Music education, growing but very challenging sector

Tuesday December 29 2020

Learners of Esom School of Music Rubaga have resumed lessons. But face-to-face instruction has been met with increased operation costs due to social distancing guidelines. PHOTO/GEORGE KATONGOLE.

By George Katongole

If you can speak, you can sing, is the catchphrase you read when you enter Esom School of Music along Rubaga Road in Kampala. It sums up the role of music as the heart and soul of human life. “There is evidence that studying music builds cultural knowledge, creative skills and improves health, wellbeing and wider educational attainment,” Daniel Innocent Kiyega, the director of Esom Music School, says.

But there is cause for alarm on the provision of music education partly due to the impact of the Coronavirus.
With the closure of institutions of higher learning especially Kyambogo and Makerere universities, which offer music education, independent music schools have been unable to stand the test.

Since vocal and instrumental lessons are delivered practically, schools reported a reduction in music provision as a direct result of the pandemic.

As all learning institutions were closed during the lockdown and social distancing, schools chose the virtual lessons. But the technology and internet network challenges made delivery of lessons difficult.

“We have basically been operating in survival mode. The online lessons were difficult to offer leave alone monitor,” Kiyega says.

Kampala Music School fundraised up to $17,203 (about Shs62m) through a global crowdfunding platform partly to keep running during the pandemic.


The impact of lockdown and social distancing on music schools after schools were closed and the uptake of online lessons was small with reportedly 10 per cent of students participating.
The wider impact has been the suspension of festive concerts especially towards the end of the year which limits revenue streams.

Kiggundu Frederick Musoke, the Executive Director of Kampala Music |School says: “We cannot sing, and the learners are hugely disappointed. The industry feeds on music events.”
Paul Ssaka, a music composer and teacher at Buddo SS added: “It is impossible to state how devastating this will be in the long run for music as a subject. Instrumental lessons, ensemble projects and inclusive performances are badly hit. This will, of course, harm students emotionally and academically.”

Living Music Foundation, a charitable community school that offers music training in Mbarara stopped classes.

“The opportunity to make music has been severely limited by the pandemic. Since group face-to-face lessons could not be conducted, there was no way we could get feedback and guidance to the learners,” Disan Kato, the director of Living Music Foundation, said.

With classes returning, it is important to ensure safe music teaching. At Esom, all staff, learners and visitors must observe the set Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) from time to time, which has increased operational costs.

Another pandemic
Despite Uganda having a rich culture in music with skills traditionally passed down orally from one generation to the next, there are more challenges than the Coronavirus pandemic. The primary form of making music remains singing. The earliest music education curriculum was introduced by the missionaries in schools primarily consisting of English hymns. Music lessons focussed on singing and the tonic sol-fa notation system.

The political upheavals of the 1970s and 1980s caused by the tyranny of Idi Amin and Milton Obote, musicians were forced into exile, resulting in much of the country’s music gaining foreign influence.
Currently, popular music is widely listened to and appreciated in Uganda. The music industry is increasingly becoming vibrant in the social, political and economic lives of the people. 

Musicians are enlivening political campaigns some of whom are using music to attack the regime while others use their voices to get connected to President Yoweri Museveni. 


Before the Coronavirus-induced lockdown, music schools thrived on face-to-face interaction. PHOTOS/ GEORGE KATONGOLE.

Music has also been used as a vehicle to spread information on HIV and Aids prevention.
The industry faces a big challenge of piracy and copyright infringement while the absence of industry specialists and musicians also hinders the development of the industry to its full potential.

“Popular music is appealing to the general public especially the youth due to its simplicity,” Kiyega says.
Enrolment numbers are not growing as expected,  Kiyega explains that many people don’t put emphasis on music professional ethics and discipline.

Despite efforts to include music in formal training at universities and teachers’ colleges, this is not fully realised. Currently, the government is committed to providing ‘quality basic education and training’, with the majority of the educational activities aiming to facilitate science education, technology and skills training for employment. 

Despite the revised primary school curriculum that has been implemented in schools since 2010 and states that performing arts (including music) should be taught in school, the teaching of music is still sporadic and varies widely from school to school. But music is classed under physical education.

This is the reason for the increasing number of music schools around the capital, Kampala, that offer classical music training.  Some of the top schools include; Kampala Music School established primarily for music instruments lessons, Esom, Sounds International, Brass for Africa, The Triangle, Seal Talent Development Centre, Uganda Music School and Nagenda International Academy of Art and Design, among others.
However, music education is still viewed as a luxury and it is mainly the wealthier locals who are able to pay for such lessons privately.

“This perception is affecting music education so much. Music is not only for the rich. Even under stressing moments, properly thought out music must be fed to the people,” Kiyega says.
Most of the schools that offer music education also face a challenge with certification. 

For Esom, they started graduating their learners in 2018 despite existing for 15 years. They have been conducting internal exams and in 2017 they affiliated to the Directorate of Industrial Training (DIT) to undertake Business Technical Vocational Education and Training (BTVET) examinations.
“The place of music is still placed wrongly,” he argues.


Daniel Innocent Kiyega, the director of Esom Music School.

Where are the teachers?
The content of the music curriculum varies widely from school to school, depending on the school’s resources and whether they have capable teachers.  A number of schools do not offer any music due to the fact that they lack the expertise and resources to do so. 

Kiyega says that hiring tutors from Makerere and Kyambogo proved to be very expensive. The solution? Train his own tutors. 
Until 2019, Kiyega was a fulltime tutor until he reached a point of raising enough tutors from among former students. Daniel Mbabazi, a guitarist, vocalist, drummer and producer at Esom progressed through the ranks before being appointed as of head of the guitar class so is pianist Robert Ndugga and vocal specialist Able Buyinza.

“We lack tutors in the country and to keep music education going, we have a duty to teach our own,” he notes.

Solome Katasi, the head of department of Music and Performing Arts at Kyambogo University music is the “lifeblood” of society and producing the best teachers, lecturers, and tutors of music for secondary schools and tertiary institutions is key in promoting Uganda’s rich music and cultural heritage.
Because very few secondary schools offer music education, there are a number of students that join the university but have never had the opportunity to study music academically.

“I am optimistic that as the music industry keeps growing, our work will become noticed with the training of music teachers,” Katasi added.

Music study areas 

  • Singing and rhythm
  • Singing and pitch
  • Traditional folk singing
  • Drama
  • Song study (Sheet music)
  • Traditional folk dance
  • African traditional music Instruments
  • Singing and composing 
  • Singing and accent 
  • Performing the arts