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Music Mark launches new Tabla section in A Common Approach

1st September 2023

Catherine Brentnall and Harjit Singh highlight the importance of expanding the resource with more culturally diverse instruments. 

A Common Approach is one of our most adaptable resources here at Music Mark, and we are proud to continue expanding its content. Shaped by Music Mark values and the voices of practitioners across the UK, A Common Approach has grown and evolved over the past twenty years since its first publication in 2002. Having added sections for djembe, bass guitar, and Latin American percussion in Spring this year, we are now thrilled to share a new instrumental addition – the Tabla!  

We caught up with Catherine Brentnall, coordinator and editor of A Common Approach, and Harjit Singh, A Common Approach contributor, to find out more about what this development means for music education.  

Catherine told us: 

“The launch of the Tabla curriculum in A Common Approach is a significant moment. The Tabla does not have such an extensive history of being taught within the UK education system as other instruments represented in A Common Approach; as a result, Tabla teachers do not enjoy the same range of resources or established frameworks for progression that teachers of other instruments do.  

Excellent practice exists in many schools and music services, but never before have Tabla practitioners been brought together at a national level to share their knowledge and expertise in this way. Working with the team of specialists has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life, due to the immense passion and dedication they have shown in developing a common language for Tabla teaching. The result is a resource that will not only support Tabla teachers but also make the learning of this instrument more inclusive and accessible for everyone.” 

Harjit Singh is Head of World Music & Percussion at Services for Education and worked alongside Catherine and others to create the Tabla section for A Common Approach. He told us more about the history and context of the teaching of Indian Classical Music in the UK: 

“Indian classical music for me started back in the late 60’s, here in the UK, as Ravi Shankar bought a new sound to the Beatles and the UK, who embraced this tradition and artform. Gradually the communities here in the UK from India and Pakistan developed this type of music and Folk music as a form of keeping the heritage and culture alive in the UK. It was not an easy journey but, with time and engagement, the traditional and modern version of Indian Music was gradually accepted as an artform within a school setting.  

I first started teaching Tabla and Harmonium at Wolverhampton Music Service in 1993 and this was my first teaching role. The generation then I was teaching were around 11 years old, and we had an ensemble which was the first Indian Classical Music ensemble at the service. The material used was classically based on Raags and Taals with classical music, and the music from my culture was very new to the ear of western culture, especially in schools. 

My experience in some schools were “we will have some Indian music because it’s Diwali or Vaisakhi”, or a workshop to say ‘we have some multicultural music at our school’. Over those years the culture started to change as education embraced diversity and inclusion, which has helped better understanding. 30 years in teaching music in mainstream music education and the community has changed for the better, but there are still challenges. Where we are now in 2023, it is a dream come true for the journey of music from my culture, which is now on the same stage as all instruments. I am proud that the work that has happened over many years has given a platform for Indian classical and Folk music to become established within the UK.”

Earlier this year, A Common Approach was developed to include several new instrumental sections and will be continually updated to ensure its relevance to music educators today. Harjit told us why including Tabla in A Common Approach is significant:

“It is important to broaden the knowledge and experience of Tabla to all involved in music education, to make Tabla more accessible and learning more inclusive. We need different musical cultures and traditions which also reflect the changing nature of our society. A Common Approach brings authenticity to teaching and playing the Tabla within the music education system, keeping the rich language of the Tabla Bol/nation, whilst providing a hybrid way of learning via the traditional notation and the modern Western version alongside each other.” 

The Tabla curriculum is a new addition for A Common Approach in 2023, providing objectives and activities across five programmes of study, to support the teaching of this traditional North Indian classical instrument in a progressive, inclusive manner.

Find out more and visit A Common Approach.