7. How We Aren’t Teaching the Language of Music: Composition and Improvisation
“GRADES K-2 OVERVIEW: Over the three lessons, the Concept Areas of Rhythm, Melody, Harmony, Form, and Tone Color are used. Skills
developed are Singing, Moving, Listening, Playing Instruments, Creating, and Analyzing/Relating music to other subject areas such as history and literature.”
The Texas Education Code outlines the creative requirements of a beginner’s (Kindergarten) music class to be as such:
“Through creative performance, students apply the expressive technical skills of music and critical-thinking skills to evaluate multiple forms of problem solving… The student is expected to: sing or play classroom instruments independently or in a group; and sing songs from diverse cultures and styles to play such songs on musical instruments.”
During this period, students are not introduced to any type of music notation and are expected to ‘Compose and Improvise.’
If you place a little monkey in front of a piano, you will see how ‘composition’ and ‘improvisation’ is conducted in public schools, and what you get when you put a cart in front of a horse. Composition and improvisation should be the most complicated, highest forms of musical work. This independent creation of music is at the base of a sure understanding of the music language. Composition involves the conscious operation of music logic and the ability to think in music characters, plus the ability to transfer all of that into the voice, instrument or music notation. Improvisation is that and more: a great ability to master an instrument. Singing, playing, and writing down the notation of numerous pieces from memory and from sheet music, as well as a mass of hearing and coordination training is at the foundation of such serious music work.
If thought about in a different way, a monkey that bangs on the keys and doesn’t realize that it’s a musical instrument could be said to be ‘composing’ and ‘improvising’ in a typical classroom in a public school. The ‘composition’ and ‘improvisation’ that is featured in beginners’ classes isn’t any more useful than an orchestra of monkeys. Kids could be passing their time much more productively. What does the instructor accomplish in teaching ‘composition’ and ‘improvisation to those that have the tiniest control over their actions? What were the founders of the program thinking, making children compose and improvise before they’ve even learned the notes of the first octave?
In my predigital teaching years I turned entire school into piano academy. The keyboards had been purchased by parents through fundraising. Every child first learned how to play piano and sight-read music. Other activities were built upon that. Children flourished!
Imagine that in an elementary school where children haven’t yet learned their letters, a teacher gives an assignment to write an essay. Thank God that in reality, they first teach children to read and write! Where is the common sense of music pedagogy?
I’d like to underscore my position. Undoubtedly, live music can be composed in a way that sounds free, or restrained. Jazz, folklore, and narrative song are all highly serious genres where being musically literate isn’t a necessary condition to mastering them. First of all, extremely talented people who have the natural gift of composition and improvisation are the ones that uphold these genres. Secondly, we are talking here about the proper way to teach music to everyone, regardless of talent. Furthermore, it’s a fact that not a single successful jazzman or bard would have trouble mastering the music language from childhood, if given the chance.
 http://www.classicsforkids.com/teachers/lessonplans/. Editor bolded for emphasis.
 From Section 117.3 of the Texas Education Code, adopted to be effective Sep 1,1998