Adult re-learners: how do you rate your K-12 music education?

July 13, 2017, 8:30 PM · I have a question for adult re-learners. This is especially for those who first learned to play as part of a school strings class.

Have you ever felt cheated by your K-12 music education?

My orchestra class was largely learning to play by ear. Yes, we discussed terminology and technique briefly, but now that I recall, the lessons weren't intensive. We were given sheet music and it was expected for us to just play it and be decent sight readers at that.

This thought came to me as I was going over my old sheet music. I realized that we were essentially playing copy cat with the instructor instead of learning the why of what we were doing.

Have any other re-learners gone through this epiphany of sorts? Does music education begin in the college level?

Replies (8)

Edited: July 13, 2017, 8:54 PM · I'm not a relearner, and I didn't do strings in school, but I am happy to share my experiences with public school music education in my hometown, the largest city in it's province.

For me, my true music education began as an autodidact, then at the college level.

My K-12 music education was more or less non-existent, and my parents did not believe in musical education being valid.

My K-12 musical education is as follows:

Grade 3-5: Activities such as dancing to the Macarena, Tee-tee-ta, and 'choir', which was just unison* singing, as each class had to present a single song in the Christmas concert.

Grade 6: We had a 'band' where everyone was expected to learn an instrument. It was done in that year only, and music class basically didn't exist the other two years of junior high. I 'learned' flute - in that I learned two notes over 3 months and how to blow into the hole. We also learned how to read notes from the staff, but it was never applied. It was simply memorizing the mnemonics and that was it.

Grade 9: This is the last year of 'enforced' music. We learned very basic keyboard skills - the highest achievers had Mexican hat dance and a two sharp/flat scale to their name.

Grade 10: Same as grade 9 - only keyboard was offered, with basic theory. I did not take grade 10 music.

Grade 11 music was not offered.

Grade 12 music was not offered.

A few years after I was out of high school (I ended early, personal issues), I picked up guitar and learned a few chords. Then I found a 'finger style piece' as part of the program I was going along with, and decided that was much better. Then I got into classical guitar less than 4 months after picking up a guitar and never went back. About a year after that I was into theory because I wanted to understand how things worked. Two years after that I was a freshman at college and enrolled in my first real music courses.


*I use unison loosely - we were just saying the words in a singsong voice with a similar pitch and rhythm. I've seen recordings of these concerts - there was no 'real' unison involved.

July 14, 2017, 11:37 AM · Ha. We may be in the same age range re: dancing the Macarena at school. Our music education was learning the recorder and then in 5th grade there was a strings class that was severely under-funded. I think that's part of the issue. The strings teachers were always tired and harangued from shuffling between two to four different schools.
July 14, 2017, 2:07 PM · I know this isn't exactly what you're for (in the fact that I'm currently in K-12 music education) but I thought it might be interesting to share what music education is like now.

From K-3, we had the standard music class. Sang songs, learned a tiny amount about famous classical composers and the different instruments of band/orchestra.
In 4, we got recorders. We learned to play the simpler songs. The furthest anyone got was "Hail to the Victors" (UofM fightsong)
In grade 5, everyone got to play an instrument for free. You could choose from band and orchestra. We focused on basic things (because most were beginners) like counting rhythms, what notes corresponded to what finger on what string, proper posture and bow hold. We got as far a little farther than Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Grade 6, everyone was required to participate in music (choir, band, or orchestra. We met every other day. The grade 6 orchestra was so large that it was split into two classes, and a few weeks before the concert, the classes would combine to practice together. We kept up with the basics and played simple orchestra songs.
Grade 7-8: Music was no longer mandatory, but offered daily. We continued to build on our skills, played some Grade 2-4 stuff. Worked on playing as a group.
Grade 9: This was the transition to high school orchestra, which was big. There are 3 orchestras at my high school, and in order to get in the upper 2, you had to audition. So, you auditioned, and then you made it into whatever orchestra. Based on the orchestra you were admitted into, you could expect to play Grade 3, grade 4, or grade 5+ music. I got into the grade 5+ (we played things like Tchaik's Romeo and Juliet, Carmen No. 1, Brahms Academic Overture). Theory was taught every week with regular theory tests every month. High school was when things got intense. We went to music festivals, had side-by-sides with our local symphony orchestra, and played really challenging music. We met daily and occasionally after school.
One thing that was never focused on was technique. It was all expected to just come as you got older. For a lot of kids without a private teacher, that technique never came. That was one problem. Besides that, music education has been pretty good. There are a lot of communities near me that are cutting funding completely for music education though. Living in Ann Arbor, music is a big thing.

July 17, 2017, 6:50 PM · Unfortunately for me, growing up in Los Angeles and part-time in a small town in Texas, music programs in public schools were non-existent until you got to Middle or Highschool. Even then, they only offered limited instruments with strings programs either being small or dismantled. So, yes, in many ways, I felt cheated by the public music education because it was through school that I could have come to music earlier if it had only been available. Besides that, I have many friends who even after a long public music education still played at an intermediate level when they reached college age. They also felt cheated. It seems if one wants to reach a super high level in music, it may be that private lessons and involvement in string camps, competitions and community youth orchestras is the way to go -- definitely should not be reliant upon the public school system itself.
Edited: July 18, 2017, 8:48 AM · Another option is community music schools. They offer great private instruction plus a multitude of classes and ensembles you can partake in. In my last year of elementary school, everyone was forced to learn a wind instrument, so I did. We were fortunate to have an excellent band teacher, who trained us both technically and musically. By the end of the year, we could play simple band songs and could play around ten notes. In high school, you received very little technical assistance from the teacher because the teacher does not understand every instrument inside out, though the way the band sounds is key. Depending on the teacher, high school students can get amazing opportunies like band trips, performing in concerts, and sitting in on college band rehearsals.
July 18, 2017, 5:55 AM · You don't have to have learned in public school to have learned poorly. I'm living proof. I had private lessons from the age of 5 to 17 and when I restarted 25 years later I discovered all kinds of things I had never been taught properly. My new teacher took me back to Suzuki book 4, rebuilt my vibrato from scratch, and taught me (finally!) how to actually play in tune. Not that my intonation is wonderful now, but at least I know how to tell.
July 18, 2017, 6:27 AM · I guess I'm going to shock you guys when I say that my music education program in a non "music dedicated" public school in West Virginia was downright awesome. I graduated high school in 2000 and started with actual music lessons in 5th grade. In 5th I played the clarinet before switching to the alto sax in 6th through 10th and occasionally playing the baritone spaced in between. 5th through 8th was basic band class. We learned how to read notes, scales, and techniques to build how well we played. Once I hit high school I was in a band that was concert for half the school year and marching for the other half. Our instructors helped us learning better musical abilities and we were graded on how well we knew how to play the pieces of music we were assigned. I also took music theory class and our final grade was based on writing a piece of music for the concert band to play. I was also in pep band. There was a Jazz band that was best in the state. We traveled to Florida twice, along with other places to compete. Our marching band took a one week each year to a band camp at a college that was semi local where we had 3-4 practice sessions a day to learn the routines and the music. We had over 150 people in our marching band. I have to say it was an incredible experience. My music teachers were good at what they did and left a lasting impression on me.

Unfortunately with new school and changes in curriculum, the band has shrank to about half it's size, they no longer have the band camp away from town for the students, and I'm sure there have been cuts elsewhere. I'm glad I got to experience it when I did and I'm proud to say this did happen in West Virginia. We're often looked at as uncultured rednecks and hillbillies to outsiders.

July 18, 2017, 6:58 AM · I had music starting in 1st grade, we picked our instruments in the third (or fourth) grade, then played through 8th grade with said instrument. I did not play in 7th or 8th grade due to scheduling conflicts with my orchestra, it was really hard for me to go not play for those two years. When I picked back up again in the 9th grade, I was so behind everyone else I had to practice every day for 2+ hours after school to get caught up. By 11th grade I was ahead of 85% of the other violinists.

Educationally: we had to sight read to the extent possible, played pieces ranging from movie soundtracks (Jaws, Last of the Mohicans), to straightforward classical pieces (I remember my favorite around Halloween was Saint-Saens Danse Macabre, especially when I was concertmaster), and some modern classical.

The music program in my school district was considered (and still is considered) to be top-notch. We had a orchestra, band, two choirs, and various rock and jazz groups. The orchestra went on an annual competition trip, and always placed very high. The orchestra played concerts for the holidays, Halloween, Fall/Winter and Spring/end of school year as well. Once a year the orchestra split into a formal symphony and played the music that I loved, and had soloists. One year a student sang opera, another we had a trumpet solo, the year that I graduated I had a solo (Mozart) and a violin duet (Vivaldi?), and an oboe soloist. Those were always my favorite concerts, and I wished that we had more than one night to pull it off.

Most of the higher chair students participated in NYSSMA evaluations as well. I think I did the NYSSMA one year because it was required to be evaluated at least once. We had music on a rotating schedule (some weeks twice per week, some weeks three times per week) in middle school, and in high school I believe it was every day. (For me it was every day regardless as I practiced 1-2 hours daily for my lessons.)

I never received education on music theory or proper technique - privately or in public school - to my recollection.

So all these years later, as a restarter, similar to Paul's experience...
I took weekly private lessons with a lovely man from 9th grade through my first year of college, but I was never taught a lot of the technique that I should have, and he let slide things that have been time consuming to fix.

My first teacher after restarting was letting similar things slide, and I was getting frustrated so changed teachers. I feel lucky that I have a truly great teacher now (who is also rebuilding my vibrato from scratch, I have essentially had to relearn how to bow properly, we've had to completely retool my left hand and my bow grip, and I feel like I have no idea what I am doing 99.999% of the time - so I feel like I started at zero. I have been on Suzuki book 4 from the time I started working with her, plus a couple of months prior to that, it is a humbling experience and I'm starting to wonder if I will ever graduate from this book!!!)

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