What School Music Programs Should Look Like

In the last post, I suggested a new paradigm for music education in schools. This paradigm would become less-band/orchestra centric and would have as its base teaching non-band/orchestra/chorus students the tools for music creation, mixing and distribution. Traditional performing ensembles should always have a place in school music programs. Instrumental and Choral Programs are often the public face of music programs. They provide good PR but I think it's also time to embrace a much wider conception of what performing ensembles could be in addition to changing the nature and focus of the "General" Music Program.

Increasingly, students are coming to us with skills on (electric) guitar, keyboards and other instruments (mandolin has become popular recently because of it's use by some mainstream pop artists). Students who don't play instruments are coming to us with much greater exposure to music specifically because of pop culture influences (Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Glee, video games, etc..). A 6th Grade student recently asked if we could play the theme to Halo, a science-fiction video game. Why not? If we don't do it at school, students are busy learning it anyway , despite the school music program! This is NOT a position we in Music Education want to be in. Imagine students dropping music classes because they don't do music there (or at least music they know). Unfortunately this happens every day in music programs everywhere. I know a student who won the local 'American Idol' contest but dropped Chorus at school. She didn't see the relevance. There are, of course Music Directors who get it, the one's who understand that connection is more important than coverage. So, to further expand the paradigm shift I am suggesting, here's what I think *secondary music programs should include now:
  • A Music technology Classes (formerly called General Music) where students create, remix and share music (and, yeah, learn the basics, too)<---largest population of students. I suggest this for 100% of the school population if possible.
  • Guitar "Clubs"<---if don't play guitar, have your students teach you. They would love to teach you how to shred a solo.
  • Jazz/Rock-Pop Ensembles (any combination of instruments/voices)
  • (World) Percussion Ensembles (mallet instruments as well as djembes, bongos, congas)
  • Traditional Music Ensembles (Band/Chorus/Orchestras)
*Note that I am addressing secondary music programs, specifically. Elementary programs should, as most do, continue to incorporate movement, singing, Orff instrument playing, rhythm games and general "experimentation" with music.
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Michelle said...

All your suggestions are exactly what we're looking to implement in our district. We are currently in a curriculum cycle where we revise our framework and curriculum guides. Due to budgetary constrictions, though, we're not allowed to add any NEW classes. We can, however, rename and restructure current classes. Hopefully, we'll be able to get these changes approved!

Unknown said...

We agree wholeheartedly. In fact, we have developed an online curriculum that addresses many of the issues you mention. Interestingly enough, not all music educators or arts admins are quite the future thinkers that you seem to be and to probably no one's surprise, academia will be the last group to the 'other 80%' party. Since beginning our initiative, we have had many home-school groups, private schools and organizations contact us about making Discover, Learn and Play part of their music program. Meanwhile, we could not get a single band, orchestra or choir teacher to return a call or email.

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