Technology in and For the Instrumental Music Classroom

Music education, in some form, goes back as far as education itself. While sometimes struggling for legitimacy, it nonetheless has had its champions. More recently, as technology has flourished within education, technological applications designed specifically for the teaching of music have been developed. While much of this technology is designed primarily for the classroom there are programs designed for the student to utilize in the home, albeit limited to those students with a home computer and internet access.

The teaching of music in the American educational Guitar backing tracks setting dates back 1838 when Lowell Mason introduced singing classes to Boston grammar schools. Instrumental music appeared in fits and starts over the next fifty years but was never included during the school day; rather, it was relegated to the ranks of extracurricular activities. Around the turn of the century, instrumental music began to see some acceptance into the classroom, though often was taught by those untrained in the area of music education. Moreover, little if any standardization of the instrumentation or music literature existed. (Rhodes, 2007)

Near the conclusion of World War I the quality of school music began to increase. This was due primarily to veterans who, after having been musically trained in the various service branches, began to fill music teaching positions in the schools. Band, however, was still regarded as an extracurricular activity. (Ibid)

In 1907, the Music Supervisors National Conference or MSNC, (now known as the Music Educators National Conference or MENC) was organized to support school music. In 1912 a proposal was made to include, as accredited subjects, a number of music activities including choruses and general music. Band was included – but at a much lower priority. Later, however, at the Cleveland MSNC conference in 1923, Edgar B. Gordon stated,

“The high school band is no longer an incidental school enterprise prompted largely by the volunteer services of a high school teacher who happens to have had some band experience, but rather an undertaking which is assigned to a definite place in the school schedule with a daily class period under a trained instructor and with credit allowed for satisfactory work done.” (Ibid)

In the same year, and likely due to the increase in both acceptance and importance, Carl Greenleaf (then head of C. G. Conn Ltd.) helped organize the first National Band Contest in Chicago. Later, in 1928, he directed the Conn company to contribute to the founding of the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan and later supported publications designed to support band directors. While these endeavors may have appeared somewhat self-serving in light of his position with Conn, they nonetheless helped establish school band as a significant part of school curriculum. (Banks, 1997)

Despite a gradual, while still limited, acceptance of instrumental music within the school curriculum, budget cuts have often curtailed or even eliminated these programs. Further, with the recent increased emphasis upon “teaching to the test” due to the pressures of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and similar state requirements, support for the inclusion of music in schools has begun to wane. Michelle R. Davis, in “Education Week,” stated “The federal No Child Left Behind Act is prompting many schools to cut back on subjects such as social studies, music, and art to make more time for reading and mathematics…” (Davis, 2006) This is most unfortunate considering that the study of music, especially instrumental music, has proved to be beneficial for all students – even increasing their ability to reason and problem-solve.

Many theorists have contributed to the elevation of music as central to education, or at the very least, demonstrated that limiting the school environment to the “Three R’s” is short-sighted. Howard Gardner postulated his “Multiple Intelligences” theory with the understanding that children do not possess identical propensities for learning. Not only do they have differing capacities for learning but have differing capacities for learning in many areas. These areas, as he explained, are the varying intelligences of which he speaks. Originally describing seven intelligences (of which music is highlighted) he identified two specifically (linguistic and logical-mathematical) as “the ones that have typically been valued in school.” (Gardner, 1999, p41) Obviously, Gardner recognized that the educational system was not reaching all students – only those that could “do school” well. Gardner did not limit his study, of course, to the mere existence of multiple intelligences but demonstrated that a given person can be strong in more than one, enabling those intelligences to interact one with the other. He explained that, “there are other ways in which different intelligences can affect each other…one intelligence can mediate and constrain the others; one intelligence can compensate for another; and one intelligence can catalyze another.” (Gardner 2, 2006, p219) He further extolled the advantages of a musical intelligence by explaining that “…a strong musical intelligence may lead a person engaged in a linguistic task to be more sensitive to the rhythmic properties of language as well as its meaning.” (Ibid, p223)

While many may assume that music and the study thereof is associated primarily to that which is heard, it is also related quite closely to mathematics. Dahlhaus, reflecting Rameau stated that “music had its origins in the Pythagorean proportions; (i.e., music is a mathematics).” (Gargarian, 1996, p137, 138) Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the theory that music is mathematical in toto, there should be little dispute as to the relativity of music notation to mathematics. Indeed, introducing the coordinate, or Cartesian, plane appears to aid the new music student in understanding the horizontal (x), and vertical (y) axes of music notation. Simply stated, the horizontal (x) axis on the music staff relates to duration while the vertical (y) axis relates to pitch. This, of course is a reflection upon Gardner’s aforementioned theory of intelligence interaction.

There is further evidence that instrumental music study is advantageous for the student. In 1995, Gottfried Schlaug, et al, published a study, “Increased Corpus Callosum Size in Musicians” wherein they described an increase in neural fibers across the Corpus Callosum (CC), contributing to its enlargement. They further were able to determine that this increase in fibers/CC size was attributable to instrumental music study. (Schlaug, et al, 1995) Obviously, the supposition can easily be made that, if there is greater cross-talk between the two hemispheres of the brain (specifically, the left – thought to be the analytical, and the right – thought to be the creative) the result would be a person with a greater, more creative, problem-solving ability.

 

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