6. Music Lessons and Lessons About Music
A son of an acquaintance of mine composes pop songs. Recently she proudly exclaimed, “I just don’t understand how he managed to become such a great composer! He’s never studied music and can’t read a single note!” Another acquaintance of mine is a disk jockey and is sincerely convinced that he is a musician and performs no worse than conductors and concert performers. Both of them have been fooled by our system of music education. There was nothing close to music, nothing that introduced them to the language of music, in what is called “music lessons” at school. Since the early days, we’ve been lying to kids, telling them that “music” is sing-alongs, rhythmic movement, playing with noisy instruments, and stories about composers. And now, people who are capable of thinking up and singing a few simple tunes suddenly become “great composers.” Then DJs, later juggling these flapdoodles around, are called “great musicians.”
My reader, let us finally address this certainty: the emperor has no clothes! The disk jockey isn’t at all making music. Call the classes what you will, but please don’t call them “music lessons!”
Music lessons should teach the student:
- To fluently read notes on the Treble and Bass Clefs at the same time
- To write down musical dictations
- To sing the notes from music notation out loud
- To play from sheet music with both hands on the piano
The final result of a proper music education is a musically oriented mind: the ability to not only make music, but to write it down and compose it as well. Just as an English lesson teaches the English language, so should a music lesson teach the music language. This means that one must be able to thoughtfully express one’s ideas in this language in a grammatical and articulate way.
In the United States, primarily private teachers teach beginners music. The government, for the most part, does not support them, nor regulate their activities. All responsibility for the quality of lessons is on their shoulders. The selection of students is limitedly simple: those who can pay get to learn. This group makes up less than 7% of all families in the country. And this number is rapidly decreasing – people are getting sick of the constant problems associated with music education. Most children don’t get to learn music at all – their parents aren’t in the financial position to afford lessons. The entire system simply casts them away, including those that might be gifted. In this way, we are discriminating against our children, and the music culture of the future generations.
In less than perfect circumstances, even the teachers of music, the professionals, aren’t fully educated. According to the census of 2000, part-time educators made up 40% of the total number of music pedagogues. Their average salary is less than $20,000 a year. The teaching of music to beginners is one of the most thankless ways of earning money: the workload is at its maximum while the fruits of the labor are at their minimum. Teachers are forced to get a 2nd job to supplement their income, often not even in the music sphere. Furthermore, music performers have very little understanding of the methodology, psychology, and pedagogy of the music discipline. Having been taught with the alphabetic names of the notes, most educators in the U.S. can’t even express themselves in Solfeggio.
All of this is the result of public school lessons about music.
Lessons about music include everything that can’t teach the language of music: singing songs, clapping in rhythm, playing in noise orchestras, lectures about music and the learning of various theoretical rules. Their goal is not to teach, but to introduce, and to give general information about music as an art form. Lessons about music are given in all schools for free, and manage to catch a large portion of the population’s student body. If there is a pioneer in the school, he might found and ensemble or orchestra, giving an optional opportunity for those that wish to learn to play certain instruments.
The salary of those that teach about music isn’t very high, but a little more stable at an average $50,462 a year. These educators are supported by the government, receiving paid vacations and other work-related privileges.
It is believed that lessons about music encourage appreciation for the art of music and awaken an interest in learning to read and play. Unfortunately, this only happens with the most passionate and bright teachers, whose number is few. Lessons about music don’t add anything to anyone’s ability to make it, and they certainly can’t awaken nor inoculate much of anything, except maybe boredom.
We are falling down in steep, slippery spirals. The less people there are that can really grasp the music language, the less interest there is in private lessons, and the less demand there is for teachers. Institutionalized music illiteracy, supported in the form of lessons about music, is gradually squeezing the true professionals, whom are the only ones capable of developing the art, out of the discipline completely. The circle is drawing tight. There is only one escape – a complete overhaul of music education. In the public sector, it is essential to give music lessons, and to supplement them with lessons about music.
Let us examine what is currently happening in the classrooms of most of our schools.
 According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the Bureau of Labor Statistics
 Cited from the BLS