Core Music Standards: Next Steps

On Wednesday, the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards released the final version of the National Core Arts Standards, a re-envisioning of the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education. Their website is interactive and customizable, so you can definitely find what you want. A concise music-only version can be found at

Over the past year of the drafts and review process, I’ve been probably the most vocal critic of the new music standards. As an Orff Schulwerk teacher, I love the focus on Process: Creating, Performing, and Responding. Yet also as an OS, I am bothered by the removal of content and skills, and the extensive focus on student discussion or writing (using verbs like reflect, explain, and describe in nearly all the standards by upper elementary). I absolutely agree that students should be able to verbalize their knowledge. Yet I think the standard-writers were not looking at these through the eyes of a brand new teacher. Such a teacher will teach to these activities, and skip over specific knowledge or skills that aren’t needed for that particular project. I think this is backwards, and the content and skills should be at the foremost of the teacher’s planning, with understanding and discussion based on learned material. If you want more on my concerns, feel free to browse through previous posts!

So, despite objections, the new standards are here. What now? As a teacher and state/national advocate, I see several possibilities moving forward.

  1. Adopt the Standards – Incorporate the new standards into my lessons and curriculum. Promote them at the state level and help other teachers find balance within what I see as an unbalanced guidebook.
  2. Ignore/Reject the Standards – Continue using the 1994 standards, my state standards, and the curriculum that I have been developing for my entire career. Advocate against state adoption and alignment with the new standards.
  3. Work to Change the Standards – By studying, writing about, and piloting the new standards, I can try to gain an in-depth understanding. By advocating against the standards as currently presented, I can try to create pressure for change, as well as open dialogue with those who are advocating for the new standards, to improve communication.

Obviously, I’m going for route number three. I cannot wholeheartedly endorse these new standards, yet I can’t fight against them unless I can demonstrate that I understand them and have experienced them fully. I encourage you to join me. Talk to your principal or supervisor about doing a dual-alignment with the new and previous existing standards in your lessons. Write to your DOE or state legislators, asking that the state review but NOT simply adopt the new standards. Write to NAfME leadership or on the NAfME online forums to express concerns. Write a blog post and share it on Twitter. Let’s create a new hashtag: #musicnotdiscussion. As with anything in this life, it’s those who speak up that make a difference! And feel free to share here in the comments about your advocacy or other ideas.

8 thoughts on “Core Music Standards: Next Steps”

  1. YESSSSSS! A new teacher will not know how or what to teach. In addition, these “standards” are not assessable. They are more like suggestions for how the teacher should be thinking about the processes rather than actions a student should be able to do.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Mari. I heard a proponent once suggest that the purpose of music education was to teach students to “think musically.” I happen to believe the purpose is to teach students to make and love music.

  2. You know, I have a conceptual understanding of how to play the piano. My fingers are supposed to move a certain way while I read the music from the page. So far, my understanding has not helped me develop skill to play in any but a rudimentary way. My 2nd year students have a conceptual understanding of rhythm, doesn’t mean they have the skill to play written rhythms. But perhaps with all the virtual instrumentation available now, all students will need in the future is a conceptual understanding.

    1. What a scary thought! Nothing can replace the act of music making. In my mind, I always have a picture of the extended Appalachian family singing and playing fiddle on the porch, a west African village drum circle with dancers, etc. People in community making music together. That’s the whole point from my perspective, and it’s something that is practically lost in our digital age. The only place many children get this experience is elementary music class, which makes it all the more important.

  3. Where is there anything in this document about the understanding of how children learn to BE musical: that is, through audiation. It’s not anywhere and the understanding of that concept will transform the way music is taught. Understanding HOW children learn, not how we’re taught to teach them, is what will make the biggest difference. Audiation is KEY. Full stop.

    1. Eric, I’m not sure I can agree with you on audiation. The reality of music education in this country is that a majority of teachers and musicians don’t know what that means or how it is helpful. I don’t think we need the term to teach music well. People have been teaching children music since music began, and did fine without it.

      That being said, a lot of the stages, types, and activities that Gordon discusses for audiation are excellent, and align well with many other approaches, such as my own Orff Schulwerk training. I don’t think audiation is bad, but I think a lot of it happens naturally through musical activities, and I’d certainly rather see a focus on that than on discussion and writing about music!

      1. Out of curiosity, however, I’d be interested in where you would put audiation into the core standards. Would it fit as a standard itself, or be tied into each step?

  4. I think you are spot in the observation that the new national standards don’t cover the basic skills that kids need to become independent musicians. I teach in Missouri, and we have state music standards that clearly define what concrete skills kids should have at a certain grade level. I hope that all teachers don’t take these standards as curriculum and use their expertise to make sure kids get the skills they need to become independent musicians.

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