Foundations of Music Education


Lecture:  The History of Music Education

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In order to understand music education today, we have to explore how we got to this point.


Let's see . . . how far back shall we go?

Well, maybe not that far back.  The problem is that we have to have some sort of record to know how music was transmitted (taught and learned) in order to trace music education. 

Since we haven't had this kind of 'record' for very long, we have to rely on written accounts.



  For example, in the Old Testament, there is evidence of the universality of music in that everyone was expected to participate.  It was considered to be a duty to "sing unto the Lord" in the culture of the Hebrews.  The mode of transmission was by rote.  From our perspective as trained musicians, we may tend to think of teaching (or learning) by rote as an inferior mode of transmission, but the vast majority of music education, both in our history and around the world today continues to be by rote.



Remember about questioning everything???  The alien had a few more questions, so I tried to address his/her (I can't tell) curiosity:

Why teach music at all?  Because our culture requires music. 

Why does the culture require music?  Depends on the culture.

Music education has been important in different places and times for different reasons. 

Here are some examples:





Folk music in the relatively isolated areas of the Appalachian Mountains of the United States was a means by which that culture of people preserved their history - singing the ballads that told the stories from their European roots.  The ballads were passed down from generation to generation and provided a sense of identity and community.





They were warriors, so their culture emphasized education that prepared their young people for war.  Music was important in its use in parades, processionals, competitions, and ceremonies.  It also promoted loyalty to the city-state.  Music, as their sports, was competitive and students performed for prizes.



West Africans


'Music' as we might define it is such an integral part of the culture of the West Africans that many of the languages spoken there do not even have a word that separates 'music' from moving/dancing/playing instruments/singing.  Everyone participates.  It would seem odd in this culture to hear music without participating in it.  Music is a vehicle for learning about everything through songs, dances, musical games, and stories.




Native Americans


They were (and are) a very spiritual people.  Their cultures revolve around the ceremonies associated with the seasons, important events, and rites of passage in their lives.  Music was at the heart of all of these ceremonies.  Some of the ceremonies took days to complete; their intricacies requiring years of training for those who led them.  The music was taught by rote and still defies accurate transcription into modern notation.


These are just a few examples from thousands of cultures on this planet.


You are a very strange species.  Tell me about it.



In A History of American Music Education by Michael L. Mark and Charles L. Gary (1999) the history of music education is traced from the times of the early Greeks to its current form.  This is an excellent text to have in your personal library for reference. 

In this narrative of the history of music education, two examples are noted of cultures that once held music education in high esteem, but lost that priority.

  1. The Greeks sought education and wealth for the purpose of living a satisfying life.  Music was an important part of the educational system as it was thought to purify the soul.  Also, the Greek culture included many opportunities for adults to participate in musical contests, festivals, and organizations, and they were expected to do so.

What happened?  The music, which had been relatively simple, so that amateurs could participate and perform, became much more difficult.  The level of expertise required meant that only professionals could adequately perform the music. 

What was the result?  Music education had lost its function in the culture.  Although not totally abandoned, there were those (including Aristotle) who questioned its value in the educational system.

  1. The Renaissance was a time of impressive creative activity in music as well as in the other arts.  The shift from Medieval thinking back to the example set by the classic Greek and Roman models inspired intellectual curiosity and innovation.

What happened?  Those who taught music in the universities continued to concentrate their curriculum on the systems of the Middle Ages, and to focus on the theoretical foundations of ancient Greece.

What was the result?  Since the academics did not keep up with the times, their contribution was considered less and less important until music ceased to even be included in the curriculum of most universities.



OUCH!!  Relevance to the culture is important.



At this point, read Chapter 1 in your textbook:  "A History of Public School Music in America"


After reading it, see if you can answer these questions:

  1. Does the United States culture require music?

  2. What did music education accomplish for our culture in the various time periods in U.S. history?


Works Cited

Mark, Michael L. and Charles L. Gary. 1999. A History of American Music Education. 2nd ed. Reston, Virginia: MENC.



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