Music education in the United States

Music education in the United States
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Music education in the United States can be traced through historical documentation to the colonial era. Among the Native Americans prior to European and African settlement, music education was entirely oral.



The earliest systematic music education in the country was centered on the training of singers for Protestant church services, to lead the congregation in psalm-singing. In the 18th century, the first singing schools in the country were founded, and a number of legendary traveling singing masters traveled New England, teaching in barns, schoolhouses and other informal locations; these masters included Francis Hopkinson and William Billings. By the end of the century, more formal singing schools in cities like Savannah, Philadelphia and Boston become social singing societies.

Public education in the United States first offered music as part of the curriculum in Boston in the 1830s, and it spread through the help of singing teacher Lowell Mason, after he successfully advocated it to the Boston School Committee in 1838. The committee ultimately decided to include music as a curricular subject because it was of a moral, physical, and intellectual nature. Music was considered moral because it played such a part in religion, as well as the fact that had been documented to produce "happiness, contentment, cheerfulness, and tranquility." It was of a physical nature because singing was exercise for the lungs. The committee justified music's intellectual nature by stating that it had been studied as a part of the quadrivium in the Middle Ages, and that it "contributes to memory, comparison, attention, and intellectual faculties."[1] (p. 13-14).

Another advocate of music in public education was Swiss educational reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. Pestalozzi believed that nature was the ultimate and original source of knowledge, therefore his educational theories placed a high value on sensory, kinesthetic, and active learning. He felt students should start with simple concepts in all subjects and move later to more complex ideas. Pestalozzi’s method was one of the earliest methods that could be considered “student-centered learning” and his ideas of discipline and a student-teacher rapport based on love and trust were markedly different from the common practice of corporal punishment at the time. The first music educator to use Pestalozzian ideas in teaching music was Hans Negeli, a colleague of Pestalozzi in Switzerland. His Pestalozzian approach to much was brought to the United States, translated, and popularized by William Channing Woodbridge, Elam Ives, and Lowell Mason. This approach prized active and sensory learning, taught sounds before signs, separated music into melody, rhythm, and expression, and to moved from the simple to complex within the context of each element. Many of these ideas that are found in later established music teaching methods, such as Orff-Schulwerk, Kodaly, and, Dalcroze-Eurthymics.

Music education, primarily vocal, remained most common in women's schools, though many private academies also existed, offering boys and girls instruction in orchestral instruments like the violin, viola, cello and piano.

In the mid-19th century, educator Luther Whiting Mason established music education in the schools of Cincinnati, and become a prominent author of textboooks. His National Music Course, first published in 1870, was a widely adopted standard part of many American curricula. Music education continued to expand across the country, and gained in respect as an essential part of educational development. There was a music section in the National Education Association by the 1890s.

The Scientific Method and How it Affected Music

After the Civil War pragmatism and the scientific aspects of sequential skill building, accurate evaluations, examinations, systematic teaching methods, and scientific methods were popular in education. Music educators’ responses showed that music could be studied scientifically through the use of different methodologies, systematic textbooks and graded music series, and instructional material for teachers. The scientific and more pragmatic goals of education in the nineteenth century had a profound affect on the development of music education in the schools.

Two Methodologies - Rote vs. Note

Two main methodologies used to teach music were the “rote” method and the “note” method. The rote method followed many Pestalozzian ideologies. Songs were taught first and musical ideas were presented later, one at time, carefully and systematically. Singing by rote was the basis for this methodology. Lowell Mason authored what is believed to be the first music series using the rote method.Lowell Mason’s The Song Garden from 1864 set the stage for other rote methodologies of the late nineteenth century. Luther Whiting Mason was a prominent rote method name presented in the textbook. Luther Mason was employed in Cincinnati schools but later moved to Boston to be the “superintendent of music in the primary schools”[1] (p. 195). Luther Mason wrote school textbooks using rote methodology. The National Music Course, published by Ginn in 1870, had seven books presented in a sequential approach of using rote songs to teach music reading.[1] (p. 196) Luther Mason included very detailed lesson plans for the classroom teacher, since at the time music was taught by the classroom teacher but overseen by a music specialist. The series was designed for fifteen minutes of music instruction each day given by the classroom teacher and overseen by a music educator once per week. The book series was so popular Luther Mason was invited to apply his methods in Japan and Germany. The rote method was less favored than the “note” method later in the nineteenth century. However, the debate continues today.

An example of the note method is Joseph Bird’s 1861 Vocal Music Reader and Benjamin Jepson’s three book series using “note” methodology. The Elementary Music Reader was published in 1871[1] by the Barnes Company, one year after Luther Mason’s The National Music Course. Benjamin Jepson was a military man turned music teacher in New Haven after an injury in the war. His music textbooks had exercises and songs presented systematically for the goal of music reading and sight-singing. Jepson later published two revisions of his series under the names The Standard Music Reader in 1888, and in 1904 The New Standard Music Reader.[1] Following in Jepson’s footsteps of note methodology were Hosea Edson Holt and John Wheeler Tufts, who wrote The Normal Music Course published in 1883 (twelve years after Jepson’s The Elementary Music Reader). Click here to read the Normal Music Course. This series had five books all geared toward sight-singing and reading music. A few other note methodology textbook were presented to show the seriousness of music reading as a scientific and pragmatic study. These other note methodology books included: The Graded School Singer by Blackman and Whittemore-1873, and the Cincinnati Schools’ The Young Singer-1860, The Young Singer’s Manual-1866, and the Cincinnati Music Reader-1893[1] (p. 207). The culmination of the scientific method and note methodology advances was presented in Thomas Tapper’s and Frederick Ripley’s The National Music Course published in 1895. The book focused on a no-nonsense systematic approach to music literacy to develop beauty in singing. It emphasized the systematic and pragmatic delivery of materials.

Music Education in the United States took a big turn with the creation of the Music Supervisors National Conference. The first meeting of the Music Supervisors Conference was held on April 10–12, 1907 in Keokuk, Iowa, at Westminster Presbyterian Church. A music educator by the name of Philip C. Hayden made the first meeting possible by sending invitations and announcing the meeting in the Music School Monthly of which Hayden was the founder and editor of the publication. The gathering was primarily meant for educators to come observe new teaching techniques in rhythm and observe Hayden’s music students.

During the three day convention, music demonstrations took place provided by Hayden and his students. Informal discussions on current topics in music education would also take place during the convention. Future conventions and clinics would be based on this model. Throughout the convention, many educators discussed the importance of having a more permanent organization dedicated to music supervisors and teaching techniques. On the last day of the convention, a forum of sixty-nine music supervisors voted to have another convention and became charter members of an organization that would remain nameless.

The Music Supervisors National Conference was officially established during the third meeting of the organization in Cincinnati, OH, in 1910 with the adoption of the constitution and bylaws. As the role of the music supervisor changed into more of an administrative position, the conference began to focus primarily on the teaching methods provided in the classroom. At the 1934 Chicago meeting, members decided to change the name to Music Educators National Conference.

Since the inception of Music Supervisors National Conference, the organization has worked diligently in making sure that every student has access to music instruction in the public school system provided by a qualified music teacher.

Vocal instruction dominated public schooling at all levels. Instrumental education was handled largely through private enterprise, until the early 20th century. Inspired by the band music of Frederick Innes, John Philip Sousa and others, many schools offered orchestral instrument bands. This accelerated following World War I, when many soldiers returned with knowledge and interest in the band music they learned as soldiers.

The first formal school for music educators was founded in 1884, in Potsdam, New York, by Julia Ettie Crane, but Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio in the 1920s became the first school to offer a four year degree in music education.

Concert and Marching Bands

All-Girl High School, Military, and Performance Bands

Bands during the mid to late nineteenth century were an intricate part of every community. These bands would march in parades, provide free concerts, supported soldiers, and played for those in hospitals.[2] During the golden age of bands which occurred from 1865 to 1917, there were approximately over 10,000 brass bands in existence across the country. The band membership did consist of males, but past photographs indicate that there were also all women bands. The female bands continued their popularity into the twentieth century and influenced the evolution of the high school band from totally male to the integration of female into the programs. High schools often housed the standard male band, but also often included a female band. There were also female bands created to support industry. With the beginning of WW II female bands expanded into women’s military bands. These bands were created to entertain female troops, sell war bonds, and perform at concerts, graduations, dances, parades, and hospitals (2008). The WAC (Woman’s Army Corp) bands were used to entertain injured soldiers returning from the war.[3]

One Ohio music educator, Joan A. Lamb, provided great contributions to world of military bands. Lamb was a public music teacher until enrolling in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps later known as WAC. In her basic training, she was asked to become a candidate for officer, but she insisted she had joined to play in the WAC band. She was even sent to a psychiatrist because of her persistence in the effort to become a member of the band. Finally, she located the WAC band director, auditioned for him with her oboe, and was immediately reassigned to the band. Lamb held several music positions within the band which was a first for women. She graduated from Army Music School, directed the 400th WAC Band, started an African American WAC Band, and performed in the Armed Forces Radio Orchestra. After her service in the WACS, she returned to her life as a music teacher, educator, and administrator in Los Angeles public schools where she served for 30 years.[2]

African American women also wanted to serve in the WAC Band. A 404 WAC Band was created. The WAC branch of the military was the only branch who allowed African American female bands.[4] The Coast Guard also created their version of the female band. The SPAR Band played for the troops and performed many of the same activities as the WAC Band. After the war, the SPAR Band was disbanded and the Coast Guard again became all male. After the war, the female SPAR band members became teachers, performers, and parents. There were some female members of the WAC and SPAR military bands who used the G.I Bill to go to college while others continued performing professionally post war.[5] During the war, women’s swing bands also became popular replacing the male counterpart serving in the war effort.[6] These swing bands were highly successful and were well received by the public longing for a diversion from the war effort.

The Ingenues was an all-girl jazz band popular in the late 1920s through the 1930s. This performing band would often perform in vaudeville and variety theaters. Anna Mae Winburn was an African American band leader of an all-girl jazz band in the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. Frances Klein was another famous female instrumentalist of the 30’s and 40’s who played in Kermit Dart's All-Girl Band, under the direction of Irene Vermillion.

The women military bands and post war all-girl bands opened the door to more female participation in instrumental music. Through the efforts of these frontier-like women, perspectives changed as to the female purpose and level of reliability. Suddenly, female bands were found to be as entertaining as male bands. Women found a place and purpose in the entertainment world. Women who were thought to only have the ability to be mothers were leaders in the music world. Women’s equality began to emerge during this time in history and music was a primary avenue for the movement. These women of the past created an environment which the women of today now enjoy. This environment is one of fairness and the ability to seek success in all career areas. Women of today attend college and may become professionals in the work force. Women like Joan Lamb conquered what had in the past seemed like a forbidden world.

High School Music Programs during World War II

Students at Washington High School at class, training for specific contributions to the war effort, Los Angeles, Calif
Victory Corps at Montgomery Blair HS

At the beginning of World War II, the Music Educators National Convention [MENC] took the initiative to promote “American Unity Through Music.” They encouraged music teachers to build patriotic unity in several ways, which included training community songleaders, sharing materials, and preparing student musicians for careers in the armed forces.[7] The MENC’s patriotic emphasis matched the fervor of people across the nation. Schools and communities were very busy with the war effort, collecting rubber and grease (for use in explosives) and raising money by selling war bonds.[8][9] One of the most obvious examples of patriotic behavior could be seen in the High School Victory Corps.

September 1942 was the official beginning of the High School Victory Corps.[10] This program was a way for high school students to begin preparing for their inevitable military service. Although every student was not forced to participate, any student (even girls, who were not expected to be drafted) could join. Participants in the Victory Corps had to take courses that prepared them for military service and perform community service activities.[11] Students also participated in military drill exercises.

The 1943 Music Educators Journal included an article which described how students could use music to support the patriotic mission of the Victory Corps. Every student who participated in the Victory Corps was expected to participate by singing patriotic and uplifting songs, which were led by the school choirs. Music teachers should prepare students to play instruments such as the harmonica which they could take with them when they were deployed.[12]

The results of the initiative to promote patriotic unity were impressive. Schools with bands marched in parades and played at train stations when soldiers departed for duty. In one state, students from many schools worked together to raise over $4,000,000 from presenting eight fundraising concerts. Students even composed official songs for the Victory Corps at their schools.[12]

Collegiate Band Service Organizations

The entrance of the United States into World War I (1917–1918) prompted the Wilson administration to promote a “patriotic mind-set”.[13] Community singing of patriotic songs such as “America” and “The Star Spangled Banner” were popular outlets for citizens as a way to promote “…strong community efforts of all kinds”[14] and also assisted immigrants to learn English.[1] In addition to community singing, concert bands and marching bands were also used to promote patriotism for “maintenance of civilian morale”.[15] College and university marching bands were also culturally influential during and after World War I, especially in the Midwest of the United States.[16] Following the war, members of these collegiate bands were looking for ways to “develop good will, fellowship and understanding…and recognize the value of dedicated leadership”.[17] Two leading band service organizations were established to fit that calling, the Kappa Kappa Psi fraternity (KKΨ) and the Tau Beta Sigma sorority (TBΣ).

The University of Detroit Band at Dinan Field in the 1920's.
The University of Detroit Band at Dinan Field in the 1920's.

Kappa Kappa Psi (KKΨ) was the first of those organizations, established on November 27, 1919 at Oklahoma A & M College.[18] The strong sense of patriotism during World War I was wearing off in the U.S., and the band members of the university wanted to continue to advocate band music.[17] Ten collegiate band members were selected including the band leader William A. Scroggs by the director of the ensemble, Bohumil “Boh” Makovsky.[18] The fraternity quickly became national with the addition of the University of Washington and Montana State College in 1920.[18] Since 1919, KKΨ members have been advocating, supporting and serving over 200 higher education institutions with around 5,000 active members each year.[17] Famous fraternal brothers include John Philip Sousa, Karl King, and William Revelli.[17]

There are currently five distinctive purposes for KKΨ today which include: (1) promoting the existence and welfare of secondary school bands and cultivate a respect for their endeavors, (2) honoring outstanding band members through fraternal membership, (3) stimulating campus leadership and respect through positive conduct, (4) fostering a positive bond among collegiate bands and a high level or performance achievement, and (5) providing a positive social experience to all involved in college bands or other musical organizations.[17]

Collegiate bands in the 1920s were the domain of young men. Women were rarely involved, if at all.[19] However, as the progressive movement of the U.S. was developing, bands became less militaristic and were accepting more women in the 1930s. Even with the progressive movement, some higher education bands held out much longer as a men only ensemble. Michigan State University did not admit women into the Spartan Marching Band until 1972.[16]

Tau Beta Sigma sorority (TBΣ) was established on March 26, 1946,[20] twenty seven years after KKΨ. The charter institution was Oklahoma State University, renamed from Oklahoma A & M, after the organization decided it would be easier to start in Oklahoma rather than Texas.[19] A major circumstance for creating a band service organization for women was simply due to the fact that more women were now involved with university bands in the United States. Wava Banes along with some other women classmates at Texas Tech University approached their director, D. O. Wiley about forming a “group of bandswomen”[20] in 1937. The local organization was formalized as Tau Beta Sigma and structured after the KKΨ fraternity.[20]

TBΣ petitioned KKΨ to become a chapter under their national fraternity in 1943, however a complete constitution re-write and difficulties associated with the U.S. entrance in World War II led KKΨ to suggest that TBΣ form their own organization just as they had done in 1919.[19] Due to complications with Texas corporation laws of 1945, A. Frank Martin from KKΨ suggested using a similar women group at Oklahoma State University (OSU) as the founding chapter for TBΣ.[20] One month after OSU’s charter was granted, the women traveled back to Texas to install the founding women of TBΣ.[20] KKΨ was able to convene in 1947 and officially accepted TBΣ as their sister sorority.[19]

Both organizations grew in the post-World War II era. Society was still evolving and changing and women’s rights became front and center in 1972 with the passage of the Title IX law.[21] This law “requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding”.[22] Since both groups were federally funded, women were allowed to join KKΨ and men were allowed to join TBΣ. KKΨ and TBΣ are still active today and strive to promote the bands they are associated with as their founders did over a half century ago.

Modern elementary education

Elementary schools in the United States typically offer music classes several times a week, with classes ranging from thirty to forty-five minutes in length. Beginning in about fourth grade, performance opportunities are often provided in the form of choirs or orchestral (especially wind) bands. There are several developed teaching methods intended for use in elementary schools. The Kodaly Method was developed in Hungary by Zoltan Kodaly. The Orff-Schulwerk Method was developed by Carl Orff, the German composer who wrote Carmina Burana. The Dalcroze-Eurythmics Method was developed in Switzerland by Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, who was teaching at the Geneva Conservatory at the time. All three methods place an emphasis on activity and learning by doing. The Kodaly Method is known best for its use of solfege syllables and corresponding hand signals. The Orff-Schulwerk Method is most famous for its use of varying sizes of xylophones and glockenspiels, known as “Orff instruments.” The Dalcroze-Eurythimics Method’s most visible characteristic is its use of movement to music, ideally live music.

Modern secondary education

Music is generally optional in high school in the United States, and may or may not be required in middle or junior high school. Concert bands and marching bands are also commonly offered, as are choirs and theatrical performances that often include music.

Music Educators in the Community

As America became involved in World War I, music education was important both for the troops and the American citizens back home. Peter W. Dykema, who started the Music Supervisors’ Bulletin, believed strongly in the power of community sings. He proposed that a small number of songs be selected and that music educators should focus their teaching on this repertoire. The 55 Songs and Choruses tune book contained many songs that could easily be sung by people of all ages, such as Row, Row, Row Your Boat and Early to Bed (song). The book also included patriotic songs, such as America, [1] as well as popular favorites by Irving Berlin. The publication was immensely popular, and the songs were taught in schools and also sung in various events throughout American communities. Song leaders even encouraged factory workers to sing during their breaks to boost morale and unite people behind the cause. Even after World War I was over, many music teachers continued to use Dykema’s song book as the focus of their school’s repertoire.

In 1942, after America had begun fighting in World War II, the Music Educators National Conference published a statement urging music educators to be active leaders in their respective communities. The bulletin specifically called teachers to harness the power active community leaders by organizing singing events for all ages and to help train other song leaders. In addition to the public community singing events, there were many radio broadcasts designed to encourage families singing together at home, such as the Indiana State Teachers College Music Department’s “I Hear America Singing.” As the war progressed, the Music Educators National Conference began giving out awards to honor those who had used music to support the national war effort on the home front. By December 1, 1945, these awards had been given to musical organizations, school music departments, and over 100,000 individual citizens across the country.

In more recent years, community singing events have been gaining popularity once again. Many towns and cities across the United States are now organizing these events to encourage community spirit through the performance music.

Introduction of Technology

Girl listening to radio in late 1930s

Throughout the history of music education, many music educators have adopted and implemented technology in the classroom. Alice Keith and D.C. Boyle were said to be the first music educators in the United States to use the radio for teaching music. Keith wrote Listening in on the Masters, which was a broadcast music appreciation course.[1] Another advocate who promoted the use of technology was Marguerite V. Hood, who was born on March 14, 1903 in Drayton, North Dakota. Hood graduated high school early, at the age of sixteen. She then attended Jamestown College, in Jamestown, North Dakota where she graduated with degrees in romance languages and music, and minors in history and English.[23]

Hood's professional career led her to Montana in 1923, where she pursued teaching, writing, and public speaking. In 1930, Hood became Montana's second state music supervisor. During Hood's teaching career, the radio was used as an educational tool. Montana received poor radio reception because of the mountain interference, so Hood created local radio station broadcasts. Hood began the music education radio broadcast project, Montana School of the Air, in 1937. These broadcasts aired weekly on four radio stations.[23] Using the radio for educational broadcasts received positive reviews because it allowed students to be reached all over the United States during the unstable time of the Great Depression. Radios were cost effective and could reach isolated, rural schools.[23]

The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) played a major role in music education. NBC would broadcast musical examples for students enrolled in public school. Walter Damrosch directed the radio program, Music Appreciation Hour. In the course of this broadcast, teachers were able to obtain the musical selections in advance along with student notebooks and teacher instruction manuals.[1] Two other popular music broadcast programs were Alice in Orchestralia and the Standard Symphony Hour. These broadcasts were an innovative teaching strategy which promoted and encouraged active listening and music appreciation. Prior to the radio, listening to music was limited to live performances and the skill of the teacher to play music, specifically on the piano.[24]

The impact of the radio in the 1930s can similarly be compared to some of today’s technology, such as iPods, compact discs, and computers. Technology has become much more widely available in the classroom since the 1930s. Today, children have access to many musical devices and options that were not available in the 1930s. In essence, technology has been used in music classrooms throughout the United States with the intent to improve the quality of music education for students.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Mark, Michael L.; Charles L. Gary (2007). A History of American Music Education. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, Publishing, Inc. 
  2. ^ a b Sullivan, J.M. (2006). Journal of Band Research 41 (2): 1–35. 
  3. ^ Sullivan, J.M. (2007). Journal of Music Therapy 44 (3): 282–305. 
  4. ^ Sullivan, J. M. (2006). "Women's military bands in a segregated army: the 400th WAC bands". Journal of Band Research 41 (2): 1–35. 
  5. ^ Hersey, J.R; Sullivan, J.M. (2009). "A history of the United States Coast Guard SPAR band". Journal of Historical Research in Music Education 30 (2): 33–63. 
  6. ^ Sullivan, J.M. (2008). "A century of women's bands in America". Music Educators Journal 95 (1): 33–40. 
  7. ^ Mark, Michael (1980). "MENC and World War II Programs". Music Educators Journal 67 (3): 44–47. 
  8. ^ Furdell, William (1998). "The Great Falls home front during World War II". Montana: The Magazine of Western History 48 (4): 63–75. 
  9. ^ Wesley, Donald (1968). "High School Victory Corps of World War II". Peabody Journal of Education 45 (4): 244–248. 
  10. ^ "Education: Victory Corps". Time.,9171,773765,00.html. Retrieved 19 March 2011. 
  11. ^ Ugland, Richard (1979). ""Education for victory": The High School Victory Corps and curricular adaptation during World War II". History of Education Quarterly 19 (4): 435–451. 
  12. ^ a b "Music in the Victory Corps". Music Educators Journal 29 (6): 13–16. 1943. 
  13. ^ Tischler, B.L. (1986). "One Hundred Percent Americanism and Music in Boston during World War I". American Music 4 (2): 164–176. 
  14. ^ Gary, C.L. (2002). "A Treasury of American Song". Music Educators Journal 88 (6): 33–37+61. 
  15. ^ Jones, L.B. (1942). "How Can the School Band Serve in Defense?". Music Educators Journal 28 (4): 22. 
  16. ^ a b Spartan Marching Band (25 October 2009). "History". Retrieved 18 March 2011. 
  17. ^ a b c d e Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity (2011). "Who is Kappa Kappa Psi?". Retrieved 18 March 2011. 
  18. ^ a b c Kappa Kappa Psi (2005). National Guide to Membership: Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity.. Stillwater, OK: Kappa Kappa Psi. 
  19. ^ a b c d Tau Beta Sigma (2003). Tau Beta Sigma. National Guide to Membership Education: Tau Beta Sigma National Honorary Band Sorority.. Stillwater, OK: Tau Beta Sigma. 
  20. ^ a b c d e Tau Beta Sigma National Honarary Band Sorority. (5 December 2007). "About". Retrieved 18 March 2011. 
  21. ^ The MARGARET Fund of the National Women's Law Center (2011). "History of Title IX.". Retrieved 18 March 2011. 
  22. ^ Walker, T. (23 June 2010). "Closing the Gender Gap.". Retrieved 18 March 2011. 
  23. ^ a b c Marguerite V. Hood and Music Education Radio Broadcasts in Rural Montana, Cooper, Shelly. "Marguerite V. Hood and Music Education Radio Broadcasts in Rural Montana (1937-39)." Journal of Research in Music Education Vol. 53.No. 4 (2005): 295-307. JSTOR.
  24. ^ Weidenbach, Vanda. "Innovations in Music Education." Primary Educator Vol. 3.No. 1 (1997). Professional Development Collection. Web. 15 Mar. 2011.

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