Music Education in America – Artists House Music

This article originally appeared on, the free online musician’s resource.

Music Education in America
Debbie Cavalier

Many of us who work in the music industry can point to our school music programs as the spark that ignited our passion for music, many years ago. Well-funded programs provided an array of musical experiences that fueled our passion and fed our soul. Studies have shown that the benefits students enjoy from participating in school music programs go far beyond the intrinsic value. Though music for music’s sake is reason enough, scientific research has documented the importance of music education and its impact on improved overall school performance, SAT scores, increased spatial awareness, and a decrease in disciplinary problems.

Knowing this, it would only make sense that music would be at the core of America’s public school systems; but this is not the case. Many schools in America have continued to reduce or eliminate music education programs, particularly in major urban school districts. And, with the current emphasis on “basics,” too often challenged students do not have time in their schedules to take music classes, despite the data that shows the positive effect of music upon developing self-efficacy and dispositions toward learning. This most often occurs in schools where parents are less likely to be advocates for music instruction because of language difficulties or a social or emotional disconnect with schools in general.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) names the arts as a core subject. However, even this specific language doesn’t help when it comes to the reality of programming school music. Budget cuts, high stakes testing, and scheduling issues all take their toll on music programs in this country.

Lift Every Voice

Public school budget cutbacks in the arts have created the need for strategic efforts to make the case at all levels of education and government regarding the important role of music and arts in education and society.

“The most helpful thing those that care about music and the arts in our schools can do is to be vocally supportive of music programs to decision makers, to speak about how music is a factor in everyday life regarding decision making, quality of life, and cultural connectedness,” states June Hinckley, Music and Fine Arts Curriculum Specialist, Florida Department of Education. “They need to show that music is not a frill, but at the core of what makes us human and binds us as a nation.”

To help champion these efforts, music education advocacy resources containing research and support information are available through the efforts of such organizations as The National Association for Music Education (MENC), The International Music Products Association (NAMM), American Music Conference(AMC),, and the Music for All Foundation. Those of us who make a living in the music industry should champion advocacy efforts by pro-actively supporting music education in our schools. Whether you work as a writer, producer, artist, manager, or occupy some other part of the music industry, you know better than most people how music can change a life, and can speak to the importance of music in education.

Michael Greene, Recording Academy President and CEO in 2000, set the stage for all of us by emphasizing the importance of music education in his speech at the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards. In it he said, “Music is a magical gift we must nourish and cultivate in our children especially now as scientific evidence proves that an education in the arts makes better math and science students, enhances spatial intelligence in newborns, and let’s not forget that the arts are a compelling solution to teen violence, certainly not the cause of it!” “Source: MENC-The National Association for Music Education “Music Education Facts and Figures” 2002″. For further questions, contact

In addition to the advocacy and support of the music industry, music educators must take matters into their own hands and become grass roots, proactive public relations and marketing machines for their own school music programs. They must create and operate their own music education advocacy campaign to promote their program’s benefits to students, the school system, and the community at large.

Music educators must also continue to expand their own education and skill set. This includes learning and incorporating the tools of technology in music instruction. These skills will enable teachers to develop portfolios of their student’s work, including sound recordings and music notation files of student performances, compositions, and arrangements. The tools of technology can serve to enhance, support, and promote music programs in ways never before possible. Just imagine the impact of a child walking in the door at the end of the school day proudly stating, “Look at what I made in music class today!” Tangible outcomes can make a difference in the perception of a program’s importance. The tools of music technology can help to make tangible outcomes possible.

Music is important in educating the whole person. In addition to the intrinsic value of music for music’s sake, scientific research has documented the importance of music and the arts for a complete education. With support and advocacy work from the music industry, grass roots advocacy efforts made by music educators, and the incorporation of the tools of technology in instruction, we can begin to replace the “Sound of Silence” in our school systems with that of “A Joyful Noise.”

This article originally appeared on Debbie Cavalier is the dean of continuing education for Berklee College of Music’s online extension school,

Debbie Cavalier, educator, author, and Dean of Berklee’s Continuing Education Division, writes about the state of music education in America in this Artists House article.