Lockdown unlocking change in music education practice Jump to main content

Lockdown unlocking change in music education practice

ISM member and instrumental music teacher, Rachel Beale discusses her PhD research paper on unlocking change in music education practice during lockdown, providing an in-depth analysis of what can be learnt from the 'new normal' within the music education space.


The COVID-19 lockdown has unlocked a new normal in UK music education practice. My experience in changing delivery from home to online instrumental lessons is evidence of changes in autonomy and responsibility between student and teacher. Delivering music lessons to people on a one-to-one basis through online platforms, and teaching students in their homes, enables development through a combination of education practice and encouraging individual practising. By examining what change looks like now, and asking what can be learnt from these changes, poses the question of how this new knowledge might enlighten future forms of music education.

Coming out of lockdown means that education will be delivered in a setting where school once again becomes a second home to children and teachers. While (re)learning the art of listening is vital in all settings, lessons learnt from instrumental tuition delivered online at home might help sculpt change to the value placed on music education.

Exploring the changes in music participation and instrumental music lessons as part of my PhD research paper, I apply a personal interpretation of Karen Barad and Jasmine Ulmer’s ‘Cutting Together-Apart ’. I use "words within words" to reveal possible additional layers of meaning contained within a naturally emerging text, with the intention to strengthen and examine understanding through highlighting quasi-hidden (sub)sets of words through looking at specific keywords within the narrative

Education at home

Instrumental lessons delivered at a teacher’s home to some extent bridge educational spaces between school and a pupil’s home. Moving delivery of instrumental lessons to online platforms, delivered from the teacher’s home to pupils in their individual homes, alters the balance in ownership of the learning process in two significant ways. First, by opening virtual doors the teacher becomes the guest, being invited to enter spaces well-known to the pupil but, usually, previously unknown to the teacher. Second, the two different home settings necessitate a different/new space/distance between teacher and pupil; negotiating these spaces forces pupils to take more control of the learning process. Challenges for both teacher and pupil include; change of ownership for tuning the violin, replacing broken strings, writing instructions on the music, checking fingering on the piano, to name a few.

Online music-making spaces

Not all my pupils have had the courage to embrace online lessons, and for some it took a few weeks to engage fully. However, online spaces demonstrate flexibility and creativity to en-able and en-courage music-making in many settings. Enabling courage goes to the heart of learning. The root of the word courage, ‘cor’ comes from the Latin meaning heart, and the word ‘heart’ contains the words ‘he’, ‘ear’, ‘hear’ and ‘art’. Education that produces a deep understanding, one that goes to the heart of the pupil, is likely to be education that lasts, and is valued beyond the setting or the space in which learning has taken place.

Music-making draws people together and the evidence of online choirs, orchestras, ensembles of many sorts bears witness, in part, to the value that people place on music. Music-making appears to be seen globally as important, which invites questions about governmental reasoning for the dominance of maths, science and English in the school curriculum. It is clear that music unites across nations, language, age, colour, religion. All known barriers can be overcome, and people can be united and find inclusion, through the power of music.

The impact of COVID-19 on connection and education

COVID-19 has emphasised the desire for connection. As education at home (re)turns to education in a school, another extension of home for many, growth in understanding, particularly through (re)evaluating ways of (re)engaging with spaces, listening and (re)connecting, could provide missing keys for unlocking a more inclusive education. Education requires inclusion, learning ways to (re)engage with people as well as spaces. Where exclusion speaks volumes to those listening about prejudice and injustice, unlocking after lockdown has the potential to (re)establish inclusiveness.

Once art is truly and courageously placed at the heart of human development, using inclusion to (re)unite people, particularly through m‘us’ic-mak‘in’g, which noticeably contains the words ‘us’ and ‘in’, might also hold the keys to unlocking much of what fundamentally makes people human.

Rachel Beale