I had looked forward to choosing an instrument for many years before it was time. Third grade was the year that the long awaited Instrument Night was held. This was the night where all of the kids gathered in the cafeteria to try out as many instruments as they could before choosing. I picked up the trumpet, but couldn't make a sound. My mom tried to get me to play the flute, but all of the girls who wore a lot of pink were choosing that, so I stayed clear. I really wanted to play the violin, but mom said no (too much screeching noise). Ultimately I decided on the oboe, not because I was interested in it, but because no one else was choosing it.
I played the oboe from 4th grade through college and even picked up the bassoon somewhere along the way in high school. I loved playing in the school bands and loved learning about music. As an adult, I still carry that appreciation for music with me and it is safe to say that it has positively impacted my life.
I studied music for all those years using the same instrument and the same set of instructional strategies. I learned the fingerings and how to control my breath enough to slowly pick up on reading music (although I kind of faked my way through that). I remember the process of learning music was pretty similar each year. We were given sheet music, would learn about the person who composed it and the situation or story of the piece and then we would attempt to play it. Weeks later we would be somewhat fluent in playing the song and would have picked up some key vocabulary words along the way. Perhaps the piece we were playing included the word Adagio. We didn't have Little Einsteins back then, so we would have learned to slow down at that part when we arrived there. I assume that my teachers chose pieces that purposefully progressed and included different music skills that built on the last, but this was transparent to me. At the end of my formal music education I was left with the ability to play 2 instruments fairly well; but more so I learned to appreciate music and make it a part of my life.
I find there to be a notable difference between the way our students are taught music and the way we teach art.
In art education it is expected that we expose the students to a variety of mediums, styles, artists, and concepts before they leave our classrooms. The assumption is that students will find a portion of the art world that they can appreciate deeply and make it a part of their lives somehow. Foundations classes are typically set up in this way, allowing the students to move forward with more specialized classes such as painting, drawing, photography, etc., later on.
I wonder what would change if art departments scheduled their classes to be more like our counterparts in the music wing?
How might our students benefit from thoroughly experiencing and learning through one medium and not several?
What role does depth over breadth play in art education?
What problems would arise if our students learned aspects of art through the single medium of drawing or painting from 3rd all the way to 12th?
When I envision what it would be like to teach an art medium in the same way that students learn an instrument it seems absurd to me. Yet, I can't imagine teaching a student a new instrument each quarter. So, what's the difference? I know how difficult it is to learn an instrument, but I think it is equally challenging to learn how to see and draw well. This huge difference in pedagogy has been practiced and accepted for ages and while I believe in art education as it is, I can't help but wonder....
Please share your thoughts!
I have been teaching art and design at the middle and high school level since 2006 and learning about both for a lot longer.