Brianne Gidcumb | January 2015

Unpacking the Core Arts Standards for Music

With the release of the new National Core Arts Standards in June of 2014, like many arts teachers, I’ve spent a great deal of time throughout the fall semester pondering the implications these standards will have on instruction in the arts (see my post from November 2014). While only a few states have officially adopted these new standards, many of us have spent some time testing the waters. Now that we’ve had some time to live with the new standards, it’s time to dig deeper.

Over the next eleven months, we’ll be unpacking the Core Arts Standards for Music one by one. In this series, we’ll explore how each of the eleven standards compare and contrast with the 1994 National Standards for Music Education, how we as arts teachers can make authentic connections to Common Core as well as to other arts contents, and how we can implement these new standards in our classrooms. In addition, we’ll begin to look at the Model Cornerstone Assessments that are part of the National Core Arts Standards initiative.

Before we dive into Anchor Standard 1 next week, it is important to first note a few things about the new standards:

The National Core Arts Standards are organized very differently than the 1994 National Arts Standards.


The new Core Arts Standards have been written for five arts content areas: music, visual art, dance, drama, and media arts). Additionally, there are several sets of standards for music itself to reflect various strands of musical study: music (general), harmonizing instruments, composition and theory, traditional and emerging ensembles, and music technology. For the purpose of this series, we’ll be focusing on the general standards for music strand, but we will make connections to other disciplines when possible!

Artistic Process

The Core Arts Standards are based around artistic process, which are common to all arts areas: creating, performing/presenting/producing, reflecting, and connecting. The presence of these processes within the standards is a nice alignment with the presences of Standards for Mathematical Practice in Common Core Math, and can help focus and unify us as arts educators by encouraging students to use these processes across content areas.

Anchor Standards

Anchor standards are essential for unifying the standards across arts contents, as well as for unifying standards from one grade level to the next within a particular arts content. Just as in the ELA Common Core Standards, there is an upward spiral of complexity that allows students to experience each anchor standard from year to year, with increasing complexity and rigor each year.

Performance Standards

While the processes and anchor standards are common for all arts contents, the performance standards are specific to each particular art form. These performance standards provide grade-specific standards for grades Pre-K through 8th grade, as well as performance standards for three proficiency levels (proficient, accomplished, advanced) to accommodate the multi-age nature of high school music ensembles and courses.

Enduring Understandings & Essential Questions

These provide the why and the how of what we are asking our students to do within the standards. While the enduring understandings and essential questions are common across performance standards within each anchor, they are distinct to each discipline. These are a great place to begin when exploring how to implement inquiry-based learning.

The arts are connected.

The organization of the Core Arts Standards makes connection between the artistic processes in all five arts subjects (music, dance, visual art, drama, and media arts) implicit. Additionally, there are connections in their organization to Common Core Math (practices) and to Common Core ELA (anchor standards that spiral in complexity), giving us a great place to begin to look for authentic connections between contents.

Model Cornerstone Assessments are provided.

The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards has provided, as part of the rollout of the standards, Model Cornerstone Assessments, a collection of formative and summative standards-based assessments. The MCAs are not intended to be a means of high-stake testing, but rather a means to improve instruction by measuring student achievement.

I look forward to going on this journey with you to unpack the standards for music! Next month: Anchor Standard 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: