Music Education

In nineteenth-century Europe and North America, school music lessons were mostly designed to foster musical literacy by teaching children to sing at sight using different versions of "sol-fa" (based upon syllables) as an introduction to staff notation. Two key pioneers were Lowell Mason (1792–1872) under whose influence music was introduced into the schools of Boston as an integral subject in the curriculum in 1838, and John Hullah (1812–1884) who conducted a Singing School for Schoolmasters in London for the first time in 1841.

With the development of recording and broadcasting in the early years of the twentieth century, the notion of attentive listening gained a higher profile with the rise of the Music Appreciation movement and the work of Stewart MacPherson (1865–1941) and Francis Elliott Clarke (1860–1958). At about the same time the percussion or rhythm band became a regular feature of music in schools, characterized by a rather formal and prescriptive approach. In contrast was the work of Satis Coleman who experimented with creative music for children at the Lincoln School of Teachers College, Columbia University. Simple instruments made by the children themselves were utilized alongside singing, movement, and spontaneous creative improvisation.

The trend towards hands-on, participatory approaches to the teaching of music is exemplified in the work of three key figures: Emile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865–1950), Carl Orff (1895–1982) and Zoltán Kodály (1882–1967). Jaques-Dalcroze devised his system of eurhythmics in Switzerland, and presented his first training course for teachers in 1909. He integrated movement, improvisation, and solfège (the "fixed-doh" system) into music education. Dalcroze's ideas influenced Orff who co-founded a school with Dorothee Günther in Munich in 1924 where music teaching went hand in hand with movement teaching. Musically, students were encouraged to improvise and compose their own music, and to invent a number of unsophisticated musical instruments. The first edition of Orff-Schulwerk was published in 1935 and demonstrated Orff's conviction that through speech-rhythms and chants, songs and movements, children were able to discover and demonstrate musical concepts. Meanwhile in Hungary, it was Kodály's aim to build a music culture in schools using national and folk songs. There were three basic elements to his concept of initial musical training: sung folk tunes; movable sol-fa ; and simultaneous clapping and singing, or singing in parts.

In practice, the ideas and methods outlined are adapted, combined, and synthesized by present-day music teachers, whether they are working, for example, within the National Standards for Music Education in the USA (1994), or the National Curriculum in the UK (1992). But the adoption of these ideas should not be regarded as somehow natural or immutable, but rather the result of dialogue, and sometimes conflict, between those who hold widely differing conceptions concerning music and its meaning in children's lives, and how the musical experiences offered to children in schools can reinforce the fundamental aims–the fostering of musical literacy, performance skills, and musical values, along with the cultivation of attentive listening and creative expression–of a general music education.

See also: Education, Europe; Education, United States.


Campbell, Patricia S. 1991. Lessons from the World: A Cross–Cultural Guide to Music Teaching. New York: Schirmer.

Coleman, Satis N. 1922. Creative Music for Children: A Plan of Training based on the Natural Evolution of Music including the Making and Playing of Instruments Dancing-Singing-Poetry. New York: G.B. Putnam's Sons, The Knickerbocker Press.

Jaques-Dalcroze, Emile. 1967, 1921. Rhythm Music and Education. Woking: The Dalcroze Society.

Orff, Carl. 1978. The Schulwerk. New York: Schott Music Corp.

Rainbow, Bernard. 1989. Music in Educational Thought and Practice: A Survey from 800 BC. Aberystwyth, UK: Boethius Press.

Szönyi, Erzsébet. 1974. Kodály's Principles in Practice: An Approach to Music Education through the Kodály Method. Hungary: Corvina Press.