Ethical Song Research for the General Music Teacher

Samantha Foss

August 30, 2023


Music, a language that transcends barriers and resonates with the soul, holds a special place in education. As general music teachers, our role in introducing this universal art form to students is both a privilege and a responsibility. This responsibility is vital to the ethical selection of songs for classroom use. In this article, we delve into the significance of ethical song research and explore how educators can navigate the intricate landscape of music selection in an inclusive and culturally sensitive manner.

The Power of Music in Education

Music, often described as the universal language, possesses a unique ability to enrich educational experiences. It stimulates cognitive development, nurtures creativity, and fosters social and emotional growth. Beyond its pedagogical advantages, music is a profound means of exploring history, culture, and language. Moreover, it can inspire, motivate, and promote a sense of belonging.

General music teachers play a pivotal role in shaping students’ understanding of the world, their peers, and themselves through music. Therefore, it is our responsibility to choose not only educational but also ethically sound songs.

Navigating Ethical Complexities

In an age of unprecedented access to a vast musical repertoire, the ethical dimension of song selection has gained unprecedented importance. The primary ethical concerns revolve around cultural sensitivity, appropriation, and representation.

Cultural Appropriation: Cultural appropriation occurs when another culture adopts elements of one culture without understanding or respecting their significance. Music education can involve using traditional songs or instruments from a culture without proper acknowledgment or permission.

Representation: Music is a powerful medium for representing diverse voices and experiences. Choosing songs from various cultures and backgrounds enriches the educational experience and promotes inclusivity and respect for different perspectives.

A Mindful Approach to Ethical Song Research

Ethical song research necessitates a thoughtful and informed approach to selecting music for the classroom. Here’s how general music teachers can approach this important task:

Cultural Competence: Begin by building cultural competence. Educate yourself about the cultures and backgrounds associated with the songs you wish to incorporate into your curriculum. This includes understanding the historical and social context of the music.

Collaboration: Whenever possible, collaborate with community members or experts from the culture you are exploring. Seek their guidance in selecting and teaching songs authentically and respectfully.

Consider the Source: Critically assess the sources of the songs you plan to use. Are they from reputable and culturally knowledgeable institutions or individuals? Verify the authenticity of the material to ensure it aligns with ethical standards.

Avoid Stereotypes: Be vigilant about songs perpetuating stereotypes or caricatures of cultures, races, or ethnicities. Opt for material that portrays cultures nuancedly and respectfully, promoting cultural understanding.

Acknowledge Origins: Always acknowledge the songs’ origins and credit the composers, lyricists, and performers. This respects their creative contributions and sets an example for students to honor and recognize artistic contributions.

Embracing Diversity in Song Selection

Diversifying your song selection is a crucial way to ensure ethical song research. Embrace various musical genres, cultures, and historical periods in your curriculum. Here’s how to go about it:

Explore Global Music: Incorporate music from various parts of the world, including Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe. This exposes students to the rich tapestry of global musical traditions, fostering global awareness.

Historical Perspective: Include songs that reflect different historical periods and movements. This enables students to connect music with history and culture, providing a well-rounded educational experience.

Contemporary Voices: Introduce students to contemporary artists and genres representing various voices and perspectives. This keeps the curriculum fresh and helps students relate to the music of their time.

Local and Regional Music: Highlight local and regional music that reflects the cultural diversity of your community. This fosters a sense of pride and belonging and encourages students to appreciate their cultural heritage.

Ethical song research is essential to the general music teacher’s role. The songs we choose can shape our student’s understanding of the world and the diverse cultures that enrich it. By approaching song selection with cultural sensitivity, respect, and diversity, we provide a more prosperous and inclusive musical education and nurture a generation of culturally aware and empathetic individuals. As we navigate the intricate landscape of music selection, let us ensure that the songs we share with our students educate, inspire, respect, and celebrate the diversity of human expression.