Something to think about – Hickey (1997) makes an analogy between music and visual arts to demonstrate the exclusion of improvisation and composition in schools: In order to learn to paint, fifth grade students are given paint sets and are asked to paint only by numbers and to stay in the lines at all times. They would proceed to paint in this manner for their entire stay in arts education. She suggests that music education uses the same “by the numbers,” and “stay in the lines” method by relying too heavily on playing notated music.
Now, we would never consider teaching writing skills by having students laboriously copy, over and over, the exact text from a Shakespeare work. Even those dreary research reports are (supposed to be) original works. So how come we almost always teach music – all the way through college – by having them reproduce what’s already there on the page? We need to encourage creativity, exploration, original thinking and production, and so on. Society has moved far beyond the industrial/factory model of training workers to follow directions. We need thinkers and problem solvers, and perhaps music composition, arranging, and improvisation can help develop these skills no matter what career path students follow in life.
We just wrapped up the Psychology of Music Learning grad course today – they’re all music teachers in the schools, and it’s an amazing time of stepping back from what we all do and re-think what’s important about music education, what students really need and want, and how to go about doing that – all in the context of understanding how people learn new things. We talk a lot about learning theories, mental models, and such, but in a way that makes it relevant-real-to their situations. They’re a great group of individuals who you’d be proud to have teaching your kids. If I have time I might post a few more thoughts about what we discuss…stay tuned.
Earlier this semester I created a ning professional network site for music educators – I get to work with K-12 music teachers in our grad program at LVC, and one of the things I try to encourage for them is thinking outside the box. Why does it always have to be based around trombones and oboes? Why does it mostly revolve around “serious” music? Music education should be culturally relevant – most kids I know love music, but often there’s not much in our music ed programs that they can initially relate to. Let them explore new ways of creating music (iPhones, Guitar Hero, Garageband), let them experience different styles of music, let them publish their own music through websites, CDs, and iTunes, and yes, gasp, let them perform in an iPhone band during the spring concert. Do we still use trombones and oboes? Of course – it’s all good. Just broaden our horizons and stop wondering why student enrollment in music programs has dropped.