Music Mark column: A Common Approach for a new era

Bridget Whyte
Saturday, July 1, 2023

Bridget Whyte, chief executive of Music Mark, gives an insight into this curriculum for vocal and instrumental teaching and how collaboration sits at the heart of its digitisation.

Music Mark

A Common Approach is an instrumental and vocal curriculum resource, first published in 2002. Following consultation with Music Mark's membership, it was digitised and given a radical makeover in 2022. A live resource, it has since been updated in keeping with music education best practice.

How it started

In 2002 a partnership of the Federation of Music Services and the National Association of Music Educators (who merged 11 years later to become Music Mark) together with the Royal College of Music produced a new publication called A Common Approach – ‘a ground-breaking initiative, providing for the first time an instrumental/vocal curriculum drawn together at a national level.’

The curriculum provided a valuable framework for instrumental and vocal teachers to use to develop a holistic pedagogy and provide a meaningful musical learning journey for their pupils. It also supported teachers to think about progression through five programmes of study, mapped against six interrelated areas of musical experience. In 2002, eight instrument families plus voice were covered by the resource. Developed by an impressive list of teachers and leaders from across the UK, the large green folder became a familiar sight on the bookshelves of teachers and music services across the country.

Time to refresh

In late 2020, as Music Mark packed up its office in London to work permanently as a remote-staff team, I took the publication from our shelves and asked my team: ‘do we keep this, or is it out of date?’ We agreed to test that question on our membership and the resounding response was that the resources were still being used, referred to, and shared with new teachers, but after nearly 20 years since its original publication, it was definitely time for an update.

This rolled on to April 2022, when Music Mark was proud to be able to tell everyone to put away their doorstop green folders, as A Common Approach is now available as a free digital resource! Not only had we made it easier to access by putting it online, but we had worked with over 44 music educators, advisors, teachers and leaders to update and contribute to the resource. New material included guidance on whole-class instrumental tuition, links to both the curriculum (for each UK nation) and exam boards, guidance around Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and a further three instrument sections: Harp, Ukulele and Music Technology.

Embracing diversity

In 2022 Music Mark also launched its Equity, Diversity and Inclusion movement, Talk Into Action. As part of our commitment to this, we took another look at A Common Approach through an ED&I lens. We had already done some work to ensure it supported those working with children with additional needs and talked about diverse repertoire, but what about our instrument list? Again, we consulted our membership and now, a year after the relaunch of A Common Approach, we are delighted to have added Djembe, Latin-American Percussion, and Bass Guitar to the resource.

An expanding resource

The ‘refresh’ of A Common Approach and its ongoing development have been led by consultant Catherine Brentnall, who said (when discussing the launch of these new additions): ‘One of the most important aspects of the 2022 work on A Common Approach was making it an online resource, because, unlike the original printed version, this version doesn't have to wait 20 years for a refresh: it can grow and evolve over time, responding to the changing landscape of music education.

‘I'm delighted that we have been able to act upon consultation with the sector to develop plans to reflect the diversity of instruments that are being taught across the UK’, she continued. ‘Input from experts in Latin-American percussion and djembe has really enriched the percussion curriculum, and it's wonderful to have the bass guitar fully represented. Work is now well underway for a brand-new section on tabla, and it's a privilege to be able to work with so many skilled practitioners to create something so valuable and inclusive.’

Looking ahead

I encourage all instrumental and vocal teachers to take a look at A Common Approach and see how it can support them and how the methodology can refresh and inspire their teaching practice. Classroom teachers may also find it useful to connect their classroom music learning through the way the resource is mapped against the four nations' national curriculums.

And of course, as Catherine said, having digitised the publication means we can add, edit and update it easily. We will continue to listen to the sector and respond to any requests for further help to bring this instrumental and vocal curriculum to life to make it as valuable as we can to teachers at any stage in their career, supporting them in their teaching practice and helping them develop a holistic approach to music education.