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!
Our research project on music education in Uganda progressed well over the last term and we are now getting head on with the second term of the project. It has been interesting to talk to different education professionals; in particular teacher trainers who have been working for local primary school teacher training colleges for a number of years. We have also enjoyed hearing anecdotal stories from locals on how they learnt their musical skills when growing up; ranging from hitting rhythms on a pan with a wooden spoon while being conducted by one’s grandfather to singing worship songs at church.
Thus far, one of the most significant findings seems to be that unemployment among youth is very high, yet the youth could easily gain employment as musicians in cultural events and functions given the rich musical culture of the country. Music is played in all types of events, such as graduation, weddings, church events, local government events just to name a few. The dilemma is that the young are not trained sufficiently in music and so are not able to seek employment in the music sector. This indicates that implementing appropriate music training in school could help the young to find employment as musicians and, therefore, assist in breaking the cycle of unemployment.
The findings indicate that music education is not just novelty but could actually help tackle unemployment in Uganda. And this is the direction that our project will take in the coming months and help to shape the state of music education in Uganda.
Uganda is not the biggest country on the continent of Africa, but still it covers a fairly large area of the East part of the continent. Our music school and consultancy is based in Kampala, the capital, which is in the central region of the country, conveniently located on the shores of Lake Victoria and near Entebbe International airport.
Over the years, we have done much work in the Eastern region of the country, close to the Kenyan border near Mount Elgon. At the moment, this part of the country is not developing as fast as the Western part due to tribal issues and the tribes from the West dominating in politics, further leasing to the marginalization of Eastern tribes.
Our consultancy work has also spread to the norther parts of the country, which has suffered under military occupation and been much affected by the instability on the other side of the border in Sudan. We are pleased that our schools books and teacher training materials have brought some joy to this region whilst improving educational standards.
Below you can find the map of Uganda that shows the different regions that we work in.
And it’s end of school year exam time in Uganda where the school year runs from January to November 😊
As with any skill and with anything new that one is learning, practice is essential when learning to play a musical instrument. Along the years, we have come across students who were taking instrumental lesson, but they didn’t have a musical instrument at home. As you can imagine, progress was very minimal – if you only do a 30 minute class per week on an instrument and no practice in between, you can only expect to learn the basics. Likewise, those students who don’t practice regularly, do not achieve their full potential.
On a positive note, lately we have seen tremendous progress in some of our students who have who previous did very minimal practice and nowadays are practicing 2-3 times per week. The difference is remarkable and really goes to show that whatever little practice you can put in, it will definitely pay off! Even with the excuse of being busy, it is easy to fit in a 10 minute practice here and there – it should relax you anyway and help you feel better!
‘Why are you so rude?’
We have been rehearsing and playing a lot of Russian music lately in lessons. The music is suitably moody and emotive to many of our current students – they seem to enjoy the somewhat dissonant sounds at times and the fun rhythmic patterns!
There are so many great composers who have come from Russia. Often we just hear about the greatest of the great – yet this Russian music series has broadened our horizons on the variety that Russian music presents.
Check out ‘Russian Music for Piano’ by Chester Music and enjoy some beautiful tunes!
As part of our current research project, we have been learning about the National Curriculum in Uganda. It is different to the model that we follow in Europe. It is based on a Curriculum Wheel that consists of eight Learning Areas. The Areas cover subject knowledge, but also general skills such as creative thinking and workplace behaviour.
Being a prominently Christian country, Religious education features in all primary and secondary schools. In addition to the usual subjects of language, science, mathematics, social science and physical education with creative arts, something called Life Education forms a part of the curriculum. This section focuses on life skills such as living healthily in the community and taking care of one’s personal health.
Interestingly for us since we are specifically looking at music education in Uganda, music has been classed under Physical Education. What this entails is something that we are currently finding out and conducting a survey on current practices taking place – we will be sharing the interesting findings soon! In the meantime, you can learn more about the National Curriculum on the website of the National Curriculum Development Centre:
New term at our school in Uganda has got off to a good start. Children at the Mother Ann nursery school and music students at the Buna School of Music have been busy with their new lessons and curriculum for the autumn term, which is also their last term of the year since, in Uganda, the school year runs from January to November.