Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What is the goal of music education?

The goal is ultimately to put on a good concert. I mean, you can include things like music theory and composition and identifying world instruments and music appreciation, but all of those things culminate towards one goal: to put on a good performance. In a poorly oversimplified way, that is what any music program is all about: putting on a good concert.

The question then arises, what does it take to put on a good concert? 

One thing that matters is having the right repertoire. That detail mainly comes down to the foresight of the conductor (me), but also is limited by three factors: the ability level of the students, the instrumentation of the group, and the availability of the music.

The second thing that makes a good concert is the quality of the performance. A high-quality performance does not insult the ears. There are very few wrong notes, there is good balance and good tone quality and good intonation. Rhythm aligns with the beat, and the beat is the same from one musician to the next. In a good performance, the performers listen to one another and communicate with one another through their music.

Now, let's consider how this applies to the Dutton/Brady music program.

A very large part of my job is to select the right music each year for each concert. I then design a series of exercises and assignments to be used throughout the rehearsal process. Rhythm and scales are foundational to all music, so they are a part of each day's lesson. If the goal is to put on a good concert, then I need to choose music that meets that goal according to the requirements listed above.

The quality of the performance is very much dependent on the musical ability of the students. They need to know how to work their instrument or voice in order to produce the required sound. They also need to know what the music should sound like: what their part should sound like and how it relates to the entire piece. Furthermore, they should be able to identify any errors in their own performance and practice so that they can play or sing everything correctly.

But what about elementary general music classes?

There are two ways to structure an elementary curriculum. The first way is to treat elementary music as if it were just a prerequisite for band and choir. In other words, the main goal of general music is to prepare students for junior high and high school. The focus should be on learning to read music and perform accurately on voice or instruments. In this approach, elementary music is the means to an end. The second way to structure elementary music is to make it an end within itself, or teaching the music for music's sake. This type of curriculum focuses on providing musical experiences that are appropriate for childhood in such a way that children learn to enjoy music. The goal of this type of program is to pass on our rich musical heritage to the younger generation lest it be forgotten.

To me, it is obvious that the goal of elementary music should be a balance between these two types of programs. Young students should be taught certain songs for music's sake and other certain songs for the sake of learning to read music and perform accurately. They should have some performance experience and gain a basic understanding of music theory and performance, but the daily activities and experiences in the classroom are equally important. Therefore, the goal of music education at the elementary level is both to prepare for junior high ensembles and to learn about the joys of music.

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