Dr Ian Shirley and Dr Anna Mariguddi

Photo credit : Phil Tragen

Music is all around us. The power of music and benefits of music education  are well documented (see for example Hallam, 2010; Hallam and Himonides, 2022). In England, the teaching of music is a statutory requirement between the ages of four and fourteen. Although a large proportion of this teaching takes place in primary schools, there is an overall paucity of research into English primary music education or how we prepare generalist student teachers to facilitate primary music during their time at university. This perceived gap was the starting point for our own collaborative research, which explores the perceptions of primary generalist student teachers when challenged to engage with a music education pedagogy that is intended to push boundaries.

The pedagogy of informal learning highlights the importance of increased pupil choice and control, affirms the haphazard nature of more natural music-making within the classroom, and values learning music ‘by ear’. The pedagogy was initially based on Lucy Green’s (2002, 2008) ideas on how popular musicians learn music in the informal environment, and encourages a more equitable and inclusive ethos within music lessons. It raises the profile of music learning that often occurs outside of the classroom, in family homes and community settings. This contrasts the more traditional approach to music education in the current context, where policy documents such as the Model Music Curriculum (DfE, 2021) and Ofsted Research Review Series: Music (Ofsted, 2021) have influence in England. Similarly, aspects of music education are favoured, such as notation, Western Art-centred traditional repertoire, direct explicit teaching and ideas from cognitive science .

Within English state education and Initial Teacher Training (ITT), there is a dominance of explicit teaching, bite-sized learning, and the contemporary emphasis on learning as memorisation.  Driven by the desire to challenge this dominance, this project was founded on somewhat more progressive values. That is not to say that we denounced anything that the students had experienced in their training so far; rather, in addition to the predominant teacher-led pedagogies, we wanted to introduce the idea that teaching can also be disruptive, creative, uncertain, child-oriented, non-linear, and democratic. More importantly for our students, to adopt such an approach is not a subversion; indeed, there is plenty of literature within the Department for Education’s teacher training Core Content Framework that provides space for such teaching approaches. Indeed, the purpose of our work is to disrupt any assumptions that traditional ‘teacher-led’ pedagogies are inevitable.

Having lived with our research for two years, something of a meta-position is starting to emerge, as we begin to ‘look on’ our individual positionality as co-researchers. While our trajectories converge in places, they diverge in many others. In recent discussions ahead of the Edge Hill ACRE 2023 conference, we were reminded of ideas developed in Woolhouse et al (2019), which asked ‘What would Rod Stewart do?’ The paper explored the constitution of research by a group of colleagues, subjectified as HE employees and ‘research apprentices,’ as they navigated collaborative life-history research. Little has been written on collaborative research in HE music ITT, yet there is much, we suspect, to say about our choices, values, assumptions, intentions, aspirations, and approaches to research that is itself worthy of examination. Therefore, the next steps to develop this research is to consider each other’s positionality differences, how this may reflect in the literature we choose to engage with and ultimately what this means in deciding to adopt alternative music pedagogies to teach primary student teachers.