Music education refers to the teaching and learning of music. It can be traced back to antiquity with the teachings of the Greek philosopher Pythagoras (570BCE - 479BCE) and the Chinese sage Confucius (551BCE- 479BCE), who both considered music to be important. In the United States, by the turn of the 18th Century church ministers were calling for schools to instruct people in reading music and singing psalms. Anglican singing classes started in Maryland as early as 1699 and the first school for ‘psalmody' was opened in Boston in 1714. This was run by the Reverend Thomas Symmes, who favored music reform. Lowell Mason (1792-1872), who set up the Boston Academy of Music in 1832, is widely regarded as the pioneer of American music education. He embarked on a tour of Europe in 1837 to observe methods of teaching music and to search for materials to help his work in the development of his singing curriculum for the Boston school system.
The first black American music teacher was slave Newport Gardner (1746-1826), who was sold to a prominent merchant of Newport, Rhode Island. In 1791, Gardner won money in a lottery that enabled him to buy freedom. He went on to write music and opened a singing school. This later led to the opening of other schools for African American boys in Boston, New York, Charleston and New Orleans. At the end of the 19th century, fellow music educators John Spencer Curwen (1847-1916) and John Hullah (1812-1884) also traveled to investigate music in schools. Visiting Albany, Chicago and Philadelphia, they found singing was only present at kindergarten level, which they believed was due to the influence of the Quakers. They reported that there was a lack of interest in some high schools and Curwen suggested the students take up exercises in diction, time, tune and harmony analysis.
In A History of American Music Education (2009), Michael L. Mark and Charles L. Gary explore music dating back to ancient Jewish traditions and follow influences through to the 21st century. The authors discuss educational reforms, professional organizations and the launch of the National Association for Music Education. The association provides major support for American music educators, with its central belief that teaching music is crucial in the cognitive development of young children.
In the 1980s, the organization introduced the National Standards for Music Education, which were adopted by some states. In the United States education system, music is taught at elementary, high school and college level for students with some organizations running specialized programs. In terms of the teaching of music, there are various methods based on the theories of leading figures in the field, including Swiss educator and composer Emile Jacques-Dalcroze. From 1892 to 1909 he taught at the Geneva Conservatory, where he developed his system of eurythmics as an aid to his own teaching. Another method of music education was devised by Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodály (1882 - 1967), who produced his first overture at the age of 15. He experimented in rhythm and preferred a "Romantic treatment of melodic and harmonic materials, with an infusion of Impressionistic elements." His great interest in music education is reflected in his numerous choral works and in 1963 he was made an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
German composer Carl Orff (1895 - 1982) was well known for his rhythmically intense set of choral songs titled Carmina Burana but was also famous for developing the internationally popular system of music education called Orff Schulwerk. Orff created new educational materials, including adaptations of German folk songs and percussion instruments and exercises. Orff's technique was popular in the United States and one estimate in the 1990s put the number of American teachers trained in this method at 5,000. Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki (1898 - 1998) pioneered a method for teaching toddlers to play musical instruments. The Suzuki method is based on the concept that through listening and imitation, children can learn to speak any language, and play music, by the age of three. Since it was introduced in the 1950s, more than 300,000 children have learned to play using the Suzuki method and it is estimated that two-thirds of these children have been taught in the United States.