Increasing Access to School Music through Modern Band

By Published On: December 23, 2017

While music plays a significant role in most cultural groups of the United States, previous research finds that secondary school music participation falls along racial and socioeconomic lines. Many concert bands, orchestras and choirs promote repertoire and musical skills strongly associated with White European traditions and experience disproportionately low participation rates among students of color. The financial cost of participating in many of these ensembles may also be prohibitive for students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and the time required of these ensembles may preclude students who need to work after school.

Recently, organizations and school districts promoting popular music education found success with “Modern Band” programs in city school districts serving higher percentages of Black and Hispanic students and students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds. By performing music that is popular among student populations on instruments that are authentic to the style, these programs may appeal to a group more representative of the overall school-age population in the United States.

A program in upstate New York recently examined disparities in school music participation by race, socioeconomic status and musical preference. An examination of enrollment data at that time revealed that a White student was significantly more likely to participate in school music than a Black student in the district. Students who received free and reduced lunch were also less likely to participate in school music than students who did not qualify for these services. In focus group sessions and individual interviews, students reported a disconnect between school music and student music as a contributing factor in their decision not to participate.

The research team and music faculty involved with this study considered ways to create new electives that might attract a greater diversity of students by race, ethnicity, and musical preference. The music faculty and high school administration supported the decision to add a “Modern Band” course to the school’s curriculum guide to serve this purpose. The Modern Band course was pilot tested in the 2015-2016 school year and then officially added as a course and implemented in the 2016-2017 school year.

The purpose of this current action-research project was to examine how the implementation of this elective affected the enrollment and diversity of the school music program. We were also interested in Modern Band students’ experiences with the school music program and identification of barriers to access. A student questionnaire, together with data collected from the school district registrar, was used to examine those questions.

Increasing Access to School Music through Modern Band by Matthew Clauhs, Julie Beard, and Andrew Chadwick