Building Bridges: Same and Different Issues Across Music Theory, Music History, and Music Education

October 1, 2009

Introduction—Betty Anne Younker

The examination of pedagogy requires an investigation into principles of learning. One obvious starting point would be to explore the literature of educational psychology and the psychology of music teaching and learning, with a focus on learning theories, cognition and perception. This literature contributes to our understanding about learning and how environments can be shaped for learning to occur and understanding to be solidified. While aspects of “how we learn,” and thus pedagogy, are applicable across disciplines, some considerations can be discipline specific. Examining and discussing the generalities and discipline-specific aspects of learning can enrich dialogue within schools of music as issues about curriculum, pedagogy, and transfer of learning across the disciplines occur. Such potentially rich dialogue requires those who teach to reflect on and assess issues that affect students’ learning. We have a responsibility to promote such dialogue as we strive to improve upon our learning and teaching so that our environments can be cultivated and enriched. This essay consists of reflections of music faculty who think deeply about such issues and offer principles of learning and pedagogical considerations within each of their fields, specifically music theory, musicology (music history), and music education. They shared their thoughts in a panel at the National Meeting of CM in 2007 and addressed the following topics:

  1. Karen Fournier: “Utilization of learning principles and the impact on pedagogy in a music theory class”
  2. Julie Evans: “Utilization of learning principles and the impact on pedagogy in an aural skills class”
  3. Mark Clague: “Utilization of learning principles and the impact on pedagogy in a musicology class”
  4. Maud Hickey: Response, “Identification of similar and different issues and critical issues related to pedagogy”


The view from music theory—Karen Fournier

In his recent challenge to instructors of music theory to “encourage debate and alternate readings in the undergraduate music theory class,” Matthew Bribitzer-Stull takes a moment to think upon the role played by music theory in the undergraduate musical curriculum.1 Reflecting on a question that we hear all too often from our students—“why do I have to do this stuff?”—Brubitzer-Stull suggests that theory’s undeserved bad reputation among many undergraduates as (in his terms) “objective, mathematical, and [therefore] uncreative” often arises from their sense that theory is somehow detached from the kinds ofmusical experiences they that enjoy elsewhere—particularly in such “creative” environments as the instrumental or vocal studio, the choir or orchestra, or the composition class. In contrast to the seemingly “empirical” and “data-driven” theory class, even the musicology lecture might seem more inspirational to students because it appears to encourage them to actively construct associations between musical works from their aural experiences of those works in the present and/or from their understanding of the historical and cultural framework in which works were composed. Music theory, whose aim seems to Bribitzer-Stull to be “to articulate explanatory models for various kinds of music” from such seemingly objective “data” as motives and themes or elements of form, might appear to our students somehow detached from the act of performing, composing, and listening to this “data.”2 The (mis)perception of theory as something that offers an “objective” way to look at music as a kind of “fly on the wall” implies a disconnection with the music that most students would likely find uncomfortable, given the intensity of the relationships that they forge with music in other aspects of their careers. This apparent objectivity is, I think, the source of much of the anxiety that surrounds music theory in the undergraduate realm. However, both Bribitzer-Stull and I (and many others who teach theory) also think that the notion of our discipline as a data-driven, quasi-mathematical, scientific, and therefore “uncreative” pursuit is a myth that can be exploded very easily by drawing parallels between music theory and musical practices that are indisputably “creative.” Or, to put it another way, by stressing that our theoretical knowledge about music must necessarily draw upon our experiences as performers, composers, listeners, music historians, and educators, and that this knowledge, in turn, helps to explain and to enhance those experiences.

Although his article is intended primarily to advocate dialogue (both among students and between students and their professor) within the music theory classroom, Bribitzer-Stull offers an interesting insight into the goals of music theoretic instruction. He suggests that our ultimate objective as theory instructors should be to develop strong analytical skills so that the undergraduate musicians in our classes can understand “how pieces work.” He maintains that:

Good analytic skills are one of the best tools we, as teachers, can impart to the future music scholars in our classes. Perhaps more importantly, though, these same skills—skills that require the ability to weigh different alternatives and to present effective arguments—are of great value to all students, the majority of whom, it goes without saying, will not go on the make a living in music theory.3

His argument makes little differentiation between the kinds of activities that we make our students perform in the theory classroom—that is to say, between part-writing, aural reproduction, harmonic and formal analysis—and is premised on the assumption that all of these activities should ultimately point towards the development of musical analysis. In this way, Bribitzer-Stull contends, music theory becomes the conduit through which students deepen their understanding of their own repertoire through analysis, and the promise that theory provides the path towards musical understanding can be used as a motivator for undergraduate students who might otherwise be skeptical of the value of music theory. It provides, in other words, a simple answer to the question of “why do I have to do this stuff?”

The concept of “motivation” in the theory classroom has been explored by Elizabeth West Marvin, who suggests that “students learn better when motivated by their own intrinsic interest in a subject, rather than by external systems of rewards and punishments.”4 Marvin argues that the typical music student, whose university studies are predated by years of preparatory lessons, recitals, rehearsals, competitions, and so on, already displays what she describes as an “intrinsic interest” in music—that is, an innate curiosity about this particular subject that has driven them on the quest to understand how to create (or to recreate) music through performance. As instructors of music theory, then, we need to tap this curiosity and to demonstrate where the analytical skills that we aim to develop in the classroom will fit into their lives as creative musicians.

Thus far, my discussion has focused exclusively on the pedagogical challenges faced by music theory instructors, but has not offered any comments about the kinds of obstacles (both similar and different) that are faced by colleagues who teach in the other sub-disciplines that comprise the discipline of music. Since I am neither a musicologist nor a specialist in music education, any comments that I might make about the pedagogical challenges that face those who teach in those areas can only be speculative, so I will leave such observations to my counterparts in those areas. I will, however, seize upon the fruitful idea of “building bridges across disciplines,” the central concept of this panel, not only as a way to fend off some of the pre- (and mis-)conceptions that students bring into the theory classroom but, and perhaps more importantly, as a way to position theory instruction at the core of musical education. In the time that remains, then, I would like to suggest ways that analysis, as an important facet of theory instruction, might be used to motivate students whose major concentrations lie in areas other than music theory. (We assume that the few theory majors that we encounter in the course of each year come already-motivated to pursue the subject.) My discussion will address not only bridge-building between music theory, history and education, but will also suggest ways to build bridges to a body of students who, in most music programs, comprise the bulk our classes—specifically, performance majors.

In many music programs, performance majors tend to predominate in the theory classroom, and the question for this component of the class has always tended to be “how does this stuff apply to my studio lessons?” I have already suggested that for these students, the apparent fixation of music theory on “right or wrong” answers (an incorrect impression, in my view, that arises from such seemingly rule-driven activities as voice-leading or the analysis of tonal forms) stands in opposition to the subjective engagement with music that we seem to encourage in performers. As Marvin has suggested, these students are often highly motivated, but are frequently irked by demands placed on valuable practice time by activities that seem not only opposed to, but also irrelevant to, the creative pursuit of excellence on their respective instruments. The question, then, becomes how to motivate these students to engage with theory as a complement to their performance studies, rather than as a time-sink that eats into their practice time. As Bribitzer-Stull suggests, the best way to foster this type of motivation is through analysis—specifically, I suggest that this is achieved most effectively from the analysis of short examples (in freshman theory) or complete works (in sophomore theory) taken from the repertoire of those students who comprise a class in any given semester. This, of course, places some demand on theory instructors, since it requires us to adapt each semester to a new population of performers (and to the ever-changing repertoire that they bring to bear on the class). But the payoff far outweighs the demand. Students are, in my experience, thrilled to share their music with their peers, excited to discover concrete examples of abstract theoretical concepts “hiding” in their repertoire, and tend to feel inspired to hunt for further examples of these concepts. Over the years, I have asked students to bring their favorite recordings of pieces that they bring into the class for our study or, if they feel prepared to do so, to perform short illustrations (or the complete works) for the class. Most students opt for the latter. While student performances within the theory class help to provide context for concepts encountered during the semester, the act of performance (and of watching performances) in class also forges a tangible link between music theory and performance. This link can be strengthened by attendance at local concerts, so that another way to motivate students in the theory classroom is to prepare an analysis of an upcoming performance, and to attend that performance as a class. In 2007 Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire became the touchstone work for a variety of concepts that I introduced and explored in a senior course on twentieth-century analysis, and when we attended a performance of the piece towards the end of the semester, the students remarked almost without exception how their appreciation of the piece was enhanced by their prior analysis of the score.

When connections between performance and music theory are drawn in the manner described, above, it is important to ensure that the historical component of music is not overlooked in the theory classroom. The mistaken notion of theory as “objective” or “data-driven” can arise when theory instructors appear to be fixated on the score at the expense of the historical and cultural backdrop against which the music was written and received. To bridge the gap that often occurs between undergraduate classes in music theory and musicology, we could imagine a hypothetical curriculum that would place these courses in lock-step, with species counterpoint taught alongside sixteenth-century music history or chromaticism and the German lied repertoire taught simultaneously. But concepts associated with music theory rarely tend to proceed chronologically in the same way, and the same pace, as they do in musicology—so how do we, as music theorists, build a bridge to music history? How, in other words, do we motivate our students with the promise that music theory will help them to understand musicology, and vice versa? It seems to me that the answer is obvious. The theory class should always strive to draw examples from established musical repertoire and must always emphasize that each musical work that we encounter in theory class has a specific historical and cultural origin. For this purpose, I tend to mine the students’ musicology texts for examples to use in my theory classes, so that I can establish a clear link between theory (as practice) and musicology (as practice embedded in history). This is not always possible, however, as we often encounter concepts in music theory that might have better illustrations than those on offer in the musicology text. Regardless of where we find them, I think that each music example should be provided with some historical context—for example, a brief discussion of the composer, a sense of who the composer’s contemporaries were, speculations about compositions choices, comparisons to other pieces of the same period or of the same type, and so on. While it may not be the purpose of theory class to discuss the historical origins of each piece in detail, I do think that it is important to provide some context for the pieces that we analyze, even if our analysis spans only a few measures.

Another important constituency of students that we tend to encounter in our classes are future music educators who, as budding high-school band, orchestra, and choir directors, will teach music theory as a part of their careers. As with the performance and musicology majors who comprise our classes, music educators bring a host of specific questions to the theory classroom that we, as university theory instructors, should strive to answer. Specifically, these students are concerned about pedagogical issues. They want to know, for example, how to construct a viable theory curriculum for their students, how to make seemingly abstract theoretical concepts workable in their classrooms, and how to connect music theory to music making. As university instructors, we share those concerns and can present answers to these questions through our own pedagogical behaviors. If our aims and objectives are clearly delineated in the syllabi that we provide to our students, our curricula can serve as potential models for others who seek to teach music theory. If our explanations and illustrations of theoretical concepts are clear, our method of presenting these concepts can be imitated and adapted by the future teachers that we teach. Similarly, the kinds of exercises that we provide to our students to reinforce what we present in the classroom should also aim to serve as examples for aspiring teachers of what constitutes “practice” in music theory. To appeal to well-worn, but apt, phraseology, we lead by example and can therefore motivate those students whose interests lie in theory pedagogy with strong teaching that they can emulate in their own classrooms.

In the preceding discussion, I have outlined some preliminary strategies that we, as music theory pedagogues, can use to motivate students to engage with music theory as a component of their creative musicianship. Part of this motivation comes, as my discussion has suggested, from our attempts to demystify music theory in the classroom, and to provide a context for theory that reaches beyond the part-writing and analytical skills that we seek to develop and perfect in the theory classroom. I would like to conclude my remarks with the suggestion that we, as professors whose experience with music far exceeds that of our students, have already built bridges across the disciplines in our own work—as a music theorist, for example, my work relies heavily upon my understanding of how works are performed, the historical and cultural background that lies behind the works that I examine, and how articles and analyses can serve as instructional tools for those who seek to understand musical meaning. In our roles as music scholars, we already embody inter-disciplinarity because the questions that many of us seek to answer force us to reach beyond the limits of our own sub-disciplines. It seems to me, then, that the logical step would be to instill these practices in our students as soon as they commence their studies, rather than to hope that students will posit their own connections between music theory and the courses that they take from our colleagues in the other sub-disciplines that comprise the field of “music.” Such connections will go a long way towards answering the nagging question “why do I have to do this stuff?” because “this stuff” will become central to each student’s quest to understand what music can mean from their respective disciplinary interests in performance, music history, and music education.


A View from Aural Skills Classes—Julie Evans

Each academic year I begin by asking myself:

  1. How can I connect with my aural skills students this semester?
  2. Am I willing to continue to make the effort to address different learning styles among my students?
  3. How can I most effectively address the preconceptions that most of my first year students will have about aural skills?
  4. Will I effectively help them to take ownership of their learning process?
  5. Do I have the courage to keep taking risks in my teaching?

Just mentioning the words “aural skills” to most students will elicit a response that borders on severe anxiety and a profound fear of failure. I dare say that of all the courses a music student will take, aural skills will uncover the most fundamental inadequacies in students’ training and abilities that could seriously impact their future in the field of music. On the other hand, reaching a high level of proficiency in aural skills will positively affect every part of their musical life. To address my never-ending questions about my teaching and create a positive environment for my students, I sought and found reinforcement in the following books and articles. I would like to share a few of these findings and follow up with my own observations.

Jerome Bruner continues to inspire me to look closely at the issues of taking risks (for both teacher and student), presenting material with excitement and energy, and empowering students to take more responsibility for their own learning processes.5 He eloquently writes about teachers as models who need to ”see” the beauty and value of the subject in order to ignite excitement in the student and motivate the learner to learn. To meet my standards, each aural skills class meeting must be energized. I get them up out of their seats to add a kinesthetic component to some of our exercises. We play games to reinforce the material and I spend time explaining the relevance of the skills we are developing and refining. On the subject of risk-taking, Bruner reminds us of the necessary “teacher” attribution of being a risk taker if we expect the student to take risks; thus the importance of doing what is expected is critical.

My students like the fact that I am a violinist, not a vocalist. All in fun, of course, they laugh at those moments when the register of a melody is just a little too high for me and I do not think about dropping it down an octave before I started. I take advantage of those lighter moments. At different stages of our development, there are times when I will ask a student to play a melody for me to dictate for dictation. I will ask another student in the class to offer strategies for me to use. I will do my work at the blackboard. If one approach does not work as well for me, I will ask the class for different strategies. And as I am working at the board, I will verbalize everything, for example where I hear what I call anchor pitches (the pitches of the tonic arpeggio), or rhythmic patterns. If I get stuck, my students will prompt me with ideas. The benefits of this are obvious. My students know from the start that I will roll up my sleeves and stand right beside them.

Bruner also discusses the importance of the student understanding his/her own process of learning to the point that the “meta” level of awareness when examining thought processes and learning is critical. The role of the teacher to guide the student to this level is necessary if the student is indeed to understand learning and transfer that understanding to new environments.

A report published in 1999 by National Research Council provides a broad overview of their key findings about how learners learn and how teachers teach.6 Although many insights were revealed in this report, three areas of focus about the learner had strong implications for how we teach: (1) the student’s preconceptions of course material; (2) the student’s development of a strong foundation of knowledge, strategies. and ways to retrieve and apply what they have learned; and (3) the student taking control of his/her own learning. The last of these resonates with Bruner’s thinking.

In an aural skills class, preconceptions are abundant! Some think the class will be boring and focus on material that will be useless outside the classroom. Others are scared of the curriculum—they believe they will never be able to improve their sight-reading and that dictation is hopeless. Some believe still that if you are not born being able to sight-read or do any of the other aural skills, then you cannot learn it. It is important to acknowledge all of these preconceptions, encourage the student to challenge them, and perhaps replace them at some point once they have gained a new perspective on the material and developed strong skills.

In reference to the second point, more experienced students with a deeper understanding of the course material are able to see, for example, pitch or rhythmic patterns and relationships that less experienced students will miss. Through repetition and varied approaches to learning concepts, the novice student will be able to retrieve and apply skills in a variety of contexts. I strongly believe that if a student continues to struggle with concepts or the ability to retrieve information, it is imperative to return to what I call a students’ comfort zone—the place in their training where they feel strong and confident, and rebuild again from that point. Taking responsibility for one’s own learning will always result in greater confidence and independence. I encourage students to openly discuss strategies frequently during class time so they are able to prompt themselves and monitor their own progress.

I was fascinated with the findings in an article by Dave Knowlton in which he focuses on the contradiction between the need to develop aural skills primarily internally (developing inner hearing) and the idea that in order to avoid cognitive overload and learn these skills well, a student must manipulate the material externally. He discusses in detail that the brain’s capacity is quite limited and “cannot hold large amounts of information in [its] working memory and focus on that information all at one time.”7 This has serious implications for the study of aural skills! If I can think of a single term that describes aural skills, it would be multi-tasking! My first question, then, is: when does a student experience cognitive overload? Clearly it is different with every student. At what point is a student’s ability to focus compromised if given too much material to process? How do we know how much is too much? How far can we push them before we lose them? For the novice aural skills student, this certainly explains why they become so overwhelmed so quickly. Again, it is crucial to involve the students in the creative process, to empower them to experiment, to allow them to find a pace that suits them, to guide them with possibilities, but encourage them to create their own plan.

Students often ask me: how do we master these aural skills and how can we feel comfortable with the material? I offer my students a detailed syllabus. We discuss our goals for the semester. When I see fear in their eyes, we then discuss the journey and how we will master each set of skills. I share with them that we will create strategies, that we will evaluate and re-evaluate our processes constantly. We will take risks and not be afraid to ask questions; we will build a community and create an environment for each other that is comfortable and supportive. We will make mistakes, big ones! And we will analyze those errors and find solutions that will help us to improve. Each of us will help another to learn some skill in class at some point because we all have strengths. We must use those strengths to help others, because we learn in more depth when we teach others. We will have collaborative activities that may be team assignments in class or homework. Teams will bring ideas/ strategies to class—we share—we compare. There is no right or wrong answer in this context. We will energize each other, even at our lowest moments. And, oh yes, and when I say we will have fun, that is when my students begin to question my validity!

Finally, practical application is a driving force behind my aural skills curriculum. But what does that mean in a classroom with such diversity? Not only are we as educators challenged by the novice—that student who has never even heard of aural skills—but we also must take into account that instrumentalists and vocalists, for example will bring very different skills into the class setting. And, there are many programs, like mine at Western Michigan University, that must accommodate, in the same class music performance majors, music education majors, music therapy majors, musical theatre majors and music minors. When I ask myself how this diverse group of students will ever leave my class with meaningful and practical skills that will contribute to their proficiency as a musician, I quickly realize that my attention to their individual needs is critical. Firstly, aural skills performance exams allow me to hear students individually so I may better assess their skill level, their prior experience, and begin to formulate a series of strategies that may be successful. Secondly, I establish communication with faculty in these areas at the beginning of each semester. I engage my colleagues in conversation about the success of their students and how I might support them in their aural skills studies. Lastly, I am able to assess many of my strategies and my student’s strategies myself in my capacity as a symphony musician and I challenge my students to do the same in their applied studio or ensemble rehearsals. This results in wonderful, professional discussions about the merit of a set of skills at a subsequent class meeting. We can then make decisions to eliminate or continue to utilize a particular approach. My final thought: helping my students develop self-confidence is more than half the battle. The rewards are immeasurable. I enjoy every moment.


A View from Musicology—Opportunities for Cross-Departmental Collaboration—Mark Clague

Musicology courses are suffocating under their own success. The breadth and depth of material that comprises our increasingly global soundscape seems to double each decade. Yet the confines of music education stay the same; the workday and curricular requirements to engage with this musical bounty remains forever limited by the same twenty-four-hour day and undergraduate credit load. At the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, for example, what in the 1970s was a four-term sequence in Western European music history (medieval/renaissance, baroque, classical, and romantic/twentieth-century) is today compressed to a single year of two classes with the other two courses retooled to address World and American music. Such developments are both exciting and paralyzing. Certainly, music students are exposed to a wider range of inspiring music, yet the lasting impact and usefulness of this introduction is continually threatened by dilution. This “crisis,” if indeed we can call it that, is a measure of musicology’s remarkable success as a field in bringing new knowledge into focus. Yet, this success makes teaching well increasingly difficult. Under these overloaded circumstances, how can musicology inspire the next generation of musicians with a thorough knowledge of the past—with what is arguably the raw material of their creativity, the grist of musical artistry?

One resource to confront the increasing gap between time required and time available lies within (or rather through) the walls of our schools of music. While musicology departments in larger schools usually function independently (almost militantly so), it may be that collaboration with our colleagues in music theory, education, composition, and performance offer the greatest opportunity to expand the range, impact, and effectiveness of musical learning. Most musicologists (this author included) would argue vehemently in defending the position of their discipline within NASM curriculum guidelines. Artistic expression and even originality is built on a foundation of knowing the past. The recitalist must know the full range of his or her repertory inside and out, its stylistic development and historical context, in order to program a compelling concert. The ability of artists to reach audiences (whether it be a conductor speaking from the podium or a public school teacher talking in the classroom) depends on their ability to think cogently about how art functions in its historical and social context and communicate these insights to others—that is, they depend on the skills developed in musicology coursework. Yet, if this is true, then so is the reverse—that theory, pedagogy, composition, and performance inform musicology as well.

By opening my classroom and course design to initiatives and practices more typical of related disciplines in a school of music, I hope to increase the effectiveness of student learning in musicology. Rather than diluting my syllabus, I aim to increase the impact of my teaching in hopes that five years out my students might continually be reminded of experiences in their study of musicology as these experiences echo in their professional endeavors. The most obvious cross-curricular synergy for musicology lies between music history and theory. Even in the traditional curriculum there have long been classroom connections between these two fields—say in the teaching of sonata form or the development of harmonic language from modes and scalar patterns to tonal areas and keys. Indeed, in some schools these connections are structural, including interlocking coursework or hybrid classes. Although I have only taught independent musicology courses, I use musical analysis in every class, not only to model active listening but also to prepare students to write papers that regardless of focus must bring sound into their argumentation. “If sound was not important, it would not be music,” I tell my students. Recently, I have found that requiring students to produce a visual diagram of a musical work (including form, harmony, texture, etc.) prior to beginning a paper improves the quality of the writing by providing a body of evidence to inspire and support analytical claims. I require that analytical diagrams be turned in along with the writing. Such disciplinary blurring might even take the form of composition projects within musicology and theory courses in which students synthesize coursework in a final project that results in a new musical work performed for the class.

Another strategy that confronts our surfeit of material is to emphasize life-learning skills. If teachers cannot cover everything during class, we can coach students to become their own teachers and thus continue learning outside the classroom and after the semester ends. The information age makes the need of such skills as interpretation and, especially, the assessment of sources particularly acute. Since the Internet offers a range of often wildly divergent and unaccredited viewpoints, how do students (and faculty) know what to believe? Building upon the research of colleagues in education, I use experiential learning as much as possible to develop skills in critical engagement. In sum, I cast my students in the roles of historians, writing their own stories about the past to more fully understand how the historian’s objectivity is shaped by subjectivity. My hope is that students will experience how they themselves have shaped the “facts” of the stories they tell, and thus become more critical users of “facts” authored by others. This hands-on exploration can take the simple form of daily “show-and-tell” presentations for which one student offers a primary historical document related to the lecture topic that he or she has found using the Internet or on-campus archives.

“Living Music,” an online oral history project begun in 2003, similarly engages students in the work of historians. Each student interviews a figure from the musical world (broadly defined), transcribes a recording of the encounter, and publishes the text online, accompanied by supporting documentation.8 Insight is gained during the transcription process when students must decide whether or not to record every “ahh” or “um” verbatim, or whether the interview subject is better represented by a translation of spoken language into written. Although it results in inconsistencies of presentation and format, I do not enforce a single editorial practice in the “Living Music” project. Rather each student must make his or her own decision about how the subject is best represented. Interviewers quickly come to understand that they can make their subject appear either the genius or the fool. Furthermore, as interview subjects must approve the transcript before publication, these informants may attempt to exert considerable control over the result. The dynamics of such negotiations often introduce interesting ethical dilemmas into the mix that fuel classroom discussion: what does the researcher do if the interview subject misrepresents or modifies his or her original comments to place them in a more sympathetic light? Is such distortion unusual or characteristic of those who write history?

“Living Music” further exemplifies the connections possible across departmental boundaries as faculty and others representing a range of aesthetic and disciplinary perspectives are interview subjects. As the students themselves recruit their informants (subject to instructor approval), they naturally and with no concern violate and cross all sorts of institutional fault lines. Students interview teachers and practitioners from across the world of music and gain insight into how working musicians draw upon a range of skills, including musicology, in their day-to-day work. One of the specific questions interviewers are directed to explore is the usefulness of history in their subject’s professional lives. This sense that students are doing “real” work and enhancing their own network and knowledge of the field serves as better motivation than grades in making “Living Music” a success. Such oral history projects could be developed at every music school in every town in the United States and do much to expand our knowledge of everyday music making by all sorts of musical people not typically written about in the New York Times.

Direct collaboration between academic and performance faculty is not only possible, but can be hugely rewarding. In 2006, Professor Arthur Greene, a colleague in The University of Michigan's piano department, invited me to participate in a project to present the complete solo piano works by Fryderyk Chopin. In addition to planning and coordinating talks at the start of each of the nine recitals, I opened up a new area of my own research to examine the use of Chopin’s music in Hollywood films and I gave a scholarly talk for a culminating symposium. It was most gratifying to see how the university community, particularly local residents, embraced the project. Attendance soon became standing room only at each performance and we had to place additional chairs in the hall onstage to accommodate even a part of the overflow. That the city’s fire marshal came to inspect our arrangement gives a sense of the impact and notoriety of the project. It was wonderful to see performance majors and graduate-student theorists and musicologists working together while gaining experience in how to speak with audiences in informative and accessible ways. The enthusiastic applause that repeatedly greeted their efforts offered ample reward for the risk of working together. The University of Michigan Chopin Project was easily the best attended recital series in the school’s history. Everyone learned and, maybe most importantly, both faculty and students experienced the power of collaboration.

The challenge to an interdepartmental curricular approach, I think, is that music educators are trained as gladiators more than collaborators. Many of us have a background in high school ensemble programs in which individual competition was a prime motivator. We are indoctrinated to compete—to challenge our stand ‘partners’ for their higher chairs or defend ours from usurpers. (The 2002 movie Drumline offers a characteristic example.) Musicians are competitors, not collaborators. Furthermore, the curricula of schools of music are almost always charged by the tension between academics and performance. Yet, I often feel that this rivalry is more apparent in faculty committees than in the minds and hearts of our students. Especially at the large schools of music that serve as the models and training ground for future music educators, departmental divisions not only shape academic politics but may impede the classroom. If under such divisive influence faculty think of musical life not as integrative practice, but as separate “turf” to be defended, our ability to meet the ever expanding challenges that face our students is diminished. Reaching across such disciplinary walls (and even across university divisions such as to other arts or business schools) may well not only be essential to our students' futures, but our own.


One Music Educator’s Perspective—Maud Hickey

All of the writers in this paper have two items in common: music and teaching. We all teach, and while we might teach from different angles on the subject of music, we all teach music. Yet the dialogue about teaching is often absent from any cross-discipline discussions (if we are so lucky to even have such discussions in our schools). In this essay we hear from a music theorist, an aural skills teacher, and a musicologist who all see the value of building bridges across curriculums in order to teach more effectively, and are not afraid to try innovative ways to teach their subjects. Often the music education faculty members are looked upon as the “experts” in the area of pedagogy; after all, we are supposed to be teaching students how to teach. Yet in all of our schools, there are outstanding teachers who are not in the discipline of music education but who have gleaned and refined or searched for, the most effective ways to teach; and they are really really good! The writers of this paper are such examples. Good teaching should be a shared concern of all stakeholders in higher education. Teaching is not owned by the music educators, because we are all music educators; rather teaching should be an issue for all and the disposition to question teaching techniques across curriculums is one we need to cultivate in our future music educators. Lee Schulman, an advocate for the scholarship of pedagogy, and recent past-president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, coined the phrase “teaching as community property” in a recent text. He points out:

Scholarly teaching is what everyone of us should be engaged in every day; we are with students in a classroom or in our office—tutoring, lecturing,conducting discussions, all the roles we play pedagogically.”9

In 1990, Ernest Boyer published a landmark essay on a view of scholarship in higher education. His report expanded the view of scholarship from the single traditional scientific discovery of new knowledge to include the scholarship of integration, the scholarship of application, and the scholarship of teaching. His goal was to erase the seeming dichotomy between “research” and “teaching.” It was not then, nor now, completely accepted by the higher education community,10 yet this important issue is the forefront of discussion in colleges and universities.

The writers in this essay show interest in, attention to, experimentation with, and inquiry about teaching that all college music professors should strive for. Music education faculty certainly does not own the key to good teaching, but we can help steer and open up the dialogue perhaps. The job of those of us in music education is to stay current with the latest research about how people learn. The research about and understanding of how people learn has changed dramatically in the past 50 years, beginning with John Dewey’s writings in the middle of the twentieth century. While it is outside of the scope of this paper to write about these changes and cover the latest research about effective pedagogy,11 the bigger question to be raised is: who and how does this information get disseminated for teachers in higher education? How can we work across disciplines to build bridges for learning more holistically and in shared innovative ways?

In other words, how can we cultivate a “community of pedagogy” in our music school? One way to begin is by creating an awareness in the next generation of teacher/scholars. How many universities require a course of teaching for their PhD candidates? How many cross-discipline pedagogy courses exist on our campuses? How do faculty model inquisitiveness about teaching? What if the flute professor joined a lecture with the theory professor? What if the music education professor joined an ensemble rehearsal? And so on. The key to cross-discipline bridge building around teaching might lie in starting that first discussion and then planting the seed for the next generation.



Boyer, Ernest L. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990.

Bransford, John D., Ann L. Brown, and Rodney R. Cocking, eds. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, DC: National Acad- emies Press, 1999.

Bribitzer-Stull, Matthew. “Contention in the Classroom: Encouraging Debate and Alternate Readings in the Undergraduate Theory Class.” Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy 17 (2003): 21-39.

Bruner, Jerome. The Culture of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

________. The Process of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960.

Donovan, M. Suzanne, John D. Bransford, and JamesW. Pellegrino, eds. How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 1999.

Knowlton, Dave S. “An Andragogical Approach for Reducing Cognitive Load within Aural Theory Tasks.” Visions of Research in Music Education 9, no. 10 (2007): 1-17.

Marvin, Elizabeth West. “Intrinsic Motivation: The Relation of Analysis to Performance in Undergraduate Music Theory Instruction.” Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy 8 (1994): 47-57.

Schulman, Lee S. “Forum: Teaching as Community Property. Putting an End to Pedagogical Solitude.” In Learning from Change: Landmarks in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education from Change Magazine, 1969-99, edited by Deborah DeZure, 24-27. London: Kogan Page, 2000.

________. Teaching as Community Property. Essays on Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004.




1Bribitzer-Stull, “Contention in the Classroom.”

2Ibid., 21-22.


4Marvin, “Intrinsic Motivation,” 47.

5See Bruner, The Process, and The Culture.

6Donovan, Bransford, and Pellegrino, eds., How People Learn.

7Knowlton, “An Andragogical Approach,” 1.

8Examples of the more than 1000 interviews completed to date can be found online at

9Schulman, Teaching, 166.

10To read views for and against Boyer’s premise, see responses to an Oct. 2, 2007 posting from Inside higher ed:

11The ideas offered by the authors above are good starting points for creative teaching ideas. For a comprehensive report on latest theories of learning see How People Learn (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 1999). The entire text is available at:

3467 Last modified on October 1, 2018