Curricular and Instructional Foundations of Music Education

Instructors: Richard A Colwell and J Terry Gates 

Course objectives:

1. Develop professional rationales for broadly used music education practices that involve information derived from relevant historical, psychological, sociological and philosophical research.

2. Analyze and critique selected music education programs, practices, curriculums and policies.

3. Create an extended paper that reviews and critiques a broad area of practice in music education and recommends policy alternatives.

Course Description:

This is an issues based course. Valid professional rationales that resolve issues in music education practice are grounded in relevant historical, philosophical, psychological, sociological, and other kinds of research. Participants will analyze and critique eight issues including music education programs, practices, curriculums and policies such as National Voluntary Music Standards and the New York State Standards for Music Education. They will identify and develop a resolution of one of the eight, or another issue, and create an extended paper that reviews and critiques the issue and recommends policy alternatives.

Texts: Abeles, Harold F., Charles R. Hoffer & Robert H. Klotman. (1994). Foundations of music education, 2nd edition. New York: Schirmer Books/Macmillan. (Note: This edition is currently only available second hand or in libraries, and the 3rd edition is due out during the year. Other texts of similar scope may be substituted.)

MENC. (1994). National standards for arts education. Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference.

New York State Education Department. (1996, April). Learning standards for the arts. Albany, NY: State Education Department.

Course requirements:

The course will operate as a seminar.

1. Participants will report on assigned topics and readings.

2. A final paper of substantial content will be due on August 1, reflecting the student’s exploration of the issues and development of a policy in an agreed-on topic in music education.

3. Attendance at all schedule class sessions is expected, and participation through oral and written presentations is required.


The thoroughness and quality of oral and written presentations and the final paper will constitute 95% of the grade. Attendance and contribution to the discussions will constitute the remainder.

Presentations: 450
Final paper [due August 1]: 500
Participation, attendance: 50

Total: 1000

A = 930-1000; B = 850-929; C = 770-849; D = 700-769

Course calendar [approximate]

June 26

Historical roots and development of Amer. compulsory music education and current practice. Rationales for music education practice (historical, social, psychological, philosophical)

MENC. (1994). National standards for arts education. Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference. (Read and summarize values represented in introduction.)

New York State Education Department. (1996, April). Learning standards for the arts. Albany, NY: State Education Department. (Contrast content and approach with National Standards; summarize values represented.)

June 27

Philosophical unity in music education policy. A/H/K 1-116.

Mark, Michael L. (1988). Aesthetics and utility reconciled: The importance to society of education in music. In J. T. Gates, ed., Music education in the United States: Contemporary issues. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 85-110.

Gates, J. Terry. (2000). Why study music? In Clifford K. Madsen, ed., Vision 2020: The Housewright Symposium on music education. Reston, VA: MENC.

Elliott, David. (1995). Music matters. New York: Oxford University Press, ch. 1-3.

Regelski, Thomas A. (1998). Critical theory and praxis: Implications for professionalizing music education.


Regelski, Thomas A. (1998). The Aristotelian bases of praxis for music and music education as praxis. Philosophy of Music Education Review, 6 (1), 22-59.

June 28

Social values and music in American education. A/H/K 117-188.

Small, Christopher. (1977/1980/1996). Music, society, education. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England/Wesleyan University Press, chapters 8 & 9.

Kaplan, Max. (1988). Society, sociology and music education. In J. T. Gates, ed., Music education in the United States: Contemporary issues. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 3-32.

June 29

Psychological and psychosocial processes and music learning. A/H/K 189-270.

Buttram, Joe B. (1996). Learning theory and related developments: Overview and applications in music education and music therapy. In Donald A. Hodges, ed. Handbook of music psychology, 2nd edition. San Antonio: IMR Press, pp. 407-468.

Hurley, C. Gregory. (1995). Student motivations for beginning and continuing/discontinuing string music instruction. Quarterly J. of Music Teaching and Learning VI (1), 44-55.

Gates, J. Terry. (1991). Music participation: Theory, research and policy. Council for Research in Music Education Bulletin, 109, 1-35.

July 9

Issue 1: One program/multiple programs: Most who write about philosophy in music education, and policy makers at the state level in New York, apparently act on the assumption that there is a single, identifiable music program in primary and secondary schools. Students’ musical growth is personal and individual. Since each student experiences the school’s various music programs in which s/he is involved, they reason, a unified rationale is appropriate if the student’s experience is to be unified. On the other hand, some have argued that a minimum of two distinct programs exist: (a) required music (a/k/a “general” or classroom music) and (b) elective music (band, chorus, orchestra, etc.). According to this view the two programs differ in their rationales, their objectives and therefore in their instructional methods. There is also an eclectic view: e.g., treating music as an “exploratory” course, especially in the middle school, or as a subject to be integrated by team leaders is a distinct philosophy of instruction with different expected outcomes for all students. To what extent should a music education policy account for the apparent separation between required and elective music programs? Can a unified policy for multiple programs be developed? How? What are advantages and disadvantages for each approach? What would music education policy frameworks for each approach be like?

Issue 2: Change, tradition and music in the schools: During the 1830s, America was expanding rapidly in population, and its form of government was in its infancy. The westward movement was well underway and the industrial revolution in England had begun radically to change eastern cities. In the same decade, fledgling music education programs were established in common schools in Boston (most famously) but also in Buffalo and other large American cities. Expenditures on music education were rationalized in ways unique to the times. One could argue that society is also undergoing rapid change today, with the information revolution and globalization creating new patterns of collective action. When society is undergoing rapid change, what response should public school arts programs make? One view is that school arts programs should provide stability for the society that supports the schools through a kind of values education, teaching a few immutable truths about and through the arts. Such programs can give students stable guidance on how humans respond to the arts, and can base a curriculum on famous works in the arts as we are relatively sure that these will not change. Another view is that school music program should emphasize contemporary music and culture, and best serve students during such times when they focus students’ attention on using music to illuminate responsiveness to social change. What are other ways to orient school arts programs in times of change? Which is right for today?

July 10

Issue 3: Ability and beliefs about ability: Carol Dweck, an educational psychologist, conducted research on the role of motivation and belief in learning, especially in challenging and meaningful learning. She suggests that in mathematics education, a student’s beliefs about his/her ability reveal a reasonably complete picture of the student &endash; how that student will approach learning, the student’s expectations of the classroom situation, the student’s stereotypes about schooling, and, in general, how the student approaches life. We don’t know if Dweck’s findings apply to music. Are there important differences between mathematics and music with respect to how we view ability or skill? Is one’s musicality relatively stable or can it be changed by extensive learning? Are there age levels that affect one’s ability or aptitude? Do certain musical experiences affect one’s ability or beliefs about ability? Does any of the research about motivation have implications for how we should approach students in various music education classes? Dweck generalizes her findings to K-16, enabling you to select the maturation level of interest to you.

Issue 4: Musicianship and the music program: Controversy about the proper approach to music teaching has a long history. Plato’s scheme for general education in Republic, the push for musica practica in the middle ages as a response to musica theoretica, the teaching values represented by the Manhattanville Music Curriculum Project, and the reactions to Tanglewood by the Yale Seminar and the Juilliard Repertoire model for teaching musicianship. Many music teachers believe that conservatory-based performance music values is the model that is effective in preparing musicians in general education institutions — private or small-group instruction with a concentration on performance skill building. This model seems to be the one being adopted by arts magnet schools and supported by supporters such as the Annenberg Foundation and VH1. The percentage of high school band, chorus and orchestra graduates who continue performing as adults is tiny; the music major percentage is even smaller. Critics of the conservatory approach recognize that most public school performing arts students do not continue in active music performance afterwards and recommend a broader approach to performance teaching. To what extent should the conservatory model be the model for teaching all students to learn about music? I.e., would the foundation for a music curriculum be music performance as some philosophers would argue or is it knowledgeable discrimination, modeling the program on the competence of a professional critic?

July 11

Issue 5: Trouble in the teaching profession: Teachers — even the most experienced teachers — are beginning to buckle under the weight of criticisms about low standards, high drop-out rates, inequity of access to instruction, assessment practices, unqualified teachers, unionism, stressful working conditions, bureaucracies resistant to change, and a litany of other “evils” that education’s critics (including some parents and other taxpayers) use to denigrate schools. Education profession leaders have pushed for a number of ways to relieve the problems identified by critics and help teachers meet such criticisms — mentoring and other support for new teachers, national accreditation of teacher certification programs, higher standards for entrance into teacher education, higher pay, reduced class sizes, better-focused and more flexible professional development, etc. Professional leaders suggest that these solutions will result in the systemic change the critics call for. What is all of this about and to what extent might it affect music education? To what extent, if any, do these and other public criticisms apply to music education? Which aspects of this would affect music education most directly? What should the thinking music educator do to lead the change rather than respond afterward?

Issue 6: Aesthetics and music education: Roger Scruton is a well known “renaissance person” who writes extensively about music and relates it to contemporary society, especially with what is wrong with contemporary society. In the last two chapters of Aesthetics of Music (Scruton, 1999) he discusses performance and the culture. He addresses issues such as the worth of popular music and emotion in music. Starting with these two chapters in Scruton’s book and a chapter by Abraham Schwadron (1988) discuss (a) the extent to which the profession has achieved clarity as to what constitutes the aesthetics of music, (b) the function of music aesthetics in developing one’s own philosophy of music education, and (c) the role aesthetic theory should play in music education policy.

July 12

Issue 7: Music teacher education for the 21st century: At the middle of the 1900s, Teachers College (TC) at Columbia University appeared to exert considerable influence on education. TC initiated graduate music education programs in the 1930s, but most education movements were put on hold during World War II, and the ideas of TC leaders were not implemented until the 50s and 60s. Who were the spokespersons for education and for music education at TC in these years? What were the sources of their concern and what did they advocate? To what extent did they influence education and music education in the mid-20th century? How was this accomplished? Which of these ideas are still current or are being revived? Today, most teacher education professionals in other specialties incorporate constructivist ideas into instructional practices and inform teachers about ideas based on those of Lev Vygotsky and John Dewey, two theorists who had influential, psychology-based ideas about education. Abeles, Hoffer and Klotman (1994, ch. 12) argue that teaching is an art. In this view, intuition is as important as pedagogical knowledge and skill. They further argue that music teachers should be leaders, and should “Éunderstand the present and then make appropriate decisions regarding the future.” (p. 395) To what extent should the education of future music teachers be changed? How consistent should it be with teacher education in other fields?

Issue 8: The boundaries of music education: How responsive to criticism should music education programs be? Citizens write letters to editors and use call-in radio shows to discuss education. Many spokespersons express specific collective views about education — newspaper editors and commentators, public and private broadcasters, local retailers, arts coalition spokespeople and environmentalists. What are these views, and which suggest change in education policy? How should education policy makers, including teachers, act upon such statements and generalized views? There are public health issues like HIV/AIDS, violence, alcohol and drug abuse, and moral issues such as caring for those who are homeless and/or hungry. What is education’s role in these? Since public education is a governmental agency, should education policy be responsive to these? Is education an “umbrella” discipline &endash; a profession like medicine or accounting &endash; that has as its primary content the proper conduct of student learning? In music education policy, it can be argued that the important influences on music curriculum have been external to the profession: from foundations (Ford, Rockefeller, Getty, and Annenberg Foundations), the music industry (publishers, instrument manufacturers and dealers, the recording industry), and from the professional music performance world. What are the “boundaries” of our profession’s foundations &endash; the limits upon which we construct a curricular policy, evaluate practice and define outcomes? How does one assess the validity of suggestions that are made by individuals and groups outside the profession?

July 13

Curriculum, assessment and research in music education policy. A/H/K 271-378.

Policy Frameworks – Developing a policy for music education

July 16

Issue 9 – Your issue: Define and develop an issue of interest other than those listed above, and propose it for class review in a 15-minute presentation.

Planning and writing the final paper


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Berger, John. (1972). Ways of seeing. London: British Broadcasting Company.

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Blacking, John. (1990). A commonsense view of all music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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J Terry Gates’ Assessment:

There were about 25 master’s level students in this course, nearly all in the first or second year of their teaching careers. There was lots of reading for this course, many handouts, and articles posted on the University’s library system. Although most students were able to complete a paper on one of the topics in time, the papers lacked the depth of background and thoroughness of thought that was expected. It’s likely that these students got to information overload too quickly and the readings and presentation assignments took up their “thinking time.” [N.B.: The 600 level for this course has local reasons for it being that way. Don’t ask.]

For the presentation exercise, students chose one of the eight issues on which to make a 45-minute presentation, negotiated gradually until there were three or four members in a study group on each issue. They were to respond to the questions at the end of the issue presentation above, using information from historical, social, psychological and philosophical readings. Although this exercise motivated discussion among the students, the presentations could have been better organized with more detailed guidance from me.

If I teach this course again, I’ll make the following changes:

1. Reduce the number of articles and handouts to a few models of what the students’ papers might be like. Use a couple of these models in discussions and presentations early in the class.

2. Structure the presentations differently. For example, I would ask the same questions of all groups, rather than to use the issue-based questions, perhaps: (a) How did the current practice develop, historically? Trace it back at least to 1820. (b) What psychological principles or theoretical “schools” give music teachers confidence that learning could result from the teaching or learning practice? (c) What values are advanced by the practice and how are they rationalized by others, philosophically? What opposing positions are presented in the philosophical literature, and by whom? (d) What kinds of social structures are created by the practice? What equity or social justice issues does the practice create or resolve?

3. Constrict even more the topics for the paper, perhaps to specific “bodies of practice” or music education traditions.

4. Edit and update the issues above and recast them as “practices”.