Music is the universal language. Since music speaks to anyone and everyone around the world, it stands to reason that music education should embrace diversity. Many prominent music organizations, including NAfME, have official statements addressing diversity in music education. But how do you incorporate cultural diversity in YOUR music classroom or program?

First, Understand the Importance of Cultural Diversity in Music Education

Recent statistics published by the US Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) indicate that 25.8 percent of children in the United States have at least one immigrant parent. The world truly is a melting pot and because music is a universal language, schools have a great opportunity to promote the importance of cultural diversity through music, the musicians and the staff and faculty.

Diversity of Music

Music education should study not only the performance of music, but also the people, locations and cultures involved in the creation of it. As the United States and the world become more diverse, the importance for students to study a variety of musical styles, cultures, and genres grows. Music programs should encourage teachers and students to explore a variety of musical styles and traditions from around the world, from ancient times to the present.

The accessibility of instruments, from traditional brass, woodwind and strings to world percussion, native flutes, and folk instruments will allow students to explore all types and styles of music. There is also an expansive collection of books and sheet music that will help educators explore a broad array of music to teach in their classrooms and programs.

Diversity of Musicians

Students, no matter their race, ethnicity, origin, language, religion, socioeconomic status, living situation, (dis)ability, gender, or sexual orientation, can and should participate in the making of music in school music programs.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t pan out for many minority students. Child poverty statistics show stark differences when broken down by race. As recently as 2016, for kids under 18 living in poverty, 11% are White, 27% are Hispanic, 31% are Black and 31% are American Indian/Alaska Native. Why does this matter to music educators? Because impoverished students are often left behind when it comes to arts and music studies.

The disparities grow when it comes to college study. Students who audition and attend music schools often have more than 10 years of traditional music study. That typically costs money that families living at the poverty level simply don’t have. Constance McKoy, Professor of Music Education at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), focuses much research on children’s world music preferences and music teachers’ cross-cultural competence. Her studies have shown that, of college graduates who received music degrees (2010-2011 academic year), 72 percent were White while less than 7 percent were Black and less than 8 percent were Hispanic. Clearly, there is work to be done in diversifying the student body in music education programs.

Diversity of Musical Staff and Faculty

Music diversity goals will be better achieved when the music educator workforce more closely resembles the diversity of the United States and its student populations. A 2015 study from the University of Maryland revealed that of 20,521 music teacher candidates surveyed, 86 percent identified as White, while less than 8 percent of the teachers identified as Black, and fewer than 2 percent of the teachers as Hispanic.

Implementing Cultural Diversity in Music Education

Understanding the need for diversity, along with crafting statements and positions are important, but implementing actionable plans is a must. How are teachers implementing cultural diversity in music education? Music educators can begin by:

- Understanding their community’s needs, population makeup and interest in music.

- Helping to build or reorient music programs to include a wide variety of music, teaching styles and genres of music that represent cultural diversity.

- Welcoming all students who want to learn music and helping current students to understand the importance of inclusiveness.

- Actively learning about musical styles and traditions that aren’t familiar or part of the traditional music education curriculum.

- Considering whether there are expenses or requirements that might be preventing lower-income students from participating and coming up with creative ways to mitigate those barriers.

- Communicating the benefits of music, to help diverse students and parents truly believe “this class is for me/my child.”

- Asking the school or district to offer professional development so teachers can learn about inclusion and equality.

- Recruiting students from a variety of backgrounds to become musicians, music aides or assistants. Encouraging diverse peers to pursue music education or be on your MEA’s board and committees.

These are just a sample of actions that music educators can take to advance diversity in music education. The United States, and truly the world, is becoming more diverse by the day. Take this opportunity as a music educator to be part of the positive change music can bring to students’ lives. Woodwind & Brasswind offers a huge selection of traditional, world and folk instruments, plus an array of sheet music, that can help music educators incorporate all styles and genres of music into a classroom or program.