Recently I saw the results of a study by Kenneth Alpus and Carlos Abril (2011) on the current demographics of instrumental music students in our high schools. To put the results simply, males, non native English speakers, Hispanics, and low income students were much less likely to stay in instrumental music into their high school years, if they even participated in them at all. A free analysis of the study is available over at Science Daily. A similar study of middle school students by Daryl W. Kinney (2009) found many of the same generalities in that students from higher income families and two parent households were more likely to join and stay in the band program through the end of middle school. In light of this maybe it is easier to see and understand why enrollment in United States high school music classes have fallen to around 20% nationally while at the same time over 40% of Americans could be classified as being â€œlow income.â€
I recently did a blog post on the concerns that I heard from directors at a recent conference that adding a guitar program in their school will hurt their band program in terms of enrollment and prestige. When I really tried to put the results of the two previously mentioned studies together I began to see the true vision of the ideas put forth by NAfME President Scott Shuler and others that we have to change the way we look at our profession and force our programs to change to meet the needs of the students that we are not currently reaching. When you think of it in those terms the push by our national leaders to add more non-traditional music classes (guitar, piano keyboard,mariachi, steel band, rock ensembles, music technology, etc.) to our curriculum makes a whole lot of sense.
These non-traditional courses appeal more to those lower socio-economic groups when compared to the more affluent instrumental classes. Thatâ€™s not to say that band programs canâ€™t reach low SES students. We see examples of that fact touted almost every day, but getting those programs to work above that 20% participation level often requires a huge amount of effort and money, both of which are often in short supply in most districts. So, to make a short point from a long discussion here, once again the idea of changing the face of music education in our schools is validated. The hard part for most schools will be finding teachers that are willing to change their own deeply ingrained ideas about traditional band, orchestra, and secondary music education classes.
High School Music Ensemble Students in the United States: A Demographic Profile Journal of Research in Music Education July 2011 59: 128-145, first published on May 11, 2011
Selected Nonmusic Predictors of Urban Studentsâ€™ Decisions to Enroll and Persist in Middle School Band Programs Journal of Research in Music Education January 2010 vol. 57 no. 4334-350