Specialists or Non-specialists in Primary Music teaching?

To some it may seem a no-brainer… surely, if budgets allow, a specialist music teacher is best?


However, I am not convinced this is always the best thing for our teachers or for our children and here are a few reasons why….


Katie Neilson mentoring a primary school teacher
© The Voices Foundation

  • Firstly this… We live in a society where many people consider music to be a ‘gift’ – something for the talented few… where many claim not to ‘be musical’. However, many researchers and Early Childhood Music teachers maintain that babies are born musical, that music is their first means of communication. Could it be that by singling out music for specialist teaching in primary schools we are reinforcing the idea that music is something you either can or can’t do … that music is only for the gifted few?


  • Secondly … Music specialists don’t know the children in the way the primary class teacher does. Specialists may not realise how significant an achievement it is when a desperately shy child volunteers to lead a song or how useful playing castanets may be for improving the pencil grip of a child with dyspraxia. A specialist might not recognise how perfect a musical game is for developing a certain child’s spatial awareness/self-esteem/vocabulary. Wonderful opportunities might be missed!


  • Thirdly … Music specialists are only with those children for one or two lessons each week. They can’t incorporate music into daily routines, maths starters or PSHE lessons. They aren’t there to make music a part of every day, to regularly reinforce the learning and to notice children’s spontaneous music making throughout the week!


  • And finally … by handing music teaching over to specialists we are de-skilling our non-specialist teachers.


These reasons seem quite compelling, however – and it is a big ‘HOWEVER’. Music specialists are wonderful, creative, resourceful human beings and worth their weight in gold!


The skills and expertise they offer to primary schools make all sorts of amazing things possible! They know a wealth of repertoire and have a song for every situation! They know their subject inside out and have lots of great strategies for supporting children’s learning.


And, by contrast, many primary non-specialists are nervous about teaching music! They feel like they don’t have the knowledge or skills needed and worry about getting it wrong. They don’t have loads of songs and games up their sleeves and they didn’t receive a great deal of music training when they studied to become a teacher. Many don’t feel equipped to teach music!


So what is the answer?


How about using specialists to upskill and train our non-specialists and support them to develop their skills and pedagogy? Those schools with music specialists could invite non-specialists to work alongside their specialists so that musical learning can be developed throughout the week and so that specialists are better aware of how music impacts the whole curriculum.


Schools without specialists can work with organisations like The Voices Foundation to train and mentor their teachers so that they are better equipped to teach music. In this way we can show our children that music is for everyone.


If all our non-specialist teachers embrace music teaching, develop their skills and thread music through every week we will help to change our culture and create a society where music is for everyone and everyone believes they are musical!

If you would like to know more about Katie's experience of training non-specialist music teachers, The Voices Foundation or have any questions related to this article, please contact Katie!