When students come to music class at the beginning of the year, there are so many possible things that they can do and learn. While a year seems like a long time, it goes by quickly when considering all that there is to teach. I want my students to acquire skills and knowledge, but my specific goal for each of them is that they become musical artists. The term “musical artists” describes students who find occasions to make music, without an adult telling them to, and who are capable of demonstrating all of the elements of music. Therefore, I believe the big picture in music education is musical artistry.
There are many ingredients that comprise musical artistry. In order for a child to become a musical artist, he must have the motivation, skills, awareness, and inclination to make music. Ron Ritchhart (2002) writes that these four items are needed to create action. I believe that this can be translated into musical action. Motivation is required for students to become musical artists. For example, I have some students who are great singers but are not motivated to sing. To encourage them to sing, I have tried to incorporate many different styles of music including Beyonce as well as Beethoven. I also train my students to perform short songs for their teachers on a regular basis. I have found that most of my students are encouraged to participate and try their hardest to impress their teacher or their classmates. Educators need to creatively find ways to instill intrinsic motivation in their students, without which they will have no predisposition to participate in music outside of the classroom.
Along with motivation, my students need to learn the technical skills that enable them to produce music. For example, a trumpet player cannot be a musical artist if he does not have the knowledge and ability to play a wide range of notes and rhythms. I train my students to have proper fingering, breath support, articulation, and embouchure. I would teach my class good breath support, matching pitch, good rhythm, and using expression in order to give them the tools to be singers. A child who is motivated toward musical creativity, but lacks the skills to create it, can soon become discouraged.
The next step in the progression toward achieving musical artistry is enhancing awareness. My students need the awareness to recognize opportunities for making music. Students should not just produce music upon my direction in class, but rather they should be encouraged to perform outside the boundaries of the school. I teach my students to seek out occasions to make music such as performing a learned song for their family or participating in a garage band. I also try to give them opportunities to hear music outside of school by taking them to see concerts or musicals. I teach them that there are numerous venues for musical creativity which they can be a part of.
The fourth key to building musical artistry into the lives of the student is inclination. Educators must instill into the minds of their students the importance and value of music in order to increase their desire to produce it outside of the classroom. By providing them with numerous and varied experiences, students will be able to decide how they best enjoy music which will increase their inclination to produce it in that style on their own. In my classroom I allow my students to perform music for the class. Other times I will record performances so they can see how they sound and see what they have accomplished. They respond really well to this. Most find it quite enjoyable. There is also a time once a week where they can perform for the entire school. By giving students various opportunities, I have seen an increase in their inclination to make music. These four items: skills, awareness, inclination, and motivation all work together to foster musical artistry.
While there is value to many activities in the music classroom such as singing, moving, listening, etc., they are not themselves the purpose of music class. These activities lead to the ultimate goal. Music class should provide students with many diverse experiences in order to lead them toward the ultimate goal of musical artistry. If music teachers emphasize something other than this objective, then students will not be prepared for a future of making music. Music educators need to incorporate listening, moving, dancing, composing, improvising, and playing experiences, providing the students with a hands-on and enjoyable music class. Students will then see the different ways that they can enjoy music which will broaden their awareness as well as increase their motivation and inclination toward making music. Also, through these experiences, students will sharpen their skills. If music teachers can focus their classes on musical artistry, then students will have the tools necessary to make music in the future.
As the main goal, musical artistry necessitates going beyond playing the notes on the page. A person who is a musical artist will understand the music and play accordingly. He will follow the phrasing and be able to connect with the music rather than merely focusing on every single note. He will find opportunities to make music. If the big picture in the classroom is not artistry, then many of these items will be neglected. Music educators must teach students to play with feeling by incorporating elements such as dynamics and phrasing. Along with this, the teacher must also present the students with different opportunities for making music such as large ensembles, small ensembles, solos, and informal groups. If the big picture in the classroom is not artistry, then many of these items will be neglected.
Training students to become musical artists helps give the foundation needed to be involved in music later in life. There are many music programs that are so performance based that they neglect this discipline and therefore short change the students. For example, I have a friend who played the flute in high school. She was an average player and never took private lessons. She has not played her flute since she graduated from high school. In fact, it has been nearly ten years since she has played it. It seems like she was not taught with artistry in mind. The consequence of this oversight in her musical education is that she has nothing to show for it beyond owning a flute. If she had been taught artistry, then perhaps she would find reasons and motivation to play. While performance is important, it cannot become the sole focus of a child’s music education.
The big picture of music education, in my opinion, is musical artistry. If students leave my classroom with this successfully taught, then they will be prepared for a lifetime of making music. This is what it is all about for me. So many students graduate from school and never make music again. I want my students to be prepared to make music and to enjoy it. I want them to have the skills, awareness, inclination, and motivation so that they can make music however they choose.