How to Become a Better Music Teacher?

A few thoughts on life-long learning as we send freshly minted music teachers out into the field.

    -Humble yourself. There is always something you don’t know or are (currently) unable to do. Face these challenges head-on and hold yourself accountable.

    -Have others work with your ensembles. Pay close attention and take good notes. Ask for feedback (and be genuine in your request for feedback).

    -Talk less and ask questions frequently. Many people will gladly help you down the path, but they are horrible mind-readers.

    -Challenge yourself to listen/watch more accomplished groups than your own. Do this not only for performances, but ask to watch them rehearsals as well. Pay close attention to the routines of these groups and their directors.

    -Be active in professional learning networks and associations.

    -Challenge yourself to attend music educator conference sessions that address your weaknesses. It is far TOO EASY to attend sessions where we feel comfortable and/or accomplished.

A Reflection on Music Coursework

I presented a paper this weekend at the New Directions in Music Education Conference at Michigan State University. Throughout the sessions, presenters discussed approaches to student-centered opportunities that addressed such issues as popular music, world music, composition, improvisation, digital media, among others. While collaboration was brought up within music education programs, it is also important that we reach outside of our departments to collaborate with ethnomusicologists, jazz faculty, and composers. This raises several issues including differing discourses (both in the classroom and in research practice) and the ability to bring others “to the table” as partners in towards the same goals (life-long musicians and educators, in the broadest sense).

Ultimately, team-taught courses that are inter-disciplinary would be ideal; the time of adding a course for each competency has long outlasted its usefulness (if one could ever say that approach was beneficial). I realize the notion of programs giving up FTE to address common goals between programs cuts against the grain of most programs in higher education and requires large systemic change. This is exactly what I propose is necessary for programs to be proactive instead of reactive and flexibility instead of static in the 21st century.

NASM’s Influence on “World Music” Offerings

NASM is a strong influence on collegiate music programs throughout the U.S. They largely decide what components are necessary in degree programs for these institutional departments to be accredited by NASM. To this point, minimal gestures towards multicultural musical opportunities have been considered sufficient by NASM (ex. elective world music ensembles and survey courses). This is not sufficient. NASM needs to use its influence to encourage the inclusion of world music courses in the music education curriculum that address curriculum and pedagogy (through the lens of a music education program).  Without such courses, how can one reasonably expect pre-service teachers to have the needed skills to address a changing music education curriculum and an increasingly globalized classroom.

Musical or Extra-Musical Goals for Non-Western Ensembles

Frequently, I hear other teachers, pre-service teachers, or professors explain that the arts are important because we live in a globalized society. The arts are certainly important because we live in a globalized society and if the arts reflect culture (as I feel they do) then it seems pertinent to encourage support of and participation in the arts. This viewpoint, however, takes an extra-musical rationale for defending the arts.

I propose that the arts (and non-western musical genres) are important because they stress different musical aspects and hierarchies not present (or prominent) in Western classical music. That is my musical rationale for their inclusion in the music curriculum. Both rationales make important points, but let’s not forget to consider what different ensembles bring to our students musically.

Just a philosophical point to reflect on . . .

Steel Bands in the Schools: Who is the target audience?

The are over 600 school steel bands in the United States. These groups are targeted towards different groups of students (whether intentionally or not). The curriculum and pedagogy used along with literature selection delineates which students have access to the ensemble. For example, if the ensemble uses only fully notated charts then non-readers are unlikely to approach the ensemble. Conversely, directors that incorporate rote learning are more likely to attract students that do not participate in band/orchestra/choir. My feeling is that a mixture of pedagogies and literature provide an environment that is accessible to many and is fertile ground for students from differing musical backgrounds to collaborate.

Thoughts on the Rationale for Non-Western Ensembles

Recently, I’ve been critically examining a common defense of “world music” in our schools. Music educators frequently cite multiculturalism and globalization as the impetus for including such ensembles. While I don’t disagree with this line of reasoning, it is not  a fully reasoned argument for such inclusions.

If we extended the same argument to history, we would be unable to cover all of the histories intertwined with our students’ ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The same is true of music and our ensemble offerings.

Non-western music is often created based on different values, meanings, functions, and musical hierarchies than Western art music. These components are the essential concepts being added to the music curriculum when such ensembles are added to a curriculum. These concepts are obviously not mutually exclusive from the multiculturalism/globalization argument, but instead provide depth to the argument that allows us to justify the ensemble through curricular standards for music. More along these lines to come . . .