Music education consultant, Anna Gower, has written this guest post for Beat Goes On. She explores recent discussions about equality of opportunity in music teaching and the role of body percussion in opening up opportunities. 

In a previous blog post, Ollie asked, “Why would we limit children’s creativity by teaching them the limited vocabulary of English and not the broader language of music?”

This quote resonates as the music education sector responds in typical polarised fashion to Charlotte Gill’s recent Guardian article with the provocative headline ‘Music education is only for the White and the Wealthy‘.

In the article, Gill suggests that one significant (but not the only) barrier to many students in music education is a requirement to read and understand staff notation and she discusses the impact this has on diversity and inclusivity.

So, as the notation debate rumbles on and while those in the sector pull together petitions and letters, what about the students in our classrooms? They deserve to access musical experiences wherever and whoever they are?

More importantly, can engaging with body percussion and drumming approaches help improve the situation?

The benefits of group drumming

Firstly, there are the evidenced benefits of participation in group drumming on health, wellbeing and mindfulnes, including this great article that discusses the impact of music lessons on children from low income backgrounds.

Add to that the development of key personal and social skills such as enhanced verbal and visual memory skills and improved aural perception linked to language development and we can start to build a clear rationale for participation in such activities.

But sometimes reality gets in the way of all our good intentions.

In the face of hefty budget cuts as outlined here by singer and former teacher Laura Mvula, it’s great that musical development can start with an instrument everyone can access for free – their body.

Body percussion activities help to improve spatial awareness. Simple rhythmic tasks build basic musical skills, including:

  • understanding and controlling a pulse
  • contributing as part of a larger ensemble
  • taking turns
  • getting creative with new sounds and rhythms

The simplicity of using the body as a musical instrument also allows space for creativity through simple then more complex improvising. Improvising is a first, vital step towards composing as students build the confidence to try out ideas that may not sound perfect first time.

It’s a simple step to transfer body percussion to drums, junk percussion or even using the furniture (chair drumming anyone?). The skills that students build are transferrable and provide a firm grounding in some of the basics that are essential in building the whole musician.

Lowering the barriers to music education

Not having to master more complex instrumental skills allows for a more inclusive approach. There is no need for prior musical experience, just the ability to try and a willingness to get involved. Skilful practitioners like Ollie will differentiate as the music unfolds ensuring that all students can take part at whatever level they feel most comfortable.

There are no barriers in terms of musical style or genre as drumming workshops can be entirely flexible, based on grooves and rhythms from around the world. This opens new worlds of sound for students as they unpick some of the complexities of rhythmic understanding through playing and taking part.

Finally, it’s a simple step to introduce relevant notations at a point in the process where the context means they can be most relevant and useful to students. Enuring that their creativity isn’t limited by the narrow vocabulary of notation, which is one small aspect of a much broader musical journey.

In changing times, perhaps it’s time to strip back to basics and look for approaches that are inclusive, sustainable, engaging and valuable learning experiences for all students – regardless of musical experience, wealth or background. If not then there’s a danger that many students will lose out on musical creativity altogether.

Anna Gower is a freelance music education consultant and the Acting Head of Academic Governance at Trinity College London. She is a former classroom music teacher and was Head of Programmes at Musical Futures.

You can visit her website at