Teaching K-12 Music Appreciation, Music History, & Music Theory

When Should Music Theory, Music History, and Music Appreciation Be Taught?

Why do secondary school and college students dislike Music Appreciation classes?
Why do they experience Music Depreciation?
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When should students be taught Music History?
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When should students be taught Music Theory?
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Teaching students any aspect of theoretical is meaningful only after rhythm and tonal skills, music concepts, performing skills, and music creativity have been mastered. Otherwise students have no internalization for the theoretical to have meaning.

Teaching Music Appreciation, History, & Theory
Only After All Skills Are Mastered

Music appreciation, music theory, and music history, as well as form & analysis and any other such theoretical music subjects, should be taught only after students have acquired a mastery of all rhythm & tonal skills, all music concept skills, performing skills, and inferential skills of creating, improvising, composing, etc. The sequence is imperative. Why? Researchers of music learning sequences have concluded that students must have thoroughly mastered and internalized skills and concepts before any concentration of theoretical or historical is taught, or else the theoretical and historical information has no internal connection within the students to be meaningful to them. No internal connection renders the information as disconnected, meaningless, and useless. The traditional violation of this sequence is the reason that many students strongly dislike "music appreciation" classes, and instead they experience "music depreciation." It is also the reason that many music teachers, even after 4 years of undergraduate collegiate study, still have no music theory audiation or aural skills. [In language development, this sequence is violated often in teaching foreign languages when grammar and syntax are studied first, resulting in students never acquiring the skill to speak the language fluently.]

The Students Got It!
Music Appreciation Class for Elementary Education Majors

While fulfilling Teacher's Assistant duties in my doctoral degree for a music appreciation course that university elementary education majors were required to take, I was assigned to teach the history of music style and composers of the 1800s transition into the 1900s; that is, the Late Romantic into Early 20th Century. I was assigned to teach Mahler's Symphony No. 1, Movement 3, "Funeral March." The day of my teaching arrived. I had an entire Orff Instrumentarium set up in the middle of the classroom. The course professor was certain the whole thing would fail. Said he, "The elementary majors have no music training, they will not be able to play the instruments correctly or keep a steady beat, much less sing in tune or even sing." But having had three decades of teaching experience bringing out music skills from intercity kids who were convinced they didn't have any, I knew differently! The university students learned to sing in unison "Are You Sleeping?" in the natural minor mode, then developed it into a 4-part vocal canon. They sang in tune quite well without me singing along. They sang the song with both text and note names. After singing the note names, we then transferred the note-name singing to playing Orff instruments in the same careful manner we learned the singing. Every student in the class successfully sang and played the song in 4-part canon. They maintained a steady beat with each other without being conducted by me. After providing the students with an experiential exposure to the classical music, I played Mahler's orchestral Movement 3. They all heard and recognized their parts performed by the orchestra. With the song, having been performed vocally and instrumentally, now an internal part of them, it then became very meaningful for the students to grasp the historical and theoretical.

To tell the truth, I had no way of being certain at which music learning sequence level the university elementary majors were, so I relied on the "tricks of the trade" I learned during my three decades of intercity K-12 public school teaching. Students always need to experience success first at whatever level(s) they are, because success breeds eager enthusiasm for achieving more success. The students will never forget that experience, and the course professor said he'd never again teach that lesson his old way!

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