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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The History of Music Education


In elementary schools, children often learn to play instruments such as keyboards or recorders, sing in small choirs, and learn about the elements of musical sound and history of music. Although music education in many nations has traditionally emphasized Western classical music, in recent decades music educators tend to incorporate application and history of non-western music to give a well-rounded musical experience and teach multiculturalism and international understanding. In primary and secondary schools, students may often have the opportunity to perform in some type of musical ensemble, such as a choir, orchestra, or school band: concert band, marching band, or jazz band. In some secondary schools, additional music classes may also be available. In junior high school or its equivalent, music usually continues to be a required part of the curriculum.[2]

At the university level, students in most arts and humanities programs may receive academic credit for taking music courses, which typically take the form of an overview course on the history of music, or a music appreciation course that focuses on listening to music and learning about different musical styles. In addition, most North American and European universities have some type of music ensemble in which students from various fields of study may participate such as a choir, concert band, marching band, or orchestra. Many universities also offer degree programs in the field of music education, allowing their students to become certified educators of primary and secondary school ensembles as well as beginner music classes. Advanced degrees can lead to university employment. These degrees come with the completion of varied technique classes, private instruction, numerous ensembles, and in depth observations of educators in the area. Music education departments in North American and European universities also often support interdisciplinary research in such areas as music psychology, music education historiography, educational ethnomusicology, sociomusicology, and philosophy of education.

The study of Western art music is increasingly common in music education outside of North America and Europe, including Asian nations such as South Korea, Japan, and China. At the same time, Western universities and colleges are widening their curriculum to include music of non-Western cultures, such as the music of Africa or Bali (e.g. Gamelan music), as well as even rock music (see popular music pedagogy).

Music education also takes place in individualized, life-long learning, and community contexts. Both amateur and professional musicians typically take music lessons, short private sessions with an individual teacher. Amateur musicians typically take lessons to learn musical rudiments and beginner- to intermediate-level musical techniques.

Instructional methodologies

While instructional strategies are bound by the music teacher and the music curriculum in his or her area, many teachers rely heavily on one of many instructional methodologies that emerged in recent generations and developed rapidly during the latter half of the 20th Century:

Major international music education methods

Dalcroze method

Main article: eurhythmics

The Dalcroze method was developed in the early 20th century by Swiss musician and educator Émile Jaques-Dalcroze. The method is divided into three fundamental concepts - the use of solfege, improvisation, and eurhythmics. Sometimes referred to as "rhythmic gymnastics", eurhythmics teaches concepts of rhythm, structure, and musical expression using movement, and is the concept for which Dalcroze is best known. It focuses on allowing the student to gain physical awareness and experience of music through training that takes place through all of the senses, particularly kinesthetic. According to the Dalcroze method, music is the fundamental language of the human brain and therefore deeply connected to what human beings are.

Kodály method

Main article: Kodály Method

Depiction of Curwen's Solfege hand signs. This version includes the tonal tendencies and interesting titles for each tone.
Zoltán Kodály (1882–1967) was a prominent Hungarian music educator and composer who stressed the benefits of physical instruction and response to music. Although not really an educational method, his teachings reside within a fun, educational framework built on a solid grasp of basic music theory and music notation in various verbal and written forms. Kodály's primary goal was to instill a lifelong love of music in his students and felt that it was the duty of the child's school to provide this vital element of education. Some of Kodály's trademark teaching methods include the use of solfege hand signs, musical shorthand notation (stick notation), and rhythm solmization (verbalization). Even though most countries have properly used their own folk music traditions to construct their own sequence of instruction, America primarily uses the Hungarian sequence even though Hungarian folk music is completely different from American.

Orff Schulwerk

Main article: Orff Schulwerk

Carl Orff was a prominent German composer. The Orff Schulwerk is considered an "approach" to music education. It begins with a student's innate abilities to engage in rudimentary forms of music, using basic rhythms and melodies. Orff considers the whole body a percussive instrument and students are led to develop their music abilities in a way that parallels the development of western music. The approach encourages improvisation and discourages adult pressures and mechanical drill, fostering student self-discovery. Carl Orff developed a special group of instruments, including modifications of the glockenspiel, xylophone, metallophone, drum, and other percussion instruments to accommodate the requirements of the Schulwerk courses.[3]

Suzuki method

Main article: Suzuki method

The Suzuki method was developed by Shinichi Suzuki in Japan shortly after World War II, and it uses music education to enrich the lives and moral character of its students. The movement rests on the double premise that "all children can be well educated" in music, and that learning to play music at a high level also involves learning certain character traits or virtues which make a person's soul more beautiful. The primary method for achieving this is centered around creating the same environment for learning music that a person has for learning their native language. This 'ideal' environment includes love, high-quality examples, praise, rote training and repetition, and a time-table set by the student's developmental readiness for learning a particular technique. While the Suzuki Method is quite popular internationally, within Japan its influence is less significant than the Yamaha Method, founded by Genichi Kawakami in association with the Yamaha Music Foundation.

O'Connor Method

Main article: O'Connor Method

On November 16, 2009, Mark O'Connor released books 1 and 2 of his 10-book O'Connor Method - A New American School of String Playing[4] for string teachers and students of the violin designed to "guide students gradually through the development of pedagogical and musical techniques necessary to become a proficient, well-rounded musician through a carefully planned succession of pieces." Pieces cover a wide range of genres, and include: folk melodies such as "Amazing Grace," "Cielito Lindo" and "Buffalo Gals," American Classical tunes such as Copland's "Hoedown," two themes from Dvorak's New World Symphony, and O'Connor's "Appalachia Waltz."[5] The series also contains short essays about topics including famous American fiddlers such as Thomas Jefferson and Davy Crockett, the history of Gypsies and Mariachi, and various dances. Teacher training sessions based on the method take place around the country.

Other notable methods

In addition to the four major international methods described above, other approaches have been influential. Lesser-known methods are described below:

Gordon Music Learning Theory

This method is based on an extensive body of research and field testing by Edwin E. Gordon and others. Music Learning Theory provides the music teacher a comprehensive method for teaching musicianship through audiation, Gordon's term for hearing music in the mind with understanding. Teaching methods help music teachers establish sequential curricular objectives in accord with their own teaching styles and beliefs.[6]

World Music Pedagogy

The growth of cultural diversity within school-age populations prompted music educators from the 1960s onward to diversify the content of the music curriculum, and to work with ethnomusicologists and some of the world's artist-musicians in establishing instructional practices relevant to the musical traditions. 'World music pedagogy' was coined by Patricia Shehan Campbell to describe world music content and practice in elementary and secondary school music programs. Pioneers of the movement, especially Barbara Reeder Lundquist and William M. Anderson, influenced a second generation of music educators (including Bryan J. Burton, Mary Goetze, Ellen McCullough-Brabson, and Mary Shamrock) to design and deliver curricular models to teachers of music of various levels and specializations.

Conversational Solfege

Deriving influence from both Kodály methodology and Gordon's Music Learning Theory, Conversational Solfege was developed by Dr. John M. Feierabend, chair of music education at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford. The philosophy of this method is to view music as an aural art with a literature based curriculum. The sequence of this methodology involves a 12 step process to teach music literacy. Steps include rhythm and tonal patterns and decoding the patterns using syllables and notation. Unlike traditional Kodály method, this method follows Kodály's actual instructions and uses a sequence based on American folk songs instead of using the sequence that is used in Hungary based on Hungarian folk songs.

Carabo-Cone Method

This early-childhood approach sometimes referred to as the Sensory-Motor Approach to Music was developed by the violinist Madeleine Carabo-Cone. This approach involves using props, costumes, and toys for children to learn basic musical concepts of staff, note duration, and the piano keyboard. The concrete environment of the specially planned classroom allows the child to learn the fundamentals of music by exploring through touch.[7]

Main article: MMCP

The Manhattanville Music Curriculum Project was developed in 1965 and is an alternative method in shaping positive attitudes toward music education. This creative approach centers around the student being the musician and involved in the discovery process. The teacher gives the student freedom to create, perform, improvise, conduct, research, and investigate different facets of music in a spiral curriculum.

History of music education in the United States

18th century

After the preaching of Reverend Thomas Symmes, the first singing school was created in 1717 in Boston, Massachusetts for the purposes of improving singing and music reading in the church. These singing schools gradually spread throughout the colonies. Reverend John Tufts published An Introduction to the Singing of Psalm Tunes Using Non-Traditional Notation which is regarded as the first music textbook in the colonies. Between 1700 to 1820, more than 375 tune books would be published by such authors as Samuel Holyoke, Francis Hopkinson, William Billings, and Oliver Holden.[8]

19th century

In 1832, Lowell Mason and George Webb formed the Boston Academy of Music with the purposes of teaching singing and theory as well as methods of teaching music. Mason published his Manuel of Instruction in 1834 which were based upon the music education works of Pestalozzian System of Education founded by Swiss educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. This handbook gradually became used by many singing school teachers. From 1837-1838, the Boston School Committee allowed Lowell Mason to teach music in the Hawes School as a demonstration. This is regarded as the first time music education was introduced to public schools in the United States. In 1838 the Boston School Committee approved the inclusion of music in the curriculum and Lowell Mason became the first recognized supervisor of elementary music. In later years Luther Whiting Mason became the Supervisor of Music in Boston and spread music education into all levels of public education (grammar, primary, and high school). During the middle of the 19th century, Boston became the model to which many other cities across the United States included and shaped their public school music education programs.[9] Music methodology for teachers as a course was first introduced in the Normal School. The concept of classroom teachers in a school that taught music under the direction of a music supervisor was the standard model for public school music education during this century. (See also: Music education in the United States)

Early 20th century

In the United States, teaching colleges with four year degree programs developed from the Normal Schools and included music. Oberlin Conservatory first offered the Bachelor of Music Education degree. Osbourne G. McCarthy, and American music educator introduced details for studying music for credit in Chelsea High School. Notable events in the history of music education in the early 20th century also include:
Founding of the Music Supervisor's National Conference (changed to Music Educators National Conference in 1934, later MENC: The National Association for Music Education in 1998, and currently The National Association for Music Education - NAfME) in Keokuk, Iowa in 1907.
Rise of the school band and orchestra movement leading to performance oriented school music programs.
Growth in music methods publications.
Frances Elliot Clark develops and promotes phonograph record libraries for school use.
Carl Seashore and his Measures of Musical Talent music aptitude test starts testing people in music.

Middle 20th century to 21st century

The following table illustrates some notable developments from this period:


Major Event

Historical Importance for Music Education


The Child's Bill of Rights in Music[10]

A student-centered philosophy was formally espoused by MENC.


The American School Band Directors Association formed

The band movement becomes organized.


Launch of Sputnik

Increased curricular focus on science, math, technology with less emphasis on music education.


Contemporary Music Project

The purpose of the project was to make contemporary music relevant in children by placing quality composers and performers in the learning environment. Leads to the Comprehensive Musicianship movement.


American Choral Directors Association formed

The choral movement becomes organized.


Yale Seminar

Federally supported development of arts education focusing on quality music classroom literature. Juilliard Project leads to the compilation and publication of musical works from major historical eras for elementary and secondary schools.


National Endowment for the Arts

Federal financial support and recognition of the value music has in society.


Tanglewood symposium

Establishment of a unified and ecletic philosophy of music education. Specific emphasis on youth music, special education music, urban music, and electronic music.


GO Project

35 Objectives listed by MENC for quality music education programs in public schools. Published and recommended for music educators to follow.


The Ann Arbor Symposium

Emphasized the impact of learning theory in music education in the areas of: auditory perception, motor learning, child development, cognitive skills, memory processing, affect, and motivation.


Becoming Human Through Music symposium

"The Wesleyan Symposium on the Perspectives of Social Anthropology in the Teaching and Learning of Music" (Middletown, Connecticut, August 6–10, 1984). Emphasized the importance of cultural context in music education and the cultural implications of rapidly changing demographics in the United States.


Multicultural Symposium in Music Education

Growing out of the awareness of the increasing diversity of the American School population, the three-day Symposium for music teachers was co-sponsored by MENC, the Society for Ethnomusicology, and the Smithsonian Institution, in order to provide models, materials, and methods for teaching music of the world's cultures to school children and youth.


National Standards for Music Education

For much of the 1980s, there was a call for educational reform and accountability in all curricular subjects. This led to the National Standards for Music Education[11] introduced by MENC. The MENC standards were adopted by some states, while other states have produced their own standards or largely eschewed the standards movement.


The Housewright Symposium / Vision 2020

Examined changing philosophies and practices and predicted how American music education will (or should) look in the year 2020.


Tanglewood II: Charting the Future[12]

Reflected on the 40 years of change in music education since the first Tanglewood Symposium of 1967, developing a declaration regarding priorities for the next forty years.



  1. Thanks for all the information! You've written a great overview of the history of elementary music education. As a person who loves music in the classroom, I hope teachers and schools continue to incorporate music into their curriculum.

  2. You have captured my love of music and teaching sharing this. Is LNM hiring? I would be interested. I will be contacting you all soon. Thank you!

    Joan, VA