New NCCAS National Core Music Standards

UPDATE: Creative Sequence Alignment post is now available for more info on national draft standards.

The new National Core Arts Standards have been released today for a public review process that will last until July 15. The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, comprised of representatives from various Arts Education organizations, including the National Association for Music Educators (NAfME), wrote the new standards as an update to the 1994 National Standards. So I spent most of the day today poring over the new draft music standards, and I have to admit, I’m not excited. There are many glaring structural problems with the new standards. But first, the good points.

Clear “Artistic Process” Umbrella

In order to align all the arts in a cohesive manner, the writers chose three to four very simple, clear Artistic Processes to categorize all the standards under.

  • Creating – same across all disciplines
  • Performing/Presenting/Producingperforming for music
  • Responding – same across all discipliness
  • Connecting – used by dance, media arts, and theater, but considered integrated into the other processes for music

By using this simple structure, you can see that what was nine national standards in the past, can now be quickly remember by a simple three: create, perform, respond. Creating covers old standards #3-4, improvising and composing/arranging. Performing covers old standards #1-2, singing and playing. Responding covers #6-9, which include listening, evaluating, analyzing, and connecting to history, culture, and other disciplines.

Heightened Placement for Creative Process

As an Orff Schulwerk-trained teacher, I was of course thrilled to see the very first process to be Creating! Far too many music teachers do not believe in the creative potential of their students (or even themselves), and see music as merely a re-creative art.

Connections to 21st Century Skills and Common Core Language

I have been involved in the process to get the fine arts added to the Iowa Core Curriculum. During this process, I have learned a lot about 21st Century Skills. The universal skills like collaboration, flexibility, and productivity are great ways of thinking about cross-curricular success for our students. So I was pleased to see this kind of newer language infusing its way into the new arts standards.


So, I was really excited by all of this, and was looking forward to a day of nodding my head emphatically. Instead, I am left with a deep pit in my stomach.

No Listed Essential Music Skills

  • The new standards do not require students to sing. They do not have to match pitch.
  • The new standards do not require learning to play instruments, or even keep a beat. However, they do require students to perform music. They just don’t explain what this means.
  • The new standards do not require students to read music. However, they do briefy mention writing/notating music, to record and share compositions.

No Elements of Music

  • The new standards barely refer to the elements. Free improvisation in grades K-2 mention “tonal and rhythmic” patterns.
  • Performances and listening examples are to be “analyzed” for musical elements, but these musical elements are never listed or described beyond single examples (i.e., form).
  • Not surprisingly, since notation literacy is not mentioned, there is no expectation in the standards for students to read a specific rhythm, identify pitches, etc.

Too Much Emphasis on Student Production

  • Students in the new standards are expected to not only improvise and compose, but to first create their own improvisatory vocabulary through “free improvisation,” and then map out a “plan” of how they will improvise or compose. The teacher is not mentioned as having any input in this process, beyond words like “guidance” and “support”” (only used in Kdg and 1st Grade).
  • Students are expected to choose their own repertoire for performing and listening to. No mention of allowing the teacher to choose or influence repertoire choices.
  • Students are expected to analyze their compositions, their performances, and listening examples. While this is important work, given the skills and concepts missing from these standards, it points to an imbalanced, discussion/writing/listening based class, where active music-making suffers.

As you can see, I am deeply concerned about the direction these new standards are taking. I feel that the effort to align and make ourselves “relevant” is backfiring by eroding the core of what makes music education important. The bottom line is that these standards do not accurately represent what I believe a music education should look like.

Regardless of whether you agree with me or not, please take the time to visit and share your thoughts with the writing team. This is an opportunity that the last generation did not have to such an extent, and we need to make our voices heard!