Approaches to America’s Music Education

Approaches to America’s Music Education

The teaching and learning process has used various methodologies over the past centuries. Concurrently, the discipline of music is another field that has incorporated multiple methods incorporated into the education system. Scholars and musicians have influenced the decision of music to be part of the education system. Americans have shown great interest in the above phenomena to the point that the U.S Department of Education has included it as a critical subject in the curriculum. This paper will focus on a brief history of the broad approaches that were used to pass music skills from generation to generation to bring this concept to deeper understanding. Different scholars together with their methodologies and their influences on the concern above shall also be discussed. Music plays a vital role in human learning and understanding. Therefore it should be a part of the education system.

History of Music in the U.S.

Music education in the United States is traced long ago since the seventeenth century. Before music was initiated into formal learning institutions, psalms singing was brought by Pilgrims (Mark). They succeeded in passing the basic skills of singing the psalms. The first singing school was established in Boston, following Reverend Thomas Symmes’s preaching (Mark). The focus was not only to improve singing and music reading in churches and religious celebrations but also educate people on how best to develop music. During the years afterward the same schools were started in other colonies as well. After that, the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries have faced numerous transformations in the music education. Similarly, various authors wrote and published texts providing advice to students taking music on advisable singing practices together with songs suitable for use in church.

Music began taking root as a curricular subject in schools. John Tufts published the first music textbook in the era (Mark). Other writers followed suit such that between 1700 and 1820, there were more than 375 published tune books. After the publishing of the mentioned texts, music advanced to each grade level. Also, the teaching of music reading developed until a point when the music curriculum included other activities besides music reading itself. Public school music dominated that by 1864 they were established throughout the republic.

Lowell Mason

Lowell Mason is regarded by many as the founder of music education. He was born on January eighth, 1972, in Medfield, Massachusetts. Early at the age of thirteen, he attended a singing school. Later on at 16, he directed the Medfield choir, and afterward the Medfield band. He then began leading singing schools and concerts, where he became the superintendent of the Sunday school and Leader at the Independent Presbyterian Church. In the same period, he was appointed the choir director and organist. He remains iconic for his many attempts to necessitate music education.

            Mason contributed to elevating the music education back in the days. In 1832, Mason set up the Boston Academy of Music to teach both singing and theory, coupled with teaching music (Mark). Before then, singing classes had been the core method of music education, but with the academy, scholars sought to broaden the singing curriculum to encompass music study as well as theoretical concepts. Mason published his textbook Manual of Instruction which appealed to many (Mark). He was then called to demonstrate music classes in the Hawes School, where it proved significant. In 1838, the Boston School Committee included music in the curriculum (Mark). The above marked the introduction of music education public schools in the U.S.

Other districts and states who were inspired implemented music into their educational system. Boston became the inspiration to which towns modified their music education programs (Mark). Music became a popular and well-respected subject of study in all public schools, from junior to high school. Although the main teaching styles were performance instruction and studying theory from textbooks, there followed some advancements. Much support for public music eluded from different areas. One was the increase in the teaching of the number of tutors in the singing schools. The other was due to choral activities propelled by choral societies. Various activities saw the growth of Mason’s music education approach.

The School Band Movement

Another influence on music education was the school band movement. The increasing number of students enrolled in public primary schools saw with it the increase in the number of bands. Both the school orchestra and marching band programs aimed at developing more modern and more enjoyable aspects of music in the curriculum. John Philip Sousa spearheaded the marches which helped to build the popularity of the bands in turn (Whitehill). Schools then paraded either all-men or sometimes all-women groups which played vital roles like entertaining soldiers from the world war (Whitehill). Music methodology was a course for teachers in Normal schools bore teaching colleges where four-year degree programs inclusive of music were offered (Whitehill).  Indeed the bands raised the music education the ladder.

The emergence of Music Education Associations

In the 20th century, the NAfME was significant in the journey. The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) is a society of American music educators (Keene). It targeted at preserving and elevating music learning into the curriculum of schools in the United States. From the 1930s through the Second World War, the commission improvised a proper way to sing the national anthem. The group further established a bill of rights that gave children an opportunity to explore their musical dreams (Keene). This was an affiliation that transformed whilst struggling to provide music education a place in society.

The Kodaly Approach

With the vast number of musicians, there are also many methodologies used to learn music. Coherently, every teaching style has a philosophy behind it which influences what and how it is delivered. Zoltan Kodaly as suggests the name, was the inventor of Kodaly music education method (Ittzés). It was an interactive, collaborative and highly kinesthetic method. It encompasses many important processes useful for developing the vital art of music performance. Kodaly approach had a significant impact on music education in the early ages.

Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967) showed an interest in music from an early age. He contributed to his school orchestra since he composed for them. Kodaly began traveling extensively after his Ph.D. Through this trips to the countryside together with his stint in Paris, where he was influenced by French composer Charles Widor, he discovered the music of Claude Debussy (Ittzés). Gathering knowledge in the musical arena, he collaborated with Bela Bartok to compose a collection of Hungarian folk songs. Kodaly’s efforts to learn music transformed him into a professional composer of those ages.

Soon after his return to Budapest, Zoltan he became a music professor. In 1923, he experienced his musical break upon being invited to present a piece to celebrate the anniversary of the union of the two cities, Buda and Pest (Ittzés). Not only did it catapult him to national-treasure status, but also it gained him international recognition. He further composed two operas which added up onto his fame. Kodaly continued to teach for the majority of his life. He returned to Liszt Academy as director (Ittzés). For the majority of his remaining life, he continued to teach even after retiring as a professor.

Growing up in political disquiet, Kodaly was influenced to preserve his country’s culture. Using his musical prowess, he identified many errors in the existing methods. One mistake he noted was the inappropriate time at which music learning started. He viewed it as very late (Ittzés). In 1925, he overheard children singing, became so unpleased that he sought out to challenge the education system, marking the beginning of new and improvised techniques that were to be used throughout the centuries (Ittzés). Zoltan found the answer on how best to maintain his nation’s culture in music education.

He wrote articles and essays to raise public interest in how low the music education was. He believed there were solutions like÷ teachers who had been adequately trained, an improved curriculum, and allocation of more time to music learning (Ittzés). He believed in the importance of heritage and culture in music education. He advocated for the utilization of culture to best teach children musical literacy. Successfully creating a new curriculum, he developed a system which involved children singing folk songs in their mother tongue (Ittzés). The music education gradually changed through his influence.

With his continued efforts, music schools began initiating. With the new Hungarian government, Kodaly’s ideas were implemented in public schools. Finally, in 1945, Hungary’s first music primary school was established (Mark). Following the success, more than a hundred other schools started in the same decade. However, the ideas did not end. The methodologies of these music schools were brought to conferences which allowed other music tutors to see Kodaly’s concept (Ittzés). There followed a massive step of imitating these techniques by the different music educators all over. Kodaly’s methods rendered famously and they quickly spread to other parts.

Kodaly’s concern for music learning in Hungary grew. He discovered that his technically proficient students could still not meditate on the music in their heads. He viewed an exemplary music artist as one with a trained ear, intelligence and heart as well as trained fingers (Ittzés). A student who violated these ideologies was doomed and eventually had difficulties in learning music. The chronological arrangement of ideas was crucial in the process of learning music without which everything would go astray.

Kodaly trusted that music is entitled to everyone. To him, music is spiritual nourishment with no substitutes, and so there is no spiritual life without music. Music is the only key that can access some parts of the human soul. He based his concept on Rhythm names and solfa after realizing they were necessities to develop musical literacy (Ittzés). Afterward, his colleagues and students began to incorporate his ideas into use and developed a methodology which applies from birth or before up to high levels of training (Ittzés). Kodaly had various ideologies that conformed to peoples beliefs regarding music. If a child has no experience of beats, then the information renders useless.

In Kodaly lessons, children are taught systematically. From the simple to complex ideas, the learning is structured in a series of logical steps. He believed that adding knowledge to what one already had prior information to be the best approach towards music education. Starting by imitation, children are taught songs and rhymes (Ittzés). Gradually, whatever they have learned unknowingly is made conscious. This is because they determine the right vocabulary to illustrate the glossary and a representation symbol. A practical and logical sequence is thus used. Through the Kodaly approach, success in music education is guaranteed because children learn best at what they are familiar.

Songs used were to be of impeccable quality, hence were mostly in one’s mother-tongue. Kodaly believed Folk-song to be of good taste. Consequently, those who conversed themselves with whatever is good at an early age would be able to resist the bad in later stages. Children’s singing games, which originated from the streets and playgrounds, were mostly utilized (Ittzés). Children of all ages still loved these songs, and one could not miss spotting a few in the streets reveling on them. Even older children had an opportunity to chant on them as if they were little kids again. Although later on songs and written art music were also used, the musical knowledge always originated from the song material.

Voice stands out as the core factor in Kodaly’s tutting. This instrument is both free and portable since it is part of us. Anything that is learned through singing is understood more deeply and thoroughly. Song has a significant impact on a child’s attributes including÷ physical, social, emotional and intellectual development (Ittzés). Indeed, singing is the surest way to make a musical response. Compared to instruments, a song is a person because you make the sound rather than the instrument. Singing develops the personal hearing which is vital for any musician. Indeed, it is impossible to sing whatever has not been imagined in the ear (Ittzés). If it happens so, there develops a series of a musician who do not know the essence of their singing. Therefore, singing provides a fundamental basis for developing various personal attributes.

Carl Orff Approach- the Schulwerk

 Carl (1895-1982) declared that children nee proportioned stimulation. He mentions that music helps in healthy growth by regulating the stimuli involved. With some of his colleagues, he developed the Orff-Schulwerk to mean work for schools (Austin). His love for dance led him to join hands and open up a school for dancers, which inspired Orff to compose the Schulwerk (Austin). This marked the beginning of the essential musical journey by Orff.

Orff focused on music with rhythm as the best kind. When composing pieces for children, he focused on rhythm. His method is elemental since it starts from the easy works to the diverse. He based his model on ancient cultures familiar to most, which combined various acts and body striking all into a single process of music (Austin). He saw children to possess the above basic approach towards music. Music education first was by hearing and making music, then later reading and writing (Austin). Similar to how we started understanding our local dialect, the rote before note way.

Similar to Kodaly, Orff developed several techniques to build his musical targets. Firstly, he emphasized on utilizing the body as a percussion instrument. Any part of the body could be used as a musical instrument. The agency could be either a piece of equipment or as an aider to music (Austin). He initiated different body movements that gradually elevated (Austin). The skills were to be implemented in a sequential way respective to the child’s growth. The action is vital in Carl’s technique.

Voice is also a vital factor in this methodology. In Orff-Schulwerk, original songs were pentatonic, a scale with only five notes, similar to Kodaly’s method (Austin). This was later followed by the introduction of two more letters at the second level. The third tool Orff developed was the Orff Instrumentarium (Austin). He used barred instruments including xylophones, metallophones and glockenspiels, recorders and some percussion instruments, and designed them into specifications. The notion behind the different devices was to create a variety of tones. The xylophones manufactured from lumber produced a parched sound. Metallophones made from metal have watery sound while the glockenspiels have a distinctive bell sound (Austin). Different textures are offered which are all relatively fun to play.

Carl Orff’s pieces are whole-rounded. They start at an introduction, accompaniment and a coda. Serving as examples, they provide a vocabulary that children can listen to and even modify or create their compositions (Austin). Orff bases his concept from whatever is sang by kids. He uses bordun which sound well with pentatonic melodies and can be improvised. Finally, he included introductions, and a closure (Austin). This builds children experience with regards to music. Orff’s was trying to achieve a state of live music for young kids.

Orff’s method reflected both the Kodaly and Suzuki method in that they all share one concept. He employs various items like songs as basic requirements (Austin). It happens in a calm surrounding where the most basic reward is the pleasure. He designed his musical experiences to be known and incorporated and used as a means for learning vast musical concepts like beat and tempo (Austin).

Comparison to China’s Music Education Standards

Both countries have some time allocated to music education in schools. In China’s primary school, music class supposed to be offered twice a week (Ho). In junior middle school lesser priority of two categories is provided. In the primary, it adds up to roughly sixty to ninety minutes per week, while in the middle it sums up approximately to forty-five to sixty minutes per week. In higher grades, there is no time set up for such classes. However, some schools still manage to avail it. Music education has been given priority especially at lower levels of learning.

The United States has also set out its requirements for music in the curriculum. The Music Educators National Conference’s standard for the basic program in elementary schools calls for seven percent of the total instructional time or one hundred minutes per week in primary (Keene). Middle schools and junior high schools should offer general music in all grades, for a minimum of ninety class periods per year. Musicianship course should also be available in high school. In both countries, the desire is to have music education offered in schools from primary onwards. Music specialists are also involved in the process.

Both countries are stumbling to bits when it comes to actualities. The standards are more ideologies than practicalities. Only a fraction of the U.S. general music classes in elementary grades is taught by specialists (Keene). Few schools also attain the desired number of minutes of instructions. Given the enormous variability of actual school practices in both countries, it is seen that neither country even begins to accomplish the minimal aims it has set for itself. The investments in general music education depict the two countries as uncompetitive.


When performance is considered, there emerges a big difference. The United States has achieved standards of quantity such as÷ time per week during school hours, the percentage of students involved, the number of specialist teachers, and budget allotments (Austin). This is a quality that is unmatched anywhere in the world in regards to music educational phenomena, leave alone China (Ho). Although China can point out instances of excellence in school performance by groups or individuals, especially in their traditional music performance, America still stands out as the general achiever in this field.

Another area of difference is with regards to the preparation of specialist teachers whose primary role will be for performance. China’s primary school music teachers have two or at most three years of training, of which little focuses on teaching methods of music. Middle school teachers also may or may not have a course in ways (Ho). In the U.S. no regular music school teacher has less than a bachelor’s degree in music education including meeting state certification requirements (Keene). While most music school teachers in America attain a master’s degree, there is no graduate study in music education whatsoever in China. The United States offers advanced studies in music education compared different from China.


            Music plays a very crucial role in our development right from childhood. Tracing its origin in the seventeenth century to date, various music specialists have impacted the musical journey. In the U.S. particularly, music has embarked on a journey that has seen it grow and incorporate into educational facilities. Starting from Lowell Mason, the father of music education, to other reputable people like Carl Orff and Zoltan Kodaly have marked their contributions to elevating the importance of good music education. With good music education, different notions of children’s learning can be improved. Therefore, music education is a significant factor that should not only be ingested into the curriculum, but also concern should be kept on how to modify it.



Works Cited

Mark, Michael L.; Charles Gary L. “A history of American music education” (3 Ed.). Rowman & Littlefield Education. 2007. ISBN 978-1-57886-523-9.

Whitehill, Charles D. “Sociological Conditions Which Contributed to the Growth of the School Band Movement in the United States.” Journal of Research in Music Education, vol. 17, no. 2, 1969, JSTOR,

Keene, James A. A History of Music Education in the United States. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1982. MT3 .U5 K26 1982

Ittzés, Mihály. “Zoltán Kodály 1882-1967: Honorary President of ISME 1964-1967.” International Journal of Music Education, vol. 22, no. 2, Aug. 2004, doi:10.1177/0255761404044015.

Austin, William W. “Carl Orff.” Journal of Research in Music Education, vol. 15, no. 2, July 1967, doi:10.2307/3344019.

Ho, Wai-Chung. “Preferences for popular music in and outside school among Chinese secondary school students.” 2015 Journal of Youth Studies 18:2.