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My Manifesto for Music Education

As a music educator I am motivated to teach in an authentic manner that represents beliefs and values that are dear to me, and which I feel are beneficial to students, or important for the future of music education. Many of these stem from personal values about sociopolitical issues, and just as many relate directly to my own experiences and opinions on music. One activity that links all of these thoughts, and which has been especially crucial at present, as I am about to begin my first professional experience, is that of self-reflection and evaluation.

I strive to always remain self-reflective and question my teaching practices and choices. This reflection is not just about past teaching, but also about new ideas and approaches. As much as reflection is important for evaluating past events, lessons, teaching, etc., it is also a recognition that teachers should always be learners. I have recently learnt a great deal and made changes to my teaching practices as a result of how I have questioned, researched, and analysed new concepts that have challenged what I thought or reinforced and refined previously held beliefs of mine. Reflection and self-evaluation reduce the chances of poor habits becoming ingrained, whilst encouraging constant learning and inquiry (Dwyer, 2016).

Many of the ideas that aligned with my personal values have been those in music curriculum classes that have dealt with making music relevant to children in 2020 and beyond, and teaching in an ethical, inclusive, and progressive manner. Some that are particularly important to me are: Cultural Responsive Pedagogy, informal learning, project based learning, recognition of WAM hierarchies and the presence of colonial structures/ideas in music education, and an overarching theme of “teaching music that is relevant to the cultures children participate in” (Humberstone, Zhao, & Liu, 2020, p. 3). [This quote might become my catchphrase if I keep writing it].

At the heart of these ideas the need to teach in a student centred manner in the music classroom. We may have ideas of what we want to teach and how, and what the syllabus dictates that we must cover, however to teach these things effectively and in a way that meaningfully engages students with music we need to put students’ needs and interests at the centre of the music we teach. At the same time it’s crucial to recognise that all students are unique individuals with their own interests, contexts, experiences, and stories. There is no one size fits all approach to music, nor to students. Instead of teaching in such a manner I believe it is critical to create opportunities for students to experience making music, sharing music, collaborating in music, and expressing themselves through music.

In order to do this a classroom needs to be inclusive – I am passionate about music being for all students, and also for viewing music as a beacon for social change, empowerment, diversity, culture, and expression. So much music is inseparable from these themes. I particularly think that music education in Australia needs to be de-colonised and needs to recognise and involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – there are fantastic opportunities in music to teach students about ethics, culture, power systems, and so on as these are themes ever-present in music. In regards to Australia’s First Nations cultures, these are conversations that need to be happening in our classrooms, and relationships that should be developed (MacKinlay, 2011). Personally, I strive to hold inclusive, ethical, and progressive values, and I do not want to separate these values from the way that I teach, especially when teaching in such a powerful and emotive field as music. An idea strongly related to teaching in this manner is that of involving the music of students’ own cultures.

I wish to adopt a pluralist approach to music education, as has been championed strongly by James, as I truly believe that this is one of the strongest ways to ensure music education remains relevant for students in this day and age. I want to embrace “all musics and all creative practices” (Humberstone, 2017, p. 7) in the classroom. I have always listened to an incredibly diverse range of music, and this is still ever expanding. Over just this past year I have come to understand and experiment with electronic music in ways I never expected, and I spend far more time than I used to listening to hip hop, electronic music, and music created through new innovations and methods of composition (one innovative approach that I love and want to share about, at a risk of going off on a tangent, is Ólafur Arnalds’ use of two pianos connected to a keyboard controller which Arnalds uses to run the individual notes he plays through a software coded by a friend of his, to be played as chords and cascading arpeggios by these two pianos. The result of this is somewhat random as Arnalds may play a single note but receive an indeterminate number of notes played by the two pianos. It is also some of the most beautiful and relaxing music I know of.) I want to take my love of so many forms of music and use this to teach music in an inclusive and respectful manner that leaves students with an appreciation of all musics without reinforcing the superiority complex present in WAM traditions.

Central to my personal philosophy of how music should be taught is the belief that students should be doing music. In order to actually practice what I preach about keeping music relevant for children, students need to have opportunities to make music themselves. I also think that actually experiencing and playing music is the best way to learn, including for music theory lessons that are often taught in a ‘chalk and talk’ manner. In my teaching I wish to include strategies/pedagogy such as informal learning, project based learning, collaborative learning, and the use of technology in the music classroom. All of these (and combinations of them) can be used to involve students in music, including those with no prior musical experience or knowledge. They may also allow for the hands-on development of musical skills and ability whilst grappling with realistic problems and challenges

As a teacher my goal is to engage as many students as I can in a life-long love and exploration of music, and everything I have mentioned above reflects my teaching identity and values, and how I see music education progressing and growing in the future.

Dwyer, R. (2016). Music Teachers’ Values and Beliefs. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Humberstone, J. (2017). A Pluralist Approach to Music Education. In S. Ruthmann & R. Mantie (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Technology and Music Education. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199372133.013.40

Humberstone, J., Zhao, C., & Liu, D. (2020). Nurturing Vulnerability to Develop Pedagogical Change Through MOOC Participation and Public Blogging. In J. L. Waldron, S. Horsley, & K. K. Veblen (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning. doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190660772.013.35

MacKinlay, E. (2011). A pedagogy of heart which beats to the rhythm of relationships: Thinking about ourselves as music educators in relation to indigenous Australia. Australian Kodaly Journal (Online), 2011, 17–21.

Ocean Eyes + Break My Heart

For my MC2 video I’ve chosen to play and discuss Ocean Eyes by Billie Eilish, followed by a short section of Break My Heart by Dua Lipa. I realised at the end that I’d tried to bite off more than I could chew and wanted to fit in more than 6 minutes worth of content (I guess I’m used to having a bit longer when I’m holding a guitar), so I’m going to write a short blurb as well.

Ocean Eyes is a song that has surprised me recently in how fantastic it is to teach on guitar. I have taught it to several students recently and it has been fantastic as a song that kids love and want to learn, but also a song that is achievable and easily transferable between different chord playing instruments. It is simple and repetitive, but it sounds great, and it’s useful as a song that allows students to start to play along to music and focus on engaged listening and finding the right place to play each chord. I also love that it isn’t a song on guitar as I think it shows that there is no need to be limited by instrumentation if you have a love of particular kinds of music or artists.

I followed this up with a short bit on Break My Heart as its a song that’s been incredibly popular lately, and it builds on the chords and ideas in Ocean Eyes. (I just realised I think I mentioned it coming out last year in the video – it was actually this year!) This is a song that does have some guitar, but not in an easily accessible form if a less experienced player wanted to play along. What it does have, however, is a clear harmonic form, strong groove, and relatively easy chords for a guitarist. There is added challenge in keeping with the groove and tempo, but I kept this to a shorter ending section as I wanted to highlight the transfer of skills from the easier Ocean Eyes.

Music of Children’s Own Cultures, and Australian Cultures

Teaching music of children’s own cultures has been one of the key themes discussed by James semester, and I have already mentioned it many times in previous reflections. I’ve written this little intro after I’d written everything else in this post as I realised I’d gone off on a bit of a tangent from what I was originally writing (I feel I’ve written so much I should have turned this into my manifesto!) – I’m hoping everything I’ve written has come across clearly, but whether it has or not I just want to mention how passionately I feel about this topic. I’ve heard so many people tell me how boring and terrible they found their high school music classes, and I think that is just plain unfair. All these people have a love of music in some form or another, and almost all expressed how they wished they’d learnt to play an instrument or gone further in musical studies. I aim to always strive my best to be a teacher that inspires and encourages students to enjoy music, and using music that students actually care about strikes me as possibly the most effective way to do this, and even if its not it seems like a lot of fun for everyone involved.

In choosing repertoire for study I strongly believe that there should be a balance between looking at what students already know and enjoy, and music that serves particular purposes whether that is for a particular musical concept (not the syllabus ones), music that may expand student’s horizons, music that is representative of particular people, cultures, genres, history, gender, and so on. The idea of the teacher as curator and learner in collaboration with students (Kallio, 2017) seems pertinent to me. I love the idea of students bringing their musical suggestions to class without teachers being dismissive or strictly teaching what they decide is best. Instead I see a role in guiding students in exploring and contextualising the music that is meaningful to their own lives, whilst expanding on that by learning even more music and how it fits together.

I also think it is crucial to realise that the labels and roles we assign to certain types of music “reflect and influence our labelling of the individuals associated with them” (Kallio, 2017, pp. 321-322) – this is particularly relevant when looking at repertoire from genres that may have themes or language we deem unsuitable for classroom use, yet have fantastic value as music for study, or for looking at social, political, ethical, or cultural issues surrounding the music. I am certainly not a fan of considering whole styles of music to be problematic or unfit for study and consumption, and I would hate to dissuade students from listening to almost any music (there are cases perhaps in extreme situations such as Nazi music or music that is overtly violent, racist, or sexist – yet even then, when selected very carefully, there may be opportunities for learning and reflection upon why this music is problematic and the moral and social issues contained within (Kallio, 2017)) however I am also aware that at times I may be faced with dilemmas when selecting repertoire – If certain music could be seen by some as inappropriate then a) am I in a position to persevere and highlight why it is relevant for teaching; b) is there pressure from those in a position of authority over me to not use certain music – in my school days I certainly remember a particular music teacher who would not allow for music with swearing of any form, even in students’ HSC pieces.

I strongly believe teaching with an acknowledgement of children’s own music cultures goes hand in hand with culturally responsive pedagogy, inclusion in the music classroom of diverse music from around the globe, and discussions of history, social and political movements, equality, class and power structures, cultural diversity, and inclusion. I feel that teaching and including music by Indigenous Australians is of particular importance in this country, for a multitude of reasons including representation, social education, historical recognition, and most importantly the acknowledgement that ATSI people have rich cultures spanning at least 60,000 years with incredibly strong and varied musical traditions. If thinking very literally I’d say that as Australians this music is part of Australian culture and thus it is also music of children’s cultures as we are all inhabitants of Aboriginal land. I feel a responsibility (beyond syllabus requirements) to teach in a way that includes both students’ own cultures and music, and recognises that as Australians we are members of an incredibly diverse and multicultural society, yet the original inhabitants of Australia are disregarded and forgotten by far too many people.

I specifically wrote ‘music by Indigenous Australians’ as I do not just mean ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) music’, or music that is defined by the fact it is by an Indigenous artist, but any music that is by someone of an ATSI background. Some artists I absolutely love to listen to include Thelma Plum, Archie Roach, Kev Carmody, A.B. Original, and Gurrumul. All of these artists have written music that is specific to their own experiences and Australia’s history of invasion, colonisation, injustice, racism (this could be a long list…) against Australia’s First Nations people, yet all of these artists also have music that fits into other musical traditions, and popular music, in the same manner as a song by a white Australian would and are thus deserving of the same status and recognitions. If a class is studying pop music, why not throw in a Thelma Plum song? If it’s Australian art music (I’m looking at you Music 2 syllabus), how about music from Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow), Gurrumul’s final album released shortly after his passing. At the same time I still think it is incredibly important to teach ‘more traditional’ ATSI music, and for students to realise the value, complexity, history, and cultural importance of this music.

What I am getting at and trying to address is possibly best summarised with this question: “how do I as a non-Indigenous person with white power and privilege, make space in my music classroom for Indigenous ways of being, doing and knowing about music to take centre stage?” (MacKinlay, 2010, p. 19). I want to recognise my own white privilege whilst teaching what I can about ATSI music in a way that stresses the musical value of this music without ‘othering’ ATSI music and artists.

I also appreciate the importance of relationships, mutual respect, trust, and empathy in teaching ATSI music (MacKinlay, 2010), and want to include Indigenous voices where I can in the classroom. MacKinlay mentions relationships as “one of the most powerfully transformative teaching and learning resources” (p. 20) for teaching Indigenous Australian music. As someone in a predominantly middle-class area of Sydney I went to a school with 1 ATSI student out of 1000+ students, and there was little engagement with any local Aboriginal communities or people, and I do not have any meaningful experience in this area. I am not entirely sure of the realities and logistics of having a dialogue and relationship with Indigenous groups, artists, communities, etc., however I want to always consider the importance of this and include Aboriginal people in the teaching of their own music and culture whenever possible.

MacKinlay (2010) situates the classroom as “a location of possibility” (p. 21) and stresses that music educators may guide and nurture students whilst providing a thoughtful and social education that includes ethical and moral discussion, and open dialogue with students. Through inclusion of ATSI culture in the classroom and the formation of open and trusting relationships it is possible to teach with a pedagogy of “social justice, empowerment and change” (p. 21).

The idea of a classroom as a location of possibility really strikes a chord (probably a maj7 chord or something) with me and reminds me of how influential a good music teacher may be. I certainly want to inspire and teach students in a musical setting, and encourage students to continue a lifelong love and exploration of music in a manner that is relevant to them, whether that is just as a hobby they love, a working musician, a teacher, a con student, a global superstar, whatever form it takes. At the heart of this belief is the consideration that all people have the ability to be active participants in music and do not need to be “relegated to the role of ‘educated audience member’” (Dwyer, 2016, p. 139). In addition to this, I wish to teach in an inclusive and socially conscious manner that allows every student to feel valued and respected, and allows for necessary conversations about the world we live in and how music is effected by and effects it. I am not one to peddle the line ‘separate the art from the artist’, or to separate music from social and political causes – music has always included political elements, social and cultural commentary, and a method of expression for those who are oppressed, and these aspects of music are incredibly powerful and have changed countless lives.

I also seek to go against much of the established hierarchy and tradition of WAM teaching and formalisation of music. Traditional formal music education often perpetuates a pattern where teachers have been highly trained in their (mostly Western) instruments in a particular musical paradigm throughout high school, and then tertiary education. This is then reflected in the content and music taught by teachers, with the music that is taught often lacking relevance for students (Dwyer, 2016; Humberstone, 2017). Alongside this there is often a belief that we must expand on the music that children listen to to include ‘superior’ forms of legitimised music. To this I say two things: There is no problem with broadening kids’ musical horizons, but first you must build trust with them – and this must start first with who they are, their interests, where they live, their contexts, and the music of their own culture (Hein, 2019; Humberstone, Zhao, & Liu, 2020); all musics have value and sophistication, whether it is immediately apparent or not (Humberstone, Zhao, & Liu, 2020).

Dwyer, R. (2016). Music teachers’ values and beliefs . Routledge.

Humberstone, J. (2017). A Pluralist Approach to Music Education. In S. Ruthmann & R. Mantie (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Technology and Music Education. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199372133.013.40

Humberstone, J., Zhao, C., & Liu, D. (2020). Nurturing Vulnerability to Develop Pedagogical Change Through MOOC Participation and Public Blogging. In J. L. Waldron, S. Horsley, & K. K. Veblen (Eds.), THe Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190660772.013.35

Kallio, A. (2017). Popular “problems”: Deviantization and teachers’ curation of popular music. International Journal of Music Education, 35(3), 319–332. https://doi.org/10.1177/0255761417725262

MacKinlay, E. (2011). A pedagogy of heart which beats to the rhythm of relationships: Thinking about ourselves as music educators in relation to indigenous Australia. Australian Kodaly Journal (Online), 2011, 17–21.

Some thoughts on Informal Learning

We initially learnt about informal learning (IL) last semester, but it’s popped up again a few times lately and I’ve gone further into researching it and thinking about its use. Rather than writing a long explanation about what informal learning is, I want to discuss my thoughts on it and how I see it fitting into my own teaching.

IL provides a potentially engaging way of incorporating music that fits into students own worlds whilst replicating real world methods of learning and making music. It arose from Lucy Green’s (2002, 2008) research into how popular musicians learn music. It is not so much a method or group of methods, but a set of learning practices (Green, 2002) drawing on “the real-life learning practices and processes of popular musicians” (Hallam, Creech, & McQueen, 2011, p. 27). IL as defined by Green consists of 5 main components: 1) Students music choose themselves or enjoy; 2) Learning by ear and copying recordings; 3) Students work both individually and in groups of friends, less adult involvement; 4) learning begins with entire pieces of music (may be haphazard and messy at first); 5) Performance, composition, listening, and improvisation are integrated and combined (Green, 2002, 2008; Musical Futures, 2015; UCL IOE, 2011). Successful implementation of IL has been found to increase student engagement and involvement in music classes, result in high quality work, create an inclusive environment, improve behaviour, and allow for the rapid development of students’ musical skills (Green, 2002, 2008; Hallam et al., 2011; Jeanneret, 2010).

The thing that stands out to me most about IL are the way its use may create opportunities to involve students in recreating and writing music that is relevant to their own lives and interests. This is possible through the incredibly student centred approach of IL and requires teachers to take on roles as facilitators and guides whilst students take are given greater autonomy and ownership over their learning and the music they play (Musical Futures, 2015; UCL IOE, 2011).

One potential issue and criticism of IL, and Green’s work, is the potential creation of a false dichotomy where only classical or Western popular music cultures are represented – perpetuating old fashioned ideas of pop music vs classical music (Dwyer, 2016; Humberstone, Zhao, & Liu, 2020). However, when informal learning is used in a way that meets the needs of students by engaging with “the cultures children participate in” (Humberstone et al., 2020, p. 3), and by incorporating music from outside of a Western bubble, it strikes me as a particularly effective practice for encouraging students to actively participate in music regardless of prior musical experience and opportunities. What that does lead me into though, is another criticism of informal learning that I wholeheartedly agree with.

There is an argument to be made that part of Green’s premise behind IL is flawed as she disregards several methods used by popular musicians to learn and create music, instead relying far too much on listening and recreation (Dwyer, 2016). This approach ignores the fact that many popular musicians are well versed in music theory and multiple forms of notation including tablature, chord charts, Western notation, and electronic methods of music production, recording, composing, etc. It also does not highlight how useful sources like this can be when used in combination with IL practices, especially with widespread access to resources online. There is also an overly large focus on recreating popular music, without consideration that it is not necessary to first learn other people’s songs before you start writing your own music (Hein, 2019).

This especially resonates with me as all throughout high school I was learning popular music and jamming with friends, forming multiple bands, exploring different genres, improvising, making terrible sounds and annoying teachers, etc. This certainly involved some elements of Green’s informal learning, especially when engaged in entirely student-directed rehearsals, however at the same time I was regularly looking up chord charts and tabs on ultimate-guitar.com, I had private lessons every week, I would read lead sheets and notation, and I would learn from and teach music to friends – all of this contributed to how I learnt as a popular musician. However, despite this I feel like this criticism of IL is actually a good thing as it reframes and shapes how IL can be used in a realistic manner, and how IL can be structured and scaffolded when it is combined with other methods of teaching music. (I am also aware that Green’s ideas have been developed further and there are already many ways that they are structured and used to include more explicit direction and scaffolding – it is not about sending students off willy-nilly, though there are certainly times when it is fantastic to give students the freedom and space to experiment and learn whatever music they want.)

I also do not want it to seem like I disagree with Green’s ideas and the usefulness and relevance of learning by ear and through collaboration with peers. These are certainly methods used by musicians, with huge benefits in the development of students’ listening and aural skills, and musical communication. Something that Green mentions that particularly stands out is how students who regularly participate in IL may begin to hear music in new ways – students may begin to notice more things occurring in the music, and may listen in more detail to different instruments, sounds, textures, etc. – for many students this includes shifting a focus from the lyrics exclusively to the music behind the lyrics (Green, 2008; Musical Futures, 2015; UCL IOE, 2011).

IL is certainly something I plan to incorporate into my teaching, with a focus on the music that students actually care about and value. I think that I would want to introduce it in a more gradual manner than throwing students in at the deep end immediately (though there are definitely benefits in doing this), probably through learning songs as a whole class (as we did in week 8), or by giving students a starting point to go on with in a more informal manner. I want to also bring IL ideas into how I engage students in music outside of a popular music sphere, including classical music, especially when it comes to improvisation and composition, and experimentation with new instruments. I think the benefits of IL are enormous when considering how it’s possible to involve so many students in music by actually doing music.

Green, L. (2002). How popular musicians learn : a way ahead for music education. Ashgate.

Green, L. (2008). Music, informal learning and the school : a new classroom pedagogy. Ashgate.

Hallam, S., Creech, A., & McQueen, H. (2011). Musical Futures: A case study investigation. London, England: Institute of Education, University of London. Retrieved from https://andreacreech.webs.com/Musical_Futures_FINAL_REPORT_31_October_2011.pdf

Hein, E. [Ethan Hein]. (2019, May 10). Hip-Hop in the Music Classroom [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylgBq16LAuw 

Humberstone, J., Zhao, C., & Liu, D. (2020). Nurturing Vulnerability to Develop Pedagogical Change Through MOOC Participation and Public Blogging. In J. L. Waldron, S. Horsley, & K. K. Veblen (Eds.), THe Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190660772.013.35 

Jeanneret, N. (2010). Musical Futures in Victoria. Australian Journal of Music Education, (2), 148–164.

Musical Futures. (2015, June 9). Introduction to Informal Learning [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MEEBYkysmE

UCL Institute of Education (IOE). (2011, November 21). What can teachers learn from popular musicians? | UCL Institute of Education [Video]. Youtube. https://youtu.be/4r8zoHT4ExY

Traditions, values, contexts, social class, and more.

I found many thought provoking and encouraging ideas in Rachel Dwyer’s chapter Capital, habitus and field in music education: Hierarchies, traditions and marginalisation in Music Teachers’ Values & Beliefs (Dwyer, 2016), and in a video addressing our class. Much of this was about recognising and grappling with issues in the traditions and values often found in music education and teachers. One large thing that stood out relates to what I’m doing right now – Rachel mentioned that as PSTs we have the opportunity to really think about and engage with deeper questions concerning who we are as teachers and how we want to teach.

A key theme of both this video and the article was considering what values are held by teachers and students, and how they relate to contexts and learning environments. Dwyer discussed the privilege and glorification that is often given to Western art music (WAM), and how this effects how teachers have learnt, and what they teach. Teachers are shaped by their experiences and backgrounds, and often teach the way that they were taught themselves (Dwyer, 2016). For music teachers this often links directly to conservatoire training in WAM fields, and this then becomes a focus of their teaching.

A quote I found to be particularly poignant is this: “Western art music is positioned as the yardstick by which all musics are measured” (Dwyer, 2016, pp. 137-138). This is certainly not my personal belief (nor Dwyer’s), but I think it encapsulates so much of what can be problematic in a music classroom, and what has led so many students to disengage from school music classes and involvement in extra-curricular programs.

Despite syllabi in Australia providing plenty of room for the teaching of music from outside WAM traditions, it is an incredibly common occurrence for teachers to still elevate this music above popular forms of music and ‘non-Western’ music (I still don’t know how I feel about this term, but definitely prefer it to world music and term’s like that – even when calling it non-Western it feels like so much music is being lumped into one category without any thought for how diverse music is). The elevation of this music may occur subtly and at times by accident, but it often is related to the over-importance placed on use of Western notation (which is not in every music syllabus!) and the development of a musical literacy centred in WAM – this often stems from beliefs/attitudes that teachers may be unaware they even have (often from their musical training) where WAM is considered a higher form of art than other forms of music (Dwyer, 2016).

On top of this, Dwyer mentions that many teachers have an “idea of classroom music providing the students with experience of different types of music to ones that they would choose to pursue on their own” (p. 137). I certainly don’t think this is a bad idea in itself, however there needs to be a limit and in my opinion this should not be a defining feature of a music teachers’ practice.

I believe that as a trained musician I have a comparatively high level of knowledge in many types of music, and I have also been exposed to music that students may be unfamiliar with which may be relevant for classroom use, or which may even just seem like it will be interesting to students. I do not expect that most students will already know about John Cage’s work with prepared pianos, or be familiar with the (awesome) Mongolian metal band The Hu, and I certainly consider extending students’ musical interests and horizons to be a critical part of a teacher’s role. However, I am aware that I have been lucky enough to not only study classically, but I have always listened to and played popular music of many genres, had experience in jazz bands, and been interested in music from cultures other than my own. I do not think I will become a teacher who forces WAM repertoire down students’ throats, however I want to make sure that I always think like this, and that I carefully consider the reasons I am teaching certain music, particularly when I am choosing music other than the music that I know my students enjoy or participate in.

Another issue raised by Dwyer is that music as a discipline is “characterised by formal instruction outside of the school setting” (p. 139), resulting in an inequitable situation where a divide is created between students who have been lucky enough to have opportunities to study an instrument or participate in musical groups outside of school, and students who through no fault of their own do not have this chance. This is especially apparent when considering socioeconomic status and whether students live in urban or rural areas. This relates to what Anna Bull (2019) discusses in regards to the pursuit of musical excellence and its relationship to class and gender inequality. Bull looks at groups of students who are already heavily involved in a music program (choir + orchestra) external to school. For those who are already privileged it may be easy to be a part of a “bright futures” group (Bull, 2019) where participation in classical music is a form of social expression and status, however music tends to be pushed aside when these students make career decisions and choose a field to pursue after school. This is in contrast to what Bull calls the “humble and hard-working” group of students – characterised as students from lower-middle class families, and some middle class young women, who want to pursue a career in music and see music as central to their own identities. For these students music may always be the goal, however they begin at a disadvantage against those who are more privileged, often meaning these students have less opportunities or quite a different outlook on their musical and career goals – Bull highlights that class groupings have a large role to play in the musical pathways available to students. For those in the ‘humble and hard-working’ group, and from lower class backgrounds music “can be a mechanism for social mobility, but it is highly uncertain whether this will pay off or not” (p. 69).

Once again, there seem to be explicit links between what Dwyer mentioned and so many of the classes, readings, discussions, music, etc. from MC2 this semester. The one that continues to stand out to me is the need to teach in a manner that is relevant to students – questioning what shapes and informs how teachers teach and what their values are has allowed me to form clearer ideas of who I am as a teacher, the music that I want to teach, and more importantly, the music that students care about.

Below are a few notes I took that I thought were especially important to continue to think about and reflect on now as I begin my first PEx, and in the future as I continue to develop my teaching practices and values.

  • Think about your priorities as a teacher – what are your values? And now will you enact them?
  • Interrogate everything – ask questions about the pedagogical situations you encounter
  • Who is shaping what goes on, whose interests are being served, who makes decisions and what values underpin these
  • Reflect all the time – think about what values you want to underpin your teaching, revisit these values regularly and engage with them. Have they changed?
    • I’ve really come to appreciate the importance of constant reflection and teaching values and practices, and this is highlighted further in Dwyer’s article as she highlights what can happen where teachers are not reflecting and constantly questioning both new and old ideas – “The pedagogy became practised and habitualised, with little evidence of questioning or reflecting upon their practice” (Dwyer, 2016, p. 135)
  • KNOW YOUR STUDENTS – who are they, how do they learn?

Bull, A. (2019). Class, control, and classical music . Oxford University Press.

Dwyer, R. (2016). Music Teachers’ Values and Beliefs. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Orff-Keetman Schulwerk and Kodály Method

I’ve chosen to write about Orff-Keetman Schulwerk and Kodály in the same space as I don’t want to go into great detail in the specifics of each approach (there are many people who could do this far better than me), but instead I want to reflect on how I see ideas from both methods fitting into my teaching practices. I couldn’t ever want to specialise in either method/pedagogy, but I can see great value in some of their ideas (an idea that I consider to be at the heart of forming a ‘teacher identity’ – I love the idea of informing myself with knowledge and strategies from so many sources in order to shape how I teach and the values I hold), in particular the way that music is communicated to students and the heavy use of aural and listening skills, and how these allow for all students to participate in music making.

Despite the fact that both Orff-Keetman and Kodály methods could now be seen by some as a bit old fashioned, I think they have plenty to offer in a contemporary secondary education setting. The way that both approaches may succeed in involving so many children in music is fantastic, and I see plenty of room to take aspects of these approaches and apply them to music that is relevant today alongside how they have been traditionally used.

My favourite aspect of both is the use of chunking, something that I have done to an extent in my own private teaching practice with guitar students. I feel like using and learning about Orff-Keetman/Kodály has clarified and refined how I think of chunking and ways to use it. I can understand and respect the Kodály approach which avoids verbosity, however I feel that this could at times go too far and be restraining. Where I can see myself taking this approach more strictly though is when I want to dive straight into music-making with a class, or where there is the need to refocus attention with a bit of a musical game. I think chunking as used in both approaches has great potential in how it could be used for starter activities, or when its necessary to really break down a piece of music, and I don’t see any need to limit the approach to ‘kids music’ or vocal music, or to music in the WAM canon.

I found looking at Orff-Keetman Schulwerk intereresting as body percussion isn’t something that has ever really been my ‘thing’, but I think the way its used in Orff-Keetman is great, particularly when a song is gradually built up and all learning is done by ear and through copying – music is being made, taught, learnt, without the need for a score or anything. The way this can be used to create music with multiple parts and to grab students’ attention and interest stands out for me. I can see myself adopting elements of this, and I think the way we arranged Orff-style scores was particularly interesting – I love the idea of creating music which can be gradually built on as more layers or instruments are add, which is totally memorised by a whole class.

Another aspect of Kodály that I found interesting was the use of Curwen handsigns for solfege syllables. This is not something I had ever encountered before, and to be honest I’m not sure how likely I am to use them regularly in class, but its something I will keep in the back of my mind as I found the ability to show the link between the pitches being sung to a scale could be very useful both for teaching students about scales, intervals, solfege, etc. and mostly for easily teaching/learning new music.

I see great use in both methods, as well as flaws and ideas that just don’t suit my preferred teaching styles. One thing that I think should be considered is that while both approaches come from a more traditional Western sphere, they do not need to remain there. I think there is great potential in using both for teaching popular styles of music in particular (I’m thinking of simple 4 chord songs, blues patterns, etc.). A criticism that I have read of both is that there is no real room for students to improvise – I would not tend to totally agree and I think there is certainly a space for students to compose and improvise in hand-sign games and activities. However, I also don’t see why music that is learnt and made using Orff-Keetman Schulwerk or the Kodály method cannot incorporate or lead to improvisation – a repetitive Orff-Keetman ostinato with percussion seems like a perfect piece of music to improvise over and experiment with.

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

CRP (which is in many ways more of a philosophy than a pedagogy) is one of a number of ideas from this semester that I feel are interconnected when put into practice. What I mean by this is that as well as seeing CRP as its own thing, there is so much interplay between it and ideas of inclusion and equality, decolonisation of music education, teaching in ways that are actually relevant to the students in front of us. I also see ways for teaching like this to blend seamlessly with the implementation of pedagogy and strategies like informal learning, creative use of technology, and by taking a pluralist approach to music ed – I can even picture ways to teach in a culturally responsive manner using older pedagogies/methods such as Orff-Keetman Schulwerk and the Kodály Method – my thoughts on which I shall go into later. This is not a stand-alone idea, but one particular pedagogy that resonates with me and I wish to embrace as part of my own teaching practices.

In week 8 this semester Isabel, a past Sydney con music ed student (now a HS teacher) popped into our zoom call to share her research and experiences in CRP. Isabel wrote her honours thesis on CRP and provided an insight into some of her research and interviews, and how CRP has impacted on her own teaching practice. A definition of CRP provided to us by Isabel was: “Using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them [students]” (Gay, 2010, p. 31). Isabel raised some really significant ideas, especially when looking at some of the hidden complexities of CRP which I am going to try to reflect on (and make sense of my notes) here.

One thing that stood out for me is the importance of considering students as individuals and ignoring assumptions based on cultural background and ethnicity. Identity is an incredibly complex construct, and whether an individual take’s pride in or disengages with their cultural identity/ethnocultural heritage is influenced by a whole realm of external factors including other’s assumptions, discrimination, judgements, stereotyping, etc., or on a sense of safety and security, support, community, etc. An example given to us by Isabel was of a Pacific Islander student at a school with a large Islander population, many of whom had emigrated to Australia. This student was of the same background as many students, but felt discouraged from joining the school’s Pasifika Choir as they had grown up in Australia their whole life and could not connect with their cultural heritage in the same way as the students who were born on the Island.

Whilst it is empowering and important for students to have opportunities to engage with their backgrounds it is important to remember that not all students will feel that same connection, even those from similar circumstances or cultures. Some students may simply not be interested in their cultural identity, while for others this may be a defining feature in how they perceive their personal identity. Others may be open to participation in their own culture, but do not feel comfortable doing this in school environments, sometimes through an awareness that others could potentially make assumptions about them, or they could be ‘boxed in’ to their culture rather than treated as an individual.

Rather than making assumptions that students have strong connections to cultural identity, teachers should be creating opportunities for students to embrace culture and heritage when they choose to on their own terms. Teachers need to be learners and facilitators who listen and are receptive of students’ (I think this is especially valid for myself and many of us who are in a privileged position as middle-class white Australians) to create opportunities for cultural expression, learning, and the development of shared understandings between students and teachers, and wider school communities. It is essentially impossible to enact CRP without focussing on what students have to say and their needs and emotions. When a student has the freedom and support to connect with and express their culture they are able to have a sense of autonomy over their learning and expression and may even become more engaged in schooling as what happens at school becomes more relevant. There is also room for students to become role models and provide inspiration for other students who wish to express themselves culturally.

In all of this we must also remember that cultures are varied, dynamic, and always changing. They are often attached to particular expectations, attitudes, world-views, behaviours, assumptions, etc., but individual people may have unique experiences and views of their own ethnocultural heritage.

As music teachers we also need to recognise that we come from a different musical world to our students, and for many of us this includes conservatoire training that reflects musical interests and knowledge vastly different to that which is relevant to most students. At the same time, I do not think it should ever be forgotten that music may be a common ground and a means of expression and sharing across cultures, for exploring both commonalities and differences. Music from almost any culture and tradition is worth listening to, performing, studying, and celebrating, and when we include the music of students’ own worlds and their heritage in our teaching we are not just representing those present, but acknowledging that music is diverse and a part of every culture, not only Western popular or art music traditions.

And we’re back

Semester 2 has breathed some new life into this blog, which is now going to be a more general ePortfolio about all things music ed. (Yes I am doing this for an assignment, but I feel like this will be a really good way to reflect and document my thinking and learning if I can keep it up in the long-run.)

There have been many ideas this semester that have really resonated with me and what I strongly believe should be how music is taught – many of these have expanded on what I already felt and made me think critically and carefully about issues. Some examples of things where this happened are Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (CRP), discussion of “music that is relevant to the cultures children participate in” (Humberstone, Zhao, & Liu, 2020, p. 3), and reading and reflection on the hierarchy and inequality found in music institutions and curriculums.

I strongly believe that we are at a point in time where teachers can make a huge difference by embracing new ideas and pedagogies in music education in order to: A) Catch up to changes in music itself over the past few decades, whilst actually engaging students in relevant music; B) Attempt to address and oppose many problems with how music is taught in regards to the (lack of) representation of women, people of colour, lgbtq+ people, Indigenous cultures, and basically anyone else that isn’t a white man in curriculums/syllabi and the repertoire that is used in music education (And through teaching music like this there is so much room to educate children in a social manner to be compassionate and responsive to the needs of others, and to respect people from any cultures, genders, sexualities); C) Counteract problems present in how music has been taught by using fresh and relevant ideas – less focus on instruments of the orchestra and the concepts of music, more on actually involving as many students as possible in the creation and enjoyment of music; D) a whole bunch of other important and relevant things really – I don’t want to ramble on too much but these are just a few that really stand out. I see us young PSTs and young music teachers like us as teachers who can really reshape how music education looks in so many schools – I know of countless people who found music lessons in high school dry and stuffy with barely any actual music – the antithesis of everything I want to be as a teacher.


Humberstone, J., Zhao, C., & Liu, D. (2020). Nurturing Vulnerability to Develop Pedagogical Change Through MOOC Participation and Public Blogging. In J. L. Waldron, S. Horsley, & K. K. Veblen (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190660772.013.35

Final Reflection

Through this whole semester I’ve learnt so much about using technology in music education, and just as much about using it to make music! I’ve been really inspired by exploring things I thought I could never understand, and seeing the possibilities for using technology both in the classroom, and in my own music creation. The most dramatic realisation for me is that students have so much knowledge of technology nowadays, and devices all around us, so it would be incredibly foolish to ignore this when teaching. Music is also rapidly changing, and diverse styles of music are becoming more and more accessible to wider audiences due to social media, streaming services, increased internet access, globalisation, and a growing interest and understanding in the study of music from outside of the western art music canon.

In creating my creative project I wanted to learn something or make something that I could see being useful in the classroom, either through the creation of resources, or the development of my own skills. I never really planned to focus on using Ableton, but I had so much fun giving it a go, even when my skills in Ableton were appalling. I found it to be a program with a very steep learning curve, especially as I had previously thought it would be similar to most other DAWs. I have a decent understanding of Logic when it comes to recording and using live instruments, but I had no real knowledge of most of the production side of Ableton Live.

The idea that music can be recorded, written, and performed so easily all in one program is not something I’d ever been exposed to quite so much. I’ve always participated in music in ways that are either very group oriented (rock bands, school/uni ensembles, etc.) or focussed on solo performance. I think one of the reasons I loved experimenting with Ableton was that it places you in complete control of so much of the music, and allows a solo user to create full pieces of music without the need for other musicians. In this way it sounds like it could be a lonely endeavour, but there are so many possibilities for collaboration through music production, even if it’s as simple as sending a stem to someone else who incorporates it in their work or mixes it up. In this strange quarantine period I’ve had a great time being social with the way I learn and use Ableton, and the advice and tips from a number of people have been especially helpful and encouraging. (Big shout out to James for his teaching this semester, and for all the willingness and patience he had in going above and beyond to help me and other students with totally foreign bits of technology! I’d also like to give a shout out to a great mate who produces music under the name Flicker, I’ve had a lot of fun getting back into making music with him, and he’s taught me some great little tricks to use in Ableton.)

In a more educational and pedagogical way, I am so thankful that I’ve had this opportunity to learn music production skills and gain a level of understanding in electronic music that I previously lacked. I’ve always had a level of interest and respect for at least some electronic music (Daft Punk were so cool as a kid), but I’m now finding myself immersed so much deeper in the genre as a whole. Being able to learn about how electronic music is made through one great big semester of PBL has been invaluable, and I think it will be something that continues to be incredibly relevant once I am teaching. This relates back to the need to teach students music of their own world. As more and more people listen to and write electronic music, and music that mixes both live and technology-based instruments, it seems to me to be of huge importance that teachers are open to music that is made with, or incorporates technology, and that teachers attempt to understand this music. This is both so that relevant and current music can be taught in the classroom, and to be able to support students that are interested in the performance or composition of music made with tech. I certainly think that study of music in schools will definitely come to a point in the not too distant future where it is common to study music production in a focused way. I also believe that there is so much room for creativity when technology is involved, and it does not discriminate against students with less prior formal knowledge of music.

Understanding music technologies and incorporating them into the classroom seem so important to me for what Ethan Hein calls “expanding the idea of musicianship”. Music is such an important art-form for so many reasons, and as teachers I think it is incredibly important to share and inspire a love of music, along with an understanding that all styles of music may be valid, not just the traditionally studied western art music canon, or mainstream styles of western music. Study of electronic music has certainly shown to me just how complex it is – something I had certainly not dismissed, rather, something that had scared me away from ever attempting to create it!

For me, I’ve learnt so much about sound production, sound design, various methods of creating music with technology, and how electronic/technological music fits together. In reflection on what I’ve done in Ableton, I’ve learnt an incredible amount (compared to what I knew before) about samples, synths, writing for drums/percussion, structuring an electronic piece, layering, MIDI, effects (especially sidechained compression!), remixing, looping, the list just keeps going! I think that almost all of these skills will come in handy someday in the classroom. I have also been inspired to continue creating music in Ableton, and to see what I can come up with. I was so amazed that I could write something that actually resembles a proper electronic music track (not really sure of the genre to be honest), and how enjoyable it was to do despite the initial steep learning curve of Ableton Live. I will definitely purchase a copy of Ableton once the trial runs out so that I can continue learning and creating.

To me, this project has also been the perfect real-world example of the effectiveness of PBL. I have learnt so much through this whole semester, and I have something tangible to show for it, along with so much more knowledge than I thought I would have. It has been a challenging semester with Covid-19 restrictions in place and online learning, but this unit has been enjoyable the whole way through, and I think it has taught me some incredibly valuable things that I will use in my teaching and for fun.

I may possibly update this blog in the future as I continue creating music in Ableton – I am planning to revisit “Snow Day” after a short break, and turn it into a slightly more structured full length track. Either way, I am so glad that I created my project how I did, and that I had the opportunity to learn so much about technology in music education this semester.

Drums + Pads

Below are two short videos about how I used the drums and pads in my project. I’ve also added a third extra short snippet about the percussion track I made from Glass Animals samples.

In the drums video I meant to mention something about how much I realised drums really add to a song as I went through the process of learning Ableton and creating my project. I think this was especially clear to me when I added the kick to synth and bass parts I’d already written, and again when I added a second kick and could really see the importance of doubling and layering parts. The softer hi-hats at the beginning also really tied things together and drove what could have been quite a slow and boring intro with the way I layered and built up synth parts.

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