Philosophy in Music Education

I believe that everyone deserves a quality education that is centered around developing the mind and qualities central to living a fulfilled life.

I believe music to be a central to this education for its unique way in which it can develop the mind and personalities. 

I believe that musical ability is not based on talent or giftedness, rather it is based on the development of musical intelligences and that it is our responsibility as music educators to teach in such a way that we help students discover and develop their abilities within each intelligence. 

I believe that music has the power to effect the emotional lives and well-being of people and that it is our responsibility to teach in a manner that develops the emotional lives of our students.

I believe everyone can be creative and that through music we can give people the tools to be creative and experience this fundamental part of being human.

Key Themes

I think the search I have been on since I began teaching to discover the meaning and purpose of music in education took some giant steps this summer. I have been wondering for quite sometime what exactly my goals as an instrumental teacher are and what I am aiming at for my students besides refined playing on their instruments. I uncovered very early the meaninglessness of just developing technique, teaching note reading, and learning song after song. These are valuable things - when they have a purpose and are being used for something bigger in education. 

I think what I have found this summer is that the purpose and meaning of music in education is its ability to develop the emotional lives and creative beings of students. After coming to this conclusion however I was still not completely satisfied. I was still asking the question - what is the value at large to society of having students and citizens who are emotional developed and mature and creative beings?

Obviously it is easier to answer to the creative beings aspect of the question. In the 21st century, of course it is important to have people who know how to be creative in your work force. Gone are the days of simple factory positions in which one learns a skill and needs to know nothing more. We need a creative workforce because our economy and culture is now a producer and consumer of ideas, more than goods. 

It was a little bit more difficult for me to answer the question of the importance developing students emotionally. What value does an emotionally developed person lend to our society. This is hard to articulate, but I think that the emotionally mature person is exactly the type of person our society needs to be a functioning member of democracy and community. Emotionally immature people make bad decisions that can be detrimental to themselves and society as a whole. Emotionally immature people have a hard time engaging in meaningful debate and community discussions to a meaningful end. Hence I think it can be said that emotionally mature citizens are very important to a society. 

The value of music in education comes from its power to develop these parts of the mind in ways that language and other subjects cannot. 

Chapter 8 Reflection

There are a few things that Reimer included in this chapter that I really liked and that I will definitely continue to reflect upon and revisit as I continue my growth as a teacher. I really liked Reimer’s model for constructing a curriculum. I think the most important phase is the values phase. This should be the phase that we spend the most time working on and developing, because it informs all other aspects of the curriculum. I have spent a great deal of time thinking this summer about the “why” or value in a music education. I probably haven’t come to anything conclusive, but I am closer. I think the need to understand and experience music as a means to get to an emotional intelligence is extremely important to our society. I think also the experience and knowledge of how to be creative is an essential part of being human. Part of being human is to create and music affords a plethora of possibilities to create in a variety of different ways. With all these possibilities a student, with a good teacher at the helm, is likely to find the best way in which they can create musically.

From here REimer moves on to talk about the “what” question in music - what must education so to fulfill these purposes? I think very generally it is our goal as music educators to expose our students and give them the experiences and skills they need to have a meaningful relationship with music throughout their lives.

The “when” question seems to get down to the nitty gritty curriculum building that we are all familiar with. For me I do very little to plan a formalized curriculum. Instead I try to have guide points that we set for ourselves and teacher and student to reach and guiding questions that inform everything that we do. Based on these questions and guide points I like to construct with the student a road for getting there that is meaningful and makes sense to them. I think I have the luxury of doing this because I teach one on one mostly and outside of the realm of testing and grading! 

A few steps in this discussion have been melded or skipped to prevent overlap, so that brings up to the experience phase. What has my students’ experiences with this type of curriculum development been? Positive because of lots of student guided direction? Negative because of a desire for more structure and guidance? Again I feel like in the studio setting this is easy to judge - I have only to ask and because of the one on one nature and the deep relationships I develop with students I can ask and expect an honest answer. 

Chapter 7 If - Then

In Chapter 7 Reimer puts forth the idea of musical intelligences. At the beginning of the summer semester we talked about the implications of this idea. We talked about viewing students in light of these intelligences instead of as talented or not. We also discussed the need for rearranging our school music curriculums so that they better supported and helped kids understand and explore the different musical intelligences. Instead of focusing on these topics, which will result in much of the same curricular implications as my past blog, I would like to focus on a small statement Reimer made. In Reimer’s Main Themes section at the beginning of the chapter he writes, “…..each domain (subject) taught in schools contains a variety of ways to exercise intelligence. And human endeavors outside those taught in schools also are ways to be intelligent.” 

I would like to focus on the second sentence of Reimer’s statement. Sadly, I hear many times, from many very intelligent students that they do not think they are intelligent. When I ask why they say its because they are bad at math, or reading, or some other “core” school subject. Even worse, most of the time when I dig deeper the students think this as a result of something a teacher said or did to them. I don’t know if its the culture of our schools or society as a whole that teachers us that doing well in school is the only or most valuable way to show that you are smart. Looking back, I too was caught up in this idea, that only book smarts equaled being smart, that is until I exited college and entered the “real” world. 

Intelligence took on a new meaning for me. I found myself fumbling at very simple tasks and projects, that others who would have in the “school” world been deemed less intelligent than me, were tackling with ease. I was opened up to a world full of creative, imaginitive, successul, happy people, who - GASP! - hadn’t finished college. People who could think and work their way out of any project or problem with ease. Meanwhile, I was struggling to learn how to keep a house and balance a checkbook - something they didn’t test you on in school. I often joke with Matt that the most intelligent, creative people I know are housewives and our fix it guy! 

This all leads to the if-then statement as related to education. If human endeavors outside of those taught in schools are ways to show and be intelligent, then it is our responsibility to open our students’ eyes up to this idea and encourage them to find the ways in which they are intelligent, with no prejudice towards those that are not taught in school. 

For music teachers, and especially me as a studio teacher, this presents a unique role for us as teachers. Because I can meet with my students one on one and we often develop a nice mentor-student relationship, beyond the normal teacher-student relationship, I am in a unique position to influence my students’ views on intelligence. While using Reimer’s theory of intelligence to teach my students I can easily cross this over to other subjects or topics. I want to take the opportunities I do have to encourage my students to explore the world in an intelligent way outside of school and I think music is a nice middle ground, or starting point to do that. I want to help develop my students’ sense of self through music and our conversations and break this notion that only those who do well in school will get good jobs and be happy. I don’t think I can offer any specific curricular plans or ideas of how to do this, but just be aware of each student and encourage them to think outside the box!

Chapter 5 If Then

I found the material in Chapter 5 of the Reimer to be quite difficult to put together. Reimer discusses the difficulty of transmitting ideas through language and that fact was definitely brought to light while reading this chapter! On page 148 Reimer states, “…music exists not to cause nonmusical learnings but to provide profound human meanings unavailable in any other way. Developing this mode of mentality through education is essential if education is to help children become what their human condition enables them to become.” 

Reimer is asserting that there are more modes to cognition than just through symbol-language think. This is something I never considered - that we think/feel in ways that are unrelated to language and that these are valid ways of being. Music makes it possible for us NOT to struggle to encompass everything in a language thought or the written word. It is in fact, a fundamental way that we are human and just as language takes education so does this form of cognition. 

Two things that Reimer says in the quote above should cause us to think and perhaps change our ways. The first, if music exists for itself and no other purpose and is valid and worth learning in itself, then this should highly inform of lines of advocacy for our professions. The second, if music contains and develops a unique value way of “thinking” that helps us a human beings to be more human, then it is our responsibility to bring this to light in education and give students the tools to discover and develop it. 

The first point’s consequences could be expanded upon, but here I will keep it brief. If music is valuable in and of itself, it is up to us as music educators to stop billing it as something that will improve math and language scores. It is up to us to have sat down and figured out why music is meaningful, and to convey this in a way to our communities that is meaningful to them. We can no longer depend on cheap, cliche reasonings for why music is important.

If music contains a unique way of thinking and being that is fundamentally human, then it is our responsibility as educators to understand this and figure out a way to convey it to our students. All of my if-then blogs are turning out to have pedagogical reactions to the new philosophical reasoning. In every instance when a new philosophical idea is understood I feel that I cannot continue to teach in the same manner and not be doing my students a disservice.

I have not yet decided on any concrete pedagogical approaches that will encourage this type of thinking, because I do not yet completely understand it. I think I can only attempt at this point to try to clarify to my students the nature of music and its communication or meaning. 

Chapter 4 If Then

In Chapter 4 Reimer makes the assertion that all people have the ability to be creative and to construct meaning through creating musically. He also asserts however that a certain amount of musical competence is needed in order for people to be able to create musically. He sets forth a few different musical roles in which people can create; composing, improving, performing, and listening. Each role requires a different set of competencies in order for one to create within it. 

If this is true then just as the importance of emotional education through music gave more meaning and direction to the skills and musical concepts that we teach, so does the importance of people being able to find meaning in music through creating. If creating through music is a unique way of finding and constructing meaning for oneself then it should become a guiding philosophic factor that influences our curriculum development. As a result a major goal of our curriculums would be to not just teach skill, concepts, and performance for their own ends, but to teach these as the tools of musical creating and of the construction of musical meaning.   

In my curricular “realm” as a studio teacher the role in which I would have the greatest and most appropriate influence on helping students pursue meaning through musical creation would be performing. Reimer states that “Performers as artists-are creative in imagining and producing musically expressive sounds-precisely because they must make creative decisions with the materials (compositions) with which they are engaged.” (113) This statement, that performers must be equipped to carry out creative decisions, has many possible influences on how I teach. 

Primarily, I must help my students uncover and understand the idea that they are creating by performing, not simply decoding notes and playing what is “right.” I must be able help them construct ways to make creative decisions and feel confident with them. I am responsible for fostering imagination, divergent thinking, and ingenuity as I help my students learn how to create through interpreting pieces and performing. I must also give them the tools they need so that they can have freedom and competency to execute the creative decisions they make, while avoiding the use of skills solely for the purposes of execution as in a trade. Along with the giving my students the skills to execute their creative decisions, it is also my responsibility to help them build upon these skills, maintain them, and refine them so that they can grow in their creating abilities and therefore deepen their musical understanding. 

Chapter 3 If Then

The theme that really jumped out at me from Chapter 3 is Reimer’s idea that the whole aim of music education should be the development and cultivation of studentss emotional lives and awareness. The whole idea of developing one’s emotional “parts” the way one develops their intellect is very new to me. I never considered that emotions were something that could be developed or cultivated. The idea that emotions and intellect are inextricably linked is also very new and foreign. Consciously or unconsciously I have always viewed them as separate and have seen intellect as being higher and more sought after. My thinking being that one should make decisions only on rational thought, not emotions, emotions are unstable, unreliable, and fleeting. Along with this idea are some thoughts on how different our society would be if we had not only smart, intellectual citizens, but also emotionally mature and developed citizens. I wonder how different our world would be in government, corporate life, class systems, if people were taught how to integrate their emotional “parts” with their intellectual one’s when making decisions. 

If it is true that one’s emotional life should be developed, that it is good for society as a whole, and that music (or arts) education is the best way to accomplish this, then this has huge implications for our profession in curriculum and our educational aims. 

First of all, technical skills acquistion in music would be secondary to emotional “skills” acquisition. Traditional content and skills would only be taught for their value as a support role to eecuting or better understanding emotional expression in music. Skills would derive their meaning from how they contributed to musical expression.

Second, I think we would give students a lot more say in what music they studied. This would occur because we would be less concerned with skills and curriculum sequencing and more concerned with leading students through the development of their emotions. 

Third, I think we would place more of a primium on improvising, composing, and listening, rather than just performing. Through these activities we would have less emphasis on technically oriented techniques, descriptions, and musical elements. 

I think when I go home to my studio, where I am making a living at teaching instrumental lessons where a large part of what I do can be focused on skill and technique development. I am definitely going to do much more listening with my students, probably utilizing the Hevner model. Maybe I’ll just put a giant one up on the wall for kids to add to! Students are going to have a much greater say in what they learn. Often I don’t take the time to help my students pick out good pieces for them because I feel pressed for time. To allow myself the breathing room to have musical conversations and more student directed learning, Im not pushing NYSSMA or extracurricular orchestras, unless the kid is super interested and I know the experience will be a positive one (which is unlikely). I will also  be taking more lesson time to help the students develop their emotionally understanding of the piece they are playing and to help them take this knowledge and make connections to their lives. 

What is the Music Ed Paradigm?

I am really liking this idea of examining our actions to find out what our beliefs are. Our thoughts and ideas can often betray us and not really reflect what we believe because they are easily influenced. But our actions are concrete out growths of what we believe, whether we are conscious of that belief or not. 

Bartel’s breakdown of how he sees our paradigm as relating to our actions is very clear and to the point. How we teach, what we teach, for what we teach, who teaches, and who are we teaching all reflect around performance, skill development on instruments, and a perpetuation of the conservatory midset. I believe there is a unique way of knowing music through being able to play an instrument, but there are many ways to know music and Bartel makes it clear that we obviously do not value these avenues and do not pursue them with our students. 

Bartel addresses the subtle under current that runs through music education, mainly through its teachers. Music education being the most teacher directed subject that is being taught now. How demanding and sometimes abusive we are as teachers to achieve perfection. How we see music programs not centered around solid skill centered curriculums as weak. Our preference for Western classical music - serious music. The way older teachers view newer teachers as needing to be cured of their lofty academic, ignorant ideas not centered around performance ensembles. To me it all points to elitism and insecurity in the music ed profession and in its teachers. 

I think we are honestly translating the cutthroat experience of music college onto our kids. The competition to be the best in the studio is now translated into having the best students, and just as in college the way to be the best is to play the best, and the same must go for our students. Instead of our own playing as the measuring stick, its our students’ playing. Music listening is not a valuable, cultural way to experience music, its a vehicle to analyze, describe, and pick apart so we can see who knows more.

The competition that has infiltrated music for our kids really makes me upset because they see nothing but the grade or the perceived success of the outcome. I have literally watched kids throw away and discount months worth of work and accomplishment and learning (and enjoyment) because their NYSSMA judge gave them a bad grade. To some (most) there is no value in the musical experience outside the grade they receive and honestly I think its our fault. Our fault for either assuming they would see the inherent value beyond the grade without explanation, or our fault because we are the one actually putting on the pressure to perform. 

Issues Blog 1 - Barrett - Reconceptualized Curriculum

I choose to reread this article form last year because I was never confident that I totally understood what Janet Barrett was getting at! But it now makes perfect sense and I agree with her statement that huge large changes may not be needed, only a  small reconfiguration of what is already occurring. I also agree with Barrett that making these changes can be overwhelming and scary to think about at first. Over the past year I have been working on changing my approach to “curriculum” in my studio, my approach to what I expect students to know, and how I plan to get each student there. I have been attempting to be much less of the “primary decision maker” and more of a “curriculum broker.” I have loosened up a lot on the music that students want to learn - if I can teach the same skills and concepts through Lord of the Rings instead of Suzuki Minuet 1,245 I’m OK with it. The problem I’m still having is that I can’t deny the fact that I still believe that some sequential pattern to learning skills on an instrument is better for the student in the long run, creating a better foundation so they will have a more enjoyable experience later when they can play harder music well. It gets messy pedagogically when the kids want to learn something that it too hard, or has concepts in it that I generally like to develop gradually rather than just prescribe. FOr example, if a piece has a high 3rd finger I generally like to prepare the student with some knowledge about how to do this, why it exists, etc. Sometimes I feel like when I use the music that is interesting or brought to me, in the interest of time I just have to prescribe - “THats a high 3rd, you don’t need to know why right now, just do it like this.” I hate that way of teaching! Anyways I find myself doing what Barrett is suggesting, albeit slowly and messily. 

The other part of this that I struggle with how to articulate how this form of curriculum is better than the sequential, prescribed method. In my gut I know that it is, I can see it in my students understanding and musical interaction, but I struggle with how it is not easily defined or measured. I think its the measurement that bothers me the most. TO me if an outsider or even a 3rd party music teacher looked at two kids, one had a deep learning experience with a piece of music and grew in their knowledge and understanding of key concepts, but played the piece less than perfect, the second played flawlessly, but couldn’t begin to tell you anything beyond the technical aspects that they learned - the 3rd party would say that the second student had the better teacher. I struggle with it also because of our current educational culture in which standards and testing and scores are all the rage. I can see the data and its compelling, but I just haven’t found my total understanding and resonating argument that satisfies me yet!

I can get away with the criteria building that Barrett suggests as a means to critique and gauge progress, but if I were a public school music teacher, accountable by my students grade I would struggle with finding a balance within that system. I think also in our current music ed climate it would be very hard for teachers to shift from a focus on performance and skills and outcomes to that of the student’s musical experiences when teachers are seen as good or bad based on how well their students perform. It would take a lot of conviction and certainty to go that road because it would be against the tide.

I think I finally understand Barrett’s curriculum model because over the past year I have been able to think outside the skill based, prescriber role as a teacher. I understand the student’s experience being the center because it no longer seems silly or undoable.  

Reflections on Chapter 1

While we were discussing Chapter One and what it means to be a modernist and what it means to be a post modernist, it was not hard for me to see which category I would naturally fall into. I’m a modernist. I like delineation, definition, categories, absolutes, gradation, SIMPLICITY, and facts. I constantly strive for absolute perfection - if I can get there then I am done! Now without any checks or balances I naturally gravitate to this category, but I have found that in my teaching I am trying really hard to not be a modernist, or to fight those natural tendencies. I don’t think being a total modernist is good or appropriate for music education, or total postmodernism for that matter - just as Reimer suggests with his talks on synergism. So the talking about modernism and postmodernism has led me to unpack my values and beliefs as reflected in my teaching. 

Through this whole conversation of discussing the extremes of each POV and their strengths and weaknesses I have had to remind myself that its OK that I’m naturally a modernist. There is something of value in this part of my personality and that my students can benefit from, so long as I strive for balance. As a studio teacher, teaching children for whom the public school music system has worked to a certain degree, allows me to be a bit more specific and in line with traditionalist thinking when pondering my goals and aims for education.  Because while I am teaching many children who will become “aficionados,” the main bulk of my students are pursuing ammetuer and professional status as performers, listeners, etc (Ch 2. I know). So therefore my values tend to reflect this category. Even if my values are a bit “traditionalist,” at least I have found the right venue for them, where I can be one to offer these traditional views, but also have my students benefit from a balance with differing views.  

At the end of the day, my educational goals and beliefs that I try to convey to and for my students are these:

1. I believe there are rich experiences to be had in learning and simple music participation when students play, and master, and perform on their instruments. I think there is value in learning something from the past - a violin, or viola or a Baroque dance. It connects us in a way to our history that is meaningful. Although many parts of our history (Western, white) can be seen as shameful, there are many parts that are rich and beautiful and valuable. Music and the tradition of physically playing and instrument to create beauty and entertainment is one of these. 

2. I believe that music affords and nurtures a very specific form of critical thinking and connection making that can stretch our students minds and help them “think outside the box” (of public school right vs wrong, training programs!) I seek to draw this out of my students.

3. I believe there is value in the discipline, accomplishment, and self-esteem built up in a student who has successfully (whatever that is for them) navigated and conquered a skill or piece or concept. I believe that learning an instrument is a challenging, interesting, fun way to get at these qualities. 

4. Finally, I believe that my students will be the future music listeners, performers, and advocates and that to be viable at any of these they must a a deep knowledge of how to interact with, evaluate, and have fun with music! I am teaching the future citizens and parents who will hopefully have had a deep, meaningful experience with music, enough to continue to value it and advance it in the future. 

Though some of these goals do seem quite modernist, I think some meet in the middle! I balance these beliefs with how I teach.I seek to be a facilitator, drawing on my students’ knowledge (a little more time consuming), instead of prescriber there to transmit information or train. I have no set repertoire that every student MUST play, I absolutely hate etudes for sure and can’t think of one student, no matter how serious, who would like to play them, and at the end of the day if the kid’s technique stinks and they sound terrible, but they are having a rich, fun experience with music that they will remember - then I have done my job!