2 Key issue 2: What are we assessing in music and how should we assess it?
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There are three kinds of musical knowledge:
- Knowledge ‘about’ music: the ‘facts’ of music, such as the number of strings on a violin, who had the Christmas number one in 2015, what an ‘ostinato’ is, etc.
- Knowledge of the ‘how’ of music: for example how to maintain a regular pulse or how to be able to play scales correctly.
- Knowledge ‘of’ music: gained from immersion in musical experience and activity and leading to an understanding of music’s unique expressive character – much in the way that one would know a person.
The last of these types of knowledge is the reason why we engage with music; it is that unique individual and collective relationship that we have with it. The other kinds of knowledge can support and enrich our knowledge of music but they are never sufficient of themselves and consequently should not be taught or assessed in isolation.
However, knowledge of music provides significant challenges for developing assessment strategies for music learning. It is much easier to pin down knowledge ‘about’ or knowledge of ‘how’, which is why music assessment has often focused on these types of knowledge: because of their ease of assessment not because they are more valuable or legitimate.
Year 7 End-of-term test (Knowledge ‘about’)
Q1: How many strings does a violin have?
Q2: Here is a Gamelan. Name the different instruments.
Q3: To what notes are the guitar strings tuned?
Year 8 Test (Knowledge ‘how’)
Q1: Write out a C major scale and indicate where the tones and semitones occur.
Q2: What instrument is playing at the beginning of this extract of music that you will now listen to?
Q3: Write out this four bar phrase in the alto clef.
Some of these examples are somewhat extreme (however, they are all taken from actual examples of music assessments) and it is the case that ‘knowing’ these things can be useful. However, the usefulness of such knowledge is limited if it is abstracted from a musical context where knowledge ‘of’ music might be developed. It then becomes potentially damaging if used exclusively (or even primarily) as a means of assessing musical understanding and assessment. However, the responses are easy to mark!