Perspective: The Cost of Music Ed

Mike Lawson • Commentary • May 19, 2014

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How much does it cost to build and maintain an excellent music program? I suspect that you would find a pretty wide range of answers depending on who you talk to, where in the country you are, and a host of other factors. Of course, the definition of an “excellent music program” is also widely up for debate.

A proverb states that the only essential ingredients for education are a teacher, a student, and a log on which to sit. There’s some obvious, broadly applicable truth to that. In basic terms, what more is needed besides someone who can bestow knowledge, someone who will receive knowledge, and a location in which this transfer can take place? It doesn’t take much imagination to consider the vast quantity of scenarios for which this proverb holds true. What happens if we apply this simplicity to music education?

Even with the incredible boom of technological innovation over the past several decades, the basic principles of music education remain remarkably straightforward. In order to learn, students must acquire information and then practice, practice, and practice some more, until comprehension, technique, and muscle memory combine into mastery of the activity. With that in mind, aside from instruments, there are no fancy or expensive tools that are required in order to make this happen.

In fact, many of the excellent educators who have graced this publication with their insights in recent years have admitted – somewhat sheepishly, at times – that their teaching methods might be indistinguishable from those found in great music classrooms of any era. They don’t always use the latest innovative gadgets or software in their instruction, even though many of those tools were designed with their needs in mind.

And in a reader survey asking about the most essential band and orchestra room equipment that was sent out by this publication several years ago, among the most popular responses, right up there alongside modern devices like electronic metronomes, clip-on tuners, and groundbreaking educational software programs, was the conductor’s baton.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not writing this editorial on a typewriter; I am fully aware of the capabilities that modern software, hardware, gadgets, and devices can have in terms of simplifying so many areas of our lives. Just last issue, we printed a comprehensive list of hundreds of outstanding apps designed for all facets of music instruction, recording, and performance. People should use the tools at their disposal – whatever works for them – to take care of the tasks at hand.

Going back to the original question, a 2012 study funded by the NAMM Foundation pegs the cost of a music education at $187 per student. Says NAMM president and CEO Joe Lamond, “We cannot sell a child’s education short for what are pennies on the dollar. Music education is among the best investments we can make in our schools and for our children.”

It is shameful that access to music education varies depending on socioeconomic factors, especially considering how relatively few resources are required to give children an opportunity to make music. Are knowledgeable teachers, eager students, musical instruments, and a room to make some noise in really so hard to come by?




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