Storytelling in music education: experiences, values and aspirations

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


This presentation will explore a small-scale project that captured the intriguing stories of eight music educators in England. Recently, it has been questioned whether music is ‘a subject in peril?’ (Independent Society of Musicians, 2022). Reasons behind this state of the subject have been attributed to a lack of value, insufficient funding, inequality, and damaging accountability measures that have a negative backwash effect on the subject, for example the English Baccalaureate (Independent Society of Musicians, 2022). On the other hand, the importance of music education has been well documented in the literature, for example, Hallam (2010) claimed that music is a vital element of a child's education due to the benefits it can have on intellectual, social and personal development and wellbeing. The literature is supported by an abundance of colloquial evidence that reaffirms the importance of music education in schools and beyond. Often positioned on the frontline of music education, navigating the tensions and issues facing the subject area, are music educators. This project sought to share the voices of some of these music educators, exploring the stories that underpin those actively contributing towards and shaping the discipline area through practice.

This study builds upon the literature in music education that has examined teacher identities and case studies that consist of storytelling elements. These include Thompson and Campbell (2010), McPherson, Davidson and Faulkner (2012), and Cain and Cursley (2017). In these books, value is in the detail – of exploring values and stories in-depth, generating understanding and potential relatability with the participants who have offered their stories. By drawing upon my own experience and through engaging with the literature, it is apparent that there are many different values, aspirations, pedagogical approaches and complexities within music education. This has been further highlighted by debates on social media following the more recent publication of music education policy, for example the Model Music Curriculum (DfE, 2021) and the second National Plan for Music Education (DfE and DfDCMS, 2022) in England. During such debates, those close to the phenomenon of music education contributed passionate arguments about what should be included in music education and why – again exposing variation in values, experiences and aspirations that require further exploration and understanding within the discipline area.

The aim of this study was to explore the stories of music educators in England, generating increased understanding of the experiences that have shaped their paths and professional identities, and influenced the values they hold about the subject area. Hopes and aspirations for the discipline area were questioned, to ignite further debate about the future of music education in England. The music educators who participated in this study included a primary generalist student teacher, primary and secondary school music teachers, music education doctoral candidates, and Higher Education music education practitioners. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, lasting up to 100 minutes each. Methodology has been influenced by narrative and life history approaches. As stories were interpreted, data was analysed thematically following key steps (Braun and Clarke, 2006), drawing out significant experiences and influences for individuals. Commonalities were also identified between stories, leading to potential relatedness for other music educators. Methodological strengths and challenges will be discussed, of potential interest to a wide range of researchers.

In this presentation, each story will be introduced, along with snapshots of significant experiences for the participants. Underpinning meaning will be considered and reflected upon, linked to implications for practice. Key thematic findings included tensions between informal and formal musical backgrounds and experiences, painful selection processes, the value of opportunity, inspirational teachers, and institutional and political control. Hopes were voiced for increased accessibility, quality, inclusion and practitioner freedom within the discipline area. A lot can be learned from the views of the music educators in this study – from their knowledge, detail provided in their stories, and from their experiences. Implications for this study include inspiration to take the time to carefully reflect upon our own previous experiences and values, considering how they influence our own practice. Through such reflection upon our own stories, change can be insighted by careful consideration of how we might challenge and broaden the values we hold to embrace a more exciting, inclusive future for (music) education. It is hoped that the voices within this study will contribute towards raising the profile of music education, so it is no longer viewed as a subject in peril, with implications for both practice and policy.


BRAUN, V. and CLARKE, V., 2006. Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology [online]. 3 (2), pp. 77-101. Available from: [Accessed 25 May 2018].

CAIN, T. and CURSLEY, J., 2017. Teaching Music Differently: Case Studies of Inspiring Pedagogies. Oxon: Routledge.

DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION, 2021. Model Music Curriculum [online]. Available from: [Accessed 28.07.21].

DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION and DEPARTMENT FOR DIGITAL, CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT, 2022. The power of music to change lives: a national plan for music education [online]. Available from: [Accessed 17.01.23].

HALLAM, S., 2010. The power of music: its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people. International Journal of Music Education [online]. 28 (3), pp. 269-289. Available from: [Accessed 30 April 2019].

INDEPENDENT SOCIETY OF MUSICIANS, 2022. Music: A subject in peril? 10 Years on from the first National Plan for Music Education [online]. Available from: [Accessed 17.01.23].

MCPHERSON, G., DAVIDSON, J. W. and FAULKNER, R., 2012. Music in our lives: rethinking musical ability, development, and identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

THOMPSON, L. K. and CAMPBELL, M. R. (eds), 2010. Issues of identity in music education: narratives and practices. Charlotte, N.C.: Information Age Pub (Advances in music education research).
Period13 Sept 2023
Event titleBritish Educational Research Association (BERA) Annual Conference 2023
Event typeConference
LocationBirmingham, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Music education
  • narrative methodologies
  • storytelling