OPINION: Should we be teaching music students The Beatles every year?


I love the Fab Four as much as anyone, but surely shaking up the artists in school syllabuses will create musical diversity and better study?

It has been two years since the biggest syllabus for GCSE Music has radically changed. Now music is viewed in two distinct eras. Western Classical Tradition 1650-1910, and then one that isn’t.

These government recommended Areas of Study are free to be decided by academies for example that can set their own curriculum, but for comprehensives most tend to cover the same artist for each year on year with the most popular exam board – AQA. For example, my local comprehensive covers Mozart and The Beatles.

This sadly completely disregards popular music of the last 50 years. Yes, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is undoubtedly the most influential album of all-time – and is indeed my favourite ever album.

The Beatles were arguably the modern day Mozart(s) if not more impactful. But in our current age of scientific proof of music getting more similarand debatedly worse – should we modernise or change the syllabus to be less “concrete” and more about chronicling the ever-evolving sound of music.

I love the Fab Four as much as anyone, but surely shaking up the artists in school syllabuses will create musical diversity and better study?
As Sgt. Pepper celebrates its 50th year, has everyone and their grandma literally learned all there is to know about Sgt. Pepper?
Motivation

Yes, there will always have to be case studies, but there are plenty of examples of the late 60s that employ the harmonies or multi-instrumental appendixes of “With a Little Help From My Friends”, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Within Without You”.

Maybe give one academic year Pet Sounds, or the similarly prevalent culture spearheading Stones or Kinks. I have heard of one instance where someone was put off taking GCSE Music because they studied The Beatles – whether they appreciated their music or not – a rotating circus of influential psychedelic pop albums could solve this.

While these acts are rarely pedestaled as being influential as Pepper’s, a change of classical composer or even merely which symphony would prevent students from sharing hand-me-downs of notes for tired markers to begrudgingly award year after year.

Music has an impact

Inspired by a recent discussion on a train, a Year 11 estimated that a quarter of her music class actually want to be musicians, are motivated and on their way.

Thus, in their formative years where music is often at its most impactful, surely influencing every musician on The Beatles every year will lead to a continued stale sound for years to come?

Weezer's Rivers Cuomo believes there is a method to writing great music, by studying many other great songs... not a select few the same year after year. (Picture: Weezer - Dope Nose with Kermit - right)
Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo believes there is a method to writing great music, by studying many other great songs… not a select few the same year after year. (Picture: Weezer – Dope Nose with Kermit – right)

Yes, teenagers listen to music outside The Beatles of course, but music students are not likely to analyse songs as deeply as they would in lessons. It is a draining process that only few musicians even admit to doing.

Take Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, who believes there is a method to writing a hit song, studying Good Vibrations to Smells Like Teen Spirit. A wide array of influences; compare this to music students with only 9 influential tracks to analyse before they are qualified in GCSE Music and on their way to potential studio recording careers – especially given the belief that bands are becoming younger and younger.

A modern influence

While GCSE Music is not the only chance for influence, or even nor do all musicians take it (as a rather unpopular GCSE), its potential for having an impact cannot be underestimated.

Sgt. Pepper’s artistic influences from its collaborative celebrity cover, fictional personas or to the debut of lyrics on sleeves are not to be ignored either, but these could be so-to-speak peppered into the syllabus along with the rest of the albums influences such as the cross-continental instrumentation of “Within Without You”.

However, the student must then apply these to the select album of the year – imagine a question comparing Mozart to the ultimate blending of classical, disco pop of the Electric Light Orchestra.

Look Again: There's more to British musical complexity than Merseybeat.
Look Again: There’s more to British musical complexity than Merseybeat.

Similar how to GCSE English always reuses Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy or Vernon Scannell’s “Nettles” in its poetry syllabus, Sgt. Pepper can still be and should still be mentioned as being a key player in the formation of modern day pop.

But teaching the same old story again and again could lead to a worn-out sound of samey artists of the future.

GCSEs marks are changing, its time for the sonic syllabus to catch up. AQA, or even the government should shake up the specifics – let’s get music more diverse again.

Do you think we should teach Sgt. Pepper to GCSE students every year? I’m just a 19 year old student journalist! Join in the discussion below, alternatively send me a postcard or drop me a line @GreensmithAlex on Twitter

Alex Greensmith

Derbyshire-born, 18, join me on Friday Mornings 10-12 on Fly FM for a blend of New Music Friday and play-at-home fun and games. Including the elusive Footballer Or Pokemon. Tweet in @GreensmithAlex Past shows can be found here: https://www.mixcloud.com/GreensmithAlex/

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