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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Decolonizing Our Approach to Hip-Hop

I've been reflecting on how we approach the hip-hop genre in US American schools, and the many ways that we tend to caricature, devalue, and ostracize the genre in our attempts to include it in our school music curricula. It is a long and arduous process to get to where we need to be, but that shouldn't stop us from embarking on the journey! Here are my thoughts on what needs to change.

1. Holistic Approach

We need to teach hip-hop holistically, teaching students the context and culture of hip-hop and all of the major pillars and elements that are a part of the genre. Too often we pull out the one element that sticks out to outsiders- rapping- and think that giving students one isolated experience with rapping, or writing raps, means we have successfully incorporated hip-hop into our music curriculum. Compare that approach to the hours and hours we spend teaching the elements and "pillars" of Western classical music, from music history to music theory, repertoire to instrumentation. 

2. Scaffolded Skills

Just like we sequence out our instruction on reading Western classical music notation, and understanding fundamental concepts from Western classical music like steady beat, tonality, harmony, and skills like singing or playing instruments, we need to incorporate skill development in the skills and concepts that are at the core of hip-hop musicianship into our teaching as well. There is definitely some overlap between the skills and concepts we teach already and the skills and concepts that are a part of hip-hop, but things like flow, rapping, mixing, and beatboxing etc are separate skills that need to be scaffolded and embedded in our scope and sequence. And time spent on skills and concepts from one genre will only improve skill development and understanding in other genres as well- rather than stealing time from one area to teach another, we will be enhancing student learning.

3. Regular Examples

This is a much easier fix than the first two and many of us are on our way to doing this already- make hip-hop music a part of the regular course of learning alongside any other genre. When we're practicing steady beat movement with Kindergarten, playing rhythm examples, learning about famous artists, or playing a Bb major scale as a warmup in band class, hip-hop music should be incorporated not as a "special topic" but as a part of regular instruction along with a broad range of other genres.

4. Teacher Education

I am far from the first person to say this but we will never embed change in music education practice until we start training teachers how to do things differently. We need music education programs across the country to start including training in how to teach hip-hop skills and concepts in our school music programs so teachers enter the profession with some background in how to do so effectively and appropriately. That means bringing in people who know what they're talking about to help re-write the curriculum for music education courses, serve on faculty, and come in as guest speakers.

5. Listen and Learn

Hip-hop has not been a part of classroom music education, so it can feel like talking to someone in a foreign language when you talk to hip-hop artists and educators about the culture and genre to try to learn how to incorporate it authentically in your teaching. It might seem easier initially to just listen to people like me and just absorb the "translated" information second-hand, but we all need to be learning from culture-bearers directly. It took a few years for me to wrap my head around how to take what hip-hop artists and educators were telling me and bring it to my classroom, but the time, effort, and trial-and-error process were necessary for my journey, as they are for all of us. 

What are your thoughts? I know this post is a departure from my usual- I'm not at the point in my journey where I can offer concrete, specific steps towards solutions yet, I just have gotten some clarity on where I'm headed. I know I'm not the only one thinking about and reflecting on this topic and trying to bring about change in music education- I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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