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CME Unit 5B

Section B: Learning Outcome 2 (LO 2)

Be able to overcome barriers to musical learning

Learning Styles

To help you to understand more about overcoming barriers, it may help to revisit the area of learning styles. By developing a better understanding of your own preferred learning style, you can become more aware of how your students prefer to learn.

Your programme leader may introduce a learning style inventory at this point and you will also find many different examples on the web. One of the pioneers in this area was David Kolb and it’s well worth having a look at his work on this subject.

Taking a look at preferred learning styles reminds us that there are many factors which may be considered barriers to musical learning or participation and, alongside these, we should also, for example, consider the following barriers:

  • Physical – child’s ability to physically play an instrument; is it physically possible to get to and from the lesson?
  • Social – peer pressure for their instrument choice/musical genre
  • Cultural – family/religious pressure for their instrument choice/musical genre
  • Gender Assumptions – historic gender association with instruments and genres; assumption of physical capabilities
  • Learning Difficulties – literacy; teacher’s presentation; pupil’s attention span; interaction between pupil and teacher; frustration, anger and other emotions
  • Physical Disabilities – access to classroom; ability to hold and interact with instruments/instrument suitability; use of limbs; sight; hearing; breathing

You may also care to reflect on any barriers to learning that you have encountered in your earlier experiences of musical learning or on your progress through the CME.

Learning activity 4 – relating to Learning Outcome 2 (LO 2)

See if you can work on your own, or as part of a group, to determine your own preferred learning style: auditory; visual or kinaesthetic. Without assistance from a programme leader, you may need to find your own inventory of learning styles on the web. If you have time, try more than one ‘test’ to see if your results are consistent.

As music educators, we may work more frequently in a particular mode, for example, teaching pieces aurally rather than using written notation or vice versa. It is generally accepted that we can all benefit from exploring a variety of learning styles and, when working with children and young people, it’s particularly important to take account of their preferred learning styles rather than coercing them to learn in a particular way.

Learning activity 5 – relating to Learning Outcome (LO 2)

If possible, choose two students that you have regularly worked with and who have contrasting learning styles. Thinking about the work that you have just completed on identifying your own preferred learning style, write a brief description of how these two students prefer to learn, citing real examples from your experiences with them.

Learning activity 6 – relating to Learning Outcome (LO 2)

Many schools and music educators will be engaged with whole class instrumental and vocal tuition programmes. If you are unfamiliar with this form of music education, begin by researching it on the web.

Although it has been shown to be a successful approach to widening access to musical learning, there are still many widely held views that unintentionally mitigate against this inclusive approach to teaching and learning. Consider the numbered points below. Have you witnessed these reactions? Do you recognise any of your own thoughts or feelings in these views?

(i) Strongly held views about who is suitable to learn an instrument

(ii) The firm belief that prior musical knowledge is required before instrumental lessons are embarked upon

(iii) The conviction that without parental/home support being available any form of musical tuition will be wasted

(iv) The idea that musical notation is an essential starting point, resulting in a limited range of learning styles

(v) Teachers with a strong predilection towards 1-1 or small group teaching at early levels, making lessons unnecessarily expensive

(vi) Teachers who make the assumption that young people will keep going through the ‘boring’ patches in expectation of ‘jam tomorrow’

Learning activity 7 – relating to Learning Outcome (LO 2)

Consider the following letter sent to parents about a forthcoming Christmas concert. If practicable, work with one or two colleagues to discuss the letter and identify the potential barriers to participation that some children, or their parents, would face if they received this letter.

Dear Parent

Christmas Concert Details

On the day of the concert, there will be an afternoon rehearsal at 2.30pm at All Saints Church. Please make sure all pupils are dropped off and ready to rehearse by this time. Pupils should bring tea with them, as well as money to purchase a drink or sweets for the interval. 

All pupils taking part are expected to have learned the words to all verses of ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘Once in Royal’, off by heart, and pupils of the following groups should be dressed as such:

  • Primary Choir – smart clothes in red, white and green
  • Secondary Choir –black bottoms and silvery/gold/shiny tops
  • Brass Band – all black
  • Steel Pans – colourful

N.B. No trainers or jeans please.

Please support your children by coming to watch the concert: tickets are £10 adults, £7 concessions.

Those not able to attend should pick up their children at 9.45pm. Please meet children outside the church. Parking is available on the main road.

All pupils should remember to bring their music with them and members of the brass band should also bring a music stand and their instrument.

With best wishes

Learning activity 8 – relating to Learning Outcome (LO 2)

A recent survey about why young people disengaged with music included the following comments in the any further comments box at the bottom of the survey. Consider the comments and the sample responses from some music educators. How might you be able to overcome these barriers in your work as a music educator?

“Sharon enjoyed her clarinet lessons but when the school stopped clarinet lessons and you moved them to after school, the taxi would only collect her at 3:15. I contacted the Local Authority but they said they couldn’t move the time. We need the taxi as it takes her wheelchair.”

Sample response: Discuss the options with the school and parents. Unfortunately, school transport, be it buses or taxis, tend to have a fixed pick-up time which can create a barrier for many if music lessons are restricted to after school. This would need the co-operation of the school and the Local Authority to resolve. Alternatives can be sought – perhaps a different time/day/ teacher or lessons outside school. The options would need to be discussed with the parents.

“John has to give up music because it clashes with rugby.”

Sample response: Students have many activities and there will invariably be some that clash. Alternatives can be sought perhaps a different time/day/teacher or lessons outside school.

“We can’t afford to buy P a violin and so we didn’t want him to get attached to it – so we said he can’t have violin lessons.”

Sample response: Many schools have instruments that can be used or hired by students having lessons and there are organisations that support students by providing free instruments. The options would need to be discussed with the parents.

Learning activity 9 – relating to Learning Outcome (LO 2)


Assistive Music Technology may help to widen access for children and young people with Special Educational Needs or who are Disabled (SEN/D).

Instruments may be created that are uniquely set up to suit the needs of the player. Technology has advanced significantly in recent years from simple mechanical adjustments to sophisticated computer-controlled sensors which enable children and young people to make music. However, to ensure progression within the field, there is a need for music educators working with disabled musicians to keep striving for both musical and technical excellence.

Much more information can be found in the excellent, and very readable report: Engagement with Technology in Special Educational & Disabled Music Settings, published by Youth Music(2011).


How well-informed are you about music technology that is available?

With a CME colleague or another fellow music educator, fill in the right-hand column.















Musical instruments that have been adapted to suit the needs of a player with one or more disabilities come in many forms.

These may include creating a completely new instrument or simply altering certain features of an existing instrument to suit an individual’s needs. Many people with disabilities are also able to adjust the way that an instrument is played without altering the instrument itself.