Justin Miera


Music education is a prominent pillar in United States public schools and has been since the mid 1800's. Today, most elementary schools have a music specialist and an established music curriculum. The Colorado front range is no exception.

This project is designed to determine the state of public school music education in the Denver metropolitan area. To collect the data for this project a survey instrument was created. This new data is compared to the statistical analysis report of October 1995, "Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools," edited by Carey, Farris, Sikes, Fay, and Carpenter. Additional information in this project covers the history of music education in this country, and the definition of elementary music education.

History of American Music Education

Music began playing a significant role in the United States public educational system in the early 1800's. Until that time most music education was reserved for private instruction or conservatory work. The music of common people was often noted to be irregular in both pitch and rhythm. One of the first moves to codify American music came through the churches of New England in the early 1700s. The Reverend Nathaniel Chauncey was a strong supporter of standardized, or "Regular

Singing." In one of his pamphlets Chauncey wrote "Since Man is incapable of discerning how to worship God in a becoming manner, it is truly a great favor that God gives to Man the needful directions" (Rollett, Singing Schools, 1998). As a result, "singing schools" began to develop around the Boston area.

Lowell Mason was a contributor to these schools, and to regular church music, through his hymnal literature and Sunday school collections. In 1833 Mason helped create the Boston Academy of Music to further promote skilled, common music. In 1837 he was asked to teach music, on a trial basis, in the four Boston public schools. His teaching was such a success that Mason was appointed superintendent of music. Over the following years he initiated state wide training in music education. One of Mason's assistants, George F. Root (1820-1895), organized the first national center for music teacher training, the Normal Musical Institute in New York (Rollett, Education, 1998).

Elementary Music Education

Elementary school music classes still rely on singing. Today, the focus is not just on symbolic representation for the voice, but for all music concepts and contexts. The Manhattanville Music Curriculum Project (MMCP) powerfully illustrates this. According to the MMCP of 1965, music concepts (timbre, rhythm, melody, dynamics form and harmony) should be taught using a spiral cycle. Each stage, and its respective lessons, progressively build on the previous notions (e.g. If the first rhythm lesson, from the first stage, is about quarter notes, then the first rhythm lesson from the second stage would be about eighth notes). All the while, students are given opportunities to apply the new, and old concepts through compositions. The end result is a student who can understand and apply all basic musical concepts; not just a student who is trained in vocal music performance (O'Brian, 1983).

For this reason, elementary music education now falls into three categories: general, vocal and instrumental. General music explores stylistic appreciation, theoretical knowledge and rudimentary skills. Vocal music has a role in the general music class, but it is a separate discipline which focuses on advanced techniques and sophisticated literature. Instrumental music gives in depth exploration to the performance of band and orchestral instruments.

There are several general music pedagogues and they all have elements of vocal and instrumental study. The difference is in the intention. General music is designed to provide students with a broad understanding and appreciation of music; vocal and instrumental music provide sophisticated application with the goal being performance.

Orff is one of the most common forms of general music teaching. The program was designed by Carl Orff, a German composer who lived from 1895-1982. The Orff system is primarily based on simple movements, rhymes and sounds. These three basic notions help children develop creativity for improvisation and composition. The concepts gradually progress: movements into rhythms, rhymes into melodies, and body sounds into instruments. Rhythms can get as complicated as triplets and dotted eighth-sixteenths, but are usually set in a repeated pattern. Melodies are always diatonic, never chromatic or modulating. Orff designed and modified a battery of percussion instruments. The tuned instruments are glockenspiel, metalophone and xylophone. They are made in the ranges of soprano, alto, and bass. Untuned percussion includes a variety of toys like wood blocks, triangles and bells, as well as modified timpani, hand drums and suspended cymbals (O'Brian, 1983).

Another common technique was designed by the Hungarian, Zoltan Kodály (1882-1967). Kodály was inspired heavily by folk music from Eastern Europe and therefore used singing as his primary vehicle for education. Kodály championed the sol-fage vocal technique. Sol-fage relies on the diatonic, or eight note scale. Each note has a corresponding syllable and hand sign. The scale numbers and syllables are 1-Do, 2-Re, 3-Mi, 4-Fa, 5-Sol, 6-La, 7-Ti, and the octave, 8-Do. The height of the hand signals rise with the scale. This gives a powerful kinesthetic relationship. Solmization and hand signals have been used throughout Europe for hundreds of years. Beethoven wrote an easy round with these syllables in 1805 called "The Scale" (Reichenbach, 1993). Unlike Orff, Kodály believed that students must develop music reading before they can indulge in creative application. He believed composition and improvisation could be introduced only after the student had a strong ability to understand and use basic musical symbols (O'Brian, 1983).

Rounds, such as Beethoven's, are a rudimentary way to teach melody, rhythm, and harmony. Another basic musical concept is the ostinado, or repeated rhythmical pattern. Through these, and other applications, children can find fun, easy success with music. From these early experiences students will hopefully be inspired to pursue deliberate musical study.

In the case of vocal music study, students can take private voice instruction and enlist in a choir. Private study helps develop proper vocal techniques like breathing, diction and language. While these are superficially considered in the general music class, it is only through deliberate, disciplined study, alone or with a teacher, that a person can become highly skilled. Choirs provide the opportunity to perform challenging literature. These pieces contain difficult concepts such as two to twelve part harmonies, extreme dynamic expressions, chromatic movement, harmonic modulation, and complex polyrhythms.

Instrumental music definitely relies upon the basic skills taught in the general music class, like pitch and rhythm reading. Recorder skills from the general classroom translate directly to the orchestral woodwind instruments like flute, clarinet, and saxophone. Drums, toys, and xylophones are the mainstay of the orchestral percussionist. Again, the difference is the intention of the practice. General music provides an introduction while band offers a focused path of application. The literature of the instrumentalist takes hours, days, and even weeks to master. The general music student can understand and apply new concepts in a single lesson. An eighty piece orchestra deals in the subtleties of dynamics and tempo. General musicians are practicing the social skills of cooperation and sharing which ultimately lead to orchestral communication.

These distinctions may seem fastidious, or even obvious, but it is important to be explicit in this terminology so that we can gain an accurate understanding of the contemporary, elementary, music education system.

Survey of Denver Metropolitan Music Education

To understand the state of music education in the Denver, Colorado area this survey was designed to draw upon the findings of Carey et al. (1995) and the distinctions of elementary music. Some of the questions were created to give the interviewee an opportunity to freely explore their thoughts on music education, and offer other relevant information regarding elementary schools in their district.

School districts, not individual schools, were targeted for evaluation. This was reasoned, in part, to the limited time and resources available. Therefore, any conclusions reached by this survey may not be true for all schools in the Denver area, or even for specific schools within each of the designated districts. On the other hand, the passion and resolve to support and enhance elementary music education is obvious in the select district personnel, and their degree of knowledge about policies and curriculum.

Districts were chosen based on their proximity to Denver and their general characteristics. In Carey et al. (1995), four characteristics were possible: urban, urban fringe, town, and rural. Various districts were sampled in this project to achieve this same mix. Seven districts were originally contacted. They were, in alphabetical order, Adams County District 50, Boulder Valley RE 2, Denver District 1, Douglas County RE 1, Jefferson County R-1, Littleton District 6, and St. Vrain Valley School District. A minimum of two telephone attempts for an interview were made. Only four district representatives responded to the request for survey and their answers are noted bellow. The contact person for each district was chosen from this order of priorities: (a) district music coordinator, (b) district arts coordinator, (c) district elementary curriculum coordinator, (d) elementary music specialist. Once the appropriate person was contacted this brief introduction to the survey was offered:

"This is a survey on the state of elementary music education in the Denver metro area for a Regis University masters class. The questions will define your school district, its elementary music program, and the recent history of the program. In this interview, I will also ask for your general attitudes and impressions about music education, its degree of importance within the district, and visions for its future application."

These are the questions asked:

1) How would you classify your school district: city, urban fringe, town, rural?

2) What is the average size of an elementary school in the district: (small) 300 or less, (medium) 300-599, (large) 600 or more?

3) How many elementary schools are there in your district?

4) How often do students meet with a music specialist each week in these separate classes:

General Music?

Vocal Music?

Instrumental Music?

5a) On a scale of 1-10, ten being the highest, rank the importance of music in your district?

5b) What are some of the ways that commitment to music education is demonstrated in your district?

(If not offered) 5c) Does your district have a curriculum guide for music education?

6a) Do you, or your district, think there can be connections drawn between music and other subjects?

6b) In your district, is workshop training or written guidelines offered for interdisciplinary work between music and other subjects?

7) Compare the district's elementary music program today to five years ago. Ten years ago.

8) What would you change in the application of music education in your district?

The following sub categories include the representative contact person, the date of interview, their response to each question, and general elaborations.

Douglas County

The contact person for Douglas County RE 1 was Cheryl Juniel, elementary curriculum coordinator. The interview was conducted on December 1, 1998. She described her district as urban fringe, with 30 elementary and 6 charter schools of medium size.

Douglas County elementary students attend an average of two, 30 minute general music classes per week. There are an additional 60-90 minutes of vocal and 90-120 minutes of instrumental music each week. The district is ranked at 9.5 with that level of commitment being demonstrated by full time specialists, artists in residence, a music curriculum counsel, and a paid music curriculum chair person. Their current curriculum is undergoing review and adaptation. The district attempts to develop interdisciplinary connections through story telling, public speaking, computer technology and curricular strands.

The Douglas county elementary music program has remained essentially unchanged during the past five, and ten years, except for maintaining a constant state of evaluation and then modification. Some changes that Juniel would like to see are: a greater use of instrumental music, an expanded kindergarten and pre-K program, and even more music exposure for all children.

Jefferson County R-1

The contact person for Jefferson County was Dotty Reeves, music project coordinator. The interview was conducted on November 25, 1998. She classified the 90 elementary schools, and 10 charter schools, as medium size, urban fringe.

Jefferson county students attend general music classes once every three days. Vocal music was categorized as part of the general music program. Instrumental music is offered in 5th and 6th grade as a "pull out." The importance of elementary music education is ranked at 8 with commitment demonstrated through district approved standards and a full time music project coordinator. The curriculum is drawn from the above mentioned standards. The application of interdisciplinary concepts is manifested through content based, and literacy based academic content. An example was given for a first Americans unit. It was said to be initiated by classroom teachers and then supported by the other content areas.

The last five years have mirrored the progress of the last twenty years. The work load for teachers has "improved" and elementary music has become a more powerful "political" issue. Reeves would like to see string specialists throughout the district and more revision of standards to meet those of the state.

Littleton District 6

Two contacts were made in this district. Jill Brogden is the district curriculum coordinator, and Sandy Jasper is the elementary schools coordinator. The interviews were conducted on November 25, 1998. Jasper responded to questions 1-5, and Brogden responded to questions 6-8. Littleton District 6 is classified as urban fringe with 15, medium size, K-5 elementary schools.

Students meet twice a week, for thirty minutes each, with either a full time or part time music specialist. Most music specialists are part time. The music classes are defined as general and vocal, but no distinction was made for separate vocal choirs. The importance of music is ranked at 6 and the demonstration of commitment is through performance productions. There is a district curriculum, but it is in the process of being rewritten.

There is a belief that connections can be drawn between subjects. This is manifested through a "TOSA," or Teacher On Special Assignment. These are master teachers, from within the district, who lend their field of expertise to another school for the purpose of in depth "coaching." There are approximately two TOSAs for every four schools. The TOSA initiates projects, and then works with music teachers to incorporate the academic concepts. This is said to promote "content literacy."

Around five years ago the district lost some of its funding and the teaching staff was cut. Over the next five years the citizens of the district approved new bond issues and thereby added back staff. The average class size has recently been cut to 23-25 students. More programs have also been added. Brogden's vision of the future sees the incorporation of beginning instrumental music in the elementary schools.

St. Vrain Valley Schools

Erie elementary school was contacted in an effort to find town and rural schools. As a result, Rodger Bergford, the Erie elementary music teacher, was surveyed. He has been with the St. Vrain district for twenty eight years. The interview was conducted on December 6, 1998. Bregford described the district as a mixture of classifications in transition. Longmont is a town growing towards a city. Burlington and Niwot are towns growing towards urban fringe. Erie and Lions are rural growing towards towns. All 19 elementary schools are medium sized and overcrowded.

Students receive two, forty-five minute, general music courses per week from part time, and full time specialists. Vocal music takes place after school. Instrumental music begins in middle school. The importance of music is ranked at 8 for the community, and 3 for the superintendent. The commitment to music education is supported by a seven year rotation of text books, good quality sound equipment, and complete sets of video equipment. On the other hand, it is said to be a struggle to receive technology equipment and training support. The curriculum is currently being rewritten to match state and national standards.

The history of the St. Vrain district has been consistent for the last ten years; a dwindling availability of resources for the "special" areas of art, PE, and music. Bregford's vision for change is in the form of more technical support and longevous in-service training.


The process of statistical analysis requires that the researcher must extrapolate findings from small sample to a larger population. For that reason, it is impossible to be completely accurate in one's findings. The survey done for this projects illustrates this point. While many of the findings correlate to the work by Carey et al. (1995), there are some un clear areas.

To create percentile comparisons, the data from this survey is divided by the 170 schools, in the 4 districts. Because each school was not surveyed individually some generalizations had to be drawn. In the St. Vrain district there was a broad range of classifications; from rural to city. The general average of the areas gravitated towards town and so that description was used. Also, in the St Vrain district, vocal music was offered outside of school, and by only one known elementary. Therefore, the district as a whole is assumed not to have a directive for elementary vocal music. In the Littleton district vocal music was said to be offered during the general music class, but not in a separate choir setting. By the definition of general and vocal music, this too assumes they do not have a stipulation for elementary vocal music.

Again, these assumptions are broad, and admittedly inaccurate for all surveyed schools with in the districts. The purpose of these statistics is to make relative comparisons to existing research and find greater clarity to the definition of elementary general music.

These are the comparisons to "Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools." Carey et al. (1995) found that 73% of schools surveyed were classified as medium, urban fringe, compared to the survey from this project that ranked 89% of the schools urban fringe, and 100% medium sized. Carey et al. (1995) said 97% of public elementary schools have music instruction. This matches with the 100% of surveyed schools in the Denver metro area. The 1995 study stated that 53% of schools use full time music specialists, 20% use a mix of part time music specialists and classroom teachers, and 8% use only classroom teachers. The Denver survey found 80% full time music specialists, and 20% part time. This is a 23% disparity between the two reports. Carey et al. (1995) declared that 56% of elementary schools had music programs with a mixture of general, instrumental, and vocal, 15% with general and vocal, 10% with general only, and 8% with general and instrumental. The Denver study found that 59% of the elementary school music programs had general and instrumental, 21% with general, vocal and instrumental, and 20% with general only. These numbers are almost in exact opposition to each other.


The findings of this project have helped to clarify several points. First, that music education is wide spread in public schools today. Also, there is strong, but not overwhelming, dedication to the sustenance and continuance of music in the schools. Finally, that elementary music education, while well known, is misunderstood.

Carey et al. (1995), and this current survey, clearly show that most public elementary schools have a music program. 100% of the Denver metro schools, and 97% of the United States public schools, have an elementary music program. There are public school districts across the country that do not have elementary music education, like Albuquerque, New Mexico. Unfortunately, it would take an exhaustive survey to approach every district, and calculate precise statistics.

Dedication to music education is strongly demonstrated by the amount of resources directed from citizens and administrators. Some of these resources may take the form of material and space. The most costly resource is personnel. Nationally, 53% of schools have full time music specialists teaching courses. Locally, 80% of music teachers are full time specialists. These numbers show a strong belief in the professional necessity of music specialists. One concern does arise. In the schools where classroom teachers are responsible for music education, do those teachers have training in music education? Is their class engaged in musical concepts, like dynamics and form, do they simply sing camp songs, or is a radio turned on to the local classical music station? Since 75% of the Carey et al. (1995) surveys were completed by either administrators or office staff, not arts personnel, it is impossible to know what constitutes a music class in their minds.

This confusion that arises from vaguely defined parameters is most evident in the classification of general, vocal, and instrumental music. In several areas, this survey, and that of Carey et al. (1995), have closely related statistics. The one major area of difference comes in this distinction between general, vocal, and instrumental music. The national survey found that 56% of elementary schools have music programs with a mixture of general, instrumental, and vocal music content. The Denver survey found that 59% of elementary programs are made up of only general and instrumental music. One possible explanation is the specific request, made through this project, for time spent in the separate "classes," as illustrated in question number four. This question painted the expectation that unless there was a specific choir class, singing fell under the umbrella of general music. This was very apparent in the Littleton district where vocal and general music were cited, but no vocal classes were distinguished. It was only through the conversational format of this survey that clarification became possible. An impersonal survey has no interactive ability to follow-up on responses.

Overall, both surveys show positive support for, and an extensive application of, music in public elementary schools. This could be, in part, due to recent scientific explorations regarding brain functions, and test scores, in relation to music. However, prior to contemporary neurology, music was one of the most powerful points of social contact. Historical memory may be a facetious belief, but, in some way, we may all still long for a soulful, communal reason for life; that reason is often expressed through music.



Carey, N., Farris, E., Sikes, M., Foy, R., Carpenter, J. (1995). Arts education in public elementary and secondary schools (NCES No. 95-082). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education; Office of Educational Research and Improvement. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED388607)

O'Brian, James P. (1983). Teaching Music.NY, NY: CBS Collge Publishing.

Rollett, Rebbeca. (1998). Education in America. In Carngie Mellon University [Online]. Available: [1998, December 4].

Rollett, Rebbeca. (1998). Singing schools. In Carngie Mellon University [Online]. Available: [1998, December 4].

Reichenbach (Ed.). (1944). Easy Canons. Bryn Mawr, PA: Presser.

A project in partial fulfillment of the course Current and Interdisciplinary Perspectives in Education, MLS 654 F, Course Consultant is Sharon D. Sweet, Ph. D., REGIS UNIVERSITY, December 8, 1998

Justin's Regis Papers Page