Music exists in every culture in the world. It is accepted as a means of communication that can often be understood cross-culturally and allows for the expression of human emotion in a manner that the written or spoken word cannot address. Music provides historical benchmarks by being ever present as social and political commentary. It also articulates a cultural legacy from one generation to the next. Music is unique to mankind in its ability to fill the human spirit with physical response, emotional intensity, and recognized understanding, simultaneously. It stands to reason that a society that values the benefits of music will have a richer culture. To place value in music is to also claim responsibility in the education of the people whose lives are enriched by it. Thus, the goal of music education is to continue to enhance cultural, civic, and social awareness in society and to foster individual growth and enrichment while simultaneously addressing the communal agenda of music to provide the opportunity for development of autonomous individuals who are simultaneously contributing members of society.
Music education has benefits on many different levels. The societal implications mentioned previously are a result of the improvements to quality of life that an individual who participates in music education experiences. Music offers the opportunity for individuals to develop their cognitive, affective, psychomotor, and kinesthetic, simultaneously in an educational setting. Beyond the study of music for its own sake, music should be part of an interdisciplinary curriculum, integrating other disciplines and areas of learning through parallel and thematic concepts. Incorporating musical intelligence across the curriculum provides a stronger bond for the development of abstract thinking, problem solving, and higher-order thinking skills. Personal benefits commonly include the fostering of self-discipline, self-confidence, self-motivation, creativity, and reliability, to name a few. Music is also a social form of expression and allows for the promoting of one’s own culture as well as an appreciation for the multiculturalism of today’s world. The social aspect develops communication skills, leadership abilities, camaraderie, cooperative learning, community pride, and many other valued societal traits. In short, the life long learning process of music education enhances the quality of life. It is for all these reasons that music education is imperative in the schools. Learning the elements of music and all the social and historical implications must begin with the children, as they will be the individuals that enrich and define the future.
The question of beginning the musical education of an individual is easily answered by broadening the implications and specificity of the question. Instead of asking when music education should begin, ask; When should the cultural, social, and political education of our children begin? The cultural and social aspects begin in the home, at birth. It is the responsibility of the educational institution to carry the educational process forward, beginning as early as an institution is established. Music is intertwined within the culture of all societies and should be recognized as such. With this in mind, the curriculum in any music education program should be comprised of repertoire, ensembles, and learning opportunities that reflect the multiculturalism of today’s world. In addition, music education should be available to all students, not just the select few that participate in performing ensembles. This type of curriculum allows the teacher to introduce the topic of music in a more culturally relevant manner before exploring the many other significant possibilities. The topic of who should teach naturally arrives from this last statement.
Teaching is an art form in its own right. Some individuals have the natural gift of combining the basic traits of a successful teacher; communication skills, knowledge and skill of subject matter, pedagogy and methodology, and interpersonal skills. Most individuals can develop all these traits to some extent and some will continue to struggle with at least one aspect their entire career. This is not dissimilar to the art of performing music, yet often times the two art forms are misrepresented as one. A music teacher must be a good educator first. This places the utmost responsibility on the teacher to be a mentor and role model to all students while teaching life skills that will benefit the students beyond an educational institution’s time frame. Teaching takes place through the subject matter, and it is here that musicianship must take center stage as it is a music educator’s most valuable tool. The more competently the teacher reflects the subject matter, the more benefit the student will derive from the experience. However, lack of teaching ability produces disastrous results with even the most musically intended educator. A balance must be reached whereby the art of teaching and the art of musicing have both been fostered. Content must also be considered as it is obvious that a third grade general education class will have different cognitive, affective, and psychomotor demands than a college orchestra. In both cases, however, the art of teaching must be the catalyst for success. Finally, a teacher must have the ability to balance the content of what is being taught with the context of why it is being taught. There must be connective strands that allow students to experience the motivation to learn, in order to address issues that they believe are important and relevant to their lives and the world they live in.