How did you learn your alphabet? Was there a song involved? Have you ever taught the alphabet to a three-year-old? Did you do so without a song? Think about what it would be like to teach it without the song. Would the child learn it rapidly? Would the child even be interested in learning it?
But somehow some in our society would like to force music out of education because adults who don't understand education feel that music is an overly expensive and unnecessary "hobby."
It looks as though San Diego is the latest to propose cutting virtually all music education in its schools to balance its budget.
Here is an article about the cuts. The comments below the article are as interesting as the article itself: the childless "taxpayer" who feels that schools should teach math and English and forget the "nice-to-haves"; the person who says, "Good. It is about time. Music programs are one of the easiest programs to duplicate by the few parents who have a minority of the students in the school. Get a hall, Hire an ex teacher... done." And there are the ever-present comments about the "bad teachers."
The truth of the matter is that educating a child is complicated business, involving time, motivation and a variety of approaches.
Music is both a physical discipline and a rigorous course of academic study, a unique field that simultaneously trains a child in math, language arts, coordination and cooperation. Only a musical illiterate would think music could be taught as a series of ad-hoc after-school programs and that a teacher with musical expertise and pedagogy is so easy to find that you just stick a random "ex-teacher" in there.
Music is a language, both written and aural. The benefits of a music education come from delving deeper into it than simply singing or scratching the surface experimentally with an instrument. Something like the A-B-C song is only the beginning.
Here are a few of the elements involved in a thorough musical education:
The beginner in music certainly learns to sing, but in the process they also learn to identify scale elements with solfege. Solfege is that series of syllables made famous by the Do-Re-Mi song in the Sound of Music. The syllables can be applied to any music, and someone with good music education is able to do so. For example, this simple song should be easily identifiable by anyone with a musical education:
Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol
Fa Fa Mi Mi Re Re Do....
The brain process here is rather complex and involves much problem-solving, especially in the beginning.
One also learns rhythms: not only how to physically execute them but also rhythmic notation: how those rhythms are translated into written language.
One learns about the key signatures that create the various scale patterns, the concept of major and minor scales and also of modes, pentatonic scales, whole-step scales and chromatic scales. For this you need to know the order of the sharps and the order of the flats, for example, the sharps go F, C, G, D, A, E, B. And of course if you have a musical education you see the obvious: That's a circle of fifths.
Which brings me to intervals: learning to identify how far various notes are from one another - a half-step, whole-step, second, third, etc. It's good to be able to identify these both when the notes are played one right after another ("That's a fifth!") and also when they are played simultaneously.
Then one learns the chords that music are based upon and their functions. Any pop musician who creates a song knows music usually begins in the tonic key, perhaps moves to the dominant and subdominant, then it might modulate, and then we are talking about the tonic key of the modulation, etc. (Sometimes they don't realize they've written an entire song on the tonic without even a change of chord - it's a boring song, but they don't know that's why, because they don't really have a musical education.)
Beyond this is the physical discipline of learning how to play an instrument. This is different for every instrument, but let's use the violin as an example. A student must be able to identify the parts of the violin, the names of the strings, and how to create notes on the instrument. Also, he or she must know the correct way to hold the violin and the correct way to hold the bow, how to place the left-hand fingers and with much practice and repetition, come to a point where holding the violin and playing it come as easily as walking.
Next, we have to take those notes on the page and play them on the violin, learning a great many symbols on the page as well as things like bow articulations (staccato, legato, etc.), when fingers are placed where, how to shift up the fingerboard.
We learn to play in tune and learn how to play in harmony with others. We learn that music can only happen against a backdrop of everyone's silence and stillness. We start together, move together in finely detailed ways, end together. When it goes well, it's one powerful, shared sensation.
The deeper you go into music education, the more opportunities open for complex thinking, problem-solving, individual and community expression, and cultural understanding.
Children who learn music do better in math and language arts. They score higher on their tests. They learn skills about cooperation and discipline that are not teachable through any other means. Their motivation increases.
What can we "afford"? In the United States, we can afford anything we want. So far we are affording tax breaks for millionaires, who have convinced an apparently large-enough portion of the electorate that government should do nothing for us, that anything funded collectively is something to which none of us is entitled.
In the United States the government, quite simply, IS us: by the people, for the people. It is a means for us to function as a society, serving ourselves with roads, sewers, police, safety, defense and schools. It is a means to create the community we want.
What do we want for our children, for our future? Some people seem to want to exploit and punish today's children, to hold back their education and let unregulated corporations feed them high fructose corn syrup, Ritalin, diabetes, obesity, video games and solitude.
I'd rather protect and edify them, to show them a means to productive community. Here's what I want for our children: health; families with enough means to provide them food, clothing, shelter and love; a broad education; useful activities, and yes,an appreciation for beauty. I'd like to build the future, not strip it bare.
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