Music in Our Schools Month

Fourth grade was my favorite of all the elementary years. We had mastered the dreaded cursive writing as third graders and learned our multiplication tables “by heart.” We felt more than equal to the task of long division which awaited us. Fourth grade was the year we had Mrs. Brown. She was young, and pretty, and fun, and nice.

Fourth grade was the year we embarked on our study of Alabama history. We learned all about the Indian tribes, DeSoto’s journey, and the road to statehood. Our year culminated in a trip to the state capitol building and the First White House of the Confederacy.

But the best part of all was that fourth grade was the year we learned the Tonette.

As third graders, we had been envious as we walked down the hall past the fourth-grade classes. The sounds of Mary’s little lamb and the ever-popular “Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star” echoed through the hall. We couldn’t wait until the day we, too, would learn to play a real musical instrument.

In fourth grade, our music teacher was stretched thin. Education funding was tight then, too. So, Mrs. Brown and the other fourth-grade teachers had a plan. When the music teacher was in our room, so was Mrs. Brown. She listened as he taught. She learned right along with us. As a result, music was not something we had only when it was our day for the music teacher to visit our classroom. Playing the Tonette was a natural part of every school day, because we had Mrs. Brown.

We could take the Tonette and music book home, and therefore, playing a musical instrument was something we could enjoy during leisure time. As I look back decades later at those parts of my formal education which made a difference and which did not, fourth grade and the Tonette shine.

How could that fourth-grade experience have been better? I suppose if we had piano labs for each fourth-grade class, that experience would have been better. After all, when it comes to understanding music reading, knowledge of the piano keyboard is, without a doubt, the best foundation. Sharps and flats, intervals, chords, and scales: it all becomes easier to understand when you can visualize the keyboard.

The ideal situation would have been for each of us to have our own piano keyboard. Furthermore, if each of us had a piano keyboard at home, we could extend our learning and play a music instrument during our leisure time.

Ideal, but impossible,” you might say. Can you imagine the expense, not to mention the space required? Impossible then and impossible now. After all, today’s reality is that music been eliminated from the curriculum altogether in many places.

Ironically, while we can’t seem to offer what Mrs. Brown’s fourth-graders had, what we can offer is even better, and it is something we could offer our students today with equipment we already have.

Technology makes it easily doable

Technology has assumed a major role in education, and providing the tools to make it effective has become a focal point across the curriculum. How does that point impact music in the regular classroom? It boils down to one simple question: Does your school have at least one classroom set of iPads or other touch-tablet devices? If the answer is “Yes,” then the idea of a piano keyboard for every student becomes not only possible, but easy. This post will give you ideas for specific software you might download.

When we look at piano keyboard apps, the options, including free ones, are plentiful. If the tablets are available, the apps are but a download away. So, too, are teaching materials for beginning keyboard readily available.

The future makes it imperative

What kind of education do we want for our students? Ronald Reagan told us, “…The existence of strong music and fine arts curricula are important to keeping the humanities truly humanizing and liberal arts education, truly liberating.”

John F. Kennedy told us, “I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts ….And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.”

Paul Harvey tells us, “…our schools tend to refine intellects but neglect to discipline emotions. And undisciplined emotions keep getting us in trouble.

Music in Our Schools Month is a great time to get started 

The challenges of time and money are not new. The best of us have always found ways to provide quality experiences for our students. Mrs. Brown was one of them. Whether the topic was DeSoto’s travels, how to perform long division, or how to finger F# on the Tonette, Mrs. Brown knew how to teach fourth-graders what we needed to know. The good news is there are many like her in classrooms all across America and beyond. What about you and your school?

What kind of future do you want for the students who walk through your doors? March is Music in Our Schools Month. It’s a great time to examine what is happening in your school and how you can make it better.

If your school does not have a music teacher, your students can still have significant musical experiences. Learning the keyboard is great preparation for future participation in band, learning guitar, singing in the choir, or any other musical endeavor. Plenty of apps are available for free

Music for all students need not be a memory from a time gone by, nor a lofty goal for a time somewhere beyond teh present.. Music is a part of a complete education. If we want to children to grow up “whole,” we must include music in our schools.

I leave you with an example of what is happening in one elementary school. From 2011, these are 5th graders from PS22 in Stanten Island, New York.


What can you do in your school or community to make sure every child has the musical experience that my friends and I enjoyed as children?

Not just the ones who express an interest.
Not just the ones who demonstrate the greatest aptitude.
All of them.
Music for everyone.