Archives for September 2015

What Makes a Great Music Teacher?

Kinhaven 2014-233Greatness in teaching is just as rare as greatness in any other profession. Although it’s impossible to offer a prescription of qualities in order to cultivate great music teachers, understanding these qualities can give all would-be teachers a standard of excellence to strive for, and guide schools and parents toward what they should look for in current and prospective teachers.

Here are just a few characteristic traits that I believe all great music teachers have:

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Why Instrumental Music Can’t Survive in Schools as a “Fun” Class

Kinhaven 2014-179Playing a musical instrument is fun, of course.  But school administrators, teachers, parents, and students all have a different idea of what “fun” actually means when it comes time for the arts in schools.  I believe that without a unified definition of “fun” as it pertains to music education, more music programs will continue to be cut from school curricula.

I’ve written about why music programs are cut from school, and one of the reasons is that it is not treated like — or approached as — a core subject in the curriculum.  Music is not a “frill” subject — quite the contrary.  Music education has many magical benefits that we read about when it is taught masterfully and supported by the entire school community.

Even after several studies of music’s powerful effects on the brain have been completed, too many parents think instrumental music is simply a fun break in the day that requires little work.  Music teachers are nervous to add rigor to their classes in fear of students quitting, and school administrators don’t know what to think — they just don’t want their schedules to be complicated and need their state report cards to look good.

Here are a few ways learning instrumental music is (and isn’t) fun in a school setting:

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Why Schools Should Offer Beginning Instrumental Music Instruction in Every Grade

Kinhaven 2014-341While it is true that I spend most of my time writing about how important it is to begin (and then continue) musical instrument instruction in school from a young age, it is also true that children can still experience the incredible benefits of music education at any time during their K-12 school years.  As of today, school systems do not have enough structures in place to accommodate students who wish to begin instrumental music instruction when they are in upper grades.

Whether a child wants to begin playing an instrument in high school from scratch, or they played at a young age and quit but want to get back into it, it’s possible as long as the school schedule and culture allow for it.

Students should not feel as if they need to get private lessons in order to experience instrumental music in school if they did not start an instrument at a young age.  Not only should students feel comfortable with starting an instrument in their later K-12 years, schools would be wise to create opportunities for this to happen.  Too many school music programs are “runaway trains” by high school, meaning that there are a set number of ensembles filled with students who are playing at an advanced level with little capacity to accommodate beginners.  More beginner ensembles, classes, or independent study opportunities in middle school or high school is one solution that can allow for new students to successfully enter these programs.

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A Few Truths Parents Must Understand When Their Child Begins Playing a Musical Instrument

DSC00888It’s the beginning of another school year, and hundreds of thousands of school children around the country have chosen which instrument they want to play and have taken it home for the first time.  It’s exciting, to say the least, and possibly the beginning of a life-long journey towards a love of music, learning new things, and molding a growth mindset.

That said, learning an instrument requires skills and traits that children may not have experienced yet — and that parents haven’t thought (or known how) to teach.  That’s the beauty of instrumental music instruction, especially as part of school curricula.  However, it’s important that parents are prepared for that moment when their child plays their first notes … and they don’t sound all that great.

Here are 3 things parents need to be prepared to understand about their child learning a musical instrument:

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Why (and How) Schools Should Schedule Music Into Every School Day

Kinhaven 2014-72If parents listened solely to most administrators and school leaders, they would believe that it is impossible to schedule instrumental music into a school day already packed with state mandates and test preparation.

There is no doubt that scheduling music into a school day is difficult, but there are plenty of schools in our country — and around the world — that value music’s role in education and prove it through dynamic scheduling.  They believe that not having music as part of their school curricula would be irresponsible and, in some cases, damaging to kids.

In my experience as a teacher and district administrator, where there is a will there is a way when it comes to scheduling the arts.  Educators at great schools organize their school day and staffing to reflect the central role of the arts and dedicate ample time to their practice.  These educators understand that it takes creativity and a strong belief that school music lessons, over time, leave students feeling great about all aspects of school; many times the lessons transform their lives forever.  In short, the amount of time students are given to engage with music is completely linked with the quality of their music (and school) experience.

While it seems that most schools schedule instrumental music two days a week (or less), successful schools choose to make music education a priority; finding creative ways to stretch both time and money to make daily music a reality.

Note that I use the word choose.  It is a choice to bring great arts instruction to students.  Nothing is impossible, as long as all stakeholders in the school system are committed to music as a core subject.

Here are ways that schools can at least help increase their instrumental music instructional time, if not bring it to children five days a week:

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