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Music Education

Preparation Of Teachers

Prior to the 1960s the preparation of music teachers in the United States included study in music history, theory, and literature, performance experience in vocal and/or instrumental music, and initial teaching experience in a music classroom. The social and educational upheavals of the 1960s brought about significant changes in this curriculum to include new emphases on contemporary music, world music, contributions of related fields such as psychology and philosophy, and competency-based teacher preparation programs. By the 1970s, the aesthetic education movement, first introduced in widely read texts by Charles Leonhard and Robert W. House, dominated music education. Perhaps the most influential writing on this topic was Bennett Reimer's 1971 explication of the relationship between aesthetic principles and music education. His subsequent monograph (1972, revised in 1989) broadly influenced music teachers to legitimatize music instruction that was based on more deeply felt beliefs regarding the nature and importance of musical experience. During the 1990s music teacher education was influenced by the publication of national standards for music instruction formulated by the Music Educators National Conference (1994), which also sparked renewed interest in competency-based programs.

Dominant Themes in Music Teacher Education

During the last two decades of the twentieth century, much of the research concerning undergraduate music education programs focused on the student, the instructor, and the program content. Studies emphasizing student roles included the essential characteristics of the effective teacher; teaching styles; musical, intellectual, and personal development; teaching time management skills; formation of classroom and rehearsal strategies; behavior management skills; leadership skills; and attrition variables. Studies involving faculty included supervisory roles, use of modeling techniques, motivational skills, and professional responsibilities. Studies involving program content included the following:

  • descriptive research by regions or type (instrumental/choral)
  • use of innovations
  • course sequencing
  • feedback systems
  • use of computers and technology
  • use of simulation techniques
  • evaluation
  • observation
  • the content and structure of methods courses
  • multicultural components
  • interdisciplinary studies
  • field-based experiences and student teaching
  • the importance of developing a philosophy of music education

Additional studies included historical accounts of music education programs, suggestions for improving evaluation systems, and reports of various educational task forces, which recommend guidelines for curriculum reform.

Problems in Music Teacher Education

Two competing perspectives have dominated writings and discussions in music teacher education. On the one hand, there is a search for new ways to teach more effectively what has long been regarded as standard curriculum content. On the other hand, there have been attempts to study the role of higher institutions in preparing educators, the systems through which a program's effectiveness is measured, and new emphases in educational psychology that require amendments to program philosophy and procedures. Some writers have expressed continuing concern for the conflict between the conservatory, liberal arts, and educational/professional imperatives present in the modern music education undergraduate program. Adequate coverage of these diverse components is typically not manageable within the context of a four-year program, so many institutions have added a fifth year of study.

Advocates of improved evaluation procedures in undergraduate music education programs cite the need for evaluation of learning as well as teaching. It has also been recommended that evaluation be presented as a distinct subject within the curriculum as well as used by faculty members to assess student learning. The term assessment as instruction is used to describe evaluative measures that are built into the learning process, and pre-service teachers in music performance and general music are encountering more course activities that include such measures.

The role of student teaching in the curriculum continues to be problematic. College faculty are hard-pressed to intensify their roles as supervisors and provide more time within the curriculum for field experiences. Provisions, however, have been identified by in-service teachers as the most important critical to an effective and relevant pre-service education.

Perhaps the most critical problem facing music teacher educators is the need for an increased effort to bridge the gap between educational theory and instructional practice. Few, if any, critics attribute this problem to insufficient study of either. Rather, it is traced to the segregation of these subjects in course-work and a lack of modeling by music education faculty in their own teaching. The success of such an effort requires increased focus and ingenuity on the part of faculty and increased emphasis on the development of problem-solving and independent thinking skills.

Future Issues

The results of research in musical preference need greater prominence in the undergraduate teaching program. There continues to be a cultural dividing line between "school music" and the world of music beyond the classroom, namely, popular music. The Housewright Declaration, a statement on the future of music education drafted by a subcommittee of the Music Educators National Conference (2000), espouses the increased presence of popular music in American music classrooms, and warns that music teacher training must proceed accordingly by becoming more flexible in its purview of teaching competencies. The implication for pre-service music educators is that they should begin preparing now by learning to teach composition and improvisation, broadening their music vocabularies to encompass pop genres and all types of progressive music, exploring alternative notational systems, designing interdisciplinary projects, and otherwise developing their creative reasoning skills.

There appears to be increasing emphasis on the development of interpersonal skills. As mentioned above, the personal characteristics of effective teachers are well known, but those most highly valued are the ability to detect and accommodate individual learning styles in the classroom, to demonstrate superior communication skills, and to balance efficiently the use of criticism and praise. Although it has not been established how undergraduate programs might best meet this challenge, college faculty will need to utilize measures that increase the individualization of degree programs through assessment of students' interpersonal strengths and weaknesses.

Technological advancements have given rise to more affordable, portable, powerful, and userfriendly systems whose educational worth is difficult to ignore. A required course in computer proficiency for music teaching is common across the nation. Many areas of music learning have been revolutionized by the computer–most profoundly, music composition. Although it is common for instructional curricula to be designed in accordance with available software, the inverse is decidedly optimal for teachers and teaching. Computers should serve to enhance a broad understanding of music and the related arts. The issue of humanism versus technology must be mediated by music education faculty, who can demonstrate proper computer applications to the teaching and learning of music.

A view of musicianship as a world phenomenon has been recommended since the Tanglewood Symposium of 1967. Its importance in a program appears to be largely a matter of faculty expertise and/or interest, as there are no federal, state, or task force mandates for a multicultural component. It should be noted here that the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) has requirements in this area (and others) to qualify for accreditation, but such accreditation is voluntary. Multicultural music advocates cite the abundance of accessible information, the need for exposure to the many sources of influence in popular music, and the increasingly pluralistic profile of the average American classroom as reasons for a global perspective on music-making. Critics are primarily concerned with the more practical issues of additional time allotments in an already overflowing course load, the selection of certain musics over others for study, the extent of such studies, and issues of authenticity.

Many of the reforms prescribed for undergraduate music education programs continue to involve a rethinking of balances between the musical, professional and academic components. These translate into decisions regarding classwork versus field experience, musicianship versus teacher training, and whether to emphasize educational theory over instructional practice. A common theme that appears to underlie virtually all teacher education programs is the need for pre-service teachers to develop the cognitive skills necessary to analyze and evaluate effective teaching.

Finally, contemporary conceptions of intelligence have significantly extended the forms of understanding believed to be necessary for teaching. David Elliott posits four types of knowledge–formal, informal, impressionistic, and supervisory–each distinct in its origin and usage in the teaching process. Postmodern philosophy and thinking, regarded by academic professionals as a confounding yet indispensable guiding principle, reminds those entering the teaching profession they must address the difficult questions of what constitutes quality, integrity, and relevancy in instruction as they enter a new millennium of music teacher education.



ELLIOTT, DAVID. 1995. Music Matters: A New Philosophy of Music Education. New York: Oxford University Press.

LABUTA, JOSEPH A., and SMITH, DEBORAH A. 1997. Music Education: Historical Contexts and Perspectives. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

LEONHARD, CHARLES, and HOUSE, ROBERT W. 1972. Foundations and Principles of Music Education (1959). New York: McGraw-Hill.

MADSEN, CLIFFORD K., ed. 2000. Vision 2020: The Housewright Symposium on the Future of Music Education. Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference.

MARK, MICHAEL L. 1996. Contemporary Music Education, 3rd edition. New York: Schirmer.

REIMER, BENNETT. 1971. "Aesthetic Behaviors in Music." In Toward an Aesthetic Education, ed. Bennett Reimer. Washington, DC: Music Educators National Conference.

REIMER, BENNETT. 1989. A Philosophy of Music Education, 2nd edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.


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