For centuries, music education has been noted for positively increasing students’ greater holistic learning and lifestyle outcomes, yet music education across the United States in public and private settings has faced a sharp decline in the past several decades.
Bearing witness to this, a new wave of music entrepreneurs, performers, content creators and instructors are taking the music education space by storm. These instructors are leveraging various forms of technology and their personal social platforms to tell inspiring stories about their journeys and share their best practices within the field. Their work has inspired a new wave of in-person learning, virtually and through hybrid methods.
Below, five artists-turned-educators discuss their inspiration for becoming teachers, the importance of music education, challenges they have witnessed within the field, and innovative ways that music education can evolve in the future.
Darlene Machacon: Elementary general music teacher, choir director, podcaster
Practicing: 20+ years
Teaching: 10+ years
Instruments: Piano, general music, choir
Location: Garden Grove, CA.
Darlene Machacon was inspired to teach music by the train scene in the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: “The film composer scored a beautiful musical moment that instantly inspired me to want to make music for the rest of my life,” she told GRAMMY.com. Today, she teaches elementary general music for kindergarten through sixth grade, and directs fifth and six grade choir.
Machacon believes “music is essential because it is all around us,” and aims to dismantle the idea that music education is limited to learning how to read traditional notation. “Our youth deserve music education that connects them to what they experience outside classroom walls and challenges them to make a positive impact in their communities,” Machacon says.
While this journey has been enjoyable, Machacon notes that music educators are often expected to work beyond contract hours and experience a lack of work-life balance. They often take on larger class sizes, earn lower pay and encounter the perception that music is not a “real” subject. Despite these challenges, Machacon sees a shift in elementary general music classes away from “singing from old school textbooks and reading notes” to creating immediate and relevant connections to keep students interested outside of school performance ensembles.
These connections could include opportunities to play in rock and pop bands, Machacon suggested. While classes for music production and design could pave the way for sound designers, music producers, video music creators and their peers.
Ian Levy: Assistant professor, hip-hop scholar
Practicing: 20+ years
Teaching: 10 years
Instruments: Trumpet, emcee
Location: New York, NY
Ian Levy recalls being introduced to hip-hop and emceeing as a tool for self-expression and emotional development in college. He then turned to hip-hop-based interventions as a school counselor, using lyric writing, recording and performing as therapeutic tools. In youth-created recording studios, Levy’s students share emotional experiences and systemic injustices by writing and releasing songs, and creating album artwork and music videos.
And while this work creates a culturally sustainable counseling service, helping youth develop stress coping skills and emotional self-awareness, Levy’s methodology has often come into question. Some faculty perceive these courses as the students “just having fun.”
“Education tries to define how youth should sound and develop, often in misalignment with who they truly are,” Levy says in rebuttal. “A challenge for hip-hop in school counseling is supporting youth in trusting their ways of knowing and being able to live authentically in a world that limits self-actualization.”
In the long run, Levy believes music education must transcend beyond purely teaching music and be leveraged as a counseling and teaching tool in various subject matter classrooms.
Ashley Keiko, Music school owner, performing / recording artist
Practicing: 20+ years
Teaching: 15+ years
Instruments: Piano, saxophone, flute
Location: Queens, NY
Ashley Keiko ventured into music at the behest of her parents, educators who owned a martial arts studio. Keiko was heavily involved in the studio and, one day, her mother encouraged her to provide piano lessons to a student. Word spread quickly, and Keiko’s student population increased. By age 25, Keiko owned and ran her own school, Keiko Studios in Jamaica, New York.
Keiko’s work has evolved dramatically over the years. “For many years I taught private piano / saxophone lessons to students of all ages and recalled being hands-on with my teaching style at countless schools, concert and jazz bands, general music ed, choir and more,” she says. “Now, I oversee 14 instructors with over 130 students and focus on big picture projects.”
Yet Keiko is challenged by the lack of others understanding the value of music educators’ time and music education as a whole. She hopes that having more conversations about music education will change its perceived value. She finds resolve through creative means, incorporating more accessible technology into the music education experience. With countless music websites, apps, and software, Keiko believes the learning process for students can be more enjoyable and productive.
Brandon Toews, Content Director at Drumeo
Practicing: 15+ years
Teaching: 5+ years
Instruments: Drums, percussion
Location: Abbotsford, British Columbia
Brandon Toews’ private music instructors inspired him to branch into music education. When he began working for an online drum education company, Drumeo in 2014, Toews witnessed the exponential global impact music education could have on scale. For the past seven years, Toews has filmed educational content for Drumeoworking with many of the world’s top drummers including Dennis Chambers, Simon Phillips, Jay Weinberg, Hannah Welton and Steve Smith.
While he believes that “music education is key in creating more musicians around the world and helping them find their unique voices,” Toews has been challenged to create content that serves and connects those with different learning styles.
Each of Drumeo’s approximately 30,000 students learns differently, he notes. To this end, the platform utilizes “step-by-step video courses to conceptual videos focused on creativity and musicality, or digital tools and technology for practicing exercises with notation.”
Toews finds that music education can be innovative by becoming more engaging, fun and increasing the practice tools and applications available to musicians. “Information is so widely available, but effective practice tools are still few and far between,” he says.
Kate Warren, Freelance performer, educator
Practicing: 15 years
Teaching: 4 years
Instruments: French Horn, trumpet
Location: New Haven, CT
“Growing up, regular lessons were not something my family could afford,” Kate Warren says. “Because of that, anything I learned outside of the classroom came from pedagogy books, blog posts, podcasts, and YouTube.” Using those resources increased her interest in giving back to the field.
To date, Warren has maintained a private studio, written a book on french horn pedagogy, run a music-education focused social media page and taught marching band. Her most recent project is a beginner french horn video series for students through a partnership with instrument manufacturers Conn & Selmer.
Warren has found that music education can provide students with “healthy outlets, lifelong friendships, and critical life skills.” However, she’s witnessed that gender representation is still an issue in music – especially in brass playing.
To provide an informed solution she is conducting research to help institutions diversify their hiring processes. Warren has also found social media to be influential in changing the way young people interact with and seek learning experiences by disseminating creators’ knowledge and experiences more freely.
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