Kjos Band News
Spring 2000    Volume 1    

Connecting Classroom and Instrumental Music Instruction: an Unbridgeable Schism?
by Bruce Gleason, Ph.D.

My first job in rural Kennedy, Minnesota in public school music consisted of teaching classroom music K-7, elementary band, junior high band, junior high choir, high school band, high school choir and jazz ensemble (I was also a substitute bus driver and the assistant speech coach).
     The best part of this situation resulted in departmental faculty meetings—I was the only one there! While the work in this capacity was considerable, the experience was invaluable. Rather than guessing what my beginning instrumentalists knew about pitch, rhythm, dynamics, etc. (or being upset with their lack of knowledge and the training they had received), I knew what they had been taught in their classroom music experiences because I had been the teacher. If I wanted students to understand 1) a counting system before fifth-grade band, 2) that note placement on a staff indicates the pitch of the sound, and 3) that pitch has to do with what is in the mind and the audible sound rather than the placement of fingers on an instrument, it was up to me to teach them before they got to me!
     I use this example to introduce this column, “Connecting Classroom and Instrumental Music Instruction.” Each issue will bring suggestions on how to connect the various aspects of what a student may have received from several different sources. With increased interest in the music teaching approaches of Orff, Kodaly, and Dalcroze an increasing number of instrumental teachers are hopeful that their beginning students will have some kind of grounding in music literacy before they begin instrumental instruction.
     Ann Kay, veteran classroom music teacher and director of the graduate Kodaly program at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota says: “Zoltan Kodaly suggested that the ear, eye, heart and hand should develop in equilibrium, not one before the other. Unfortunately, for decades most students have been pushed to place most emphasis on the eye, resulting in what Bobby McFerrin refers to as ‘paper trained’ musicians. Suzuki instruction often overemphasizes the ear which causes many students to struggle with notation. Other students are so over-trained technically (the hand), that they seem not to be able to attend to, nor hear the subtleties of shading and nuance of tone that create artistry, (the heart). It appears that balance is the key.”
     Balance is indeed the key, and perhaps the best way of achieving this is for instrumental teachers to communicate and effectively connect with classroom music teachers.
     Talk about mutual goals for students. What should students know and be able to do by the time they are of band/orchestra age? Guiding the dialogue should be ideas of what is best for all students—not just the select ones.
     Students will be faced with plenty of new information when they get an instrument in their hands. Don’t start from ground zero if you don t have to. Review and reinforce the musical concepts students have learned in classroom music. Transfer what students know to what is being taught in elementary band and orchestra.
    If you have a counting system that you prefer, show students how it relates to the one they already know (or use the one they know!). Does the elementary classroom music teacher know what counting system her/his students will use in your class? She/he may be able to prepare students better if you've effectively shared this information. Students can say both “tah, tee-tee” and count “one, two and,” in both classroom and instrumental lessons. Build on what students know, and encourage the classroom music teacher to prepare students for the next chapter of their musical journey.
     Many of you have plenty of experiences in connecting classroom music with instrumental instruction. In addition to my comments and ideas, we would like to gather information from you for future issues of the Kjos Band News.
Send your comments to:

Kjos Band News
Neil A. Kjos Music Company
P.O. Box 178270
San Diego, CA 92177-8270

Dr. Bruce Gleason is an assistant professor of graduate music education at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota where he teaches courses in music education and advises graduate research. His current research areas include comprehensive musicianship and band history.

Copyright © 2000 Neil A. Kjos Music Company. All rights reserved.

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