This article gives an overview of musical education through history.

Source: Reformed Perspective, 1984. 2 pages.

Music Education Throughout the Years

The story of music education is very closely associated with the cultural history of man. When we examine an­cient artifacts, we may note that music making was a regular pastime in all cul­tures. Essential musical skills and tradi­tions are passed along from generation to generation. Therefore it is not sur­prising to discover that with the arrival of formal schooling music moved quite naturally into the curriculum of the schools.

In the classical era, music was closely connected to poetry. Evidence exists that music-poetry and gymnastics formed the basis of the original struc­ture of Greek education. Every young Spartan and youthful citizen of Athens received a solid training to build char­acter, stamina, and grace. Music for the souls and gymnastics for the body! Gradually music became separated from poetry and virtuosity became the key in a musical performance. The simple melodies disappeared, and large ensem­bles with complex instrumentation became fashionable.

In Rome music became a purely intellectual discipline and musical mathematics was studied for its own sake in secondary schools. Based on the writings of Aristotle and Plato a cur­riculum evolved in which music was linked with arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. These four subjects made up the quadrivium, the upper level of the seven liberal arts.

Christians resisted the pagan edu­cational system and it was not until the church assumed control of education, that formal schooling was made avail­able in the cathedral monastery schools. Here music was still an important sub­ject on the curriculum and was taught as a pure science, just as it had been in the pagan system of ancient Rome!

During the Middle Ages, this purely theoretical form of music education remained a prerequisite for the study of law, theology, and medicine. Throughout the Middle Ages, however, the common people had little or no contact with liberal education or the cathedral school. Yet they maintained their musical heritage. Classical mu­sicianship was passed from father to son. Travelling musicians provided regular entertainment, tales of joy and sadness were shared with the town-folk. These troubadours took on a few ap­prentices and in this way secular music continued to develop.

During the Renaissance, the impact of humanistic philosophy revealed itself in music education. Music was no longer considered a scientific discipline, or a setting for the mass only, but it was valued for its intrinsic beauty. The sum of mental elements of music: melody and rhythm, were introduced in the standard curriculum of the court schools and parochial institutions, along with practical experience in vocal and instrumental music.

One of the offshoots of the Refor­mation was the emphasis on the need for vernacular schools and places for instruction of the common people. In 1559 School Regulations were estab­lished by the Duke of Wurtenberg and in 1580 these were adopted by the elec­torate of Saxony. These regulations sig­nalled the beginning of a system of elementary schools, which spread from Germany to the rest of Western Europe. A basic curriculum was established to include: reading, writing, catechism, and singing! In name these schools were controlled by the states, regulated by the clergy and ruled by the sacristan or parish clerk.

The ripples of the contra-Refor­mation were also felt in the area of music education. The council of Trent provided direction for the cleanup of church music. All worldly elements had to be removed, all traces of secular spir­its eradicated. The composer Da Palestrina, met these needs exactly. He used music education in the cathedral schools to get back to the basics: a good balance between melody and rhythm. He showed how the text should be projected clearly and distinctly, using a singable melody and a simple rhythm which fit the words.

Today, we may see traces of the various positions of music education. Parochial schools still prepare students for the musical aspects of the worship service, in addition to a general educa­tion. Music schools, conservatories and private studios reflect the spirit of the troubadours and guilds: to provide a pre-professional musical training of a high calibre. Universities still carry their seven liberal arts and many grant advanced degrees in music. Elementary and secondary schools emphasize mu­sical literacy and the general value of music.

During the last few years, educa­tors have come to realize that many children do not receive musical train­ing beyond their elementary and secon­dary schooling. Attempts are made to upgrade the music curriculum in order to provide the students with a solid basis in music. This has led to the adop­tion and adaption of various methods of music teaching. The influence of Kodaly (Hungary), Orff (Germany), and Suzuki (Japan) are quite noticeable in our music education today.

Zoltan Kodaly's aim was to make all children musically literate. The reading and writing of music was of equal importance to him as general reading and writing. The appreciation of music must be fostered through a clear understanding of the elements of music: melody and rhythm. Children must be able to read, write, perform, and create melodies and rhythms. Ko­daly stressed the use of the most natu­ral instrument — the human voice, as a means to enter the world of music.

Carl Orff, a German composer and educator, also stressed the basic elements of music. He emphasized rhythm and developed a number of percussion instruments to be used in the schools. Children must learn to recog­nize rhythmic patterns, starting from the most simple and leading to the most complex. They must also be encour­aged to create their own music using the percussion instruments. Even the very young are encouraged to make up com­positions by means of clapping, stam­ping, reciting, and singing.

Shinichi Suzuki from Japan, uses the child's natural ability to imitate as a basis for his approach to music education. Preschoolers are invited to come to the music lesson but they must bring a parent. Mom or Dad audits the lesson in order to be able to supervise the following week's practice. This ap­proach to teaching is now used mainly for stringed instruments. Many elemen­tary schools and music schools have made use of this method: the teacher demonstrates; the child imitates.

In general, a combination of var­ious methods in music education seems to be the most successful, but much de­pends on the music teacher himself. It is important not to lose sight of the place of music in education. A sound music education which assesses the balance between melody and rhythm should enable our children to play their own part in our cultural history.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.