OKTOY Blog: Why Music Education? | Beyond the Bubbles

“Music is the universal language of mankind.” -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As we enter national Music in Our Schools Month, the National Association for Music Education is embarking on an exciting campaign called Broader Minded, which carries the slogan, “Students aren’t standardized. Think beyond the bubbles.”

What is happening in a music education classroom? First, consider linguistics. Music students read and convert symbols into a musical language that is universally understood and accepted. Some historians even suggest that music pre-dates language, and for many of us, our first lesson and perhaps even our first words were tied to song— “the ABCs.”

Music students experience daily physical education, converting those symbols into a physical motor skill, engaging left- and right-hand independence, tapping feet and at higher levels being encouraged to move or sway with the music as another means of letting out the feeling of a phrase. Indeed, all music is for singing or dancing!

History and culture are imbedded daily on a base level with lessons about composers and time periods, and eventually with more complex ideas on style and the way in which a piece must be performed. From the length of note to a specific way that a rhythm should be performed (think Jazz or a Viennese waltz), students must attune to details based solely on the name of the composer or the title of the piece.

Finally, science and math pervade every day of music. Most people quickly cite the complexities of rhythm in this symbolic language. Far beyond those concrete elements, however, are much more advanced skills. Consider the spatial reasoning needed for a string player to use his entire bow, without pulling an inch too far, all the while never looking at the stick, but instead at his music or the conductor. Consider the calculus that a flute player or vocalist must engage to inhale and release a breath that will perfectly align with the height and length of a phrase while at the same time being loud enough, but not too loud in context with the other parts.

The music student must also understand and adjust the relationship of her pitch as compared to her own instrument and the up to 110 other individuals in her ensemble. Within these subconsciously enacted complex formulas, the music student is also responsible for deciphering a conductor’s gestures of tempo, dynamic and style, to name only a few.

Does music education take students “Beyond the Bubbles?” Answer: D—all of the above.


Peter Markes 

2014 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year

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Last updated on October 4, 2018