Microphone Check − 5 Ways That Music Education Is Changing

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The landscape of music education is evolving to adapt to the current era, moving away from its traditional reliance on large ensembles and classical music. This shift is comparable in significance to the introduction of school wind ensembles in the 1920s and the growth of marching bands in the 1950s.

The changes taking place are aimed at increasing student participation in music classes at all levels of education, from kindergarten to college, within both school and community settings.

As a professor in music education, I am currently conducting research on the development of new classes that go beyond traditional band, choir, and orchestra offerings. I find this to be an incredibly exciting time in the field of music education. Here are five ways in which music education is transforming in American schools:

1. Student Songwriting

In 2021, Florida became the first state to establish an All-State Popular Music Collective for high school students. As members of this collective, the most talented pop singers, drummers, guitarists, DJs, bassists, and keyboardists in the state come together to perform their own original music. Their repertoire spans various genres, including hip-hop, pop, and rock.

Following suit, Missouri introduced its own version of the Florida program called The Collective in 2023. Students submit audition videos, and if selected, they join a band of approximately 15 members who collaborate on songwriting and perform at the state conference alongside the top concert band, choir, and orchestra students in the state.

Currently, 15 states offer similar opportunities for their students.

Furthermore, there is a growing number of collegiate-level programs that focus on studying hip-hop. Institutions like the University of South Florida, where I teach, have joined established programs at the University of Southern California, the University of Miami, and Belmont University as places where students can learn to create hip-hop, as well as other styles such as pop, rock, and country.

2. Smaller Musical Ensembles

During the mid-20th century, school music primarily revolved around large ensembles performing classical music arrangements. Since the 1990s, music education has expanded its offerings to include activities such as winter drumline, which involves marching percussion and color guard, and intricate theatrical marching band shows that incorporate contemporary instrumentation. These additions have widened the range of musical styles being explored.

Modern bands have emerged in schools throughout North America, featuring smaller ensembles, contemporary instrumentation, and modern musical tools. Some even incorporate turntables and effects processing, aiming to mirror the diversity of music found outside the school environment.

3. Student-Focused Teaching

For the majority of the past century, music teachers have focused on instructing large numbers of students, often exceeding 100 students per class. Across the United States and Canada, instructors oversee marching bands comprising over 200 students.

Music teachers are among the few educators who actively strive for increased student enrollment in their classes. Previous pedagogical practices prioritized managing large groups of students as efficiently as possible. However, this approach often suppressed individual expression and autonomy. Fortunately, this is beginning to change. Smaller ensembles allow for greater individual creativity and more adaptable performances.

4. Integration of Technology in Performances

Technology plays an increasingly prominent role in music education, both in performance and delivery. Understanding mixers, public announcement systems, and digital instruments is crucial in smaller ensembles and pop music. However, setting up a mixing console is no longer a prerequisite for a successful concert band performance.

Instruments like Maschine and Push have gained popularity for creating beats and layered textures. These instruments cater to students’ desire to produce music reminiscent of what they hear on the radio, as well as in video games or movies they enjoy.

Turntables, once synonymous with DJs and their crates of records for scratching, have evolved into standalone hardware devices. The use of musical effects triggered by the performer or someone offstage has become common practice in professional music production, and these practices are now extending into music education.

5. Emphasis on Recording in Addition to Performing

Since the invention of sound recording in 1877, individuals have refined their skills in capturing musical performances. Recording music has become an art form in its own right.

A musician’s career consists of two primary aspects: performing and recording. While performing has always been a part of school music education, recording has historically been overlooked. However, this is changing, and educators are recognizing the value of teaching students the art of recording musical sound.

In our current era, it has become common for schools to have recording studios, and the inclusion of contemporary and commercial music in music education is becoming more prevalent.

Approximately one out of every five high school students is involved in a music program, typically through traditional bands, choirs, and orchestras. However, this statistic may change as music education progresses to prioritize the students and the music that personally resonates with them, rather than solely focusing on classical music and old traditions.

Clint Randles, a professor of Music Education at the University of South Florida, shares these insights.

This article has been republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Please refer to the original article for further reading.

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  • arthurmacdonald

    Arthur Macdonald is a 39-year-old educational blogger and school teacher. He has been a teaching assistant for 10 years, and has taught middle and high school students in the Atlanta area for the past 5 years.