Music and music education in 2050: where could we be?

At the end of 2014, the Musical Progressions Roundtable came together in a 'Progression Panorama' to look broadly at progression-related issues. We worked on what might be a long-term vision for music education...

Our collective vision for 2050 is of a fabric of musical communities, made up of many, many creative musical people (not just performers), developing individually and growing communally, where participatory musical democracy and meritocracy are the norm, achieved, we suspect, through self-belief, shared reflection, technology, a diverse abundance of opportunities to make and create music, and the unique contributions of real people.

Some steps along the road

Technology: Modern music technologies – for both creating and listening to music – have helped to blur the distinction between producers and consumers of music. (This is a distinction that some would argue was never really there in the first place but just one way of looking at musical ‘transactions’). This blurring looks set to continue apace, as technology becomes wearable, internal, nano and increasingly intelligent about who’s using it, and who and what and where those people are. This is something for us to work with.

Economics: We’ll need to have open minds about the markets and finances for music. In the 20th century, live performance was overwhelmed by mass production of recorded music. This is to some extent now reversing but not in such a way as to fill the financial gap created by the ease with which music can be distributed digitally (with and without the consent of its creators). So perhaps the most sensible thing would be to pursue a non-musical job and do music on the side. But, ironically, something similar to what happened to music in the 20th century is now happening to a huge swathe of employment: technology has been taking over low-skilled manual labour for centuries but now it looks set, according to some, to be taking perhaps 50% of the jobs of accountants, lawyers, doctors, drivers, and operatives across the world. The outcomes look to be some combination of subsistence economies, a three-day working week, exponential innovation and war. We could do with some new macro- economics to roll out our vision!

Democratisation: Most of us feel very strongly about the music that we feel strongly about. And music is mostly a social activity. So it is no surprise that societies have developed divisions and thence hierarchies and cliques around music. (Many of today’s music education challenges owe a lot to fundamental differences in musical taste.) Few people genuinely love all music, so making a more democratic and meritocratic musical culture is unlikely to be particularly easy for anyone who cares about music. But we need to work at it: recognising different musical creativities, supporting multiple kinds of musical progress, providing meaningful access to different musical opportunities, being open-minded but authentic, creating new fusions and celebrating old traditions.

Creative skills and tools: What skills, behaviours, tools and techniques would people need to be able to fulfill their musical selves, individually and collectively? For a long time there has been a strong focus on instrumental and vocal skills – the things that make the music – and repertoire – the music that is made. These are important, but with new technologies they are important in different ways. And there are also the skills and tools required to exploit and develop musical creativity – are we developing those? For example, many people mention the importance of a good grasp of music theory: not just the ledger lines and the Italian terms but a broad and deep understanding of how music works. And there are the skills and tools required to fashion experiences from music: musical producers, musical distributors, musical architects, musical technologists, musical engineers, musical leaders etc. – are we developing this broader musical skills set for 2050?

Opportunities: What would everyone having rich, personally engaging opportunities to make, create, perform, hear, enjoy, learn, and participate in music for their whole lives look like? Presumably it would look like much more than a huge heap of music lessons. So if having all of those opportunities is an aspiration, then we’ll need to be open-minded, intelligent, strategic and versatile in our approaches to musical opportunities. We’ll need to plug music into existing activities and we’ll need to lift up lids to see what musical activities are already happening. We’ll need to get better at lighting people’s musical fuses and helping them to become musical leaders in other people’s lives.

Workforce: There is always a conundrum for an education workforce in a changing world. Children learn through perhaps 20 years of childhood, then spend perhaps 2-20 years becoming teachers, and then teach new children. Those new children need to be prepared for an adult life perhaps 20 years later – i.e. maybe 60 years away from when their teachers started learning. Even with the most accurate forecasting and the finest teacher development, at times of significant change, coping with this conundrum is tricky. Plus educational change carries very long-term risks. Isn’t it easier just to stick with what we know works? We do need teachers who are true to themselves, but, crucially, who enable learners to be true to themselves too. Excellence comes from excellent individual journeys. Teachers need to help to make them that way.

Individual actions: Culture is about having things in common but arts are about doing or saying things differently. We are, all of us reading this, artists who like making things – but not so much taking on other people’s things verbatim. So a big movement for any art form is unlikely to work if it tries to get everyone to do the same thing: they need to do their own things, but moving in the same direction. Thus, one group started to work up individual or organizational pledges, e.g.:

  • I pledge to seek an opportunity for everyone to have individual lessons
  • I pledge to make music genuinely available for anyone
  • I pledge to see music play a more important role in schools
  • I pledge to grow music opportunities for all
  • I pledge to extend music making from schools to home and family
  • I pledge to join up the offer in London
  • I pledge to work with as many people and organisations as I can before I die!
  • I pledge to reach out to people
  • I pledge to keep communicating to the death! 


The Musical Progressions Roundtable is hosted by Awards for Young Musicians and Ben Sandbrook, with Youth Music funding.

This blog post is an extract of the full write-up of the Musical Progressions Panorama.

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