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DP music 2020: Can you hear the excitement?

Anticipation of the new DP music course is undoubtedly building amongst IB educators and students. With the launch of the new guide and the subject specific seminars in February, Acting Curriculum Manager Justine Swainson tells us why teachers and students should be excited about the forthcoming course.


By Justine Swainson

In an international organisation like IB, our aim is always that our courses be accessible to students around the globe. The current DP music course has drawn criticism for being too firmly rooted in Western Art Music (WAM) and for favouring classically trained musicians. Research during the early stages of the curriculum review highlighted several areas where the current course is a mismatch with both recent educational developments in music and the way in which the music industry itself is moving. So, we wanted to address all those things and to be bold in setting out a new, globally accessible framework for DP music.

Renowned creativity educator, Mitchel Resnick, captured the essence of what we wanted to achieve in his blog Designing for Wide Walls:

“It’s not enough to provide a single path from low floor to high ceiling; we need to provide wide walls so that kids can explore multiple pathways from floor to ceiling.”

Our overarching aim has been to allow DP music students multiple ways to navigate through the course. We wanted to provide a framework where students can play to their strengths whilst also investigating their own interests and encountering unfamiliar and diverse music as they do so. The ‘low floors’ mean that we want the course to be accessible to all learners, regardless of prior experience, cultural background or prior musical interests. The ‘wide walls’ are characterised in the new course by exploring diverse musical material and by expanding musical horizons through both academic research and practical experimentation. And the ‘high ceilings’ will of course always be there to give our students opportunities for growth, development and high achievement as musicians.

DP music students in the new course will find that they are no longer expected to study set works selected by IB, nor the huge range of Western Art Music necessary to prepare them for the listening paper. Yes, they will still need to explore WAM … but if their main interest is in K-pop or traditional Mexican mariachi bands, they can use this as a springboard for their musical journey. In the curriculum, we’ve called this the student’s ‘personal context’—the music they are most familiar with. In following this course, we invite students to look outside their immediate experience and to investigate what else is going on musically in their local, regional or cultural communities (their ‘local context’) as well as in the wider world (‘global context’).

“but if their main interest is in K-pop, or traditional Mexican mariachi bands, they can use this as a springboard for their musical journey”

Another new addition is that if students come to the course as already accomplished performers or prolific creators, this will not be enough to carry them through the course to a grade 7! The new course really focuses on the holistic development of our young musicians and places equal value on the roles of researcher, creator and performer, with all of the assessment components requiring candidates to show engagement in all three roles. There is also as much of a focus on the processes of music-making as there is on polished final performances. Whilst we have kept one of the components as a similar musical ‘showcase’ as existed in the old course in the solo / group performing and creating options, the remaining SL components are more about the student showing they have understood musical concepts and can work with them.

The final major change is that for HL, there is now a distinct extension component, in the form of a project rooted in real-life music making practices. This was developed in response to feedback from schools and educators who wanted us to ensure that the course was relevant to the music industry of today and allowed students to show achievement and engagement in music-making practices that would stand them in good stead for a career in a broad range of musical roles.

We’re so excited about this innovative course, and are really looking forward to supporting the IB DP music community through upskilling and transition to the new course.

If you’re an IB music teacher, register now for the 2020 subject specific seminars here.

Read more about curriculum updates here: