Curriculum Notes #3: The Case for A Broad Orientation (Feat. Stormzy* vs Mozart)

Every so often the Stormzy* vs Mozart debate returns via one media outlet or another. Here is one example:

*It’s not always Stormzy – it was just his turn.

Instead?! It’s ludicrous isn’t it. Funny really. You’d imagine your average teenager was crying out in despair – please, I beg you, for God’s sake, enough with the Mozart, can’t we, just for once, listen to something else? Something…. cool?

Reality Check: Ask the next few teenagers you meet about Mozart – they will probably hardly know anything about him at all. Next to nothing in fact. Across the land, the music curriculum is being forced to the margins and music teachers are doing their best to cover a pretty wide brief: musical knowledge of a range of genres spanning the centuries; singing; performance; some theory; composition… all in what is barely an hour a week for a couple of years or so. Mozart might get a mention… if he’s lucky.

The music curriculum is a classic case of the breadth vs depth dilemma. Given the realities of time constraints, what’s more important? I think the solution lies in making sure that a busy curriculum has an overarching structure that is made explicit to students from the beginning so that the hinterland – that wider terrain of the subject is surveyed deliberately and early so that, thereafter, each specific element explored in depth can be referenced to the broader scope.

If you google ‘classical music composers’ – look what comes up:

There you see what might represent some of the terrain of Western classical music. Mozart is actually just one of several of composers in this selection but we can consider him and his work as a ‘gateway’ through which we might later explore further afield. They’re all Dead White Men for sure – and that’s an issue to discuss in itself, a cue perhaps to stare that reality in the face and then look beyond to other important genres that span the world of music. My view is that it really helps to know that Mozart sits on a genre-linked timeline from Bach to Beethoven to Brahms to Bernstein.. names to conjure with, music to sample alongside as go a bit deeper into the Mozart oeuvre. This is certainly something I personally found helpful when I studied music O level – as mentioned in the previous (closely related) Curriculum Notes:

Curriculum Notes #2:  Big picture first: then zoom in.

#2 in a series. I’ve often found that students in lessons are wading through a foggy cloud of confusion about why they are learning what they are learning.  I’ve been in that cloud plenty of times myself.  If, as an expert in a subject, you make a selection of the elements of the curriculum for […]

With this sampling of Mozart from the classical genre, we can then explore other genres in a similar way, giving students that sense of breadth. It’s here that we might find Stormzy, doing his thing 250 years later. And he, of course, is just one of many contemporary Grime artists. We don’t have to teach them – but they might warrant a mention, reinforcing the concept of genre and the fact of music’s continually evolving nature, each new genre borrowing from history as well as making it.

Rather than an all-at once hit, the slow and steady approach taken in the DFE Model Music Curriculum is excellent in my view. The suggestion is that children encounter a sample of genre-defining pieces from various genres each year, listening to them and discussing them, perhaps learning to sing or play them too. Significantly, the idea is that this knowledge is accumulated so whilst focusing on certain pieces each year, the resulting range is significant. Here’s what you might have listened to by the end of Year 6:

And there’s more:

And more:

Play Dead by Björk??!!! YES. She is in there! The bold in the lists highlights the pieces added in Year 6, adding to suggestions for earlier years. And here’s the ‘by end of Year 9’ selection:

I think this is just magnificent. Imagine if every child reached Year 9 with that breadth of knowledge of music. The Lark Ascending and Paranoid Android. Ujona Uyabaleka and Sahela Re. I could punch the air.. imagine it! You can hear the whole lot of samples on Spotify right here:

(And guess what – it’s not compulsory! You could replace every single item with another -that’s allowed, so don’t freak out if your pet sounds aren’t included. Just get the spirit of it.)

Of course, for older students who haven’t had this breadth of experience over time (has anyone? ) or have major knowledge gaps (who hasn’t? ), a broad orientiation unit is going to be especially useful, orientating students to a wide sweep of curriculum terrain at once. Show them what is out there – even if it’s just a flavour. Mozart, Stormzy and the whole world between.


  1. The model music curriculum reduced music to a subject in which ‘knowing about’ music is the emphasis – rather than knowing how (to do music). You mention very briefly that children might sing and play – but they need to know how to sing and play. Knowing about music is only a small slice of the full music curriculum, yet the Model Music Curriculum places most emphasis on the knowing about, rather than knowing how. There is then the whole question of pedagogy. You say that children can start with Mozart but then ‘explore other genres in a similar way’? How are they going to explore? How do you suggest, for example, a Year 2 class explores Mozart, and then goes on to explore other genres? What is missing here – and in the Model Music Curriculum is an emphasis on pedagogy. Are you suggesting we go back to the old idea of music appreciation – where a piece of music was played and children sat quietly and listened? If not – then ‘how’ will children explore music styles and genres in order to ‘know them’ – what are the key concepts, ways of listening, ways of engaging with the music that will assist their ‘knowing’?


    • I don’t really agree – lots of what reads as agitated frothing going on here that I’ll just pass over. There is a reasonable emphasis on music knowledge of that kind – but actually also tons on composition and performance too. I think your comment misrepresents the model quite a lot. If the DFE weighed in on pedagogy too, there would be another type of uproar. I’m not even saying start with Mozart. Is anyone? I’d love to see a better model – perhaps you have one. Let’s share it so people can compare.


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