Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Concerning After School Instrumental Music Programs

The following concerning the negative academic and devastating economic impact which results in moving curricular instrumental music lessons from curricular daytime to after school has on student academic success, affordability and the reduced ability they have in participating in extra-curricular activities.


An objection often raised pertains the logistics of how and when lessons are taught during the school day.   This objectiion stems from the historically mistaken view that instrumental music is somehow inferior to "rigorous academic disciplines" [see my related articles linked below]. Nonetheless, schools have traditionally employed a system in which students attend a brief 15 minute lesson once per week, either from an assigned study hall time (preferred), or from a rotating class schedule (1st period week one, 2nd period week 2...etc).  While this might seem an inconvenience to teachers of other disciplines in disruption of class time, exams, quizzes, and other active participatory exercises, these minor issues can be planned ahead of time in cooperation with the instrumental music instructor. Furthermore if there is concern with the academic success of the student in that other discipline, keep in mind that most students are resilient and clever enough to catch up on the missed material in 5 minutes after school with their teacher.

If a school decides to forgo this traditional system and opt instead for after school lessons, think for a moment how a school would have to  accommodate the large number of students already in the instrumental music program.  For example how would a school place just 16 students. If  doubling up students for 15 minute intervals per lesson slot beginning at 4:00, this averages about 8 students per hour with the last 2 lessons finishing at 6:00.  In a school with 200 students in a program, Lessons would have to be held every night of the week until 9:00 pm to accommodate them all. Keep in mind that as instrumental music is historically and cognitively recognized for its central role in academic success, we can expect many more students willing to participate.

Even more pressing: What are the expectations for those students scheduled for a 5:45 after school lesson? Do they go home after school then come back for a 15 minute joint lesson?  Or can any school afford to keep the students on site and focused on homework or other extra curricular - where will that money come from?

In the case of my family it takes about 20-25 minutes to drive to and from our school.  Would my child after returning home, do as much homework as possible, then get back into the car for another 20 minute ride back to school, 5-10 minutes to park and set up, take a 15 minute lesson, then head home in another 20 minutes? 

Would s/he then be expected to settle him/herself in before finishing up homework, lessons, chores, practice, etc?  This would result in less free time and less sleep for the young scholar and negatively impact the health and mental preparation on assessments. In short, 15 minutes from class time vs. 60-75 minutes of study, practice time, does not seem a viable academic trade off.


As Instrumental music programs are acknowledged as one of the best investments a school can provide for their students, a short sighted move in pushing these programs to after school raises yet another potential cost for the school and to families.  For the school which decides to save money by outsourcing instrumental music to a private organization,  There is an added expense:

For example, one organization in the eastern metro which provides 15 minute lessons and a once per week 1/2 hour ensemble practice, charges nearly $700 per student for the entire school year.  For a school which already has 100 students involved in band or orchestra, that is about $70,000 paid to an outside source for about 20 total hours of ensemble practice and 10 total hours of lesson time for the school year.   

If the school decides to pass along that expense to the families of students, rather than provide for a dedicated instrumental music teacher, That is more financial burden for the families, and diminishes their capacity or willingness to dedicate more donations to the school. Keep in mind families already have to cover the expense of a good quality student instrument.  Trial-purchase or rental programs (offered through such companies as Schmitt Music, Eckroth, Groth, Cadenza et al.) range between $25 - $75 per month making a possible additional cost to students $300-$900 per year. (a good quality beginner band / string instrument typically costs between $1,000 - $2,500 dollars new) Thus a a family with two (2) students in band can expect to pay about $2,000-$2,500 per year.  Many of these families are also involved in athletics and extra-curricular activities. But the initial expense makes the possibility of generating any new development funds from them difficult.


Even if families could overcome the logistical issues, any school will be hard pressed to find qualified band and orchestra directors willing or able to participate in such a program.  First, as the established norm is for band, orchestra and lessons to be undertaken during the school day, professional music educators spend their evenings , when not with their own families, teaching private 1-on-1 lessons, attending rehearsals: choir, theater, church/synagogue, bands, orchestras etc.  in preparation for performances. 

Evening and Weekend hours are a significant part of the band director lifestyle and already tenuous income.

Rather than take an academic step backwards, any school would do best to take steps toward establishing an education model which incorporates an in-house band and orchestra program by hiring full-time directors, and proper rehearsal space.   Elementary band during recess is the norm. Jr. and High School should have a dedicated period during the day.  

On the whole, the false promise that a school will save money and improve academic success by moving lessons and ensembles to before or after school, is ill-conceived.  Rather, the suggestion appears to be intended to kill off band and orchestra programs and diminish the recognized academic excellence these programs deliver.


It is difficult to make a case for the importance of instrumental music in academics when the common view of music itself is a frivolous hobby suitable merely for entertainment whose ultimate value is measured in album and ticket sales.  

When we direct our minds to how music is actually used in our world, the simplistic view that music is entertainment is revealed to be mistaken.  Think about it this way: Were music not important in western civilization, advertisers would not use music in commercials, movies would be devoid of soundtracks, there would be no worship music, no military or pep bands, no music to "psych one up" before a game or "relax" after a long days work, there would be no cheer leading, we would hear no chants at political rallies,  authors would make no mention if music in their literature, and many advances in science would have been missed.   Far from being a frivolity of entertainment, understanding music through instrumental music equips with one with a means to discover the nature of sounds and its effects on the human mind. These ideas lead Plato to promote the formal study of music in his Academy and as a necessary step in education before delving into the greater mysteries of Philosophy--i.e. the promotion of Discovery and Intellectual Curiosity.  Today we have the benefit of science research to find answers to those questions first raised by Plato.

Unfortunately for the past 20+ years we are now witness to an a age where nearly two generations of public and charter school educated students have been raised with this mistaken belief that music is somehow inferior -- unworthy of study,and that music programs are a distraction from subjects like Math and Science or promote a purely business minded ethic.  This seems to be the impetus for the proposed elimination of school day lessons. 

First lets look at what this statement does.  It divides and ranks the disciplines into categories of worthiness.  This worth is based upon the perceived market driven assertion that good scores in Math and Science will help one get a job.  Aside from the negligible effect of brief class time absence, One glaring problem is that decisions made from purely market driven principles are incompatible with the aims of Education. Those who maintain this belief demonstrates ignorance of 2,500 year academic tradition.

Xen Sandstrom-McGuire
Saint Paul, MN

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1 comment:

  1. It took me 20 years to convince administrators at Hudson to give students academic credit for their music classes. Keep fighting the good fight. As we both know, music is a subject worthy of academic pursuit on its own, but the side benefits to students' academic performance is significant. The research is on our side.