Swanwick, Keith. (2008). The ‘good-enough’ music teacher. British Journal of Music Education. 25:1, 9-22.

In this paper, Swanwick analyses and evaluates the effectiveness of a support service known as MusicLeader, which provides assistance to the professional development of music leaders in Britain. MusicLeader’s main purpose is to help those who are actively engaged in music leadership “from experienced professionals to complete beginners,” by providing “information, advice and guidance on training and professional development,” via its seven regional network areas around the country.[1] Youth Music, an organization that promotes and supports musical projects involving music leaders and young people in the community, provides this service through federal funding. Moreover, according to the article, a music leader can be understood as anyone that has musical skills and can inspire others, sharing this knowledge with them.

The evaluation process was commissioned by Youth Music and involved ten individual cases, two music leaders from five different regional network areas. Among them, people that came from diverse social and ethnical backgrounds, with different musical experiences and skills. Furthermore, these multiple case studies were designed to evaluate those music leaders according to the concept of “good-enough” music teacher. This concept says a “good-enough” music teacher has abilities to encourage student’s immersion in the promising space of music activity, promoting their musical autonomy.

According to Swanwick, “teaching only occurs if, as consequence, there is some change in a learner” (10). Therefore, he points out three musical principles and one non-musical element that should be observed in order to define a ‘good-enough’ teacher.

The first musical principle talks about “care for music as human discourse” (12) and believes that students should find in music an important way to express themselves. The study showed that those music leaders, who were evaluated according to this principle, were generally able to improve their student’s musical environment. As a result, they obtained positive musical responses from them, sometimes by unexpected ways.

The second one focuses on “care for the musical contribution of students and their musical autonomy” (12). It states that during a creative activity, no matter what kind of material a student may bring, that contribution should be considered important for the music making.

The third one considers “the promotion of musical fluency” (12). It says music leaders should provide musical tools for students by giving them musicianship skills, which would promote their conditions in the music making.

For the purpose of analysis, second and third principles were pooled together, and interpretation of data showed that not all the results were “good-enough.” Musical fluency was practically always noticeable and some students claimed they had improved skills and self-esteem. As a result, they were considering becoming future music leaders themselves. However, as their music leaders were not able to advise them about what to do next in the right direction towards further improvement, the care of musical autonomy factor, part of the second principle, was considered poorly evident.

Finally, the non-musical element states that music leaders should give consideration to the students, by having some understanding about their lives. It implies that the teaching context as well as the impact of political, social, and economic environment on student’s education should be taken into consideration. The results showed “ this is the area where music leaders tend to be least secure” (19).

As final conclusion, this study indicated that music leaders participating in this study, even those who didn’t see themselves as music teachers succeed in improving their work. The main factor that contributed for this improvement was the first principle, “care for quality of music”, closely followed by the third one, “the promotion of musical fluency.” Based on these data, they were considered ‘good-enough’. Nevertheless, the second principle, “care for the musical autonomy,” was not completely satisfied.

Swanwick ends this article by saying that the main intent of music education is to further improve the musical context. Moreover, this enhancement can only be accomplished with the aid of the ‘good-enough’ teacher of music observing those important fundamentals covered in this paper. Furthermore, ‘good-enough’ doesn’t mean inferior, but someone that has interests for excellence in music making, and productive musical experiences.

Overall, this is a very interesting article. However, the title is quite ambiguous and may mislead the reader. Nevertheless, one may say it entices curiosity. Its thesis statement, even though being clearly stated on page seven, it is not easy to be found. Swanwick gives plenty of details about how the study was conducted and presents logical and consistent results, but additional reading was necessary for better understanding of this article.


[1] Youth Music. MusicLeader.net. Entry posted in 2007. 10.11.2009

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