Learning to read musical notes is a task that many students find tedious and often want to put it off – yet, it is crucial to learn to read note in order to be able to play pieces of music without anyone’s assistance. It can be quite a technical and mechanical task that requires a great deal of repetition.
What often happens is that students get so fixed on solely looking at the musical notes that they forget to consider other aspects of the music, such as dynamics and correct rhythm. This then results in the musical piece not sounding right and rather just as if someone is playing one note after the other from a random task.
When we think about musical performances, or even music that we listen to regularly, it is clear that there is so much more at play than simply playing the correct musical notes. Correct rhythm is important for getting the melody of pieces to come out; dynamics add variety to the piece and make them more colorful; slow or fast tempo of a piece create a different feeling in the listener… All these different aspects combined together result in a beautiful musical performance that evokes feelings in the listener (as well as the performer).
What we often hear from parents is that the student is not considering anything else than the musical notes when they do note reading, e.g. not the dynamics or even the correct lengths for the notes. This seems to be most true for students under the age of 12. It seems that the majority of this age group are so focussed on looking at the notes that they simply forget to consider any other aspects of playing the piece. When students reach the age of 11 or 12, they seem to pay more attention to the emotional connotations of music, as well as the correct rhythm.
There are plenty of exercises that can help with assisting students to consider the rhythm, dynamics and tempo of a piece. If this is something that the teacher and the parents feel like they need to work on, there are specific books out there for this. Another simple way to encourage students to consider these other aspects is to let them listen to music or take them to a concert and ask them to feel the music. Afterwards you can have a chat with them about how the music made them feel and what elements of the music made them feel in certain ways. That should help them consider these other aspects when playing new pieces on their own.
Our research team in the UK and in Uganda has been focused on finalizing our exploratory study on the current practices of music education in primary school in Uganda. Our research team member who is a primary school teacher trainer at the Kyambogo University (the main primary school teacher training college in Uganda)gathered data from various schools and teachers in different parts of the country. Our survey was well-received and we would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who took part!
The main findings of the study reveal that there is significant and vast differences between teachers and schools as to how and if they teach music. A great number of teachers lack the skills to teach the subject altogether, whilst in other schools, it is taught but often sidelined by other subjects such as Maths and English. The responses highlighted the fact that teachers lacked knowledge of the importance of music education and,subsequently, didn’t feel it important to include in their teaching practice on regular basis.
Yet, there was a strong consensus of music being a significant and crucial part of Ugandan culture and all participants reported that they would like to improve the status of music education in primary schools.
A further very significant finding was that a career in music was seen as a potentially lucrative way of finding employment for the young who are unemployed. All the respondents stated that training musically could bring self-employment for the young, as musicians were all the time needed for cultural functions such as weddings, church ceremonies, sporting events and the like.
The full findings of the study will be published as an academic article soon and also as a report that will be shared with government officials.
On the basis of the findings of the study, the research team has put together a proposal for a larger-scale project that would aim to train teachers on teaching music and to develop an improved music education curriculum for primary school. The team will be working closely with the Kyambogo university and local government officials. More details to follow soon!