Elementary School Music

Music Education Standards in New York City

Posted in Music Standards by P. Conrad on November 9, 2009

Below are links and descriptions of the following:

  • National Standards for Music Education
  • NY State Arts Standards for Music
  • NYC Blueprint for Teaching & Learning in the Arts

For NBPTS standards for teachers, see the Professional Development page.

About the Standards

National Standards for Music Education

1. Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
2. Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
3. Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments.
4. Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines.
5. Reading and notating music.
6. Listening to, analyzing, and describing music.
7. Evaluating music and music performances.
8. Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, & disciplines outside the arts.
9. Understanding music in relation to history and culture.

. . . That first item brings to mind a wonderful image: a young person who is “singing, alone and with others.” The existing National Standards for the Arts, New York State standards for the arts, and the NYC Department of Education’s “Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Arts” are all based on a single very important notion: that every child has the right to a rich, complete education, regardless of his or her race, or social class, or gender, or ability. They are written in an effort to guarantee this right, so it won’t be overlooked as city and state school systems organize their budgets and educational programs.

They’re directly useful for almost everyone involved: even with their tortured academic language, our national and state standards and the NYC Blueprint provide teachers with valuable reference points and opportunities for thinking about what we do each day.  Yet two questions keep nagging if you actually sit and read (or skim through) these documents: who wrote this stuff? and then, in what school did they envision all of this activity taking place?

“Accountability” is a favorite word in a lot of current writing on education. Balanced literacy calls for kids to engage in accountable talk, and schools, supervisors, and teachers are meant to be accountable for what children learn — or what they don’t. (The current mania for high-stakes testing is a symptom of this: education policy is being shaped by people trained in law and business administration, so the numerical data can take on a nearly mystical importance.) The standards help establish exactly what is expected of everyone.

Standards emphasize two basic curriculum categories: content (meaning what will be presented to the learners) and achievement (meaning what the learner will know and be able to do as a result). The NYC Blueprint calls these “subject-based curricula” and “outcome-based curricula.” Performance standards (or benchmarks) specify the abilities a child can be expected to achieve at the end of a predetermined course of study.

Below are links to some of the documents that make up our national and NY State arts standards as they affect the teaching of music in pre-kindergarten through 4th or 5th grades. In some cases, detailed descriptions of the standards can be downloaded as PDF files and printed out.

National Standards for Music Education

NYC Blueprint for Teaching & Learning in Music

New York State Department of Education’s “Standards for Arts Education” as they apply to music are linked below:

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4 Responses

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  1. A. Rosenbloom said, on April 28, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    There are benchmarks for accountability. But what do they matter if there is no enforcement of this accountability?

    Have there ever been any site inspections of schools in New York City or New York State?

    How does that work? Teachers teach the assigned repertoire and then judges from the City/State come and give each student a NYSSMA rating? Or is there no such thing because the Standards
    are voluntary? And if the standards are not going to be enforced what good are they?

    In the current NYSSMA manual, (July 6, 2006 – July 6, 2009)

    “Sakura, Sakura” appears as a violin duet not as a violin solo. The arranger is Watters, H. (not Walters)

    There is no listing under “Apollo Album” violin due (Whistler/Hummel) – There is something called “First Solo Album” by Whistler/Hummel for grade two, but no “Apollo” – meaning

    Under the Grade 5 Benchmark page 74 states (under “small ensemble/solo playing”): “Learn, play, and perform solo and chamber pieces from NYSSMA Levels 1-2 -, for a school-wide assembly or in-class performance, with attention to interpretation and personal expression. […] Improvised drumming in a West African style.”

    NOWHERE in the NYSSMA manual are there rudiment preparation requirements and/or repertoire for West African drumming. This is a figment of someone’s imagination. New York State music teachers SHOULD be taught to play the djembe, the conga, and the bongos. NYSSMA should have six achievement levels as well as the possibility to audition for All-State Jazz Band. The State as well as the City has not yet specified achievement levels. This is a matter that need to be addressed by qualified educators and administrators.

    Grade 8 has a benchmark for Steel Pans. Where are Steel Pans being taught to future music educators in the Grater New York area? Not at NYU. Not that I knew of at Queens. And I didn’t see any course listing for Steel Pans at Columbia Teachers College, either. Clearly, the people creating the benchmarks and the people creating the percussion curriculum for music education have not been in touch with each other. Ethnic percussion is a huge area. It should probably have it’s own course, but both should be required of music educators.

    So, while it’s all well and good to discuss accountability, without enforcement the benchmarks and standards have no teeth.
    And the gods send nuts to those who have no teeth.

  2. C. Sahar said, on May 9, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    I am not an educator but I see these standards as a bit idealistic and overly broad.

    Also as the previous commentator pointed out most universities cannot prepare a student WELL for all these abilities.

    For example, for the pre-K music private schools, you have a pianist who can improvise, accompany along with a songleader with 3-5 yr old children.
    The songleader also educates them in music history.

    So to teach someone to accompany and improvise melodies in the a classical style requires at minimum small group lessons — not a classroom of 30 kids of widely divergin ability lead by one teacher. This will lead to mediocrity.

    So, I would say keep the standards but provide the resources (teachers, accompanist, instruments etc) and have the focus be much, much clearer. For example, West African drumming is not an easy skill and to add that to lessons in improvisation and producing music as a soloist or group is a bit much.

  3. bob goldberg said, on October 15, 2007 at 11:30 pm

    Well stated. Assuming the standards are well-intentioned, they’re too general to be useful. They also ignore (or undervalue) the highly individual nature of music education. It’s not just a bunch of facts, music is built on a set of relationships, and (as you may have noticed) music teachers are a quirky bunch to begin with. Even with a common set of goals, it’s the individual qualities of the teacher (and teacher-student relationship) that make it valuable.

    A set of common goals is well and good, but what we really need is material support — more time with the students, decent instruments to work with, mutual support and communication between teachers.

    Ultimately, the standards are lip service — the goals will be met if our school system truly supports our work instead of treating it as a footnote.

    (Tirade over.)

  4. Adrianna said, on July 13, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    Many of you comment to the fact that a university education cannot prepare an individual to teach the “broad and idealistic” skills required of the Blueprint standards.
    I’d like to make this point for you to reflect on: When you leave school, and enter the classroom on the other end, the learning should not stop. Music, is by nature, an evolving subject. A music classroom should be a place where learning and knowing are being given and taken by both teacher and student. Can you honestly tell me a college education in music ed. or a related field in music does not give you the tools to figure out how to play steel pan? Relax! It’s not about playing perfect, it’s about the experience.

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