Meri’s Musical Musings

What’s wrong with making music education ‘relevant’ to students

Posted on: October 6, 2013

Increasingly in the last 3-5 years, there has been a tendency and desire to make learning in school relevant to kids, especially kids who are not of a traditional European background. More and more, I see bands and orchestras disappearing, with these music programs replaced by things such as rock band, ukelele, guitar classes, boomwhackers, and world drumming. As well, music of the great masters is being taught less and less, and replaced with a curriculum of music written within the last 20 years, sometimes 10 years.

There are some major problems with making music education relevant to kids.

First, it means that children will only learn to do things that are relatively easy, and lose the additional benefits that go beyond learning an instrument for several years that apply to several subjects.

Second, children are inspired by the music of the great masters. Imagine if children 25 years from now no longer know Beethoven’s Ode to Joy or the famous Minuet in G attributed to J.S. Bach. Pretty scary, I would think. In fact, songs that most children I knew when I was growing up in the 1980s, the Canadian and other famous folk songs, and the many children’s songs and rhymes, many of my private students have never heard them, instead being more familar with the latest pop song, even when their playing skills are at a very elementary level.

Third, it will cause problems in music faculties in approximately 10 years, which means they will have to accept more, if not many more students of lower ability on traditional instruments than they currently do, which is a reverse of the trend in the last 20 years with undergraduate students playing pieces for auditions that used to be reserved for graduate students only.

Fourth, it will cause havoc in special ensembles outside of school, again, because they will have fewer players available and will generally be of lower ability.

Fifth, it causes problems for private teachers who teach most instruments in bands and orchestras. Many private teachers other than piano, guitar, and sometimes violin are struggling for students, and with declining numbers because of full replacement of such programs with the alternative musical curriculums.

Sixth, students who learn to compose will not have the understanding of the capabilities and ranges of different instruments without studying traditional band and orchestra instruments, so they know what range is acceptable for various playing levels, and note combinations to avoid, say, due to problems with lack of alternate fingerings. As well, they will not have much exposure to the variety of instrument timbres (sound qualities) outside of a mechanical reproduction of them, which can and often does sound far removed from actually playing the instrument.

Seventh, some children are simply not interested in alternative music programs, and some students parents have a problem with them, often resorting to putting children in private schools or at least a school that has band and orchestra programs. As well, some children may not have a history in their family of succeeding on a traditional instrument, but discover that they have a real knack for learning it, and desire private lessons to further enhance their study. Sometimes too, it’s children who are the least well off or the parents are unsupportive who show the most skill and practice more and better than their peers. I’ve even had a piano student who was doing really well on the piano for his age (his school grade was the same as his piano level, who was in a rock band program as the keyboardist) but because of strong practice habits he developed on the keyboard using efficient practice techniques, I would have encouraged him to play one of the more challenging band or orchestra instruments, like the oboe. (he liked both classical and popular music BTW, and actually preferred classical stuff)

Finally, the replacement of traditional music instruction will cause problems for community bands and orchestras, as there will be far fewer people who are able to play those instruments that are played in them. Community guitar, world drumming, ukelele, and rock band ensembles rarely exist outside of school, but most communities, especially in larger cities, usually have several bands and orchestras that one can join depending on your playing level.


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  • 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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