Why Music Education is Changing

by

in Composition, Learning Music, Methods

A 3 part series on Why music Education is Changing – Part 1 of 3

This series of articles talks about the needs and desires of today's music student, which are entirely different from the needs that our music education system was designed to satisfy. This fundamental disconnect is already causing profound changes, and these changes will eventually redefine what it means to “teach music.”

I believe that music education as we know it is changing profoundly

The change has already begun, and it is already causing bewilderment and frustration for a great many music teachers. But it is also creating tremendous new opportunities for thousands of music teachers and students who are enjoying their work more than ever.

In this article I will try to explain what I think is happening, and give you some ideas about how to position yourself to enjoy these changes rather than become a victim of them.

You might wonder if I am talking about changes related to the Internet, computers or music software. But this change has nothing to do with technology. It has to do with the needs and desires of today's music student, which are almost entirely different from the needs that our music education system was designed to satisfy.

To understand what I mean by this, we need to go all the way back to the European origins of our most basic ideas about what it means to “teach music.”

Classical Music Education

For centuries the primary goal of classical music education was to produce orchestra performers capable of reading a piece of sheet music and correctly playing the composer’s ideas.

This is no small task. It requires both a formidable control over one’s instrument and also a very high level of skill at reading complicated musical phrases on a written page. It also requires great sensitivity and expressive power, since without these the music would sound dull and lifeless.

This curious breed of musician unites several personality traits that are highly contradictory. He must have the precision control of a world-class athlete in order to execute the very fine motor skills involved in playing his instrument. But he must also have the extreme mental agility required to read and instantly decipher impossibly complex rhythms coded into symbols on a page.

He must be sensitive enough to feel and express the beauty in every line that he plays, but he must be detached enough to play whatever music is handed to him without complaining.

Music Education Evolved

This is the context in which our music education system evolved. The goal was to produce a kind of super-performing robot-person that could play any piece of music on demand and make it sound heavenly.

The “customer” of this process was what we might generalize as the “wealthy audience” who wanted to be entertained. Music conservatories prepared young music students to entertain and delight wealthy audiences with their skills, so that they might earn a professional salary.

This “old paradigm” of music study is defined by a very clear set of attitudes. Musicians play for others. A musician’s purpose is to delight audiences and impress other musicians.

His success can be measured by the number of gigs he gets, the salary he earns and also the respect and fame he enjoys among other musicians. And every one of these attitudes is so thoroughly ingrained in our culture that we continue to teach music this way today even though it no longer makes any sense whatsoever.

In part 2 we will explore the “New Paradign: Musician as Person”

David Reed is the creator of the “Improvise for Real” teaching method, which empowers students to discover harmony for themselves by experiencing it directly. If you would like to learn  a complete approach to composition and  improvisation visit www.ImproviseForReal.com

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