‘Music in STEM’ vs ‘STEM based Music’

So, a conceptual problem I have wrestled with for a while… What is the difference between a music class in a STEM environment and a STEM based music classroom?

First, you may need a refresher on what STEM is (a general review).

…that being said, here is THE question I continually ask myself…

What is the difference between a music class in a STEM environment and a STEM based music classroom?

A STEM based environment has a hyper focus on the Science-Technology-Engineering-Math aspects of our educational process. The learning in these areas provides a trendy approach to curriculum. But, without defaulting to the ‘STEM should be STEAM to include the Arts’ position, we need to deconstruct the components of this perspective. Why should we include the Arts? What value is there in including such a ‘feel good’ and ‘vague’ aspect of the school community? After all, the Arts are “FUN” (…my favorite position!!).

Before we do anything, we MUST acknowledge that music exists beyond the formal school ensemble that dominates our current system. In addition, we also MUST acknowledge that musicking (the verb of doing music) is a process that individuals around the world participate in on an everyday basis.

If students regularly engage in musicking, shouldn’t our classroom quickly move past STEM? The inclusion of the ‘A’ becomes a formality and STEAM becomes the accepted norm. Incorporating music in a school community that embraces and narrow confines of STEM as the structure eliminates the inherent activities of students as human beings. The Arts, as an an act of ‘doing art,’ embraces that students may not realize or identify that they are engaged in ‘Art’ but by nature of being members of the community, are musicking (doing ‘art’).

So, creating music within a STEM school is simply tying musical concepts into the tenets of STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math). Creating music in a STEAM environment encourages students to evaluate their ‘musicking’ within the focus of STEM. Regardless of the label attached, music in STEM is far beyond thinking about music as a mathematical activity. It is beyond including the iPad in the ensemble classroom (“technology”). STEM based music is about changing the viewpoint of  musicking. How we think about the process of musicking (idea, experimentation, feedback, refinement, sharing, risk taking, etc…) is inherently different in this newer perspective.

So, can we music within STEM beyond YouTube and loops? How does STEM embrace musicking?



3 Responses to ‘Music in STEM’ vs ‘STEM based Music’

  1. Dan says:

    So much to delve into. When I think of math and science in my schooling, I think of pre-determined paths to a known (to-the-teacher, at least) answer. Solving for X. Proving a theorum (whose proof is centuries-old, but new to this student). Finding the frog’s heart when you cut it open. These are some of what I would call the “more-creative” aspects of STEM as I had it in school (long ago and before there was an acronym for it).

    Rare is the case, though, when the student correctly solves for X in a manner that isn’t proscribed by the teacher or textbook. Rarer is a time the solution would be different – but also correct – from the expected outcome. The student is going to cut open the frog and find exactly what’s expected inside. These experiences are valuable, but are wholly pre-determined.

    As opposed to “write an 8-bar piece by Friday.” Will any two assignments come back the same? Absent plagiarism, not a chance. This isn’t unique to music; writing or literature classes can achieve the same end. “Write a five-paragraph essay on the themes of this book.” The assignments, when turned in, will be uniquely the individual students creations. The outcomes aren’t pre-determined.

    Coding is hot, right? But I hear very little chatter about the creativity behind coding. There is no app to code until there is a vision of the app itself. Same in engineering new cars, and the list goes on.

    Music in a STEM environment should simply be music. But with an emphasis on creating. We are far more likely to find a student who can write a short piece – surely with some parameters like form and key, if the teacher likes – than to find the same student develop a brand new mathematical theorum. This element of creation is one that music, and the arts in general, brig to the table so much more easily than the STEM disciplines do.

  2. A thought-provoking entry! When I think of “STEM” and arts education, I immediately think of the maker movement. While making lies outside of the realm of STEM and education, it seamlessly integrates generative creativity, engineering, design, science, and a host of other practical skills. In regards to music, I can’t think of anything more inclusive (from a diversity of content standpoint) than designing, building, and performing on made instruments.

    Making instruments allows multiple points of access; some students might be interested in constructing a musical instrument and less interested in performing on it (STEM-based Music), while some students may want to construct an instrument to fill a specific musical need (Music in STEM). In both cases, the process of performance/composition goes beyond the music context in which it originates. It demands that students think about the tool they use to create music as a part of the composition. When placed in a electronic context, musicians can engage in three distinct areas of creation: composition, interface design, and sound engineering. This scenario is just one example; beyond individual examples, the maker movement provides a model for cross-curricular collaboration which respects arts and arts-adjacent disciplines equally at the expense of none.

    On an adjacent subject, I wonder what the usefulness of STEM really is. At its core, it seems to me that STEM advocates are simply asking teachers to teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. With the possible exception of engineering, these disciplines are already represented in many curricula across the country. In practice, it seems like STEM is more useful as a description rather than an approach to curriculum implementation. Your question above is definitely worth considering, but perhaps a more focused way to frame it is: “How can music engage other disciplines, both in schools and in communities? How can different disciplines enhance students’ musical experiences?” To me, it is less about creating a place for music in STEM as it is about changing the conversation so that we discuss the place music should have in our schools and communities.

  3. Karen D says:

    My new school is a STEM grant school and I’ve been wrestling with the same issues. My first comfortable bridge has been to embrace the “engineering-design process” because it is what I already aim for during composition and creativity projects with my students. I feel like comparing “What are the goals of my music classroom?” And “What are the goals of STEM education?” Produce an unforced overlap in the desire to create and edit creations. Perhaps it’s the process that really matters? Need to think harder about where to go next!

    (Apologies for random cell phone capitalizations…)

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