It is often said that music is a universal human need. However, school districts globally have far too often neglected music education. As Professor James L Mursel of Lawrence College states on the necessity of music education (Shute and Frost, 1933):
“…I also set a claim as to the ultimate objective of music education, in the schools and everywhere else. The fundamental objective of music education is to supply man’s need for music.”
In this essay, I would like to put forth some possibilities about school music education, particularly in a region familiar to me, the state of Tamil Nadu, India. As opposed to changing simply for the sake of changing, I urge music education officials in the area to look at the neglected past of music education and its present state. Obstacles that have come up recently are, for one, the fact that it is difficult to yield tangible benefits for students from music education (Forrester, 2017). Common goals for music education in school districts thus far have been limited in scope to education that will benefit a student’s future career in music (Fiese and DeCarbo, 1995). Music educators have traditionally been under the impression that music education will only benefit students who have aspirations of a career in music (Ciorba and Seibert, 2012). In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, schools have continued to neglect musical education more so, creating a musical deficit amongst areas heavily affected by the coronavirus, like in Tamil Nadu.
Such a limited view and lack of understanding on the state of music education not only limits the prevalence of proper music education curricula amongst schools but also leaves schools without the proper funding to create and maintain full music education programmes (Jorgensen, 2010). To investigate this issue, music education was investigated in a random sample of public schools within randomly selected cities of Tamil Nadu, namely: Chidambaram, Tanjore, Kadalore, Villupuram, Chengalpattu, Thambaram, Ambattur, Kadambathur, Thiruvellur, Thiruvanmiyur, Avadi, Kelambakkam, T.Nagar, Kumbakonam, Madurai, Tríchy, Velacherry, Perambur, Kanchipuram and Srivilliputhur.
Through a qualitative methodology utilising a score-based survey, this study sought to uncover a more accurate rendering of the state of music education in Tamil Nadu. Current studies have neglected this topic for Tamil Nadu youth, and with early and later music education proven to have lifelong benefits and over six million children are enrolled in Tamil Nadu’s public primary and secondary schools, the necessity for this study can be seen.
Do Schools Have Music Education?
To identify which topics ought to be included in the survey and which to be given in the form of an online questionnaire, we asked thirty international university music programme directors to produce a list of general areas that any successful music education programme ought to have focus on. The suggestions included, but were not limited to, practical experiences that dealt with the application of learned music techniques, instruction with regards to technological or vocal or instrumental musical devices, and lastly specific areas of focus and recommended activities for music education courses. If more than four directors included a specific music topic as being conducive to an overall music education, then the topic was addressed in our survey. The respondents, composed primarily of principals of Tamil Nadu schools, used a scale from one to five to rank their responses, with each number being referred to as such:
5: This area of focus is a primary focus in our music curriculum/music education is given heavy importance at our school.
4: This area of focus is addressed by a large number of class hours, around ten to twelve, every week.
3: This area of focus is addressed by a moderate number of class hours, around four to six, every week.
2: This area of focus is addressed by a small number of class hours, around zero to three, every week.
1: Music education is not taught at my school/this area of focus is not addressed at all.
An optional zero ranking was provided to indicate a case of music education being completely neglected within a school. An area for additional comments was provided.
1082 principals of Tamil Nadu public schools received an online questionnaire, and a 71 percent response rate was attained. Principals were asked to complete the questionnaires to the best of their knowledge about the state of music education at their schools, and the following responses were attained.
The Results: Quantifying the Music Education Shortage
According to the data gathered, the severity of public schools not including music instruction in their everyday curriculum is far worse than previously reported in the literature.
A novel development uncovered in this paper was the occurrence that 65% of Tamil Nadu public schools lack any form of musical education, and nearly 90% of these schools have little or no plans to incorporate music education into their curricula.
The data is presented below in a bar chart. The chart displays the mean scores given by the respondents for a set of questions asked as part of our survey; the scores given by the respondents were averaged and reported in the bar chart. Below is a table displaying the numbers for each part of the scale for each question. Questions are provided below in Appendix A.
The current state of negligence is indicative of a deeply rooted apathy towards the importance of music education. Although this is largely a source of pessimism regarding the future of music education, the government should not be discouraged from attempts at re-education. Indeed, results indicate that principals do not hold any aversion towards music education, merely disinterest. This reflects optimistically the prospects of re-educating public schools about the importance and necessity of music education.
Recommendations and the Future of Music Education in India
It was uncovered via both the survey and the additional information free-response section, and through my research, that recommendations focusing on three main areas can be utilised to greatly transform a school’s music education curriculum. They are as follows: Offering a broad assortment of music collections for educational purposes by incorporating (1) vocal training for vocally interested students, (2) instrumental instruction, and (3) technological electives for the instruction of industry music software such as Logic Pro X, FL Studio, and Pro Tools will allow for enhanced instrumental musical learning outcomes. As part of this recommendation, I would like to emphasize the importance of musical diversity. Extending the music curricula to range from instrumental education to vocal instruction to ensemble and orchestra practice, can help engage the interests of a greater proportion of students, combatting the issue of musical apathy (Davis 2005; Shute and Frost 1933).
This study uncovered music education to be not only an essential part of a developing child’s curriculum but also an indispensable tool to develop skills that will allow for benefits in one’s professional life. From corporate well-being to familial affection, research (Ciorba 2012; Jorgensen 2010; Forrester 2017) has shown that music education lays foundations for a successful child’s life, and the aforementioned result that public schools are not integrating a musical curriculum into their syllabus is one that ought to be remedied on a widespread scale. The recommendations made are necessary for the development and nurturing of the next generation of students—not just in Tamil Nadu, but all over the world.
Ciorba, Seibert, 2012. Music Education in the State of Oklahoma: Perceptions from the K-12 Educational Community. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education 31. https://doi.org/10.5406/bulcouresmusedu.193.0031
Davis, Robert A. 2005 “Music education and cultural identity.” Educational Philosophy and Theory 37.1: 47-63.
Fiese, R.K., DeCarbo, N.J., 1995. Urban Music Education: The Teachers’ Perspective. Music Educators Journal 81, 27–31. https://doi.org/10.2307/3398779
Forrester, S.H., 2017. Music Teacher Knowledge: An Examination of the Intersections Between Instrumental Music Teaching and Conducting. Journal of Research in Music Education 65, 461–482. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022429417742124
Jorgensen, E.R., 2010. School Music Education and Change. Music Educators Journal 96, 21–27. https://doi.org/10.1177/0027432110369779
Shute, F.L., Frost, W., 1933. Aims and Objectives of Music Education. Music Supervisors’ Journal 20, 16–24. https://doi.org/10.2307/3384500
Question 1: Instrumental musical education (veena, violin, mridangam, etc.) is a point of focus at my school.
Question 2: Technological musical education (GarageBand, Logic Pro, Fruity Loops, etc.) is a point of focus at my school.
Question 3: Vocal musical education is a point of focus at my school.
Question 4: Education on the history of music is a point of focus at my school.
Question 5: Conducting is a point of emphasis at my school.
Question 6: Education on music as present in other cultures is a point of focus at my school.
Question 7: Education on different forms of music (classical, contemporary, etc.) is a point of focus at my school.
Question 8: Educating students on music education research is a point of focus at my school.
Question 9: Music as it pertains to theater is a point of focus at my school.
Question 10: Training students by ear is a point of focus at my school.
Author Information: Vasanth is an independent researcher whose primary research centers on South Asia and education. He is particularly interested in educational reform in Indian schools’ curricula, with music education being his most recent endeavor. Outside of research, he takes joy in service-oriented work for his local community.
Suggested Citation: Vasanth Narayanan. 2021. ‘An Investigation of Music Education in India: Musical Oversight amongst Tamil Nadu Schools’, Think Pieces Series No. 19. Education.SouthAsia (https://educationsouthasia.web.ox.ac.uk/).