How music education has changed and its impact on learning space design

Music education has changed over the years, moving away from the classical approach to incorporate a range of modern and traditional styles. As a result, the learning spaces we use for music education have changed too. This blog explores how the evolution of music education has changed and the impact this has had on learning space design.

How has music education changed?

Music education has changed considerably over the last 100 years. From the advent of technology to changes in teaching musical theory, music wasn’t always a part of school education. Let’s take a look through history at how music education has changed:

Pre 19th century

Music education in school curriculums can date back as far as the 19th century. Before this, music education was reserved mainly for formal institutions, such as cathedral schools and court musicians (a musician who typically worked in the service of a designated sovereign).

Music was also only considered a form of entertainment for those high in society or a method of showcasing someone’s powerful or rich stature. While music education was available, it was mainly reserved for the wealthy in society.

In fact, music teaching would’ve provided a huge source of income for many musicians during the 18th and 19th centuries. Often, this would be done to support composing or performing activities. Imagine being taught music by Mozart or Vivaldi!

19th century

A music classroom following a traditional design

However, with developments in music teaching, such as sight-singing and notation systems, it became possible for more people to learn about music. The expansion of public education in the 19th century saw music education become a part of the school curriculum.

This was the first time that music education was available. The idea that music education could help empower the masses reflected the views of many reformers of this time. However, music teaching at this time focused mainly on theory and harmony.

Two popular forms of musical teaching were also developed around this time. Firstly, the Suzuki method. This took the idea that children can pick up native languages easily and reflected this across to musical teaching. As a result, the Suzuki method focused on learning through repetition.

The Kodaly method was another method of music teaching developed during this time. This is an approach to music teaching through singing. Different mental nodes, such as nicknames for notes or fun exercises, help children build powerful musical structures for learning.

20th century

Students and teacher sitting in a circle during music class

As the 20th century rolled along, music education became much more diverse. Not only was the advent of technology helping to change music education but also the inclusion of different genres. Jazz, folk, and popular musicals started to gain inclusion in music curriculums.

Technological advances also helped to change and improve music education. Devices such as the radio, records, and tape recording all allowed for a big shift in teaching. However, music teaching still focused on larger ensembles performing primarily classical arrangements.

By the mid-20th century, many of the progressive views that helped introduce music to mass school curriculums were starting to decline. As a result, the second half of the 20th century was a time of radical change in musical education.

The biggest change during this time was a shift towards comprehensive musicianship. Introduced to help reform music curricula, comprehensive musicianship focuses on literature as the source of all music study while promoting the integration of all music study aspects.

21st century

A student using a Digital Audio Workstation with a MIDI keyboard input

As technology continues to evolve, music education has experienced a digital revolution in the last 20-30 years. Now, technology enables teaching and learning through digital tools, such as MIDI and Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs), for composition, recording, and distribution.

The advent of the Internet and a broad range of online platforms and apps have also helped to transform musical education. Music education apps, online tutorials, and virtual instruments have helped revolutionise learning musical theory and playing instruments.

Music education began as something reserved for those high in society, but during the 21st century, much greater emphasis has been placed on inclusive and accessible music education. With adaptive technology for students with disabilities to an array of programs, music education has never been more inclusive and accessible to all.

Realising the impact musical education can have on student’s learning and success in other subjects, there is now much greater interdisciplinary integration between music and STEAM subjects (including maths, science, and technology). Project-based learning and collaborative performances have also become a standard for music education.

What is the impact on music learning space design?

Given the extent to which music education has changed over the years, it’s only natural that music learning space design will also have experienced significant changes. Particularly given how music teaching and learning have rapidly evolved to focus on creativity and the inclusion of initiative learning.

Traditional music classrooms

Students playing the recorder during music class

As with classrooms of the time, music classrooms in the 19th century had a traditional design of desks in rows facing the front. While this may have suited the more traditional style of teaching back, it certainly wouldn’t be effective for today’s learning.

However, with the increasing diversity in music education during the 20th century and the development of technology, music classrooms started to switch to a more open style. This allowed students to practice and perform in school groups while also allowing for the incorporation of technology in learning.

While the advent of flexible classrooms may still be in its infancy at this time, music classrooms will need to change and evolve to suit the needs of a given lesson. The introduction of comprehensive musicianship would have helped bring about this change.

That’s because a large part of comprehensive musicianship revolved around the possibility of teaching students in interactive peer groups and inter-led repertoire. As such, classroom configurations would have adapted to allow for such teaching and learning.

Modern music classrooms

A student playing the piano while the teacher watches

Fast forward to today and modern music classrooms have transformed with advances in teaching, technology, and learning requirements. As modern music education places much greater emphasis on creativity and improvisation, classroom design has had to adapt to cater for these changes. As such, students have an ideal environment for exploring their musicality.

Music classrooms need to find a harmonious design that seamlessly blends traditional instruments with modern technology. These spaces also need to be flexible to adjust to the range of activities, from teaching to rehearsing and performing.

As most music teaching will now make use of technology and DAWs, modern music classroom design needs to find a balance between portability and flexibility. Such technology needs to be implemented to support teaching and learning as opposed to interrupting it.

Acoustics and sound is a big factor that influences modern music classroom design. A music room that provides good acoustics and minimises sound disruptions is vital for ensuring students can actively learn, listen, and perform with minimal disruptions. This applies to both main music classrooms and practice rooms.

Modern music classrooms now also need to provide suitable storage. Given how much more technology and musical equipment are now used, safe and accessible storage solutions are essential for the modern music classroom.

With many different aspects of musical teaching, there’s also a growing need to cater for the different areas of musical education. Students now have the opportunity to specialise in a certain area of musical learning, whether it be production, performance, or theory.

As such, modern music learning space design also needs to cater for these. Recording studios in music departments have now become a staple for teaching recording techniques and music engineering. The technology and design will differ depending on the school’s individual needs.

Music education has changed considerably over the last 100 years. Now inclusive and accessible to students, there is much more flexibility and freedom in allowing students to develop their musical education beyond traditional theory and harmony. As such, music learning space design has evolved considerably to reflect this.