Monday, November 29, 2010

What's Wrong with Music Education?

It’s said the definition of absurdity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So it seems is the case with music education. Why are music educators constantly battling for the survival of their programs when it’s basically common knowledge that learning music can have all sorts of benefits?  I understand the benefits may be debated (does it really make you smarter?...doubtful) but most folks will agree that learning music is a “good thing”. 

So how did we get here?

The boom in school music programs during the 1960's and 70's now seems like a distant  memory. In retrospect, it may have had the same effect on our profession that the internet boom had on start-ups. What appeared to be a good model was in fact one of unsustainable growth. And rather than taking advantage of the large numbers of interested participants (as well as unprecedented support from administrations) our programs often became over-protected and less inclusive.  By the time funds and support had begun to dwindle, we could do no better than try to convince those in charge about the power of the Mozart Effect or 'music aids spatial reasoning' experiments.

And now....?

Watching a symphony play 200 or 300 year old music (or even 50 year old music for that matter) is just not something the current i-pod, Wii or Guitar Hero generation wants to do. And learning to play that music is even less appealing a proposition.  And while our profession looks longingly to its past, often clinging stubbornly to18th century ideals and methods of teaching, it is also very slow to adapt anything ‘new’ - and that is an unhealthy combination.

All of this seems a little baffling as there has never been a time in history when a larger amount of music has been accessed by more people, and you would think the profession would do all it can to capitalize on this trend by making music more accessible to a wider demographic. Instead, we’ve hunkered down in academia, teaching pieces to band, choir, and orchestra members who very rarely continue to play after high school.  

Some Solutions 

It’s time to realize that music education is an amazing commodity. There is no shelf life, the rules will never change, and just about everyone would love to learn about music if the opportunity presented itself appealingly.

Here are 5 ideas for starters:

1. Let’s make entrepreneurial and business classes mandatory for all future music educators. Encourage the development of professionally designed curriculum that consists of real music learning material - not short-cuts or gimmicks. Make the interface user-friendly and present concepts sequentially using a variety of the latest available technologies.

2. Make professional music education easily accessible via the internet.  Make it personal, and affordable.   Make the process of learning so clear that it can be used by individuals of all ages and levels of ability. Keep the material concise and flexible enough so that it can be adopted by school music programs, home-schoolers, and other organizations interested in accessing quality education for their members.

3. Allow this new product to be edited quickly so that all users always have the most current version. Encourage users to participate in a music learning community by submitting ideas, additions, and even video and audio samples of their own performances.

4. Make true music education available for all instruments, including voice, guitar, bass, electric guitar, piano, and keyboard (not solely band and orchestral instruments).

5. Use new and varied genres of music for playing and listening examples rather than outdated songs, examples, and exercises.

The onus falls on us as educators and the profession as a whole to change the focus of our efforts away from fund-raising and philanthropy and on to creative, healthy change. Until we begin to reach current and future generations in the manner that they are accustomed, the profession will remain in its current state and will have fallen short of expectations.