The National Association for Music Education states in The National Standards for Arts Education, “Every course in music, including performance courses, should provide instruction in creating, performing, listening to, and analyzing music, in addition to focusing on its specific subject matter.”
The National Standards for Music Education unify us as music educators, yet many of the standards, as well as their implementation, remain highly contested by some educators. In my experience, content standard one is often left just for choirs to cover, as if instrumental music students did not benefit from the aural aptitude created by regular singing in the classroom. Content standards three and four, I believe, are the most forgotten standards for music educators. “Improvisation? Oh yeah, we do that in jazz band,” and “Composition? Yeah, students copy down a couple of measures in their Standard Of Excellence books,” just doesn’t seem to cut it in an educational era so focused on assessment. Assessment aside, however, I also believe that music lags in the content creation category versus the visual arts. Can you imagine a painting class where students learned how to use paints, brushes, and canvas, were exposed to beautiful pieces of artwork, but never got the chance to create their own artwork? I can expose my students to great wind band compositions by the likes of Frank Ticheli and Mark Camphouse, but without the chance to create their own music through composition and improvisation, students cannot fully appreciate their musical craft.
But when do we have time to do all of this? We need to make time for composition and improvisation, much like we make time for fundamentals. We all probably know a director or two that just run repertoire over and over again, without any pause for reflection or adequate time spent on fundamental-building. They choose not to make time to address tone quality and intonation, just like many of us choose not to make time for some of these under-addressed national standards.
One of the many reasons we choose not to make time for these standards is that we feel overwhelmed by the quantity of skills we need in order to be effective music educators. Becoming proficient on all of the instruments, being an effective communicator and conductor, and developing one’s own musicianship are all incredibly time-consuming skills that take years to develop. It’s no wonder that many of us don’t feel comfortable with improvisation and composition; after all, isn’t it the performance majors and composition majors that need to hone those crafts? I completely understand many of these frustrations; that’s why MusicEdForAll.com will try to provide hands-on, take-back-to-your-classroom resources to help engage students in meaningful music-making and critical thinking.
Content Standards for Music Education
1. Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music
2. Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music
3. Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments
4. Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines
5. Reading and notating music
6. Listening to, analyzing, and describing music
7. Evaluating music and music performances
8. Understanding the relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts
9. Understanding music in relation to history and culture
From National Standards for Arts Education. Copyright © 1994 by Music Educators National Conference (MENC). Used by permission. The complete National Arts Standards and additional materials relating to the Standards are available from MENC: The National Association for Music Education, 1806 Robert Fulton Drive, Reston, VA 20191; www.menc.org.