Music Education is Underfunded and Undervalued by the Scottish Government

As part of our Lockdown Challenge we asked for submissions from readers: essays, pictures, drawings or tunes. Young champion piper Brodie Watson-Massey has submitted this article. It is printed exactly as submitted without editing. All essays will be judged by our correspondent MacStig and a prize awarded to the winner. Readers who have a view on what Brodie writes are welcome to voice it in our Comment section.

Music education is not sufficiently funded or valued highly enough in Scotland. In Scotland there is segregation in levels of, and access to music education. This often depends on region, funding and the perceived value of music in the particular school.

There are specialised music schools in Scotland e.g. St Mary’s Music School, in Edinburgh. A school like this will spend significantly more time on music than local authority schools and even other independent schools. These schools spend more than five hours of school time a week on music compared to standard 30-40 minute music lessons in other schools across Scotland.

By Brodie Watson-Massey

However, St Mary’s Music School is only for a very small number of students. It has been recently reported in the press that some councils provide music tuition for free, yet other local authorities do not. It is a postcode lottery and this approach is ultimately prohibitive to young people gaining access to musical opportunities.

Additionally, investment in musical opportunities and resourcing is not equal across all different types of educational establishments. For example, in independent schools they generally have access to more facilities, more teachers, more resources and possibly more pupil-parent engagement.

Pupils are supported and encouraged to take up one, two or even three instruments while at school. Independent schools have many more clubs and societies which support pupils’ musical interests, these are funded by the school and lots of them are just not feasibly possible in council schools. Some of these groups include Pipe Band, Chamber Music, Choirs, Jazz Orchestra, Music Theory Clubs, Orchestra, Sight Singing, School Musicals and even a Ukulele Club!

This puts the pupils in these schools at a massive advantage and clearly shows that when the resources are there then they will be used. Perhaps if councils could see the benefits this brings, they would stop cutting music tuition, adopt a similar model and invest in the music education of future generations.

In the typical music classroom, much of the learning is often focussed on modern pieces of music that are trending; perhaps this is because those that write the courses think that young people are not interested in musical history or heritage.

This does not encourage pupils to adopt an interest in music beyond modern pop culture and the Brits. It doesn’t necessarily encourage the learning of classical or traditional instruments. So then if there isn’t a demand from our pupil body, then the councils will make cuts to funding.

So maybe part of the answer lies in the way the subject is delivered and promoted? Some parents can be great at encouraging their children to take up a musical instrument, but others probably will not be as interested in their children learning music but are more interested in them getting good exam grades and going on to be whatever profession it is they think is best for them. Why can’t they do both? 

Some local authorities such as North Lanarkshire and West Lothian (above) do provide teaching for young pipers and drummers

It is important to make the point about what music actually offers to young people. Music offers many new life options such as a career, serious hobby or even just as a social activity. I have personally made some of my best friends through music.

Being a musician myself, I am able to use it to escape chaotic moments, for relaxation and to be creative. Music is a great thing to have on your CV and people will soon be interested if you play a musical instrument; this is because it demonstrates that you have passion, are committed and keen to learn. It has also been scientifically proven that music can lower stress, improve health, make you sleep better and also increase IQ levels.

I think this is great for the people that participate in music, but it shows that music is actually much more than just playing instruments and theory work. In my opinion this should make people want to participate in music even more and should also encourage the Scottish Government and local councils to invest in music and ensure it is funded enough throughout all of Scotland’s schools.

London 2018: Brodie Watson-Massey, overall Junior Champion and Alistair Bevan, British Columbia, with SPL President Andrew Hall

People can spend a lifetime studying music, not only is it a hobby, it can be a career, and even if you choose to do a degree in music, there is still so much to learn post-degree. The knock-on effect could be an improvement in the mental health of a whole nation.

I also personally find that music helps me in subjects like Maths and English. In Maths I find calculations easier and feel like I can work things out quicker. I believe this is because when people play music the notes have a value, and the value of the notes combined has to be the number of beats in a bar.

When people sight read music, they have to quickly be able to calculate the value of these notes for two reasons; first is so the tune is musically correct and secondly so they can stay in time with any other instruments they are playing with better. Despite these ‘sums in the music’ not being especially hard I still believe that it helps in the long term.

Are you up for the Piping Press Lockdown Challenge? Put those added hours indoors to good use. Send us your paintings and drawings (with a piping theme) and your essays on piping or pipe bands. Why not try your hand at composing? Send us your tunes. There might be a new masterpiece just waiting to be written! Prizes to be won!

In English, I feel music helps because of the ability to sight read, if you can sight read music then that means that you can read from books quicker and more comfortably because you learn how to anticipate what’s coming next while simultaneously playing something.

As well as music opening up many opportunities, improving health and helping in everyday curriculum I also find that music just generally makes people happy. May they be listening or playing it themselves, people will always listen to music and will usually appreciate the time and practice that goes into music.

They say that a musician will never be happy with their performance, but there are always people listening and although many of them will probably know little about music, they will love it, be impressed and may even approach you after the performance and say well done! Being a musician can be very gratifying and generally good for the soul.

Overall, I conclude that music is not valued and not resourced well enough across Scotland’s schools. With more funding, investment, teaching and promotion, there is potential to fix this problem. Opportunities should be readily available in all schools so that children don’t have to wait to realise they want to learn music. This would lead to a nation of musicians, musical appreciation and all the benefits that would follow.

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