Diversify your music lessons: Next steps

Last week, Mahaliah Edwards, a recent graduate of Birmingham Conservatoire and now a professional violinist, educator, and workshop facilitator recounted her personal journey of learning music as a person of colour in our webinar ‘Diversify your music lessons’.

Mahaliah wanted to share her experience of studying music within the school system, particularly the lack of diversity in the repertoire that she was asked to play, as her experiences could mirror those of other children from a culturally different background, to aid teachers in introducing diversity within their music lessons.

Mahaliah is a third-generation Caribbean immigrant – her grandparents formed part of the Windrush generation, while she and her parents were born in the UK. Growing up she identified with the Caribbean culture and listened to music that originated from there – ‘my background was culturally rich, and music was a part of that’. She also grew up in a Pentecostal church, where again music and naturally talented musicians were celebrated – ‘playing by ear, bursting into harmony was a natural thing to do’.

However, her school life was different, on the one hand – 'while I went to a state primary school where music was highly valued and I didn’t grow up with a perception that music wasn’t for me, now, as a teacher, I can see this isn’t the case for everyone’. But on the other hand – ‘I have not been asked to play music from my own culture. This was not encouraged. I was made to believe that black music or black composers didn’t exist, and if they did, they weren’t as good’. While her teachers were encouraging and helped her pursue her musical ambitions they also – ‘did a disservice as they didn’t have cultural knowledge’.

Now, teaching strings in a deprived area of Nottingham, she has introduced diversity into her teaching and wants to share her methods with other music educators to empower them, so they gain ideas as to how to teach inclusively and diversify the repertoire that they use to better reflect society.

But how can this be done? A place to start is by accurately displaying and promoting music from a variety of cultures in your teaching: reflect and celebrate the cultural contributions in the diverse society in which we live, including the cultures and music of those who have been oppressed and forgotten or excluded artists and composers – ‘cultures of the people who have been oppressed are not forgotten, undo those knots and systems that have been put in place’.

Mahaliah’s six steps to consider, to assist you with introducing diversity into your music lessons are:

Be open
Many of our children and young people are culturally rich and musically rich with their cultural experiences – let them share their knowledge from their own culture and own background. Acknowledge their culture and roots, remember, it’s ok not to be an expert.

Be specific and do your research
Instead of saying ’African Drumming’ or ‘World Music’, provide a more accurate description – Africa is a continent, which country is the drumming from, what was the music used for? Introduce positive role models from these different genres of music.

Be critical of your sources and resources
Ask questions like do they support authenticity, do they promote a balance, and an unbiased view of the world, are they varied enough? Don’t be afraid to address issues like equality or challenge ideas of elitism and superiority.

Be bold
Providing context in music is part of a well-rounded education – don’t ignore the facts, make them digestible for the children, or the young people with whom you work.

Be ‘down with the kids’
Ask yourself if the teaching content is relatable and engaging – as we have seen with climate change, young people can be interested in social issues.

Be attentive to what’s happening in their world
What are children and young people interested in and how do they engage?

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Further guidance and resources to help you get started, can be found here: