New Grants Support Teaching Improvisation in Middle and High School Music Public Education

On March 11, the NEA Foundation, in partnership with MENC, announced 10 new “Teaching Improvisation Grants.” The announcement, coming in the middle of Music In Our Schools Month® in March and leading up to Jazz Appreciation Month in April, couldn’t be more timely. The grants are earmarked to support public educators’ work to teach improvisation to middle and high school music students. Part of the NEA Foundation’s popular Student Achievement and Learning & Leadership Grants program, the $2,000 and $5,000 grants will be awarded over the 2009-2010 school year.

“Significant empirical research and anecdotal evidence exist about the potential benefits of music education for middle and high school students,” said Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation. “These grants target improvisation as an area of great promise in the development of creative thinking so important to students in the 21st century.”

Improvisation is an integral part of the art and practice of many styles and genres of music, she added. It is a cornerstone of the original American art of jazz and is related to historical and contemporary music forms that are both rigorous in their approach and popular in their outlook.

“Music is fun and inspires students to learn. Through the study of music, students learn about their own and others’ cultural heritage, and they acquire valuable cognitive and creative skills,” said MENC Executive Director John J. Mahlmann. “National surveys have shown that schools with music programs have significantly higher graduation rates and attendance rates than those without music programs. Despite these facts, music education has been under-funded in recent years, and students from lower income families have been particularly impacted. We hope these grants will offer some support where it is so critically needed.”

There are two categories of Teaching Improvisation Grants available to public educators.

  • Student Achievement Grants provide $5,000 to proposals designed to improve the academic achievement of students by engaging them in critical thinking and problem solving that deepen knowledge of subject matter and that are centered on music improvisation through the development and implementation of new ideas, techniques, and approaches. Lesson plans developed by the grantees will be posted on the “My Music Class” facility of the MENC web site, where they will be available to all MENC members as classroom resources
  • Learning & Leadership Grants provide $2,000 to individual and $5,000 to teams of teachers, education support professionals, and higher education faculty and staff to engage in high-quality professional development and to lead their colleagues in professional growth in the techniques and skills of teaching improvisation. Recipients will be asked to report fully on the ways that they developed new techniques and skills. These reports will be summarized and shared nationwide with music education professionals.

For more information, visit NEA Foundation Grants.

Elizabeth Lasko, March 19, 2009. © MENC: The National Association for Music Education