Reading, writing, 'rithmetic... and more rhythm?

Burnsville High School is adding four new music classes to its course catalog for 2014-15 in an effort to get more students involved in music — especially those who might not enroll in traditional music classes like choir or band.

When students register for classes in February, they can now choose from strings chamber orchestra, beginning guitar, beginning piano and a "history of rock 'n' roll" class.

The school board approved the offerings last month after Principal Dave Helke recommended them.

Adding the classes was suggested by the high school music teachers, Helke said, and they will be offered as long as enough students sign up.

The board was excited at the idea, said Sandy Sweep, school board member.

"We are wanting to expand because … it seems like a trend over the past decade has been to cut arts classes, and we just really wanted to start building those back up," Sweep said.

The board looks at updating class offerings every year, but this year "kind of broke new ground" with the music concentration, Sweep said.

Classes will be taught by existing staff, so it will just be a matter of reorganizing who teaches what, Sweep said.

Helke said the specific classes were chosen for different reasons.

"As the music teachers have been talking and looking at ways to give more kids the opportunity to get involved in music, they realized that not every kid may want to go [with] the more traditional band, the more traditional choir route," Helke said.

But plenty of students may be in a garage band, or want to learn to play an instrument as part of a small group, he said. Providing guitar and piano classes "gives those kids an opportunity for quality music instruction."

The strings class will let students who played stringed instruments at Harriet Bishop Elementary, Rahn Elementary and Eagle Ridge Junior High continue in orchestra, he said.

The high school hasn't had an orchestra program since at least 2001, and it may never have offered one, Helke said. And the rock 'n' roll course is already offered to ninth-graders at the junior high, so this would just be an expansion so that 10th- through 12th-graders could enroll, Helke said.

Currently, the high school has a strong music program, with about 500 students participating in either band or choir, said Keith French, one of two band directors.

"I think one of the reasons we're able to expand into these other areas is because our band and choir programs have become very stable and successful, so now we're branching out," French said.

Helke said that having a variety of music classes may also tie into students' career interests in music production or recording. Some students "may not see themselves as professional musicians, but they definitely see themselves with a career in music," he said.

Other high schools now offer music production courses, Helke said, and the district may consider adding them in the future.

French said that the benefits of music participation are well-known. "Studies show that kids who participate in music often do well beyond high school," he said. "We think [participating in music] is really important for a well-rounded, healthy life."