I have just embarked on my nineteenth year of teaching music. During this time, I have taught over 5,000 students. I have taught students of different races, religions, backgrounds, and abilities. I have taught students that have experienced poverty and/or extreme trauma. I have also had students that come from financially secure and/or supportive homes. Over these years, I have come to realize that there are three undeniable truths regarding music education. While you may find a multitude of research that can support these truths, I only need the evidence that has been before my eyes the past eighteen years. Here are my teacher truths.
Every child is musical.
Out of the 5,000 plus students I have taught, all have had musical ability. The variations only occur within how that ability is demonstrated. Many students have been talented vocally. Others have had an amazing sense of beat and rhythm while others seem drawn to understanding the structure of music. Beyond all having some form of musical talent, all have been able to respond to music with emotional expression. This includes my students with severe special needs that limit their ability to move and communicate. I still remember with great joy the giggle-like sounds a boy with special needs would emit whenever I sang the folk song, “I Bought Me a Cat.”
As I have been able to witness this universal musical ability, I consider it a great honor and responsibility to help my students uncover these abilities. It is my job to nurture this natural talent and help their abilities grow. I am not teaching students to make music for one year. I am teaching students to make music for a lifetime.
Music is a natural way for students to learn.
From their earliest stages, children are naturally drawn to music. Babies vocalize sounds, shake rattles, and bang on all manner of things. With these musical explorations, the babies are learning about the world around them. Parents and caregivers expand a child’s knowledge through singing lullabies, modeling finger-plays, speaking rhymes, and singing the ABCs. Thanks to School House Rock, I am still able to sing the words of the Preamble of the Constitution. Our brains are hard-wired to learn through music.
With the knowledge that my student’s brains are innately designed to learn through music, it is my responsibility to design lessons that connect across the curriculum. We dance to life cycles. We sing about the states of matter. We use body percussion to solve multiplication problems. English Language Arts skills are interwoven into every lesson. I love it when teachers express how much our musical lessons have helped their students grow academically. I teach about music, and I teach through music. This helps every child grow. In addition, not every child does well with pencil and paper assessments. Being able to demonstrate learning through music enables all of my students to feel academic success.
Music is a time-machine to the past, mirror for the present, and inspiration for the future.
Music is a gateway. It gives students the ability to travel through time. Not every child has the background experiences to connect with the things they study in history. I am able to build that connection and make history come to life through musical experiences. One of my favorite moments last year was when my third graders made the connections between Funga Alafia, a folk song from Nigeria, to Eliza Jane, a folk song from Virginia, to our New Orleans Brass Bands. Our history can be uncovered in the music of today.
The world around us is also reflected in our present day music. My students are able to gain a greater perspective of the world while learning how to safely express their points of view through music. It is breathtaking for me to hear the world through my students’ musical creations.
As for the future, music is a way to instill hope in all kids. This feeling of hope is a key ingredient for a successful future. I will forever find ways to wield the power of hope through music.
As the 2019-2020 school year progresses, I will carry these teacher truths close to my heart. They give me hope, purpose, and are at the heart of why I am a music teacher. As “the truth will set you free”, these truths give my students the wings to fly.