The 21st Century Music Class

About a hundred and fifty years ago, if you wanted to listen to music, you had to make it yourself, or go see musicians perform live. Then came Thomas Edison and his phonograph in 1877, and everything changed with the sudden ability to record music. People could own music, and started to artfully organize their musical world around pieces that they did not create or perform themselves. Since that breakthrough, people have happily engaged in an endless array of musical creations, endeavors and art-forms, and recorded all of it. As a matter of fact, the technology to record music has actually shifted the entire way we experience music – for both the performers and the audience.

But this begs one important question: has student’s learning kept up with all these changes that started over a century and a half ago? Or, as some people have suggested, is it time for music education to go through a major overhaul?

The vast majority of the sort of music classes that are offered today usually include large instrumental and vocal ensembles that perform under the direction of a single person – the instructor. However, there seems to have been a fundamental shift in the way human beings experience and enjoy the world of music, and perhaps it’s time for musical education to make the same shift – one towards teaching students to create, record, and share their own music.

Classes Don’t Teach Their Music

The average American teenager listens to about 4 and a half hours of music per day, which means that about 18% of their time is spent immersed in the sounds and words that they find inspiring and meaningful. What’s more, a lot of modern music is created digitally and produced through software, keyboards, touch pads, guitars and drum kits. This is a problem because most music schools and classes are heavily rooted on conservatory-style performances with Western European art music – not the kind of music that generally inspires today’s young people.

Need some proof? Classical music accounts for a mere 1.4% of music sales across the entire globe. And yet, the vast majority of music schools offer classical music based learning exclusively.

You can see where this might cause some problems: music programs often do not offer what most students want to learn. This leads to massive drop-offs as children age, with most kids giving up not because they don’t want to play music anymore, but rather because they really didn’t like the program’s music options. In fact, only a mere 10% of students at the secondary level nationally end up enrolling in further music classes.

The Modern Music Teacher

So, what kind of music teacher should you be on the lookout for to make sure your children are taking part in a 21st-century music classroom?

Today’s music teachers require a new set of skills that go beyond the classically trained instructors of old. In fact, the best prototype for the skills required might be a music producer. These highly skilled professionals are one part musician, one part guidance counselor, and one part magician for the arts and technology they work with.

Keeping producers in mind, here’s a few inspiring examples for a great music teacher.

Sir George Martin, music producer for The Beatles, the single most popular musical group of all time, helped the band out in a number of different ways.

Martin first met the Beatles in 1962, when the band was still in their early years. As a student of both classical and vernacular training, and having studied both the piano and oboe at the collegiate level, Martin was perfectly positioned to help the budding musicians. He could orchestrate, position mics, talk about compositional strategies, and use a wide variety of recording techniques to capture the band’s very best sounds. He even played a few parts for them, like the harpsichord part in “In My Life.”

A second good example is Phil Ramone, an engineer and music producer who worked with singers and musicians to develop their ideas and used the very latest in technology to share them with the world. Thanks to his professional attitude and incredible knack for getting the most out of his studio musicians, he was able to help Paul Simon record “Kodachrome” in the legendary Muscle Shoals recording studio, with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Knowing how to work with a wide variety of people and personalities is key in both the studio and the classroom.

For our final example of a modern music teacher role model, we have Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” production technique, which uses large, often unconventional ensembles including multiple acoustic and electric guitars being doubled and tripled for emphasis. Spector was an expert when it came to microphone placement to capture the best sounds possible from an instrument, amplifier, or voice. He also had an unparalleled command of the mixing console, the latest in sound-enhancing technology, and the best methods for capturing sound.

The 21st Century Music Class

Music teachers can learn from the examples we’ve given, and so can you as a parent. Look for an instructor who knows how to be a music producer, and can help students in multiple ways away from the more traditional, classical teaching techniques. Today’s digital world has opened up all sorts of new and easy ways to do most of the things that music producers have been doing for years. That means what was once an expensive and nearly impossible task is now easy and affordable.

Functioning as music producers, music teachers have the opportunity to guide students through a multitude of challenges, such as:

  • How can more than one band perform in the same room without bothering each other via headphone hubs?
  • How can students learn to mix tracks to their liking and tastes?
  • How can students build an online artist portfolio and connect with others in the wider world of music?

Today, the primary way most people experience music is through recordings and live performances, so it only makes sense that at least half the time spent in a 21st century music class should be spent on students learning to make their own music – with a strong emphasis on recording and sharing it. And modern music teachers should be equipped and ready to help them realize their musical dreams.

Are you or your child interested in learning to play modern rock and pop music? Check out all our Rock and Pop programs and ensembles here. Start any time!