The ABCs of Middle Level Education

30 May 2017

Music in the Middle Grades

Music in the Middle Grades

By: Dru Tomlin

With the new AMLE2017 conference song and video up on the interwebs, music is on my mind. Music is everywhere. In our cars. In our phones. In our classrooms. In our homes. Music is even with me as I write this blog (thank you, DJ Shadow). And, of course, music is a part of everything we do in the critical middle grades. How so?

First, we have a unique sonic vantage point when it comes to music. Most people only hear musicians after they have already practiced countless hours, played numerous songs, recorded multiple albums, rehearsed on many stages, etc. Middle school educators get to see and listen to students learn instruments for the first time. Is it always pleasant to the ears? Is it always satisfying to the listening palette? Not necessarily, but music in the middle grades is about the process as well as the product. And there's no need for auto-tune here. We get to experience art and artists taking shape every day. And that's all thanks to the outstanding band, chorus, and orchestra teachers that we have in our buildings on a daily basis. Thanks to their dedication, our students are celebrated for the notes they play or sing on a score, not just for the scores they make on a test. Thanks to their passion, our students have another joyous reason to come to school every day. And thanks to their positive outreach, families see our schools are great places where their children are celebrated as musicians, singers, performers, creators, and artists.

So now what? If you want to increase attendance at your school, increase the number of music and art opportunities you offer on a daily basis. While we want all of our students to be academically driven, some kids are more propelled by the arts. And music class is what keeps them coming to school! And do the same thing if you want to increase grit, resilience, and social-emotional awareness in students. Students in band learn that it's not about one person, one instrument, or one section that makes the band work; it's about collaboration and cooperation. It's about trying again and again even when it sounds rough the first time. And it's also about supporting your fellow musician—because we're all trying to make this piece of music sound great. That takes positive social-emotional behavior, patience, and tolerance—all life skills we want to instill in our young adolescents. And I'm speaking from firsthand knowledge. As I've mentioned before in other blogs and articles, I might not have survived my junior high school years if it weren't for my band teacher and my beloved low brass friend, my tuba. And my own seventh grader has been able to struggle, succeed, and create with the trombone thanks to exceptional band teachers at his school. It's given him another handhold on the mountain of early adolescence. Something else to help him say, “Hey, I've got this!”

Music is also part of the critical middle grades because it's the perfect metaphor for what we do on a daily basis. Take a guitar, for example. In its essence, a guitar is a box of wood and some strings. What makes it truly sing is when those parts are put together. For the strings, each of them has a specific note it plays (E, A, D, G, B, E), and that's nice; but what makes it really cook is when they are tuned and played together. That's also the essence of interdisciplinary teaming. Each teacher on a grade level can be good at teaching his or her content area (ELA, SS, Sci, Math, Art), and that's nice. But what makes a grade level really cook is when teachers are put together on interdisciplinary teams across the content areas so they can build relationships, create artistic teaching and learning, and really get to know their audience (students and families). Will there be some disharmony and discord when a team is first put together? Of course! It's the same with an instrument. Like guitar strings, getting every person in tune takes time and a patient, listening ear. Again, there's no such thing as auto-tune in the middle grades! And will the interdisciplinary team always remain in tune throughout the year? Of course not. That's why we build relationships with each other and check in and tune up every day during common planning time. And when we play our middle grades music in harmony, our students are the audience that benefits every time.

Continuing the guitar connection, I also think about the role of the amplifier as it pertains to what we need to do in middle schools. An amplifier, of course, amplifies the music created by a guitar. Without an amplifier, a guitar on its own is nice; but what really makes it cook is when it is plugged into the amplifier so it can sing louder, prouder, and more voluminously across the landscape. What's the middle grades connection? With the amplifier, I contend that we can't just play our middle grades music quietly in our schools. That's nice work, but more people need to hear our song. We need to plug in our pedagogical guitars, crank up the volume, and let the whole community, district, state, and world know all the amazing stuff we're doing! Many people in our communities think they know the middle school song and what it's all about, but we need to play them the new critical middle grades tune! We need to get loud and proud by publishing our stories in the local papers, getting on radio and television stations, websites, community posts, etc. In other words, we need to do more than show up—we need to get voluminous and step up!

So how are you celebrating music in the middle grades and helping the music of teaching and learning grow in your school on a daily basis? How are you getting loud and proud about your middle school?


16 comments on article "Music in the Middle Grades"

I love the guitar references and I think it is important for students, especially at the middle grade level, to understand that though the outside may look ordinary, their talents and embracing their personality is what makes them unique. I also believe the implementation of the arts in school is vital for students to explore what is important to them, apply themselves in different ways, learn life lessons, and express themselves and their creativity.

11/5/2017 11:31 AM

I agree that it music is important and influential in our student's lives. It is an incredible opportunity we as educators have to watch out students grow, especially as artists, musicians, and creators. I love the guitar metaphor and agree that it is important for the interdisciplinary to work harmoniously to best serve our students.

11/26/2017 5:06 PM

I think music is extremely important for our students! We know that in adolescent development, they are craving exploration. Music is one of those ways for students to do so. By incorporating music in our classrooms, we are catering to their developmental needs while at the same time engaging our students. Win/win!

12/6/2017 10:04 AM

Music is a very important piece of school for students. Music is important because it gives the students a way to explore their talents and interests. By incorporating music in the classroom students will be more engaged with learning and the lessons.

12/7/2017 2:17 PM

I absolutely love this! Middle grades are such an important part of our students education because this is the time when they are exploring. Encouraging them to find a passion can support our students in so many more ways than just musically. Allowing them the opportunities to explore and try out new things is what middle school is all about. I absolutely love that the focus of this article is all about the importance of music for our students - because it is!

12/9/2017 10:33 AM

I really like how they related music to interdisciplinary teams in middle school. Everything has to tune up, it isn't something that will be perfect when you first start out. I have always had a passion for the arts and I believe that it's important to implement the arts into our students' education so that they could find something they enjoy.

4/27/2018 5:10 PM

At first, I thought this post was going to be all about the arts in school, but the analogy between the guitar, amplifier and middle school was really great. Interdisciplinary teams in middle school are crucial for our students and their learning. I am a big believer in helping students find their passions in life because it's important to capitalize on things that they're good at and care about. The arts are also a really great way for students to express themselves in ways that they couldn't do in the academic classroom setting.

4/27/2018 11:52 PM

Music is a great way to allow students to dig deep into their creative side and have fun!

4/28/2018 10:22 PM

I really enjoyed reading this article! I personally am very big into music and loved when I got to use it in school. Middle school students now are even more involved in the musical world and if we as educators can incorporate music into our lessons it would be very beneficial and relevant to them

- Becca Ruschell

4/29/2018 1:16 AM

This article was very enlightening. I was never a student that was driven by the arts. With budget cuts happening classes like music and art are going to be cut. What happens to those students who come to school excited about these classes and they might be in jeopardy of being taken away from them.

4/29/2018 11:47 AM

This article begins in describing the importance of art and music for many students. Having these outlets is important for student learning because there are many students who learn best when these interests are cultivated and supported. He also goes on to describe the relationship of an interdisciplinary team to handling/playing a guitar. The main elements he address was the fact that it takes time and multiple check-ins with team members to keep the team functioning properly. He also encouraged educators to share was they are doing in their classrooms. We should be proud to showcase our students and support and encourage their learning

4/29/2018 12:08 PM

I am happy to see this article because music and other art related electives are just as important for the growth of an adolescent as content classes are. It gives students a new perspective within the art field and might even inspire them to find something they are talented or passionate in!

10/31/2018 9:28 AM

I believe that music is a very important part of middle school, actually any grade. Music and art allow students to express themselves in their own way. It also allows students to know and understand that they are their own individual, that all students are not the same and this allows them to be their own instrument. They can showcase their talents through music, art, writing, etc. It is important that they have this exposure that they may of not had any other way.

11/1/2018 3:44 PM

I really liked how you made the connections between a guitar strings and interdisciplinary teaming. I think it is very important for all teachers to work together in order to help the student succeed and that connection really resonated with me.

12/8/2018 8:01 PM

It was interesting how you drew the line between the attendance of students and how much exposure they have had to music and the arts. You argue in favor retention of students due to persistence in practicing a skill and having a creative outlet, but what would you suggest to help break a common stereotype that comes with playing in a band, especially with so many different backgrounds?

12/9/2018 12:31 AM

I find it really different and awesome on how you make connections to music, especially the parts of a guitar and interdisciplinary teams. It is extremely important for every teacher in the school to work together and to form a cohesive environment. This blog post gave me a few ideas on how to incorporate music and the arts into my classroom because they are extremely important.

12/9/2018 12:46 PM

Please login or register to post comments.