Approaches to Classroom Music for Children

  • Amy Brown


The first pedagogical argument that took place among music educators has become known as the “note versus rote” controversy. At the end of the 19th century music educators could not agree upon whether children should learn to read music or simply sing “by ear” with no regard for the relationship of sound to music on the printed page. The discussion was healthy, of course, because it focused attention upon the necessity for methodology in music teaching. It became increasingly clear, however, that the problem of “how” music should be taught could be treated meaningfully only after careful consideration had been given to “why” music should be taught. If the function of music education was to prepare children to sing together in Sunday School and later as adults in the church choir, the weekly choir rehearsal rote drill would suffice. Preparation to participate in performances of complex choral literature, on the other hand, would require the ability to read music notation. Samuel Cole spoke to this issue at a meeting of the National Education Association in 1903:

The real purpose of teaching music in the public schools is not to make expert sight singers nor individual soloists. I speak from experience. I have done all these things and I can do them again; but I have learned that, if they become an end, and not a means, they hinder rather than help, because they represent only the abilities of the few. A much nobler, grander, more inspiring privilege is yours and mine; to get the great mass to singing and to make them love it. (Birge, 1966)


Major Approach Music Education National Education Association Dance Movement Sunday School 
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© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1987

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  • Amy Brown

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