Musical Notes, A Reflection
In most parts of the world it is accepted that music is for everybody, not just a select few that possess special talents (N.Page, 1995). We need to encourage the use of music in every classroom so that our students learn the lifelong values that music gives to each one of us. Music makes for success at school as intelligence is fostered and developed through its teachings. Success for society in general is certainly a key factor for the inclusion of music in education. An interesting example is the finding that “The top designers and engineers in the Silicon Valley are nearly without exception practicing musicians” (MENC, 2001, p.1). Abstract reasoning skills that are so necessary for computer use, math and science are developed though music education (MENC, 2001). Children need to be encouraged to use music to foster creativity and play, which are vital for learning (N.Page, 1995). By knowing that music is food for the brain, I am able to empower students in their educational journey. Music stimulates the brain as it aids in memory and critical thinking skills, it provides “physical education” with a hands on experience, and it provides for our students another “language” by learning to read its symbols and notes.
Thomas Armstrong points out that “For thousands of years, knowledge was imparted from generation to generation through singing or chanting” (T. Armstrong, 2000, p. 59). He takes note that advertisers have picked up on this idea in the 20th century by using musical jingles to sell products through television and radio commercials. The question remains as to why educators have been slow to recognize the importance of music in education; by creating educational information in a rhythmic format such as songs, raps, and chants we could help our students learn in such a fun and interesting way that is far superior to rote memorization (T. Armstrong, 2000).
Much fuss and debate has been made over what we want our schools to accomplish for our children, our communities, and our nation with no real direction on how it will be achieved. We need to look back to the thoughts of the founder of the American school system, Horace Mann. In his day it was an accepted fact that “…music was essential to the education of the young for the development of aesthetic appreciation, citizenship, and thinking” (Miller & Coen, 1994, p.459). We must look with scrutiny at our current curricula and practices as we enter the twenty first century. The majorities of people think the arts are as important as math, reading, and science, and would even favor cutting administrators and/or sports to have more (Brademas, 1996). We must reflect on educations’ place in our society in the past, present, and future. What is taught, and more importantly how it is taught, continues to be concerns that divide our nation and its people.
Much evidence points to the fact that students thrive best in an arts-integrated environment. What can happen across the curriculum happens best when art and music activities are woven into the curriculum. Test scores indicate that students score higher on College Entrance Exams (“34 points higher on verbal and 18 points higher in math”) when they have taken music and art classes for at least four years (Campbell et al, 1999, p.134). Emotional development and creative expression are opportunities that are provided through musical experiences; we need to realize that it is not simply listening to music, but making music that becomes important (Miller & Coen, 1994).
Upon looking at statistics there are 45 million school children, 15,000 school districts, yet nationwide we have 114 music supervisors, and only 59 visual art supervisors that are the overseers of our children’s art education (Larson, 1997, pp. 94-95). The past 35 years has seen a 29% decline in the amount of time students receive music instruction; most elementary schools that do offer music do not allot the minimum time requirement for proficiency, which is 90 minutes per week (Brademas, 1996). Less is not what is needed, but how do we impress this upon the people who are ultimately in charge?
What is being done and what can we do as individuals to promote the arts in our communities? Art specialist including music, drama, and visual arts need to be part of the school staff to make the necessary impact for our students. We must value the arts, and we must train our nation’s educators so they know best how to teach what we expect of them (Brademas, 1996).
Historically proven, music is a basic function to culture and society; music is simply part of the human existence. Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. contends that we “…will be measured in the eyes of posterity not by economic power nor military might…but by character and achievement as a civilization. The study of music and the arts makes us disciplined and civilized” (as cited by Miller & Coen, 1994, p. 461).
Music and the arts in general alter a classroom’s atmosphere making learning more exciting and fun. They naturally tap into each and every child’s learning style, promoting curiosity and motivating our children. “In a traditional situation, students are spectators; in the arts-integrated curriculum, students are actors, constantly required to use their creative minds” (Sautter, 1994, p. 53).
Music and the arts improve our school’s climate, challenge our students, promote community support and create partnerships between students, parents, and the business community. They point towards sound educational reform in our dry and barren technology-oriented training system. We must not forget that “Jazz, musical theatre, modern dance, film, abstract expressionism, and the American novel are among our gifts to civilization” (Fulbright, 1997, p.2). We must continue to insist the arts remain an essential part of educational reform knowing that America can and should do better for its children and our future.
Thinking creatively and outside the box is what we need to challenge our students for their future and the future of mankind. As a nation we need to pull together to bring the arts back as the core of educational curriculum. We must demand that music and the arts are part of our children’s education.
The most recent report by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities support and confirm that the arts are the keys to imagination and creativity that are so essential to keeping our nation the world’s leader in economics and technology during the 21st century. Districts that provide their students with sequential music and art education programs are most often the districts that win national recognition for student achievement. Researchers continue to prove that the best way to accomplish the goals of education is through teaching the arts. Solving problems, thinking creatively, developing discipline, and even learning the reward of persistence and perseverance are life skills that music and art education provides. With a comprehensive art education, students learn both the value and rewards of their efforts.
Imagination and creativity are the basis for all educational learning. Laying a strong foundation for critical thinking skills, sparking imaginations, allowing for spontaneity, and nurturing initiative are tools teachers need to for their students. Knowing that America truly wants happy, self-assured students able to function in the 21st century and beyond is important as teachers help facilitate their students in being all they can be.
As a visual arts specialist, I have long been a proponent of incorporating music in the classroom. While studying African designs through mask making, for instance, I play African drum music. While studying the rain forest, I play music that provides rain sounds. Another lesson I have created in the past is a curriculum song I composed to help students learn the primary and secondary colors (Red, Yellow, Blue sung to the tune of Three Blind Mice). I would like to continue to develop these curriculum songs with my students as a learning tool. As they become involved in the composing of the music that correlates with art, their learning will surely increase. It is now evident to me that children must be involved in the making of the music, otherwise it provides meaningless entertainment. Recalling the Chinese Proverb “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand” is food for thought.
Further study of Howard Gardener’s theories on multiple intelligences has provided me with a better understanding of what perhaps might be “shortcomings” for me, personally. Even though as a child I had piano and trumpet lessons, I never felt quite adequate or at home in the musical arena. I have often laughed as my daughter begged me not to sing (however, I more often than not ignored her request!) This helps me to better assist my students, as some will be talented in the area of music while a few others simply may not. This should never prevent a teacher from giving their students the required basics to understand and enjoy music. I think we all need to be taught and encouraged regarding the various roles that music can play in our lives, even if we don’t feel like we have terrific musical “smarts.” While many of us are not going to be professional performers, composers, or conductors, we can all surely learn to be comfortable with singing at home for enjoyment or just being part of the audience and appreciating what we hear.
Using rhythms to learn vocabulary, spelling, geography, science, reading and math are useful strategies for educators and parents of any age student. One lesson I have used for many years is to allow students the opportunity to paint lines to the sound of a Stravinsky ballet. To take this a step further, I will experiment with the idea of letting them select a couple of instruments so they may “play” their piece back to the class after it is created.
Above all else, I find it extremely important to stress to students that art is all around us; art is not simply drawing and painting. I often compare musical and art terminology and try to cross the curriculum with relation to math, science, and language arts (especially poetry.) The musical terms of rhythm, timbre, tempo, dynamics, melody, harmony, and form are relative to understanding terminology used for the elements of art and the elements of design (line, shape, form, space, texture, color, value, rhythm, harmony, variety, emphasis, unity, form, color, balance, movement, pattern and texture.) The close relationship of the vocabulary words linking core subject areas should be pointed out and played upon so that students realize the connections. Music and art education are so closely related to our human existence and everyday life that we must help our students in realizing their significance. Continuing to integrate all of the arts so we encourage our students to take risks, learn cooperative skills, problem solve, and above all, “play” that will lead to educational success for all is our role as educators.
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Campbell L. et al. (1999). Teaching and Learning Through Multiple Intelligences. Chapter 5,
“Tuning In: Understanding Musical Intelligence” (133-157). MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Fulbright, H. (Executive Director). (1997). Creative America, a report to the president.
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Larson, G. (Editor). (1997) American Canvas, Washington, D.C. National Endowment
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