Diversity and Equity in Music Education


Diversity and Equity in Music Education

By NAfME Immediate Past President Denese Odegaard

In the school district where I serve as the Performing Arts Curriculum Specialist in Fargo, North Dakota, one-fourth of our students are refugees from around the world and are active members in our music programs because our district administrators have made equity and access a priority. Any student in need who desires to be in music is given the equipment and support to participate. Music classes are also a place of acceptance and community to students who need positive support.

Matt Janson Photography, mattjanson.com


Each student brings a diversity of life experiences and backgrounds to our classroom: whether it be family structure, socio-economic status, sexual or gender identity, religion, physical ability, ethnicity or race, or academic proficiency level. It is the duty of educators to reach and support all students equitably in their classroom to ensure each has a well-rounded education, which includes a high quality music program.

Music educators have a unique opportunity to celebrate diversity in their classrooms through curriculum that is inclusive of a variety of music-making traditions. A well-rounded and comprehensive music education, taught by highly qualified music educators, should be available in all schools and be built upon a curricular framework that promotes awareness of, respect for, and responsiveness to the variety and diversity of cultures in their community and the nation at large. All students in every school should have the opportunity to create, perform, and respond to music to develop musical and artistic literacy.

Matt Janson Photography, mattjanson.com


Neuroscientists indicate that playing music is the only activity that uses the whole brain firing neurons across both hemispheres. This research alone should be of paramount importance to educators and administrators to include music within the curriculum for all students. Studying music also enhances highly valued 21st-century skills such as the ability to be creative, to communicate effectively, to collaborate and to think critically which are essential for success throughout life.

Matt Janson Photography, mattjanson.com


Removing the barriers to music education allows all students to create something of beauty to share with each other and the world. This collaborative bond breaks down the walls of being different and creates a positive environment where students accept one another and support each other to be their best. Music creates and enhances skills preparing students for life, changes the culture of a school, and brings people together which makes our world a better place to live.

About the author:

orchestra director

Denese Odegaard,  NAfME Immediate Past President, is currently the Fargo (North Dakota) Public Schools Performing Arts Curriculum Specialist, and has taught orchestra for 33 years.  National service includes board member on both the American String Teachers Association Board (ASTA) and the NAfME Board. While on the ASTA Board, she was chair of the Committee on School Orchestra and Strings and received the ASTA Citation for Leadership twice. She was a member of the NCCAS 3rd-5th Grade Writing Team as the Research Advisory.

Denese Odegaard authored Curriculum Writing 101: Assistance with Standards-based Music Curriculum and Assessment Writing for Band, Choir, Orchestra and General Music (GIA), co-authored the ASTA Curriculum (Alfred) and e-Book, ASTA String Curriculum: Assessment Companion, and has contributed to several GIA, NAfME, ASTA, Alfred, FJH, and Corwin publications.


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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

Catherina Hurlburt, Marketing Communications Manager. June 29, 2018. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)