November 30, 2023

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Beats Of Music

Do We Need Better Music Education?

4 min read

Do you play any musical instrument — or have you ever? Do you think music should be an essential part of every child’s education?

In “We’re Teaching Music to Kids All Wrong,” Sammy Miller, a Grammy-nominated drummer and the founder of a music education company, writes:

Each fall, as school starts up again, music educators witness a familiar ritual: Eager first-time students squeak on a clarinet, suppress giggles at the noises coming from the tubas and zealously hit a bass drum a little too hard. It’s a moment characterized by excitement, enthusiasm and the anticipation of new beginnings — which is why it’s so disheartening to know that many of those kids will eventually quit their instruments.

The fact that many children don’t stick with music is bad news not only for the state of self-expression and joy but also for education. Studies show that students who play an instrument do better in science, English and math and are more likely to want to attend college. They also may have less anxiety and be more conscientious — they are the kids you want your kids to be friends with. I have never met an adult who is expressly thankful to have quit music as a child, but I’ve met many who have regrets. So why haven’t we, as parents and educators, been better able to encourage our own kids to continue?

In my 15 years as a musical educator, talking to countless teachers, I’ve learned one thing: There is no magical fix. Making music education more successful doesn’t need to involve expensive digital accessories or fancy educational platforms (and I say that as someone who developed an online educational platform). There’s no technological or financial program that will convert children into lifelong music lovers.

Instead, we need to start by rethinking how we teach music from the ground up, both at home and in the classroom. The onus is on parents and educators to raise the next generation of lifelong musicians — not just for music’s sake, but to build richer, more vibrant inner personal lives for our children and a more beautiful and expressive world.

Mr. Miller urges parents and educators to take a new approach to musical education:

It’s often been repeated that “music is a language,” yet we’re reluctant to teach it that way. When we learn a language, we don’t simply memorize phrases or spend all day reading — we practice the language together, sharing, speaking, stumbling but ultimately finding ways to connect. This should happen in music class, too. Music should be a common pursuit: Ask any dad rock weekend band or church ensemble how it experiences music, and the performers are likely to tell you it’s not a chore but a way of building community.

Most important, we need to let kids be terrible. In fact, we should encourage it. They’ll be plenty terrible on their own — at first. But too often kids associate music in school with a difficult undertaking they can’t hope to master, which leads them to give up. Music does not have to be, and in fact, shouldn’t be, about the pursuit of perfection. And the great musicians have plenty of lessons to teach students about the usefulness of failure.

Students, read the entire article and then tell us:

  • Do you play any musical instruments? If so, how did you learn? What role does music play in your life?

  • Mr. Miller writes that after great “excitement, enthusiasm and the anticipation,” many children eventually quit their instruments. What kind of musical education, in or out of school, have you had? How effective has it been?

  • If you are one of the many people described by Mr. Miller who have started an instrument but later quit, why did you give up? Do you think a different approach to musical education, like the kind described in the essay, might have helped you to stick with it?

  • While saying there is no “magical fix” for converting children into lifelong music lovers, Mr. Miller shares several recommendations for improving musical education, such as, letting kids to be terrible and make a lot of mistakes or encouraging students to write their own simple songs using a few chords. What do you think of his proposed approach? What other suggestions would you give to parents and educators who hope to spark a love of music in young people?

  • Mr. Miller writes that studies show that students who play an instrument do better in science, English and math, and may have less anxiety and be more conscientious. What benefits of music education have you seen or experienced? Do any of these benefits, or others not mentioned in the essay, come to mind when you think of the value of learning music?

  • Does reading Mr. Miller’s essay make you more excited about playing music? Why or why not? If you could learn to play any instrument (or one different from what you already play), what would it be? Why?

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.

Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.


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