BJME ident

The Sequence of Musical Development: A Study of Children’s Composition

About this series

Dr Steven Berryman, Curriculum Lead for the Music Teachers Association (MTA), has launched a collective blogging project working with the editors of the British Journal of Music Education (BJME), Martin Fautley and Ally Daubney.

Martin, Ally and Steven have curated a selection of articles from the Journal highlighting some of the key debates in Music Education in the classroom.

Teachers have an article to read each week, and can submit a response by the end of the week. Responses are gathered together to form one blog post shared on MUSIC:ED.

The Sequence of Musical Development: A Study of Children’s Composition

The Music Teachers Association’s second collective blogging project continues continues with a response reflecting on the article by Keith Swanwick and June Tillman – ‘The Sequence of Musical Development: A Study of Children’s Composition’ (2008).


A musical development sequence is proposed based on the psycho-logical concepts of mastery, imitation, imaginative play and meta-cognition, drawing on the work of Moog, Piaget and the observations of British writers. An interpretation of over seven hundred children’s compositions is undertaken yielding an eight-mode spiral of development that may have consequences for music teaching; for overall music curriculum planning, for appropriate responses to individuals, for generating progression in a session or project.


David House

It has been excellent to revisit these articles and this one has certainly acquired a high standing since it was first published. Indeed, it is no less relevant now than then. The underlying principle of a spiral is one which appeals not only in terms of tracing development but also relating this to planning and implementing a curriculum.

My thoughts revolved around specific students I have witnessed in the same classroom at KS3, often exhibiting traits from the manipulative to the systematic, and from mastery to meta-cognition. Being aware of this and responding to it are ongoing challenges. I particularly like the sense that early composing can be rooted in play, experience is often that students are very concerned with ‘getting it right’ and perhaps less ready to let imaginations take over.

Returning to the more general feeling from reading the article and relating it to general musical development, I am more and more aware that revisiting material and watching increasing musical understanding, fluency and awareness in the work of students is something which I want to explore in the planning of courses which I teach. A move away from a delineated topic approach, perhaps too often music curricula follow those of other subjects and such a plan is not necessarily the most effective.

Finally, to reflect once more on the compositional focus of this article I am now inspired to seek out the literature from the intervening years since the publication of this. What better place to start that Finney, Philpott and Spruce’s ‘Creative and Critical Projects in Classroom Music’.

Related Articles

The place of composing in curriculum design

The Music Teachers Association’s second collective blogging project culminates in this final post in the series with excellent responses from teachers and academics reflecting on the article by Martin Fautley and Alison Daubney – ‘The place of composing in curriculum design’ (2019)