Music Curriculum Design


Dr Anthony Anderson


This doctoral research project explored how music teachers think about and approach designing the music curriculum for Key Stage 3 pupils (11-14 year olds). The research in this area is still developing and the thesis sought to uncover hidden processes of music curriculum design and how teachers approach developing musicality and musical understanding in the classroom. The research also looked at how teachers sequence the music curricula they design and explored how they think about musical learning and knowledge as they do this.

Research Aims

The research sought to help develop understanding of how music teachers approach music curriculum design and what this means for the musical experiences of young people. It looked at existing gaps in understanding, including the manner in which music teachers present their Key Stage 3 curricula as programmes of study. It sought to uncover topics that are taught in the Key Stage 3 classroom and why these are included. It considered the agency of music teachers for the music curriculum that they design and which young people experience in the classroom.


The study drew on case study research in two pilot and seven main study schools in the East and West Midlands, using semi-structured interviews, think-aloud protocols and documentary analysis. Additional research strands included a national survey with 64 respondents and two elite interviews with significant stakeholders in music education. Analyses of results were facilitated through methodologies of epistemic ascent, radically modified grounded theory and activity theory.


Music teacher perceptions of curriculum design as revealed through the research project were developed into models of curriculum progression, curriculum activity, curriculum processing and curriculum dynamics. These models illuminate music teachers’ curriculum design practices, substantiating observations that these enactments represent more significant processes than ‘happy accidents’.

Articles published from this doctoral research:

Understanding curriculum design in the perceptions and practices of classroom music teachers in the lower secondary school in England

Topic choices: Revealing concealed processes of curriculum sequencing in English secondary school Music classrooms

Curriculum power positioning in classroom music education: music curriculum design in the secondary music classroom in England

The Swanwick/Tillman Spiral of Musical Development: impacts and influences – Guest Editorial

Musical development then and now: in conversation with June Boyce-Tillman

Blogs published from this doctoral research:

Music teachers are curriculum designers

Spirals and all that

The research garden: finding your way through the undergrowth and having the courage to try

PhD Thesis

Happy accidents? Music teacher perceptions of curriculum design at Key Stage 3 in the English secondary school.