Answering the call: Equity in Instrumental Music Education

The story is a common one:

“We are a low income title school with major poverty. We are in the process of rebuilding the band program. I have tested 41 students for beginner band this year. “These kids want to play but many will not be able to because of money. We have some loaner instruments available for students to borrow, but there is never enough to go around. “The instruments I can check out to students such as trombones and trumpets are very old and generally trashy.”

These are actual comments made by music teachers time and again. Made so often, in fact, that we may tend to stop listening.

But if we did listen, we would hear issues of equity: 

  • when students of means get to enjoy the benefits of instrumental music while students of need do not.
  • when practical skills involving math, science and culture are available to some students but not all.
  • when active learning, emotional development and achievement are so closely tied to music class but are unavailable for the most in need.

Sometimes instrumental music class is the only reason a child goes to school – but when fully functioning instruments not available, what then? That’s the story which is worth your time.

Your district is not alone. It is a systemic problem. Many school districts, especially those designated for Title 1 funding, have the exact same issue. Even overseas, the United Kingdom education system had designated certain musical instruments as “endangered” because of the lack of quality instruments for students who want to learn.  For those children, the answer is “no.”

For most, the answer is not "no, we won't."  Instead, it's "no, we can't".  Even with extraordinary federal funding, the financial cost to purchase and maintain traditional band instruments is just too much to bear.

In the UK, a big part of the answer was provided by musicians and band teachers who saw there was better way. Today, more students in both the U.S. and the UK, and around the world, can start their instrumental music learning with a “pJourney” and receive the music education benefits every child deserves.

What is the pJourney?

Like most learned subjects, music education should be on a continual plane, building on previous learning experiences. The pJourney is a continual music plane using “pInstruments”; a series of high quality, long-lasting and affordable music instruments – pBugle, pBuzz, pBoneMini, pTrumpet and pBone – all made from plastic. There is even a metal and plastic hybrid trumpet (pTrumpet hyTech), that looks better and plays better than many of the school-provided instruments in your current music programs.

pBugle 3So what’s a pJourney? It’s a learning curriculum that starts in the second grade with the pBugle. A trumpet without valves, the pBugle is intended for exploration in music: learning to make a sound, understanding pitch, listening, call and response, and group participation. The instruments are simple, durable, easy to clean and even fully recyclable after years of use.

pBuzzPlayersSqIn third grade, the pBuzz is introduced. The pBuzz has a range of just six notes through a moveable slide. Slide positions are outlined by color, note name and positions. Auditory, visual and kinesthetic learning are in full display as students are actively expanding their musical abilities. Every basic music skill is introduced so that no matter what musical genres students choose in the future, their basic music skills are already well-learned. For more advanced learners, including the pBoneMini will help them progress even further as it combines both the pitch skills learned with pBugle with the notes and positions of the pBuzz. While not technically a band instrument, the pBoneMini is an actual trombone, in “mini” size.

PBONE2R PBONE2BMany teachers present their “instruments of the band and orchestra” curriculum in the 4th grade. This often includes seeing the instruments, hearing the instruments and maybe even touching the instruments. Some, however, introduce the instruments by have students actually learn to play the instruments. pInstruments are affordable and built to stand the wear and tear a student classroom can give out. No dents, no dings and especially no instruments out of service due to damage. pInstruments are not indestructible, but they are close! Students on the pJourney will take to these instruments very well and the group dynamics and cooperation are on full display as they help each other learn by watching, listening, and helping each other succeed.

pTrumpetThese same instruments are also incorporated into groups exploring mariachi, modern band and more. Then, as students move forward in their music choices, they will have a better understanding of basic music skills that can be transferred into band, orchestra, choir, or other music programs available to them.

The need for equity in school music is easy to spot. Students are discouraged when opportunity is not available to them. There are answers. The incorporation of pInstruments into your music classrooms is possible. All is takes is one first step.

ptrumpet hyTech Gold Silver 2To learn more about pInstruments and the pJourney curriculum, visit www.pPlayMusic.us.

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