More DW Blogs DW.COM

Education for all

Five bloggers, five countries, one dialogue

Deficits in German music education

Picture: Kathrin Biegner

Is Germany a bit too elitist about classical music?

Hellgurd and Emmy wrote about how music is not always appreciated in Kenyan and Iraqi society. They made me think of an ironic quip from my former music teacher: “Yeah, I know, I’m only teaching a subsidiary subject of the lowest level.” But regardless of what he said, he’s a very dedicated teacher, who prepares school concerts and makes music himself.

Though I liked my teacher, I was frustrated by his music lessons. Since I didn’t play an instrument myself, my first time reading notes outside of a church service was during my music lessons with this teacher. I got the difference between high and low sounds, but defining triads?! It was all Greek to me. I guess I probably didn’t open up to his lessons and thus failed my first tests in music. I just didn’t get it. Why couldn’t we just sing a song together? Wasn’t that what music lessons were about?!

Looking back, I guess it was difficult for me to accept not understanding anything in a subject. I was just unable to cope with that situation. And our teacher’s comment that music was only a subsidiary subject of the lowest level pretty much reflected my and my parents’ own attitudes. I wouldn’t have taken it in stride if I had failed an English or a math test – and my parents wouldn’t have either.

I’m of the opinion that music lessons should be more practical at schools here. It would be fantastic if all kids had the opportunity to learn an instrument during their time at school. Private music lessons are very expensive – and particularly families with little money or little interest in music will probably prefer to spend their money differently. But if I go to school for 13 years, it should be possible to teach me at least one instrument, shouldn’t it?

Picture: Kathrin Biegner

Well, I haven't forgotten everything...

I remember that we had the possibility to play the flute in the afternoon as part of extracurricular activities in primary school. And if I remember correctly, my mother was of the opinion that I already had enough hobbies. Later, when I was old enough to have been able to decide myself, we didn’t have that possibility at school anymore. Yes, of course, I could have looked for ways outside of school. But why should I have to look beyond school if I want to play the piano – but not if I want to learn rhyme schemes or chemical formulas?

By not teaching instruments in regular classes at most schools, there is a clear value judgment. A certain basis of education is offered to everybody at school, but the message is that music isn’t for all. That classical music is somewhat elitist isn’t only apparent when taking a look at those who send their children to private music lessons, but also when going to classical concerts: Everybody is dressed up stiffly, most are older than 60 years, and the audience generally has little to do with the average citizen. Yet, German state orchestras are also paid by taxes. I think more efforts should be taken to take away the awe – and sometimes rejection – involved in classical concerts, and to introduce pupils to music as a cultural good and a medium of expressing oneself.


June 10, 2012 | 1:49 pm