Teaching secondary music
Teaching secondary music

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Teaching secondary music

3.3 Informal settings and pedagogies

Informal learning pedagogies are characterised by the learner having greater ownership over what is to be learned (deciding what is important knowledge) and how that knowledge is to be learned (pedagogy). Within music education, informal learning is most explicit through the pedagogies propounded by Musical Futures [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , which is underpinned by the pioneering work of Lucy Green into how popular musicians learn (Green, 2002).

Activity 7

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Watch this video in which Professor Lucy Green outlines the characteristics and dispositions of young popular musicians. Note particularly what she has to say about:

  • motivation
  • musical autonomy
  • aural learning
  • learning from a recording
  • learning from friends rather than learning from teacher-expert
  • musical challenge.
Skip transcript


: Well, my work has been premised upon a close analysis of how popular musicians have acquired their skills and knowledge. When they’re working in the informal realm that is to say outside education, often without teachers, and using resources such as recordings in the past or nowadays the Internet, to help them direct their own learning. That’s what I started this project by looking at.
One of the most important things I think is that pop young popular musicians are very very highly motivated, they get huge levels of enjoyment, they’re very committed to music and furthermore they often have very wide musical tastes because their ears are open, although they might be only playing popular music they have a huge respect for other kinds of music as well and they enjoy what they do.
And I felt at the time I started this research, I think a lot of us felt in many different countries that children in school were not experiencing this level of enjoyment and commitment from their music-making, so that’s why I went to look at how is it that these popular musicians do it how do they acquire their skills.
And I found of course as everybody knows in a way that the main difference is I think from the formal realm is that young popular musicians choose their music themselves and that’s absolutely crucial, because it means that you are working on music that you identify with, that you are familiar with, that you understand in a deep personal way. And it’s very different from what tends to happen in formal music education where the teacher will choose music which is often unfamiliar to you.
Secondly of course the young popular musicians learn orally which as you know is it totally different way to acquire musical skills it’s as old as the hills human; beings have been learning music orally early since the inception of civilisation in any form.
But what’s new is that that we’ve only had recording technology for just over 100 years and that introduced a new way of learning which wasn’t available to our ancestors, and that is to put on a recording whether it’s an audio recording or whether it’s got video with it as well, and learn by watching and listening.
This is different from learning from another human being it’s different from learning from a teacher, because the recording doesn’t turn around and tell you you’ve got it wrong. You control the recording you can turn it off when you want to and work on a little bit or not, And of course it’s a very different way of making music to notation and another thing that’s very important is that young pop musician’s work with their friends and this means that groups of learners are working together, all of whom are at the same or a similar standard to each other. And so you know somebody who’s quite a beginner will be leading somebody else who’s quite a beginner and knowledge is shared in that sort of way. Both consciously and unconsciously and this is of course very different to having a teacher who is usually a more senior person, an expert in the field, and who is likely to tell you that you got it wrong and who it’s more difficult to identify with.
People seem to learn more easily from others who are at a similar level to them because they can see their friend doing something and they can think yeah I can do that, whereas if you see Someone who is highly trained, adult, expert doing it you think no I can’t I can’t even start that, so these are very important principles I think.
And that the final thing which I think is particularly important is that popular musicians in the informal realm start by using real world music, music which as I said before means something to them but which is also available in the world; and that means that they are approaching something complex and difficult and each learner approaches it at their own level.
This is very different from the way that we tend to break down musical tasks and knowledge in music education into what we experts think of as being, simple music which we start with and then we progress gradually to more and more complex music.
And in some ways we might be what what what what you know people called dumbing down the knowledge and skills that young learners are actually capable of achieving by doing that
End transcript
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Described image
Figure 6 Young people composing

Reflection point

What might be the implications for your teaching if you were to adopt some of these approaches to teaching? Particularly, how might it change your role as a teacher and your relationship with the young people in the classroom?

As Green notes, teaching pedagogies underpinned by principles of informal learning are characterised by:

  • allowing learners to choose the music themselves
  • learning by listening and copying recordings
  • learning alone and in friendship groups with minimum adult guidance
  • learning in personal, often haphazard ways
  • ‘a deep integration of listening, performing, improvising and composing throughout the learning process with an emphasis on personal creativity’.
(Adapted from Green, 2008, p. 10)

Activity 8

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

Explore the Musical Futures website. Note the key characteristics of a ‘Musical Futures Approach’ and the resources that they offer. Think about how you might use some of these in your teaching.

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Cain (2013) quotes Jenkins (2011) who argues that:

informal learning is not only a good way to learn, it is the ideal way to learn … While formal learning strategies supply much needed information and guidance, it is informal techniques that tend to compel students to make ongoing decisions in constructing simulations of real-life contexts.

(Cain, 2013, p. 77)

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