Crisis in Music Education: Higher Education's Role

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Current discussions of the crisis in music education often define the "cutback problem" in public school music as a failure in public relations. To overcome the present dilemma, music educators are encouraged to organize support groups, marketing strategies, and publicity campaigns. While these suggestions are valid, it is unlikely that better public relations alone will solve the problems we now face. Actually, many music programs already enjoy wide public support. There has been a significant number of instances where large groups of parents have appeared before school boards to protest planned cutbacks in music. Unfortunately, even this organized support is frequently unsuccessful in protecting the music program from reductions in budget and staff. Jerrold Ross points out that a Harris Poll revealed that "the majority of American taxpayers, even in a fiscal crunch, did not wish to have the arts cut from school budgets."1 He suggests that "music educators have not effected a viable link between the public and educational administrators." The real problem music educators face is convincing the administrators in our educational systems of the value of music education.

It seems that administrators would be exposed to the value of the arts in education during the studies that comprise their preparation to be superintendents, principals, and curriculum supervisors. In the Tanglewood Symposium, Broudy suggests that colleges and universities create "substantial publics" that support the arts. He also speculates that "more people are stirred to the liking and trying of literary and other artistic products in college than anywhere else."2 Ideally this should be true, but this type of education is absent on the majority of college and university campuses. If it were present, more administrators and legislators would support public school arts programs. While it is true that colleges and universities sponsor many concerts, plays, and other artistic events, exposure to the arts does not guarantee that a person will realize the value of the arts in society.

How, then, can university music schools and departments contribute to the support for public school music education? One way is through music classes for the non-music major. Music schools and departments are often in contact with a significant student population through classes such as "Music Skills for Classroom Teachers" and "Music Appreciation." Undoubtedly future school administrators are part of this population. Since these classes may be the last organized music learning experience for students, it is very important that they leave these classes with positive attitudes about music and music education. These courses, however, are frequently not considered as primary instructional missions by the music faculty. In particular, Music Appreciation might be taught by graduate assistants, newer faculty, or people who must teach the class in order to have a full load.

Although the course in Music Skills for Classroom Teachers is usually taught by a music education specialist, this course is often a very unpopular one with students. Many times students spend enormous amounts of time in this course learning seldom used theoretical concepts and music performance skills. A perusal of popular texts for this course will support this statement: one finds numerous drills on how to count rhythms, figure out key signatures, construct scales, and play three-chord piano. But classroom teachers in the schools spend very little time teaching music.3 When they do teach music, it is doubtful that they use the content presented in this course. In fact, many classroom teachers are probably "turned off" to music education by the theory-skill approach presented in many of the texts used for this course.

The course in music skills for classroom teachers can, however, be a valuable means for furthering the cause of music education. The students required to enroll in this course eventually become part of the education establishment. Thus, one of the primary goals for this course should be to foster positive attitudes toward music education. This can be accomplished through the following course content:

1. the purposes of music education
2. the role of the music education specialist
3. fundamental concepts of music
4. the expressive performance of children's music and accompanying activities
5. music to enhance the total learning experience.

An understanding of the purposes of music education can be achieved through discussions of questions concerning the value of music education, what art represents, and music education as basic education. Class discussions generated by these questions can be quite lively. Especially, "music education as basic education" can stimulate in-depth arguments on what basic education is.4 All possible rationales for music education from "aesthetic" to the "non-musical outcomes of music education" should be covered in this portion of the class. Students and non-music educators in general are often surprised by the number of arguments that can be presented for music education.

The above discussions can lead to exploring the second, third, and fourth content areas as the class focuses on how the music teacher develops conceptual understanding and perceptual skills in music. Classroom activities like those used in elementary music classes are very helpful at this time for identifying the concepts and underlying percepts of melody, rhythm, harmony, form, timbre, and expression in music. College students enjoy these activities and they may discover that they do not have a fundamental knowledge of elementary music concepts. The expressive performance of activities designed to develop a feel for meter, rhythm patterns, phrases, and form can be fun and enlightening for any age group. Such an activities approach exposes students to the expressive content of music as they observe the different techniques of Kodaly, Orff, and the basal series.

The fifth content area can be the most rewarding for future classroom teachers. This section should include demonstration and discussion of how the classroom teacher can use music for daily routine activities, as a classroom control element, and as an aid for learning other subjects. Using music to call the roll, change activities, go to lunch, and to end the day can greatly enhance the classroom environment. This is a very practical application of music for classroom teachers and this use of music can also benefit the music specialist. The integration of music with other curriculum areas is another relevant application of music for the classroom teacher. There are numerous source materials on this area and the benefits of using music to teach other subjects are well documented.5

The above approach to teaching the Music Skills for Classroom Teachers sequence provides a means for developing support for music education through discussion and actual experience. Most importantly, this approach to the class is relevant to the future classroom teacher's needs. If more classroom teachers understood the purpose of music education, had experienced what actually occurs in music education, and understood how music can benefit the total learning environment, perhaps there would be more support for music education from within our school systems.

Using Music Appreciation as a forum for developing positive attitudes toward music and music education is not as easily accomplished as in Music Skills for Classroom Teachers. For obvious reasons, the elementary music activities approach is not appropriate for Music Appreciation. One would think, however, that a major emphasis in the course should be the development of an understanding of the value of music. Unfortunately, this emphasis is rarely applied. The learning that occurs in Music Appreciation usually consists of the memorization of themes and extraneous historical data. It is doubtful that this avenue of learning develops an appreciation for music.

More positive attitudes about music might be developed in Music Appreciation by beginning the course with discussions of the value of music, what music represents, the effects of music on human behavior, and the historical implications of music in all societies. Further instruction could then center on the expressive qualities of music and the development of students' perceptual skills in listening. Frequently Music Appreciation teachers attempt to cover too much material. Rather than presenting all periods of music, the content of the course should focus on the in-depth study of a few works that exemplify significant styles and genres. If appreciation is a by-product of understanding, and many believe it is, then students should have the opportunity to gain an in-depth knowledge of some representative works. The study of form, stylistic devices, compositional techniques, and the manipulation of the elements of music to create expression is more likely to lead to appreciation than is the survey-of-themes approach. At the very least, this approach to Music Appreciation can give non-musicians an understanding of the wealth of cognitive and affective learning that the study of music can include.

While there are numerous source materials on how to teach Music Appreciation, many Music Appreciation teachers are not familiar with them. In fact, many of these teachers probably have not studied methods of teaching music in a non-performance class. As mentioned earlier in this article, being assigned to teach Music Appreciation is not necessarily a result of one's teaching expertise. This is where university music schools and departments can contribute greatly to the development of support for music education. Only the best teachers should be assigned to courses for the non-music major. The Music Appreciation course is sometimes the only contact a student may have with the music faculty during undergraduate years. For public relations alone, these students should be exposed to quality instruction. If these students have positive attitudes about their last music class, and perhaps even developed an understanding and appreciation for some music in this class, then Broudy's idea of a "substantial public" that supports the arts will be more nearly achieved.

Another way higher education music faculty can contribute to support for public school music education is through active communication with colleges of education. Sometimes the music school exists in a vacuum on the university campus. As a result, education departments that prepare teachers and administrators may believe that the music program is only concerned with musical performance. One cannot believe, however, that administration and curriculum faculty would not welcome guest lectures or seminars by people who represent music in the curriculum. Surely retrenchment in public school education is a primary concern in curriculum and administration classes in education. A clear presentation on all the benefits of public school music education can be enlightening for future administrators and curriculum supervisors. It is possible that even the education faculty member is unfamiliar with the research-supported validity of the many arguments for public school music education.6 Thus the sharing with education personnel of the results of research concerning the musical and non-musical benefits of music education is another means by which university music faculty can further the cause of public school music education. This can be accomplished through guest lectures, teacher preparation planning meetings, and through publication in professional journals. Peters and Miller point out that "music teachers must stop talking only to each other and start talking to the rest of the world."7 If we are to have any input to the decisions made by the educational establishment, we must communicate with the people who are involved in training the members of this establishment.

There are many ways that higher education can aid with solving the "crisis in music education." Perhaps the primary answer to the "cutback problem" in public school music is better public relations. If this is true, better public relations are then a primary responsibility of university music schools and departments. For if public school music programs decline, so will those in higher education. Music school and department faculty must seize every opportunity to speak to "outsiders" about the values of music and music education.


1Jerrold Ross, "Since Yale," Bulletin for the Council for Research in Music Education 60 (Fall 1979):47-48.

2Harry S. Broudy, "The Case for Aesthetic Education," in Documentary Report of the Tanglewood Symposium (Washington, D.C.: Music Educators' National Conference, 1968), 9.

3Barbara Amen, "The Effect of Selected Factors on the Time Spent Teaching Music by Elementary Classroom Teachers," paper presented at the National Meeting of the Music Educators' National Conference, San Antonio, 1982.

4For background see Harry S. Broudy, "How Basic is Aesthetic Education? or Is RT the Fourth R?," Bulletin for the Council for Research in Music Education 57 (Winter 1978):1-10.

5James Hanshumaker, "The Effects of Arts Education on Intellectual and Social Development: A Review of Selected Research," Bulletin for the Council for Research in Music Education 61 (Winter 1980):10-28.

6Ibid.; see also Karen Wolff, "The Non-Musical Outcomes of Music Education: A Review of the Literature," Bulletin for the Council for Research in Music Education 55 (Summer 1978):1-27.

7G. David Peters and Robert Miller, Music Teaching and Learning (New York: Longman, 1982), 12.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 24/10/2018

Vernon Burnsed

Vernon Burnsed is Professor of Music and Coordinator of Undergraduate Studies in Music Education at Virginia Tech where he is the Director of the Virginia Tech String Project, a string music education program originally funded by the National String Project Consortium and NAMM, the international music products association. He received the Master of Music and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the University of Miami where he directed the University Laboratory School instrumental music program. In addition to his duties with the string project, Dr. Burnsed teaches elementary methods, rehearsal techniques and materials, and directs the music education laboratory ensemble. He is an internationally recognized researcher with research presentations throughout the US, in Sweden, South Africa, and Hong Kong. His publications include articles in the Journal of Research in Music Education, Music Educators Journal, the Instrumentalist, Update: The Applications of Research in Music Education, The Journal of Band Research, Symposium, Journal of the College Music Society, The Quarterly Journal of Music Teaching and Learning, The Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, Psychology of Music, Psychomusicology, and The American String Teacher. He is also a former member of the editorial board of the Journal of Research in Music Education, the premier research journal in music education. The second edition of his textbook, the Classroom Teacher’s Guide to Music Education, is published by Charles C. Thomas.

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