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Making Music Education Inclusive for All Students

If you are a music teacher, then chances are good that your students represent all types, abilities and cultures.

You may have one student who has studied piano since she was three while another student has no formal training but listens to hip hop 24/7. Yet another student has disciplinary issues, and a fourth has learning deficits.

As an educator, how can you reach each of these unique students with their unique perspectives and needs?

The answers are not easy, but it is worth looking for ways to make music more inclusive. By updating the teaching methodology that was used in the traditional music classroom, it may be possible to engage all of your students, regardless of their culture, background and level of interest.

Let Go of Elitist Ideals

To reach all students, it is essential that programs be offered to all kids regardless of their level of ability or prior experience. The music programs in some schools seem to reserve their classes for students who are already accomplished singers and musicians. With the overarching goal of winning contests and accolades, these programs do have merit. However, music deserves to be a core subject at school, and not one that is reserved only for those who have well-developed aptitudes and the ability to pay for private lessons.

It is sensible to offer music classes that cater to students of all abilities. Accordingly, while there may be ensembles for students who have spent years studying their respective instruments, a truly inclusive music education program provides equal opportunities to students who may have never had the opportunity to encounter musical instruction before.

Keep Student Diversity in Mind

Diversity may touch upon many aspects of your students including their skin color, their upbringing, their culture, gender, socioeconomic status and many others. This means that it is imperative for a music teacher to get to know each of their students. With knowledge, it is possible to understand the many facets that make up each student’s identity.

The more you know about each of your students on an individual level, the better prepared you will be to offer curricula that speaks to each of them. When beginning a new module, give careful thought to the music you are including, the chosen activities, the books that the class is reading and even what you are displaying on the walls.

Are you including some portion of each student’s background in at least one module that you’re teaching during the academic year?

Focus on Differing Abilities

Each person is a unique individual with unique abilities. Similarly, everyone has their own preferred learning styles. Most education experts categorize the various learning styles as:

  • Visual
  • Aural
  • Verbal
  • Physical
  • Logical
  • Social
  • Solitary

Students can excel at learning in one or more of these styles. However, each student may have different preferences. Accordingly, if you want to have a truly inclusive music classroom, then it is necessary to plan all sorts of activities that will appeal to the different learning styles you are teaching.

This may mean that you use lots of colorful images, ask kids to draw pictures, play different musical sounds and ask kids to put movement and music together. By using all sorts of activities, you will be able to appeal to the biggest number of kids with their different learning styles.

Moreover, make it your business to find out which students are on behavior plans or other special programs within the school. What approaches can you use that might feel more inclusive for those students?

Remember also that physical, mental and emotional deficits do not have to stand in the way of a fantastic music education. Everyone can learn about and enjoy music, but you may have to get creative in how you approach it.

If you have concerns about adapting or modifying any lesson plans so that they can be made more inclusive, don’t hesitate to ask other teachers, a mentor or a colleague for their suggestions.

Be Mindful of Your Words and Actions

Usually, teaching music is a joyful experience that is rewarding for the teacher and the students. Unfortunately, those frustrating days come to everyone. It is virtually inevitable that you will eventually have a bad day or that one of your students will have one. How you respond can make a huge difference.

To make music education truly inclusive, it is essential that you be mindful of your words and actions at all times. Listen carefully to yourself during your next few class sessions. After each class, write down your answers to these questions:

  • Which words did I use the most during class?
  • What was the overall tone of the things I said in class?
  • Did I yell or become short-tempered with the students?
  • Was I successful at including all students regardless of their ability, identity, race or religious beliefs?
  • Is there a better way to reach that student who seems angry, withdrawn or unwilling to participate?

Through reflecting on your answers to these questions, you may begin to notice certain patterns emerging. Are you focusing on using calming words in the classroom, or is your word choice more likely to cause fear or an angry response? Are you speaking with a firm but respectful tone? Is it possible that there are better ways to ensure that everyone feels like a welcome participant in the music classroom?

Consider Adding Technology

Regardless of how comfortable or uncomfortable you may be with technology, chances are good that your students love it. They keep themselves entertained with it, they communicate with their friends and family through it and they even use it to educate themselves.

Unfortunately, technology too often goes ignored in the music classroom. Kids are incredibly technologically literate, and it would be a shame for the music educator with an inclusive mindset to overlook this.

The crossroads between technology and music can be found practically everywhere these days. If you have not explored it yet, then it may be worth spending some time on YouTube looking for music theory lessons. A wealth of educational music apps is available, and so are many worthwhile games.

Teachers have found great success using Digital Audio Workspaces, or DAWs. That’s because most students are excited about the opportunity to learn to compose and produce their own music using apps like SoundTrap and Soundation. These cloud-based programs are easy to use, too.

While it is true that some software and apps that are related to music can be prohibitively expensive, this is certainly not the case with all options. Free or inexpensive DAWs like GarageBand are out there, you just have to find them to get students started.

Be Ready to Pivot

A music teacher who wants to create a truly inclusive program at their school needs to be versatile. That may mean leading an orchestra in the morning, teaching beginning piano just after lunch and conducting a jazz ensemble in the afternoon. Don’t forget to set aside some time a few afternoons a week to provide guidance to the school’s rock band.

Basically, an inclusive music program caters to a wide variety of interests and ability levels. You might consider adding some music composition or theory courses as well. The more diverse the curricula you offer, the better your chances are of reaching wider segments of the school’s population.

Find Out What Your Students Are Listening To

Who says that music lessons always have to be about western classical music? While it’s great to cover Beethoven and Mozart, consider adding to the repertoire with works by more contemporary and diverse artists.

Ask your students which musicians and singers they admire. Then, choose a few of these to study. Explore different musical styles and genres with musicians from all sorts of backgrounds. Just as much rich learning can occur while studying new and emerging artists as happens when studying the classics.

Take Prodigies Music Along for the Ride

At Prodigies, we’re music educators too. We believe that every child has the right to learn about and enjoy music. That is why we strive to ensure that each of our programs is accessible to students of all backgrounds and abilities.

We invite music educators to use our programs to supplement their own teaching, and parents may want to explore the video lessons at Prodigies Music as their children begin their own journeys toward understanding and appreciating music.

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