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Music in Minnesota’s Schools

K-12 Music Education

Minnesota schools have an arts requirement in their curriculum that starts developing children’s musical knowledge at a very early age. When a student is in 1st grade, she will already be introduced to various musical instruments in music class. At the primary level, a student will learn basic skills for performing, creating, and listening and responding to music. They will learn how to discuss music so they can better understand music in their own culture as well as music of different cultures. Students will learn to imagine and brainstorm ideas using musical prompts. They will start to develop skills that will allow them to plan musical structure including 4 beat rhythms. They will also begin to develop music and constructing music into an organized structure with a beginning, middle, and end. (Engaging Activities in the Arts: 122-136) The teacher is allowed to incorporate this curriculum into their classroom whatever way they like. This is most often done in music class by singing and playing musical instruments including the recorder, harpsichord, and percussion instruments. They put on formal recitals to perform the music they practice in the classroom. Music is introduced to Minnesota kids at the earliest level, and throughout school will continue to develop their appreciation for the arts.

By the time a student enters middle school, they should have basic skills in singing, reading musical notation, and playing musical instruments. During this stage, they will learn to understand song form and structure at a deeper level. They will learn to analyze musical elements including historical content of a piece, rhythm techniques, and improvisation in the 12-bar blues. They may learn technical parts of playing a musical instrument including breath support. Since music is an important part of Minnesota public school curriculum, it is a requirement for 6th and 7th graders to take band, orchestra, or choir. This requirement is seen as an important part of a child’s development since it teaches skills including communication, complex thinking, cultural studies, and as a fundamental means of self-expression.

Music being an important part of schools in Minnesota has an effect on our society as a whole. The values Minnesotans place on music and the arts is high and can be seen in the variety of music halls in the Twin Cities including the Dakota Jazz Club, Orchestra Hall, Orpheum Theater, Guthrie Theater, First Ave & 7th Street Entry, Target Center, Xcel Energy, State Theater, Mill City Nights, and Cabooze. (Minneapolis, MN 2008-2013) Venues like these house musicians from all over the world playing many different styles and performing to people from all walks of life. On any given night live music can be found at a number of these Venues since the people of Minneapolis enjoy the music scene hence there is a market for live music. Minnesotans value their musical culture as well as the music of different cultures as can be seen at places like the Red Sea which played rock on some nights, and Ethiopian music on others, attracting people of various cultures to come together to listen and enjoy one another’s music.

This musical culture and appreciation of the Arts of adults from the Twin Cities could be related to the fact that the schools have a strong music programs. Middles schools offer band, orchestra, and choir to its students as well as many opportunities for extracurricular music activities including jazz band, marching band, and music competitions including MMEA All-State. (MMEA) They offer clinics and All-State auditions for students with extraordinary music ability, and solo/ensemble contests. They recognize teachers and awards are given to music educators who have done exceptional work during their careers. MMEA recognized students and faculty alike for their efforts in the school music programs and is a driving force in ensuring the music programs offered to students are top-notch.

Music is shown to have cognitive benefits on the brain in early childhood development. Researchers have been studying the effects music in the classroom has on young children and how it affects their reasoning and decision making. They hope to find the ways in which music helps to develop a child’s brain using today’s technology. There are many brain scanning devices out there that measure brain activity and can help to assess children’s cognitive development when comparing a child who has been exposed to music in a classroom to a child who has not. This research should help policy-makers when determining the importance of music and music therapy in Minnesota Schools. (Strickland 2001) In order to understand how music affects early childhood development, we music first understand how the brain development works.

Early synapse development occurs as early as three months in the three areas of the brain: the visual cortex, the auditory cortex, and the prefrontal cortex. The visual cortex experiences the greatest amount of development in the first four months of age. The auditory complex is about 80% complete at three months, and the prefrontal cortex continues to develop until approximately one year. After these synapses are grown, they will be lost during early adolescence if not used. It is shown that the brain learns quickly from experiences the brain experiences. Likewise, a lack of experiences will cause these synapses to disappear. Hence, it is important that all areas of the brain continued to be stimulated and developed.

A study in 1992 found a relationship between frontal lobe activity and emotion. Right lobe activity was more active when a person is sad, and left lobe activity is more active when a person is happy. In a related study done in 1996, researchers played classical music for preschool boys in a school setting for one hour a day. The kids showed a significant increase in brain activity in the left lobe. The group showed signs of being more alert and tiring less easily. The study further discovered that rhythm helped to understand and process sequence and discrete information. Music, therefore, seems to help with brain development and learning. Learning to play a musical instrument, for example, requires the brain to develop new synapses for the motor skills and physical requirements of playing a musical instrument.

Research has been done not only on the way music can shape a child’s brains, but also on how the teaching style of musical instruction can affect brain development. In a study in Switzerland, students who replaced their language and math classes with music did better in language and no worse in math. The behavior of those who took music in place of math and language classrooms was comparative to those in the control group, whereas at the beginning of the study, the control group had slightly better behavior patterns. There was also evidence that music instruction helped develop better reading abilities. Other concepts learned in various subjects are enhanced when paired with music instruction. There is a strong correlation to music education and success in other subjects in school.

In 1979, about 5,000 fifth graders took the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) two consecutive years in a row. Approximately one-fifth of the students were enrolled in band or orchestra. In all areas of completion, the students who participated in band or orchestra scored higher on the CTBC. (O'Neal 1981) Fifth graders who were in band for two or more years scored 10 percentile points higher overall and 12 percentile points higher in language. Fifth graders who were in orchestra for two or more years scored 16 percentile points higher overall and 20 percentile points higher in language. There have been many follow up studies and similar research that has shown similar results where the student in band and orchestra consistently scored higher that their non-musical peers.

It has been proven time and time again that music in the classroom is important, and even though budget cuts and political viewpoints have forced policy makers to re-evaluate the importance on music in the classroom, the public has expressed its views on how important music education really is. (Anoka Hennepin School District n.d.) The fact is that many parents are unaware of how to purchase musical instruments and many musical instrument dealers have taken advantage of the system. They are renting over priced musical instruments to families who have no other information on how to obtain musical instruments for their son or daughter. Many of the rental programs are renting used instruments at new instrument prices.


n.d. Anoka Hennipin School District. Accessed 21 2013, 11.

n.d. "Engaging Activities in the Arts." Minnesota Department of Education. Accessed 11 20, 2013.

2008-2013. "Minneapolis, MN." Thrill Call: Your Aid for Live Shows. Accessed 11 20, 2013.

n.d. Minnesota Orchestra. Accessed 21 2013, 11.

n.d. "MMEA." Minnesota Music Educators Convention: High Quality Music Education for Every Student. Accessed 11 20, 2013.

O'Neal, Joseph P. Robitaille and Sandra. 1981. "Why Instrumental Music in Elementary Schools?" The Phi Delta Kappan 213.

Strickland, Susan J. 2001. "Music and the brain in childhood development. (Review of Research) ." Childhood Education 100.