Music in Modern China

In 2012 it was estimated that approximately 36 million Chinese children studied piano. Compare this to 6 million in the USA. Another 50 million study violin. These figures – and much of the content below were obtained from a journal article of the same year by Hao Huang Why Chinese people play Western classical music: Transcultural roots of music philosophy. It would be interesting to know present participation figures, and I thank Hao Huang for this illuminating information.

In China, there is a widely held belief that music education forms good citizenship. Hence, Chinese parents urge their children to excel in music. This respect for music comes from the values espoused by Confucius. Like Pythagoras, he referred to the value of music in moral training and formation. Consider these verses from Confucius:

A man who is not good, what can he have to do with music?

To go to the very root of our feelings and know the changes which they undergo is the province of music.

Despite some hiccups along the way, the value afforded music education in China has endured today. Chinese parents reinforce music practice because they consider the resulting self-discipline as essential in itself, and applicable to other academic pursuits.

Interestingly, music and Joy share the same ancient Chinese calligraphic symbol.

The Chinese character for Music/Joy (Yuè/Lè). Where music is there is joy.

The Chinese character for Music/Joy (Yuè/Lè). Where there is music, there is joy.

 Like in ancient Greek thought, the Chinese believe that good music creates good morals, and so Confucius conceived of music education as a way to address social and political problems. This involved integrating songs and music in curricula to develop students’ sensibility and ethical commitments.

“One is aroused by poetry, established by ritual, and perfected by music.” .

Chinese culture celebrates high performance and high achievement, and classical music fits beautifully with this culture. Cultural distinctions aside, East Asia countries share an intense commitment to Western classical music.

In the next post I’ll return to music’s relationship with the multiple intelligences, and in particular ‘Music and Picture Smart’.

Latest book: Learning Strategies for Musical Success

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Also by Michael Griffin


Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Fundamentals of Notation is a unit of work for general music middle school classes. Designed around the mastering of practical skills, it integrates theory, aural and history, and allows students to progress at their own rate. View Table of Contents. “This has been a great buy; the books are just superb! Interesting topics with a wide range of pieces. Great content with clear progression of learning. Fascinating teaching philosophy! BRAVO!” -The Grieg Academy, London. Available at

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Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Let’s Get Creative! is the fun and creative extension to ‘Fundamentals of Notation’.

View Table of Contents. “We have been using your keyboard course and the results have been amazing!” – St George College, Australia

Available at

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‘Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs’

Second edition. Bumblebee! is more than just a collection of 123 choir exercises and rounds. The author shares timeless wisdom to help you get your choir – primary or secondary – into shape.
View Table of Contents.

“This is really good for all kinds of vocal groups, choirs, conductors. Bravo!!”

“The thinking person’s guide to training a choir. Love it!”

“It’s great to have some fresh warm-ups to add to the repertory. The tips for actions and techniques are really useful, and the advice at the back of the book has made me review some of my strategies.”

harmony bk cover

Modern Harmony Method: Fundamentals of Jazz and Popular Harmony (Third Edition, 2013) is a clear and well organised text suitable for students of arranging and composition, and for classically trained musicians wishing to grasp the beautiful logic of jazz harmony. Essential understandings include chord selection, voicing, symbols, circle of 4th progressions, extensions, suspensions and alterations. Included in the 107 pages are explanations, examples, exercises and solutions. The course can be started with students in year 9 and worked through to year 12 musicianship, composing and arranging. Available at


Public speaker, music education trainer, conductor and pianist. Author of 'Learning Strategies for Musical Success', 'Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs', and 'Modern Harmony Method'.

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Posted in China, Confucius, Multiple Intelligence, Music Education, primary

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