School Music Performance Programs and the Development of "Functional Musical Literacy": A Theoretical Model

October 1, 1981

I am proposing a theoretical model or an implicit theory where the framework of ideas presented requires subsequent systematic refinement and formulation of model elements. In some respects this model is characterized as a conceptual model in that the various relationships between the entities of a given structure or concept are described.1

Theoretical models may be built inductively or deductively. They may arise either as the result of accumulated microlevel experimental evidence or derive from macrolevel philosophical thinking. Thus they may be generated by experimentation and/or may generate experimentation subsequently. This study represents an example of a macrolevel deductive approach.

If music education is conceived as aesthetic education in music—a view widely held among music educators—we are committed to important consequences, some of which have not been thought through critically.2 A central issue involves the description of the specific objectives in purview. For example: Is there a minimal "functional" level of musical literacy which should constitute an objective of music education? How is such an objective to be achieved? What for example is the appropriate role of performance-based programs in achieving "functional musical literacy?"3

The National Commission on Instruction has implicitly addressed the question of musical literacy in its report entitled: The School Music Program: Description and Standards.4 It identifies the ability to "use the vocabulary and notation of music" as one of the ten characteristics of the "musically educated person."5 Much of the theoretical base underlying the formulation of these objectives is implicit. Furthermore the objectives of the curricula are stated in general terms and the question of appropriate specific levels of competency is not answered.

The objective of the present study was the development of a theoretical model which would provide a framework for the subsequent formulation of specific objectives for music education and which would address issues which had heretofore been implicit, as for example the relationship of school music performance programs and the development of musical literacy.



The analysis is based on two assumptions6 as follows:

(a) Music education is appropriately described as aesthetic education7 in music;

(b) The objective of aesthetic education in music is the development of "musicianship."

While the notion of music education as aesthetic education has been generally accepted by music educators (following the formulation of Susanne Langer among others) there has been considerable disagreement as to the appropriate description of the aesthetic experience and therefore of aesthetic education.8 Bennett Reimer has extended Langer's notion of aesthetic education as the "education of feeling," emphasizing the emotional (and intuitive) elements of the aesthetic experience.9 Some have emphasized the intellectual elements of the aesthetic experience.10 Others have viewed the aesthetic experience as necessarily eclectic, i.e. containing both emotional and intellectual elements.11

A failure to analyze critically and to designate the elements of the aesthetic experience within a theoretical framework in music education has resulted in ambiguity in specification of the precise objectives of aesthetic education in music and the appropriate descriptors to be employed.12

In a recent theoretical analysis of the aesthetic experience and its appropriate description within the context of music education, musicianship was identified as the objective of aesthetic education in music.13 The formulation in which this objective was stated represents a synthesis of elements of Langer's philosophy, together with subsequent adaptations and refinements by the author and a macrosociocultural perspective proposed by Professors Sorokin and Zentner.14 Several propositions respecting the nature of the aesthetic experience of music which were derived in this analysis may be summarized as follows:15

1. The musical event occupies actual time, virtual or psychologically perceived time (after Langer) and social time (after Sorokin-Zentner). It also occupies actual space, virtual or psychologically perceived space (after Langer) and social space (after Sorokin-Zentner). Here the Langerian analysis has been extended to include the dimensions of social time and space thus giving added prominence to the dimension of space in the musical event and resulting in a necessarily "relative" analysis of musical events.

2. The quality of the musical symbol is maximized at that point where the interplay between actual and virtual time during the musical event is minimized (after Langer). This minimal value approaches zero. Presumably it provides a criterion by which judgments respecting the quality of a given piece of music may be evaluated. It assumes that the composer for example has combined the elements of his piece such that the symbol derives an "illusion," a "separateness" from actual clock time for the listener.

3. Changes over time and space affect the perception of the quality of a given musical symbol. For example a given musical event may be perceived differently over time by virtue of altered "rules" of composition and performance practice among others. Here quality judgments are assumed to be essentially both subjective and relative.

4. Any judgment in quality of a given piece of music at any given time must take into account both the formal structure and the function of that music.

5. The aesthetic experience is a variable one. Generally there is an interplay between affective and intellectual responses but the degree of this interplay will vary widely as a function of the musical symbol itself.

6. "Appreciation" (defined as the quality of aesthetic responsiveness) at any given time varies as a function of an individual's musical aptitude, intelligence level, acquired taste in musical preference, understanding of the music and psycho-physical state before listening to the music, the environment in which the musical event occurs, and the music itself among other factors.

7. Aesthetic responsiveness to music varies over time and is a relative and subjective phenomenon.

8. "Musicianship" comprises two elements: "appreciation" (defined above); and a factor X (representing the ability to transmit or communicate this inner responsiveness to music).

A number of implications follow from the foregoing propositions as follows:

1. The analysis is a relative one; variables are subject to changes in precise detail through time and space.

2. The aesthetic experience involves an integral, albeit variable intellectual component. It involves a cognitive response (either intuitive, rational or both) which presumably must also be educated.

3. The music educator may influence change in only some of the several variables which theoretically affect appreciation.

4. Active performance or communication (factor X) of the inner sensitivity to music (appreciation) is an integral element of music education (the goal being musicianship as defined above).

5. The analysis presumably translates at a variety of casual nexi or integrative levels of analysis thus enabling its use at the psycho-physical, institutional, societal or historical levels.16

Having examined the assumptions on which the analysis is based, we now turn to a model of "functional musical literacy." This model addresses the nature of the cognitive element of the aesthetic response to music.



A conceptual model of functional musical literacy is shown in Figure 1.


Fig. 1. A Conceptual Model of 'Functional Musical Literacy' Through Performance-Based School Music Programs



"Musical literacy" is defined as that minimal level of musical skills which enables an individual to function with musical materials. Specifically the term refers to the intellectual or cognitive as opposed to the emotional or affective elements of appreciation.

One may identify two polarities in respect of the intellectual component: skills in the aural perception of music and rational understanding of musical elements. Aural skills involve the ability to sight-sing or play musical materials, the ability to detect the variety and nuances of musical elements, for example form analysis, pitch, rhythmic, dynamic and timbral perception. A variety of extant pedagogical methods are based upon the assumption that the development of aural skills or "inner hearing" constitute fundamental elements in the music education process.17

Cognitive or rational understanding of musical materials may be viewed structurally, i.e. approached through an analysis of the elements of music from the perspective of a given time and place, or historically, i.e. approached through an analysis of aesthetic and ethic as applied within music over changing time and space. The Manhattanville Music Curriculum Project is an example of a structural approach to musical pedagogy.18 Examples of historical approaches can be found in a variety of musical performance materials prepared for music education purposes, such as the Choral Sounds series by Buryl Red.19 Zentner has identified several principal dimensions characterizing all typification schema within the social realm, notably time, space, number, causation, ethic and aesthetic.20 His analysis can be applied in the description of structural and historical approaches to the cognitive understanding of music, represented as logical opposites, polarities, or theoretical types. These constitute paradigms or "world views," ways by which a cognitive or intellectual understanding of music may be achieved.21 Figure 2 summarizes the principal features of structural and historical paradigms.


Fig. 2. A Comparison of Structural and Historical Paradigms

Dimension Structural

Time Fixed Perspective Relative Perspective
Space Fixed Perspective Relative Perspective
Number Absolute Values Relative Values
Causation Psycho-physical integrative level of analysis Historical integrative level of analysis
Ethic Fixed Perspective Relative Perspective
Aesthetic Fixed Perspective Relative Perspective


The structural view presumes a given and fixed time and space, absolute number values by which musical elements may be accurately described, an emphasis on microlevel problems of causation principally at the psychophysical integrative level of analysis, viz. psychological perception of music, a fixed ethical perspective, and a given or fixed aesthetic. On the other hand the historical view presumes a variable time and space, relative numerical valuation, an emphasis on macrolevel problems of causation principally at the historical integrative level of analysis, a variable ethical perspective, and a variable or relative aesthetic perspective. In terms of emphasis, structural approaches focus on microlevel questions of time, space and number, whereas historical approaches emphasize macro-level questions of ethic and aesthetic. As such they are useful complements for each other.

A typology of musical skills to be considered within the purview of musical literacy having been discussed, the central question remaining is the problem of measurement: the estimation of that minimal level of "skills" or knowledge necessary for the presumption of musical literacy. Music educators have been in the habit of assembling committees of so-called "experts" in a given area and letting them decide what standards will be acceptable. The School Music Program: Description and Standards is one such example.22 Such an approach does not come to grips with central theoretical questions. Rather it simply pools the opinions of those presently in the field. It constitutes a pragmatic rather than a theoretical approach.

I have approached this problem of standards in a tentative way elsewhere.23 One of the difficulties lies not only in the determination of which standards will be acceptable, agreement on which has been found to be variable over time, but the problem of a metric by which the degree of variation from these standards may be measured.24 Certainly the structure and function of a given piece of music, the aesthetic at a given time or place must be taken into account in the formulation of standards. These are absolute considerations which ought to have concomitant absolute evaluative measures. They must be taken into account along with the variety of relative considerations, for example questions of emphasis on given musical periods, evaluation of performance quality among others, which presumably will have associated relative evaluative measures.

Given that a combination of absolute and relative measures can be devised and suitable metrics developed, it should then be theoretically possible to define that point of minimal musical skills at which an individual may be said to function with musical materials and to obtain by a judicious choice of instrument(s) at least an index of performance relative to functional musical literacy.



Figure 1 summarizes five types of performance-based programs as follows: historically-oriented, structurally-oriented, aurally-oriented, technically-oriented and extramusically-oriented. These will now be discussed in turn.

Historically-oriented programs focus on selected programmed literature for performance. Repertoire considerations and the preparation of this repertoire for performance are preeminent. Considerable time is spent discussing the selected literature and performance practice from an historical perspective and in preparing that literature for performance.

Structurally-oriented programs focus on structural and theoretical aspects of music. An understanding of the theoretical elements of music to be performed is a preeminent concern. Considerable time is spent in theory and in analysis of musical materials.

Aurally-oriented programs focus on the development of aural skills, for example sight-singing or playing, dictation and related activities. The development of "inner hearing" is an important consideration. Considerable time is spent in sight-singing exercises, (solfège or sol-fa), dictation in one or more parts, physical movement to music (e.g. Jaques-Dalcroze type exercises), and improvisatory activities of various kinds.

Technically-oriented programs focus on the various instrumental techniques. Considerable attention is given to the development of technical skills of the various instrumental groups (woodwind, brass, percussion, strings and vocal). The development of the tone within the ensemble is a preeminent consideration together with the development of technical proficiency and virtuosity.

Extramusically-oriented programs focus on the variety of auxiliary activities associated with the performance act. Such programs have a heavy emphasis on showmanship, stressing marching techniques, choreographed choral performances, baton twirling, musical shows, cabarets and the like. Considerable attention is given to the development of the variety of disciplines necessitated, for example practice of marching drills, rehearsal of choreographed works and baton twirling among others.

Each performance focus has a contribution to make and provides a useful complement to the others. Theoretically it should be possible to optimize the combination of foci so as to maximize musicianship (represented in Figure 1 by the elements of appreciation and factor X). It should be noted that factor X is composed of two elements: discursive expression and non-discursive expression (performance-based programs). The discursive expression element has been discussed elsewhere.25

Of particular interest in the present case is the theoretical relationship between historically-oriented performance programs, which presumably should relate directly to the historical approach to a rational understanding of music; structurally-oriented performance programs, which should relate directly to the structural approach to a rational understanding of music; and structurally-oriented performance programs, which should relate directly to aural perception of music. If we posit that both aural perception and rational understanding of music are components of musical literacy and if we also posit that the various foci of musical performance programs should be combined in some optimal fashion, then at least three performance foci relate directly to the development of musical literacy. These relationships are shown schematically in Figure 1.



Given the above model, what are its implications for musical pedagogy? First, there are theoretical and experimental implications. Considerable research needs to be done, for example in defining musical literacy, in formulating precise standards, developing appropriate measurements for its evaluation and determining the required time-space requirements to enable its achievement. Furthermore the measures developed require experimental validation. In particular the optimal combination of model elements which will maximize musicianship (see Figure 1) should be determined.

Second, given that the prime time for learning to name sounds and therefore the best time to teach musical literacy may have passed by the age of 12 (as Arnold Bentley suggests), there are important implications in the allocation of resources within school music.26 Take for example the distribution of music specialists within elementary and secondary schools. In a recent survey of music supervisors in Canada, while regional differences were indicated, a greater concentration of music specialists was found at the secondary than at the elementary school level in the country as a whole.27 The present model would imply that we concentrate teaching resources at the elementary rather than at the secondary school level, which would involve reversing the present ratios.

Similarly in terms of time allocation in music classes per week across Canada, time in music classes per week at the elementary school level is typically less than that in secondary school music classes. Research into the optimal time allocation for elementary and secondary school music programs is needed.

Also in terms of capital equipment allocation, it is to be expected that instrumental and equipment purchases and maintenance will be adequate to facilitate the development of musical literacy at the elementary school level. Research into the optimal breakdown of capital equipment allocation as between elementary and secondary school music programs is warranted.

Third, there are important implications for the music curriculum in the elementary school. Practically speaking, such a model would translate into a performance-based program with both an instrumental (possibly string) and vocal component. Additional supportive elements would be comprised of those activities relating specifically to the development of an emotional "feeling" for music expressed in such methods as Dalcroze, Orff, and Kodály. I have seen an interesting example of such a curriculum at L'Ecole le Plateau in Montréal, a program currently in its experimental phase and administered under the auspices of the Commission des Ecoles Catholiques de Montréal.

Fourth, the model has important implications for the administration of school music. Jaques-Dalcroze suggested in an essay written in 1905:

Making music a compulsory school subject is the only sure means of mobilising the vital musical forces of a country. Were it undertaken in the right spirit, efficiently organised and confided to intelligent and competent teachers, every child would at the end of two or three years be put to the test: those who showed talent being enabled to continue their studies to the point of attaining the maximum development of their facilities, the remainder, those devoid of all musical taste, being relieved from the burden of lessons of no value to them, and thereby conferring an almost equal benefit on the art, in being debarred from meddling with it, and clogging its progress with ridiculous pretensions.28

What is interesting about his theory is that it speaks to the problem of music education as a right or as a privilege. Music educators have not come to grips with the issue of the point at which music education should appropriately cease to be the right of all and should become a privilege available only to those who desire it and who are musically apt or competent enough to derive benefit from further serious musical instruction. Presumably the formulation of an operational definition of "functional musical literacy" together with the development of concomitant instruments to evaluate its attainment would be of considerable utility in determining that point at which music education ceases to be a right and becomes a privilege.

A more problematic question is that of the appropriate institution in which such musical education should be available. Can the type of musical program envisioned in this model best be accomplished through conservatories, community music schools, "private" studio instruction, on either an individual or group basis, by professional music teachers, or is it best approached within the school system? Certainly this question needs serious study.

1An analysis and interpretation of the common uses of the term model specifically in educational theory is explicated in D.A. MacIver and E.A. Holdaway, "An Analysis of the Use of Models in Education," Alberta Journal of Educational Research 12 (1966), 163-187.

2For a philosophy of music education as aesthetic education in music and a description of some of the curricular implications of such a conceptualization see Bennett Reimer, A Philosophy of Music Education (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1970).

3The conclusion that school music supervisors in Canada perceive musical illiteracy among school students in their jurisdictions as a problem is supported in the findings of a national survey of school music supervision described in Estelle R. Jorgensen, "Selected Indexes of the Academic and Professional Preparation of Music Supervisors in Canada," Journal of Research in Music Education 28 (1980), 92-102; Estelle R. Jorgensen, "The Scope and Nature of the School Music Supervisor Role in Canada," The Canadian Music Educator 21, No. 2 (Winter 1980), 14-21.

4Music Educators National Conference, The School Music Program: Description and Standards (Reston: Music Educators National Conference, 1974).

5Ibid., p. 4.

6For a discussion of the basis for these assumptions see Estelle R. Jorgensen, A Critical Analysis of Selected Aspects of Music Education (Calgary: Department of Educational Administration, University of Calgary, 1977), pp. 50-100.

7The possibility of legitimate extra-aesthetic values in music education is suggested in Philip Vos Fellman, "Constructing a Philosophical Paradigm for Music Education," Journal of Aesthetic Education 14, No. 3 (July 1980), 39.

8An explication of Langer's philosophy of the aesthetic experience of music may be found in Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite and Art (New York: Penguin, 1948); Susanne K. Langer, Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art (New York: Scribner, 1953). Analyses of the implications of her philosophy for music education include studies by Ralph E. Wade, "Susanne K. Langer's Musical Aesthetics with Implications for Music Education" (Dissertation, Indiana University, 1965); Floyd B. Chrominster, "The Practical Significance of Susanne Langer's View on the Emotion-Intellect Dilemma in Music EducationA Philosophical Analysis and Appraisal" (Dissertation, University of Kansas, 1969).

9Reimer, pp. 28-41.

10See J. Hanshumaker, "On Reimer's Philosophy of Music Education," The Journal of Aesthetic Education 7 (1973), 90-100; L.A. Reid, "On Reimer's Philosophy of Music Education," The Journal of Aesthetic Education 7 (1973), 10-20; Abraham A. Schwadron, "Structural Meaning and Music Education," The Journal of Aesthetic Education 3 (1969), 109-122.

11See Philip E. Vernon, "The Psychology of Music with Especial Reference to its Appreciation, Perception and Composition" (Dissertation, Cambridge University, 1931), quoted in Rosamund Shuter, The Psychology of Musical Ability (London: Methuen, 1968), p. 223.

12The problem of underconceptualization in the field of music education is noted in Fellman, p. 37.

13Jorgensen, A Critical Analysis, pp. 90-96.

14Henry Zentner, "Sorokin's Analysis of Time and Space," Sorokin and Sociology: Essays in Honour of Professor Pitirim Sorokin, ed. G.C. Hallen and R. Prasad (Moti Katra, Agra, India: Satish, 1972).

15See Jorgensen, A Critical Analysis, pp. 50-100.

16For the argument that social systems are organized in hierarchical fashion in levels of increasing complexity similar to those in nature, termed "integrative levels" (because each level organizes that below it and is in turn integrated within successively higher levels) see Alastair Taylor, "Systems Approach to the Political Organization of Space," Social Science Information, International Social Science Council, 14 (1975), 7-40.

17Two examples may be cited: Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, Rhythm, Music and Education (New York: Blom, 1972), consisting of essays dated between 1898 and 1919; and Zoltán Kodály, The Selected Writings of Zoltán Kodály (New York: Boosey and Hawkes, 1974), including essays on music education dated between 1929 and 1966.

18R.B. Thomas, ed., MMCP Synthesis: A Structure for Music Education (Elnora, New York: Media Inc., 1970).

19Buryl A. Red, Choral Sounds (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973).

20An illustrative use of these types in an analysis of the problems of curricular planning for socio-cultural development may be seen in Henry Zentner, "Curricular Planning for Socio-cultural Change and Development: A Critique," The Journal of Educational Thought 13 (1979), 170-196.

21For a typical usage of the term "paradigm" in sociology, see T.S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977); Andrew Effrat, "Power to the Paradigms," Sociological Inquiry 42 (1972), 6-12.

22MENC, The School Music Program, pp. vii, viii.

23Estelle R. Jorgensen, "On Excellence in Music Education," McGill Journal of Education 15 (1980), 94-104.

24The question of the variability of agreement on standards over time has been discussed in Pitirim Sorokin, Social and Cultural Dynamics, I (New York: Bedminster, 1937); Zentner, "Sorokin's Analysis of Time and Space."

25Jorgensen, A Critical Analysis, p. 94.

26Shuter, p. 106.

27Jorgensen, "The Scope and Nature of the School Music Supervisor Role in Canada," p. 19.

28Jaques-Dalcroze, p. 16.

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