Music Education: Should rock and roll be in the curriculum?

I come from a family full of teachers (although none of them were music teachers). I wanted to be a history teacher at one point, but in second year of university I realised it just isn’t my thing and I’d be better off writing and doing radio. I wanted to write this post for a while and I want to share my opinions on music education.

Ever since I was a kid I wanted to play guitar. My parents dismissed this and thought I wasn’t serious and I never learnt to play guitar. I was in school band when I was 11 and it was handled poorly by the school. This wasn’t a school with no money either.

The arts is important for children because it’s an outlet. Spending all day in a classroom learning about the core subjects isn’t healthy or fun. You need recess, gym, and art classes. School should also be fun. People say the arts isn’t important because there’s no money in it and few people have careers in it.

No arts means no music, no fashion, no television, no movies, no paintings, no decorations. The world would be boring without art. Even if not everyone can make a career out of the arts, there’s always doing art as a hobby. Not everyone is going to be a professional athlete, but we still have gym class because it’s good for the body. Seriously, I see arts programmes being cut only for the sports teams to get more funding.

If you don’t have a hobby, are you really living life? Life shouldn’t be just going to work and sleeping.

Back to my story of being in band class. Being in band is expensive. The most reasonable part was the instrument rental, just a deposit, which was returned once the school gets the instrument back. The school expected all the students to take private lessons in their instrument. If you play a woodwind instrument that uses reeds like a clarinet, saxophone, oboe, or bassoon, you need to buy reeds and change them every so often. And there’s a lot of other stuff you need to buy: music books, cleaning supplies, etc. The school also didn’t listen to me when I said I wanted to play flute.

The band teacher was a jerk and forced me out of band after a semester because I was falling behind. The decision to take me out of band was made without my knowledge. This teacher killed my wish to learn how to play an instrument.

My family are middle class and they had a hard time with the costs of band. Imagine a working class family. Money shouldn’t be the reason you can’t be in school band. Schools should make sure that the band programme is well funded and offer scholarships for students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford band.

I think there needs to be a lot of changes in how schools teach music. Granted, I’m not a music teacher or a musician. All I know is my own perspective and whatever I learnt from School of Rock.

First things first: Let’s diversify the music taught in music classes. Kids want to learn more about music that’s relevant to them. I know that when I was a kid I found classical music boring. Rock and pop music was and still is much more relevant to me.

Talk about classical music, fine. It’s an important part of music history, but also talk about more modern takes on classical music. Like symphonic rock: Electric Light Orchestra; The Moody Blues; Emerson, Lake and Palmer; Focus; Jon Lord; and Rick Wakeman. Show students the albums The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Days of Future Passed, Pictures at an Exhibition, Concerto For Group and Orchestra. It’s still very classical, just with modern touches: synthesisers, electric guitars, and bass guitars.

Don’t just stop at rock and pop music, incorporate music genres from around the world and show how it connects with western popular music. Integrate this with what kids learn in history and geography.

As for band itself, let students choose what instruments they want to play. Let them explore a few, but also encourage them to open their minds and try something different. First semester of band can be a sampler of trying out different instruments to see what they like best. Of course, since we’re talking about incorporating rock music into the music curriculum, let’s have guitars, basses, and keyboards. The rock band can work with the orchestra and choir.

It’s also never too late to learn an instrument. In school, you get one chance (or if you’re lucky two) to join the school band. If you don’t join that year, you missed out on your chance.

Thinking about the way band is marked, I hate the idea of students competing against other students. Isn’t music class supposed to be about learning? I understand having tryouts for a competitive band or having auditions for solos in a concert, but not all students want to compete or play solos. Some just want to learn to play an instrument for fun; that doesn’t make them less valid. Some people just like playing music as a hobby.

How a student is evaluated should be the student versus themselves, how much they’ve improved. In every class there is a mix of skill levels. It’s not fair to compare someone who has been playing guitar for a year to someone who has been playing guitar for 7 years.

These are all ideals and it’s not practical for schools to have rock bands with the low funding that goes to arts. I’m not the only one who thinks that schools should have a rock band. Here’s an article that talks about how schools should have rock bands, and it’s written by a music teacher. If one article isn’t enough, here’s another about how music classes should incorporate rock music in theory classes and in band classes.

What are your thoughts on music education? Is it time for a rock and roll curriculum?