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How ‘A Common Approach’ shapes instrumental teaching

1st May 2024

A Common Approach is a free online resource to support music educators in their teaching practice and help develop a holistic approach to music education. Sonia Kenny, brass tutor and area manager for Northern Ireland’s Education Authority Music Service, shares how A Common Approach has shaped her work as an instrumental tutor and how it can help others.


Where do you work and what is your role?

I work for the Education Authority Music Service in Northern Ireland as a brass tutor (French Horn specialist) and area manager. My instrumental teaching involves working with young people in both Primary, Post-Primary and Special Educational Needs schools and in the many different activities and ensembles that our EA Music Service offer. My management role involves working alongside a dedicated team of experienced and creative managers, providing all aspects of music service provision across Northern Ireland. Through my role in EA Music I contributed to the 2022 refresh of ‘A Common Approach’ led by Catherine Brentnall, by working as one of the brass review specialists.  This was extremely rewarding, working with other like-minded specialists from across the UK.


How have you used A Common Approach in your work?

I have been an instrumental tutor for over 25 years. I was a relatively new teacher when ‘A Common Approach’ was first unveiled. Thankfully, I had a head of service who immediately saw the need and benefit of using such a curriculum and it was integrated into our planning and professional development straight away.

As a young teacher it substantially shaped my approach to lesson planning; helping stress the importance of a structured holistic approach to enable my students to progress by offering them a high-quality, enjoyable, musical experience.

I have used the resource throughout my teaching since then. Music education has changed substantially since I started teaching. The move to more accessible music-making opportunities, such as in large groups and whole class programmes, has challenged how we all teach so that the differentiated needs of our children and young people are met. A Common Approach meets the need for flexible teaching whilst challenging all learners and all abilities, which is essential for meaningful music education.

As a management team, we have encouraged our staff to delve into A Common Approach by using it as a foundation and point of reference in their teaching. Through using A Common Approach we stress the need for continual reflection and re-evaluation which ensures a high-quality music provision. It has been extremely beneficial, particularly to our new staff. It enables these teachers to feel assured and confident as they begin their journey in music education.


What impact has A Common Approach had on your music lessons?

A Common Approach has had a significant impact on all areas of my teaching and the different music-making opportunities that I’m involved with; from the young beginner to advanced students preparing for third-level music studies, from individual students to large whole class groups and large ensembles. As a new teacher, A Common Approach gave me a strong pedagogical foundation on which to grow and develop as a music educator; knowing I had such a resource for reference and guidance was such a reassurance.

As the years have gone on it has given me the flexibility to create lesson plans that allow for simultaneous learning whilst meeting the diverse range of young people’s individual needs and abilities. Having the resource as a backbone to my teaching has ensured that I continually reflect and evaluate my teaching practice. We know this is important for new teachers but, if anything, I think it has greater importance for teachers like me, who have been teaching for many years!


What has been the most helpful aspect of using A Common Approach?

Music education and the educational landscape is constantly evolving. A Common Approach gives reassurance to meet these changes and demands (no matter how long one has been teaching). It enables holistic, musical experiences to be created and confidently delivered, empowering music educators to ‘teach music musically!’


If you’re interested in incorporating A Common Approach into your teaching, head to the A Common Approach website. Here, you’ll find teaching curriculums for strings, brass, percussion, piano, keyboard, voice, harp, classical guitar, contemporary guitar, bass guitar, ukulele, iPad, Digital Audio Workstations, tabla, and woodwind. Each curriculum explores the progression of musical skills in six interrelated areas of musical experience through five Programmes of Study, providing learning objectives and related teaching activities. Start using A Common Approach now!