Music education: Then and now

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As music continuously evolves, educators often wonder how to update their teaching methods for the modern world. Kent State University’s online Master of Music in music education aims to do that by recognizing the history of music education and exploring how it can be improved upon.

A female music teacher teaching children to play tambourines.

The history of music education

Until the invention of the phonograph in 1877, people who wanted to listen to music either had to play it themselves or find a friend who could do so, explained The Conversation.

Upper class individuals were regularly given music training in piano and singing by their parents or tutors so they could participate in social gatherings. The training focused on what we now consider classical music and popular dance tunes of the time. Because it was not convenient to play with other musicians for practice, students were required to learn how to read music so they could study written compositions.

After recorded music became available, everything changed. People could access and practice all types of songs regardless of their personal ability. Musicians could now learn new tunes by listening to recording and repeating the sounds. Hands-on learning by trial and error became a reality.

As the public became more familiar with a wider variety of music, informal education started to take shape as new melodies became widely available. However, traditional education in music schools remained constant. Students continued to be taught how to read music and play back music created by composers.

In schools, orchestra, chorus and band have been taught for decades, according to the New York Times, with jazz band being introduced as an option about 40 years ago. Even today, most music education mirrors that of 150 years ago — students are taught to read sheet music and then instructed on a wind instrument, string instrument or piano.

In a world dominated by digital pop music, some educators are asking if this method is still relevant.

A call for modernization

American adolescents listen to music for about four-and-a-half hours a day, according to The Conversation, which equals 18 percent of their young lives. The majority of that music is digitally produced using software, keyboards and drum kits. So why is most of our music education focused on classical instruments?

Students learning classical music on a piano may not be able to connect with the music since it’s so far removed from popular music. The guitar- and drum-heavy instrumentals they’re used to hearing are nowhere to be found in traditional instruction. Kids who entered classes with a love of music may come out confused or disenchanted — where are the tunes they love?

While modern teaching does not seek to replace classical music with modern beats, it does recognize the need for students to find enthusiasm and inspiration first and fluency second.

Just like toddlers are not taught to read Dostoyevsky in preschool, elementary school students shouldn’t be forced to decipher Bach from day one. Complex, classical music may be too complicated for young students who need to first build the foundation for musical knowledge.

Instead of jumping straight to reading difficult compositions, new students can practice by fingering instruments, exploring tunes, and learning basic scales and chords that help them mimic their favorite songs. The excitement they harbor during those first lessons will carry them through advanced lessons in the future during which they may discover a love for difficult scores composed by Mozart and Vivaldi.

How Kent State University’s Master of Music in music education program can help

Kent State’s MMME program focuses on helping K-12 music educators develop an individualized teaching approach. We strive to provide ways for you to connect with students, incorporate reflective practice and lead your school’s community toward more effective teaching practices. By catering the classroom to a modern pupil, you can help inspire the next generation of artists.

Our program’s online classes allow for asynchronous learning so busy teachers can learn when their schedule allows, including evenings and weekends. We share your passion for music education, and we don’t want to interfere with your day job. Another benefit is that the skills you learn during the program can be immediately applied to your classroom.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Kent State’s MMME program can benefit you, contact us for more information.

Recommended Readings:
Improving Student Learning Outcomes
Evolving Technology in Music Education
Using Music to Close the Education Gap

Online Master of Music Education
Why music lessons need to keep up with the times
Beyond Baby Mozart, Students Who Rock


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