Living Up To Standards
Did you know that the National Association for Music Education (or NAfME) has written nine national educational standards for music?
If you are a music educator or future music educator, the answer to this question should be “Yes, duh.”
But that’s kind of rude, so thank you for being a jerk. Jerk.
If you aren’t a music educator, then the answer is probably a resounding “no” and will most likely be followed by “and I don’t care.” Which is also really rude.
So far, you and I are not off to a good start. But I’ll forgive you.
A cappella music can satisfy EVERY one of these nine standards. The next time someone questions why you would ever want to teach a cappella music or how a cappella music could ever be considered “educational,” hit them with this “truth-bomb."
Standard 1- Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
Umm…yeah. This is pretty easy. Let’s move on…
Standard 2- Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
So this one is more difficult, as “a cappella” tends to mean singing WITHOUT instruments. But more and more a cappella groups are breaking away from the constraints of a cappella. Jazz group Groove For Thought uses a piano. European group Postyr Project uses a drum machine. Techno group ARORA loops everything with Ableton Live. Ladysmith Black Mambazo has used African drums in the past. Just because you want to stay primarily a cappella doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate an instrument every now and then.
Standard 3- Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments.
I have written countless articles about the need for more vocal improvisation. Read this for some ideas:
Standard 4- Composing and arranging music within specific guidelines.
A cappella music is all about arranging. Try challenging your composers with these guidelines:
1- Arrange a song you’ve never heard before
2- Arrange a classical sonata
3- Turn a familiar song into something totally unfamiliar and new
Standard 5- Reading and notating music.
Can your students sight-read music? Can your students transcribe music by ear? Can your students recognize chord progressions hidden within a full, 9-part arrangement? Chances are, the answer is no, so this requirement has a long way to go.
Standard 6- Listening to, analyzing, and describing music.
Compare and contrast several a cappella covers of the same song. Watch and compare different performances by the same group and determine whether they are improving or losing steam. Determine if an a cappella recording has too much cosmetic work done to it, and describe why or why not.
Standard 7- Evaluating music and music performances.
This is a great opportunity to see live a cappella performances. (Field trip!) Does a group that you have listened to several times on iTunes match the same quality live on stage? Could your group perform that song better? How?
Standard 8- Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts.
While not very a cappella specific, this is one of the most overlooked standards. Sure, it’s easy (or easier) to compare music with art or drama, but how do you use music to teach science? How do you use music to teach European history?
It is important to understand, and stress to your students, that music has permeated its way into every subject, from all angles. Music was a part of history and culture and in America, became one of the most prominent characters in social change. Music can be sung in any language and about any topic. Music is made up of frequencies that rely on physics and the overtone series. Music is interpreted by several parts of the ear and the brain. Music is constructed logically using mathematical formulas where the ratio of one pitch to the next determines the octave or interval.
Because so much of a cappella is currently “popular” music, a cappella arrangements can be used as historical references to past and current climates. A cappella singing requires vocal pedagogy which requires an understanding of human biology. A cappella singing requires musicians to pay attention to the overtone series and can go flat in specific acoustical spaces.
Standard 9- Understanding music in relation to history and culture.
As stated above, music’s role in history cannot be overstated. Music was at the forefront of change before movies and television existed. Music is one of the best surviving representatives of older centuries. Music described the thoughts and feelings of those who lived in that time. Music is as current today as it ever was and will ever be.