For centuries, music has been included as part of a well-rounded education. In order to be considered properly schooled, students should receive music lessons that include composition, performance, and music appreciation. At one time, it was the privilege of the elite to own instruments, and the most proficient musicians were often supported by patrons who sponsored their work. Much of what is known as classical music was developed under this system of sponsorship. As society changed, however, the availability of music in the form of lessons grew more widespread and ultimately became a part of the public school system.
Music has evolved as technology has advanced, becoming a multibillion-dollar industry that impacts every facet of life. More than composition and instrumental lessons, the music industry includes editing, vocalization, and digital production. Since the invention of the phonograph in 1877, the music industry has diversified, giving people the ability to own and enjoy music from all genres.
Classical Music Offerings
The music industry is growing. Students spend up to five hours a day listening to music. However, music education has not kept pace. Despite the fact that classical music accounts for less than 2% of album sales, nearly every school-based music class is centered on learning classical music. While there is value in learning the traditions and origins of music, the focus on classical music may explain the lackluster enrollment of students in secondary music classes. The reality is that the music industry is not reflective of the material being taught in schools. When students engage with music in virtually every aspect of their lives, yet have no interest in taking music classes, there is a disconnect that schools must address.
Frequently subject to budget cuts and schedule changes, music classes have been struggling for a place in the educational curriculum. Declining enrollment in music classes has forced schools to eliminate specialized music courses, leaving only the general, classical-based options. This cyclical pattern of reducing music to the barest of offerings, coupled with minimal interest from students, has created an environment in which music if often absent in schools.
In just over a century, music has advanced from phonograph recordings available only to the most wealthy individuals to digital production and recording tools available on smartphones and in the hands of the average teenager. The changing face of the music industry can perhaps best be seen in the role of the music producer, who has evolved alongside technology. No longer simply involved in the “business” side of music, producers are often musicians in their own right and can shepherd musicians through the creative process involved in writing, performing, recording, and releasing songs. Producers today have predecessors such as Sir George Martin, the legendary producer of The Beatles, as well as Phil Ramone, who is notable for his work with Paul Simon, to name a few.
As the face of music changes, music teachers in today’s classrooms would be well-served by following the example of these producers for inspiration. Much like Martin, music teachers can use their skill and experience to teach students composition, recording techniques, accompaniment, and other production-based lessons using readily available technology. By expanding their curriculum to include more than performance-based lessons, teachers are once again bringing music to a new level.
Embracing the Cultural Arts
Music has mass appeal, but in order to continue to provide students with relevant and engaging lessons, music teachers must find ways to embrace the cultural arts and bring them into the classroom. Classroom offerings that center on digital production, responsible downloading, sharing of files, mixing and recording music, and other modern applications of music are not only relevant to today’s music industry—they keep students engaged in learning. Trying to convince the public of the importance of music education is easier when the demand for music classes exceeds the number available. While music has always been part of adolescence (think mixtapes and garage bands), bringing it into mainstream education as a relevant part of today’s lifestyle adds greater credibility and value to its inclusion.
Finding new and innovative methods of introducing students to the arts is essential to music education. Opening the door for students to be exposed to the creation of music both in theory and practice has far-reaching benefits to society. Music has—and always will be—a part of our culture. Capitalizing on students’ natural attraction to music by offering them opportunities to study its impact and relevance within the culture is both timely and smart. There will always be a need for the fundamentals of music. The classics will remain an important and necessary part of music education. Adding new facets of music will not diminish long-standing traditions. Perhaps by embracing these new aspects, students will find that they are once again drawn to the origins of sound and develop a new appreciation for where music began.