 2007. Entered on Knowledge Base 16 October 2013.

A Townsville, Queensland, based musician, teacher and composer whose musical interests centre on the recorder. He regularly contributes record reviews for Music Forum but his primary occupation since 1980 has been teaching woodwinds in schools, both primary and secondary. He taught in state and independent schools in Melbourne for ten years before moving to Townsville where he has taught in state, Catholic and independent schools for twenty years.

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