Music Pedagogy Is Caught Between Conflicting Demands

Image Credit: So La Mi Music Blog
Graham Strahle
| August 28, 2017

More than ever these days’ music teachers can find themselves caught in a dilemma about what they are supposed to achieve in the classroom. On top of having to run a range of activities that might include choirs, concert bands and various other ensembles, they also have to teach music as a curriculum subject and meet all the requirements that involves.

Some of these demands overlap, but more often than not they don’t. Music teachers can feel pulled in different directions, depending on where the goals are set. That can be, for example, the quality of performances they are able to deliver in school concerts or the quality of education they provide in class. Patrick Freer (Georgia State University, US) has written about how this presents a conundrum particularly in choral music teaching.

There is another area where a division occur is presently occurring in music education, and this relates to the way teachers perceive their role. A new book, Teaching Music Differently: Case Studies of Inspiring Pedagogies, by UK education researchers Tim Cain (Edge Hill University and Joanna Cursley (research fellow at the University of Exeter), explains how there are two approaches to music pedagogy that are fundamentally opposed. They describe these as ‘teaching as technique’ versus ‘teaching as personal encounter’, and which approach a teacher takes depends on their individual stance.

By ‘teaching as technique’ the authors mean striving to be accountable to procedures and policies laid down by external authority, whereas in ‘teaching as personal encounter’ everything follows from the individual’s personally held principles.

However, Cain and Cursley argue that both approaches have their problems. “Both discourses are inadequate because they over-simplify, and thus misrepresent, the nature of teaching, each focusing on only one aspect of teaching,” they write.

The first “strips pedagogy of the moral and ethical reasons for teaching” and denies the importance of personality and individuality. “The ‘teaching as technique’ discourse over-simplifies teaching, positioning it as a matter of ‘delivery’ by ignoring the fact that, at heart, teaching consists of interactions between people,” they state. It is damaging “because it renders the personal and moral nature of teaching invisible”.

On the other hand, teaching as personal encounter “is also inadequate because it ignores the extent to which teaching is shaped by institutions, colleagues and the wider constraints of policy, including inspection regimes”. The authors conclude therefore that both approaches are inadequate: “we do not believe either discourse is sufficient to explain pedagogy”. They note at the same time that the first approach is on the ascendancy at present but “is not actually helping to improve the quality of teaching”.

Their book usefully relates the experiences of four music teachers working in a variety of educational orbits, including schools, university and correctional services. Each chapter observes them at work, offering many insights on ways to communicate with and inspire young people.

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