"Eyes on Progressive Education" Blog
A Green Acres School journal that chronicles progressive education in action, the research that supports and informs our practice, and ways in which we live out our mission each and every day.
Why Music Is a Requirement in 5th and 6th Grades
Jeremy '05, Music Teacher
Let's be honest: very few Green Acres students will go on to become practicing musicians, and even fewer will perform music professionally. So why are the 5th and 6th graders at Green Acres required to participate in a music class? Is there a practical reason for devoting hours every week to musical study?
Although it is true that music is not a popular career path, I believe it is still an incredibly valuable field of study that is essential to developing compassion and empathy, effective collaboration, and creative expression. Music fosters compassion through a shared vulnerability that each musician faces as they perform challenging sections together, or when composing music that expresses personal emotions. For example, the 6th graders have a project where they break into small groups to compose short blues songs. They come up with lyrics together that address an issue that makes them feel “blue,” plus a potential resolution to this issue. These lyrics are accompanied by students playing guitar, which is a new experience for most of them. Both of these new experiences of lyrical co-creation and performing guitar accompaniment puts students in a place of emotional vulnerability, but the fact that they are doing so together leads to feelings of compassion towards one another, as well as group belonging, both of which are vital to the emotional well-being of middle schoolers. This compassion extends beyond the music classroom, as the bonds formed through artistic creation are as deep as they are long lasting.
Musical study also teaches effective collaboration, as by its very nature it requires its practitioners to synchronize with one another, work together towards shared goals, and emotionally connect with diverse audiences and musicians. Playing with an ensemble necessitates all musicians to feel one shared rhythm, which creates both a sense of belonging and a feeling of collective endeavoring. For instance, the 5th graders will form a Zimbabwean marimba ensemble that includes multiple rhythmic and melodic parts played simultaneously. The only way for the whole ensemble to synchronize and form one cohesive sound is through a shared sense of rhythm, which is felt intuitively as well as honed as a learned skill. Synchronizing to a tempo is as ubiquitous as the rhythm of the heartbeat, which is what makes music a universal language that so easily facilitates collaboration.
Lastly, and most importantly in today’s rapidly evolving world, musical practice aids in the development of creative expression and out-of-the-box thinking. Advancements in technology are leading many jobs to become automated, meaning that many of the jobs that today’s youth will be taking do not currently exist. This means that today’s education system cannot rely on having students memorize facts or conform to national standards. Instead, what will make today’s youth successful in the unpredictable and rapidly changing future is creative thinking, and music is the perfect tool to practice creative expression. The 6th graders’ blues composition project mentioned earlier is a great medium for creative expression, as is the 5th graders’ rhythmic composition project in their drum circle unit. Additionally, middle school is especially a time when students must be encouraged to be their authentic selves, even as that self is changing, and music can be a very useful tool in developing both an individual and a collective sense of self.
So why is music such a big part of the Green Acres education? Music aids in the development of empathy and collaboration through a shared vulnerability; teaches effective collaboration through rhythmic synchronization and working toward shared goals; and fosters creativity and self-expression. While musical literacy, instrumental/vocal technique, and music theory are also important concepts learned during music class, I believe the more important enduring understandings fall in the realms of compassionate, collaboration, and creativity, all of which are heavily emphasized in the 5th and 6th grade music curricula.
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