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The National PTA's Guide to School Music Programs

Brought to you by the National PTA®.

As a parent, you should expect your children's school music program to adhere to certain standards. Once you have created a musical environment in your home to stimulate interest, it's up to the teacher to continue the process. Yet how can you judge the quality of a school's music program?

There are three ways to tell if the school your young children attend does a good job of exposing them to music:

  1. Are there simple musical instruments in the classroom like drums, keyboards, stringed instruments, and xylophones? Classroom activities should include an introduction to the instruments and basic instruction on how to make sounds on them. It's important that children learn respect for instruments and other objects that need careful handling. This lesson can be taught at the same time the teacher shows the class how to produce a loud or soft sound on a keyboard or drum.

  2. Does the teacher provide a variety of opportunities for music making in the classroom? Are songs used to teach counting or the alphabet? Does the class play musical games? Does someone accompany the class on the piano or guitar in singing favorite songs? This includes inviting older children to class to sing or perform on instruments, as well as musical parents or even professionals.

  3. Does the school have a qualified music teacher on staff? Has your child's teacher received proper training in music education? A trained teacher will only select songs suited for children's limited vocal range. Because young voices only have a range of about five notes, songs that require a wider range discourage young children from trying and take the fun out of music. Many educators recommend simple folk songs, songs from picture books that children can look at as they sing, or songs that incorporate sounds ("Old MacDonald" is an obvious example).

By the time your children reach elementary school they should have regular (more than once a week) music instruction from a qualified teacher. Ideally, music education should be made a part of other subjects like social studies, language skills, and art. And it should be sequential, with each year's curriculum building on what children learned the previous year. This will allow them to reach new levels of achievement through new challenges.

By 4th grade, or middle school at the latest, your children's school should offer them the opportunity to sing in a choir or other ensemble, and the chance to take instrumental music lessons in connection with a small ensemble, preferably one that includes strings, brass instruments, and woodwinds. The National Standards for Arts Education sets out voluntary standards for music education for grades K-12. These describe what every student should know and be able to do in dance, theater, and the visual arts, as well as music. They were prepared by professional arts educators to help implement the reforms contained in the national education standards.

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