What is IB PYP Music?

I’m going to paraphrase page 3 of “Making the PYP Happen.” 

“What, then is a PYP music classroom? It is a classroom that strives towards developing an internationally minded musician. What is an internationally minded musician? It is a person who demonstrates the attributes of the IB Learner Profile.” (IB, 2009, p.3… except I added the words music and musician instead.)

A PYP Musician Demonstrates the Learner Profile

This is a musician who is a reflective, knowledgeable inquirer who thinks deeply and communicates well while being principled, open-minded, and caring as they take risks and maintain a balanced life style.

Notice — it’s not someone who only plays their instrument really well.  We aren’t talking about an instrumentalist who scores perfectly on playing exams and nothing else. We are talking a musician who thinks and reflects deeply and critically on their processes as they create and perform music. 

Learner Profile - Inquirers Definition
Learner Profile - Open-Minded Definition
Learner Profile - Knowledgable Definition
Learner Profile - Caring Definition
Learner Profile - Inquirers Definition
Learner Profile - Courageous Definition
Learner Profile - Communicator Definition
Learner Profile - Balanced Definition
Learner Profile - Principled Definition
Learner Profile - Reflective Definition

What are the 5 Elements of a PYP Music Curriculum?

Colourful 3D shaped number 1 used for a numbered list
Orange title that says Knowledge

The Music Scope & Sequence Document

There is a defined body of knowledge that PYP Music students must acquire in order to fully understand their music studies. However, it’s difficult (impossible) to articulate specifics in a system wherein students are supposed to construct their own knowledge based on prior experiences. We want students connecting their personal contexts with their local, and then global contexts (I’m using DP Music terms, here.)  Essentially, an expat student studying in China should be learning about Chinese music as a local context. Since the IB is an international organisation, it cannot realistically mandate curricula for every single student. 

To answer this problem, PYP Music has a Scope & Sequence document that defines the body of knowledge music students need. It is differentiated based on the students’ abilities and situations. 

In Phase 1, students need to “…explore sound as a means of expressing imaginative ideas.”  By the time they get to Phase 4, they need to “…write music in traditional notation…create music that will be refined after sharing with others.”  (IBO, 2018, p.22)

Schools can develop their own Music Scope & Sequence documents but they have to meet and/or exceed the expectation set out in the IB’s official S&S document. 

Learning Grouped into 6 Categories, called Transdisciplinary Themes

PYP transdisciplinary themes posters showing the 6 themes (or global contexts)

Each of the themes takes your topic into a new direction. You can actually look at each topic from a different lens, but this would be too vague and would take too long. For a really good, depth of understanding, you must choose only one. 

Let’s take the example of a grade 4 music unit studying recorders.

Who We Are: What are the relationships between recorder players in an ensemble? What is your role as the bass recorder player? How can each player in an ensemble listen intently and following the breath of the group?

Where We are in Place and Time: What is the history of the recorder? When did it evolve? What other cultures share recorders? What music can we play that demonstrates how recorder music has changed over time? 

How We Express Ourselves: How can we perform recorder music that expresses our cultural beliefs? How can we create recorder music that expresses ourselves? 

How the World Works: How do recorders work? Why do we cover the tone holes correctly? What breathing techniques stop us from squealing? Why are bigger recorders sounding lower tones? 

How We Organise Ourselves: Can we build sustainable recorders? Can we find recorders using recycled plastics? Can we use wooden recorders? How can we reuse recorders? How do we take good care of our recorders so that they can be used for many years? 

Sharing the Planet: How can we share our knowledge of recorders with others? How can we help children who lack access to music education to play the recorder? How can we make recorder playing more fair for others? 


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Concepts - one of the 5 essential elements of the PYP - title

Once we know in which direction we want our unit to go in (the transdisciplinary themes), we need to find several tools for drilling down into the topic. These are called the key and related concepts.

PYP Concepts poster including icons and definitions for form, function, causation, change, connection, perspective, responsibility and reflection

The concepts are how you give weight to your big ideas (your transdisciplinary themes). They guide your inquiries so that your students can go deep into topics (beyond sheer memorisation).

From our example above, let’s say I’m going to look at a recorder unit through the Transdisciplinary theme of, “Who We Are.”  I’m going to be looking at who is in a recorder ensemble and what roles everyone needs to play.  Which of the concepts would link best with this idea?

Form: Who are in recorder ensembles?

Function: Who does each member of the ensemble fit into the team?

Causation: If the group is not working well together, what will that cause to happen?

Change: How can we improve our relationships through rehearsing well together?

Connection: How are we a team? How does our sheet music fit into the music as a whole?

Perspective: How does the conductor or concert master have a different perspective of the ensemble than individual members? What do the team members perceive to be their roles in the ensemble?

Responsibility: What are your responsibilities towards the group as one of the team members? 

Reflection: How have we contributed positively to the group’s dynamics and final performance? 

FULL DISCLOSURE: In MYP Music, you are supposed to pick one key concept and 2-3 related concepts – the idea being that if you choose too few concepts, the unit will be over too fast, and if you pick too many concepts, the unit will go on forever. I have scoured “Making the PYP Happen” and I can’t see any place where they tell us how many concepts we are supposed to use at one time!

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Transdisciplinary Skills - one of the 5 essential elements of the PYP - title

When you read “Making the PYP Happen,” you might see the skills section and think, “YES! This is the section where we talk about music skills!  Reading notation! Aural skills! Playing natural, melodic, and harmonic minor scales!”

Ummmm. No.

These are the overarching skills that will guide students through the rest of their lives. These skills – Thinking, Research, Social, Communication and Self-Management – setup student’s abilities to learn throughout the different disciplines. If a student has great self-management skills in Music, they can transfer those abilities to a long project like the grade 5 exhibition. If a student can work collaboratively in a group (social skill) in Humanities, they’ll have the skill ready for Physical Education class. 

(Click here for a comparison of Transdisciplinary and Approaches to Learning skills in the lens of PYP, MYP and DP.)

Transdisciplinary Skills - Social skills with six definitions containing icons

This graphic above comes from a PDF that has been floating around international schools for years, and I absolutely love it.  (Note: I have no idea who made it. If the author contacts me, I will give a massive shout-out, because this PDF file is amazing.) Why is this graphic so great? Because international schools typically have second-language learners who need information boiled down to an easy sound bite.  

It’s the same with primary students. Making the PYP Happen states, “Taking on and completing tasks in an appropriate manner; being willing to assume a share of the responsibility” (IBO, 2009, p.22).

Wow. Um, wouldn’t it just be easier to show your student an icon of two people stacking blocks with the words, “Share Responsibility” above it? 

That’s why I love this document. 

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Attitudes - one of the 5 essential elements of the PYP - title

“The PYP is making a commitment to a values-laden curriculum” (IBO, 2009, p.24)

Making the PYP Happen states that these attitudes must be modeled by the teacher, explicitly taught during classes, and assessed as part of the curriculum. 

Orange and blue word cloud containing the names of all the PYP learner attributes

A side note – The IB is very clear that the attributes are close to the Learner Profile, but they don’t match one-to-one with it.  So we know that building integrity is going to strengthen the Learner Profile trait of being principled. Empathy matches with caring. Some of them don’t quite fit a perfect match… maybe independence goes with being an inquirer? If you are an independent inquirer? 

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Action - one of the 5 essential elements of the PYP - title

When students are exposed to really deep, authentic, big ideas, they construct meaning that can be very personal to them. The next step should then be authentic action – steps taken based on what they have learned. Students should feel so compelled and convicted by what they’ve learned that they spontaneously need to take action.

Maybe they’ve just completed a water unit and they stop running the tap when they brush their teeth. Maybe they’ve just finished a UOI on healthy eating, and on a whim they choose the apple over the chocolate cookie. The key is that whatever they do should be an outpouring of generosity / action on their part.

If we, the teachers, tell the students what actions they need to take, then it’s not authentic student action — it’s just teacher’s being bossy. 

When you are completing your planners, and you need to list possible actions, remember that they are only possible actions. If a student approaches you and says, “Wow. Our UOI on immigration was so interesting to me because my family were immigrants. Do you know how I could help other immigrants?”  then you’ll have some possibilities ideas already laid out in your planner. 

Side Note: The IB isn’t a fan of bake sales, simply because the giving of money isn’t necessarily meaningful enough to be a big, personal commitment.