9th January 2024

Diversity in Music – Representation Matters!

Diversity is recognising, respecting and celebrating each other’s differences. A diverse environment is one with a wide range of backgrounds and mindsets, which allows for an empowered culture of creativity and innovation.

Diversity is important to create a social-norm where music from all cultures is celebrated and represented. For example, providing a choice of diverse repertoire for instruments and voices, from a variety of cultures and traditions, whilst also having musical understanding and sensitivity towards unfamiliar genres and historic backgrounds. Where knowledge and/or confidence is lacking, it can be a wonderful area to connect to local communities, learners and/ or other music specialists to share their own knowledge. The want to be more inclusive and diverse in music education needs to come from a place of authenticity and not just to box tick!

It’s also important to highlight the need for diversity with musical resources, making sure educators are providing multiple ways to inspire future musicians and support their learning by creating a safe, fun learning environment.

Diversifying music lessons for a range of cultures and beliefs

The MU have provided some examples of activities that you can use in addition to your music making ((has examples of playlists celebrating black history month):

  • Explore different musical styles
  • Explore music by musicians from different backgrounds and traditions
  • Use music to explore aspects of personal identity, social problems and issues
  • Learn about the history of genres (such as reggae, blues and calypso).
  • Bringing in the voice of those you are educating in a genuine and passionate way – not tokenistically. Being open to their ideas.  Becoming more inclusive requires not only a shift in approach, but in content.
  • The relationship between virtuosity and creativity should also be examined when aiming for truly inclusive provision.
  • ‘Of all subjects, music can be the most inclusive, because everybody can engage with music at some level, and in quite a profound way.’
  • Raising profile and history of other instruments and opportunities for non-western style ensembles
  • Vary your provision – not just exams, provide extra-curricular, advice, sign-posting.
  • Remember to research your repertoire selection/ composers/ artists and take the time to examine and learn about the cultural and historical contexts.Make sure what you have chosen reflects your values and beliefs. You need to be willing and able to engage in conversations with your students about the piece, its composer, and any other contextual information that is of significance to the piece. We need to avoid cultural appropriation. This may further isolate minority groups and encourage further ethnic misunderstanding.
  • Listen to your students and encourage them to engage in the development – always be willing to learn from them too! Create an approachable, inclusive environment where students can come to you.
  • Lastly, always be reflective. What is happening in current society/ climate, and how can that also be culturally relevant? What are you doing and why? Is what you’re doing putting up a potential/ unintentional barrier for anyone? How can you change this?

Remember though this can be done little by little and isn’t something that should be overwhelming. Every small modification you can make will help support a positive outcome for your students and community.

Going beyond music

By providing diverse music education experiences and by improving representation in arts education, we start to help frame how students see the world and positively shift how they themselves are represented in it. We can help to affirm students’ identities through music, providing opportunities for them to be seen, heard and understood by connecting their own personal, cultural and educational worlds.

Representation refers to the act of providing students with opportunities to be exposed to and to engage with images and individuals who bear some sort of resemblance to the students themselves. By providing students with opportunities to engage with like-models (e.g., gender, ethnicity), we set the stage for them to emulate and aspire to be something even greater than they may have ever envisioned for themselves.

Music and religion

Music can be a sensitive issue when it comes from religion. It’s imperative that we strive to understand more and connect with our wider communities if in a multicultural school. Bringing in the voices of those communities to help shape an inclusive music education experience for all.

Article compiled by Emma Hughes and Julia Falaki