My Philosophy of Music Education (2013)

David Fonda

            This is a document I have completed several times since embarking on my journey of becoming a Music Educator. Now that I have been in the classroom for five years, my thoughts pertaining to my philosophy have changed slightly. Often times as young people we are asked what we want to be when we grow up, I feel that I was fortunate as a young person to know what I wanted to be at an early age. This awareness led to many wonderful experiences in various aspects of the Arts. So why is this important, you may ask? It is of the utmost importance because a philosophy is a belief or opinion, opinions are shaped by experiences, and experiences are opportunities to learn about yourself, the world around you, and your place in it. There are several questions to be answered when discussing one’s philosophy of Music Education. All of these questions will be answered through sharing my idea that encompasses my thoughts on Music Education.

            My thoughts on Music Education can be summed up by a single phrase, “Platform vs. Perimeter”. I have noticed during my time in the public school system that not only Music, but the Arts are often viewed as “other” or “additional” content. The nomenclature alone informs us of the intended place for the Arts in the grand scheme of things. Other teachers are referred to as “Core Teachers” or they are referred to as the teachers of “Core academic content”. This suggests that Math, Science, Social Studies and Reading are at the center of the school’s academic focus and that all other subjects are merely on the perimeter. Being an Elementary teacher, I understand the importance of Math, Science, Social Studies and Reading.  However, I believe the issue can be found in the approach to these subjects not just their implied superiority.

            The difference in approach is what I mentioned earlier, the idea of “Platform vs. Perimeter”. I have noticed that in many regards this approach is already in place in many schools when they compare their approach to Math, Science and Social Studies (perimeter) as compared to Reading (platform).  Those in the education field have long identified the importance of Reading and how it relates to all other subjects. If a student struggles in Reading, then it is highly likely that they will struggle in other subject areas as well as in test taking.  Reading is of great importance as a tool of communication when learning about the other subjects of Math, Science and Social Studies. This is because all of those subjects use the skills taught in reading to transmit information relevant to their subject areas. What I propose is that we take the same approach to Music Education. Thus making Music the platform from which we connect to all other subjects.

            Music naturally connects with ALL subjects. The list of examples is rather expansive but I will attempt to present several of the highlights of each subject area.

Science – There are many connections to Science through Music, the most prominent one being the connection between Music and Physics, more specifically acoustics. The creation of sound through vibrations, how sound is measured, wave length and frequency, how it changes through dynamic changes from loud to soft, pitch and how it relates to speed of vibration. Without having an oscilloscope, it is very difficult for students to “see” sound and how it is measured. This disconnect of experience leads to a questionable understanding of the concepts, at best. By utilizing the members of the String and Percussion families in Music class, these sound concepts become tangible tactile experiences which increase the depth of student understanding of these intangible concepts.

Social Studies – This is a very easy subject to connect to Music because of Music’s connection to culture. Many of the Classical music masters came from Europe centuries ago; yet their music is still relevant today. Music was directly related to current events of the day, it helps us understand and imagine what it might be like be in the court of a King or Queen, or be in the middle of a war and see our countries’ flag flying while war is all around. Our country is often referred to as a melting pot and the contents of that pot came from many different countries. Without those contributions from other countries, our state, our region, our country would be very different. Since there has been lyrics sung to music there has been the expression of feelings, both happy and sad, both in favor and against the current events of the world. Music brings those written stories to life in a way that paper cannot. Often times it is difficult for students of any age to truly understand or imagine what life is like in another cultural. Music is the one thing that is universal between all cultures. Its form or interpretation may change but all cultures have Music that identify them in some way or another. When a student is able to connect with a cultures’ Music, it helps them understand their daily life and what they hold as important.

Reading – There are many aspects of Music that have a direct application to Reading. Construction - As we first begin to read, we start with letters (pitches/rhythmic values). Then we put those letters together to create words (melodic/rhythmic motives). Then those words are formulated into sentences (melodic/rhythmic phrase). Those sentences are chained together into a larger cohesive thought known as a paragraph (melodic/rhythmic section). Those paragraphs are then linked sequentially to create an essay (piece of music). Fluency - When learning to read, it is important for students to learn to look just ahead of what they are reading to help them read with more fluency. Rhythm reading reinforces and practices the same skills needed for reading fluency in English through the language of Music. Rhythmic quality - Words inherently have rhythm and understanding a words rhythm aids in reading it fluently. Understanding words and their rhythms also helps students understand how poetry is constructed and how rhyming schemes work. Approach - Music is read from left to right and is written in sequential lines and arranged vertically from top to bottom just like English. 

Math – In my classroom, I often times tell my students that Music and Math are best friends. I honestly believe that statement. The way music is structured, even in its smallest form, is mathematical. The time signature of a piece of music sets up the boundaries for mathematical exploration. By defining a limit to the number of beats that can occur in a given measure, each measure becomes an addition problem to solve. Every year I use the connection between Music and Math to deepen the understanding of two big concepts. The first one is utilizing the note values tree to connect Music with fractions. For example, the half note takes up half of the measure in 4/4 time. We then figure out what we have to add to that to create 1 whole. We then do the same things with quarter notes and eighth notes, all working to add up to 1 whole. Then we determine how much (fraction) of the measure has sound and how much is silent. Then we check our answer by adding them together to create 1 whole. The second connection I use is called Music Math; this reinforces two concepts at the same time. I use the value of the note to create addition and subtraction problems. We start with whole, half and quarter notes. The next step is adding eighth notes. By adding eighth notes this allows me to create problems that require the result to be a mixed number. For example, two quarter notes plus one eighth note would have a sum of 2 ½. These are just the two biggest connections I make with Music and Math each year, there are many others to explore.

            The previous paragraphs worked to answer the following questions; what makes music valuable and why should Music be taught in schools. There are still a few questions to answer. The next question is; what kind of music should be taught in schools. ALL Music has value. Whether it is something that you would play every time you got the chance or not at all, ALL Music has value. Any good teacher, or speaker for that matter, knows that it is very important to know your classroom/audience. Obviously the same music that is relevant in a Kindergarten classroom may not be on your list of must plays for your middle school students. It is very important that various genres of Music be presented to students with an open mind. I don’t expect my students to like everything they hear but I do expect them to openly communicate about their thoughts of what they are hearing and their opinion about it.

            The final questions left to answer are; who should teach Music and who should learn. The answer to that is very easy, EVERYONE. Music should be a part of every classroom. Our culture has slowly but surely gone from a culture that sings to a culture that listens. In many cultures, Music is a part of a student’s home life, community experiences and education. Yes, the primary teacher of Music should be a person who is certified to teach that content. However, if that is the only experience a student has with Music then they are being cheated of opportunities to connect with others on a deeper level. When people share their Music interest, they share a part of their soul because Music touches us in a place that words cannot. All students should be given the gift of learning about and experiencing Music, not only the Music of their culture but the Music of the world. Through exposure comes understanding, from understanding comes tolerance, and from tolerance comes acceptance. We all live on this Earth together so let us find a way to understand, communicate and love each other. Music is the common denominator.