Meri’s Musical Musings

Are some school music programs intentionally sabotaging themselves?

Posted on: August 10, 2009

I have often thought about whether some school music programs, especially in the elementary schools, are intentionally sabotaging themselves. I originally thought this was happening only in a few schools, but my experience working at an elementary school a few years ago, where the music teacher was a clarinetist but wasn’t teaching a good basic technique to her students, students not being asked to play with good habits, the day I met one of my private students, whose dad showed me the rather poor condition of her school instrument, what my students tell me about how bad some clarinetists who are a few years older than they are sound, and the several unrepaired instruments at the school my community band rehearsed at.

This is a sharp contrast to what school music teachers should be teaching. Now even some high school teachers don’t pick on students about posture or sound. The result that these students were still sounding bad when they reached college age.

In many schools, students are not taught basic technique. What is the justification for not teaching basic technique? Because they think the kids should be having fun. How can learning to play an instrument be fun if students are stuggling with posture, embouchure, bow-holds, breathing, covering the holes, hand position, etc.? Young students want to sound good, and the best way of doing this is by teaching and reinforcing good basic playing habits from the very beginning, rather than struggling to correct bad habits later. There are lots of ways of making the learning of basic technique enjoyable for students. Not only that, but when young students know how to sound good, they are much more likely to enjoy learning to play an instrument than when they are struggling to play.

In many schools, students often do not learn much in the way of music reading skills. Often, the only ones who do read fluently are those studying an instrument privately. This is what I have encountered, based on what my private students or their parents have told me: using a number system to teach note names, using a number system to teach fingerings, writing in every note name. Can one imagine how difficult it would be to teach more advanced musical concepts?

In many schools, students are also not being challenged musically. What some school music programs teach in two years, private students usually learn it in 4-6 weeks. The result is that school music students are bored, and often decide to quit music or switch instruments.

In many schools, students are not taught how to maintain the instrument. Students are not taught to apply key or valve oil, to place cork grease on the tenon joints, to check for loose screws and place them back in, or even to swab their instruments after playing, things that privately-taught students learn.

In many schools, students are not using good-quality and well-maintained equipment. School music teachers often let their students play with poor-quality bows, mouthpieces, and reeds. Some of the schools are even purchasing instruments from inferior makers, if only for the purpose of saving money. Most good-quality instruments should last at least 10-15 years with good maintenance. As a result, students may often be struggling to play their instruments because of a mouthpiece that is warped, a bow whose hair is falling apart, or valves that are sticking.

In many schools, the music teachers simply don’t care about music and having young students sound good. It is not a result of lack of money, it is a result of lack of caring. It cannot be a result of lack of money because the few schools that have teachers that do care about the basics always sound good and do well at competitions. It also has to be a result of a lack of caring because most schools don’t care about creative ways of funding their music programs, and most music teachers appear to care more about having a nice house or a nice car rather than putting the students first and helping them succeed in music.

Considering all the things school and school boards are doing to justify cutting music programs, on the basis of the fact that it’s not achieving good results, the potential that teachers, schools and school boards are intentionally sabotaging their music programs must be examined.


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  • None
  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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