This article was part of a Symposium entitled
Trends in Music Teaching.

This discussion intends to convey to our readers current ideas on the newer trends in the teaching of music.

Three of the articlesthis article, along with Music Education is Coming of Age by Daniel Schuman and Teaching Children to Read Music by Charles Heffernandeal with aspects of instruction in music pedagogy. The fourth articleSome Observations on Instruction in Music Theory by Robert Moevscomments on the future of conventional theory teaching. The Editor will welcome observations from readers on this subject.

All four articles appear in SYMPOSIUM Volume 6.


The research project described herein is supported by a contract with the United States Office of Education, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, under the provisions of the cooperative Research Program.

1. The Problem

The music education profession has struggled throughout its history with the problem of providing for the musical needs of all students in the public schools. The most common curriculum designed to fill these needs consists of general music in the elementary grades, instrumental and choral performing groups in junior and senior high school (these often starting as early as fourth grade), and a miscellaneous assortment of general music courses at the secondary level. Activities in instrumental and choral music are well defined and well developed. Over 70% of elementary schools offer some form of instrumental instruction (1. p. 18), about 94% of junior high schools and 86.5% of senior high schools have bands, and orchestras exist in a substantial number of junior and senior high schools (1. pp. 44, 45). Choral activities are almost as widespread as instrumental activities. Almost 80% of junior and senior high schools offer choral programs of some sort (1. pp. 44, 45).

General music is taught in over 97% of elementary schools (although music specialists alone are responsible for less than 20% of this teaching), and about 67% of all elementary schools have a definite time allotment for the study of music (1. p. 12). About 84% of junior high schools offer a course in general music, but this number falls to about 28% in senior high schools (1. pp. 44, 45). Actually, the number of students enrolled in any kind of music activity or class falls sharply from the almost total involvement in elementary schools to about half of junior high school students and less than one-quarter of senior high school students (1. p. 36). Since instrumental and choral activities account for most of the enrollment at the junior and senior high school levels it is apparent that an overwhelming majority of American public school students graduate from junior and senior high school with no opportunity for formal classroom instruction in the art of music. And aside from music the fine arts are poorly represented in the secondary schools. Instruction in visual art is even less widespread than in music and reaches even fewer students than does music instruction (1. p. 59). Music education thus assumes the major responsibility for providing our youth with whatever acquaintance with the fine arts they are likely to get through public education.

It has been well known for many years in the music education profession that after the 6th grade music activities are confined largely to performing groups, which involve only a small fraction of the students in secondary schools, and which cater almost exclusively to those whose talents lead them to study music with some degree of seriousness. The vast majority of secondary school students receive no systematic instruction which would help them enjoy and appreciate the art of music throughout their lives. Yet the historic mission of music education has been to enable all students to develop their aesthetic potential to the highest possible level, through the study of music. This would suggest that the music offerings for general education should be the very heart of musical instruction in junior and senior high schools. As James Mursell has stated, "general music is the trunk of a developmental program of music education, not just a course at a certain level, and various specialties (orchestra, chorus, band, etc.) are its branches." (2. p. 65). The gap between aims and reality is, in music education, a very large one.

That a wide disparity exists between the general agreement among music educators that music is for all students, and actual music education practices in secondary schools, is apparent from a perusal of standard textbooks in music education. For example, Morgan and Morgan devote 4 pages in their 186-page book Music Education in Action to "The General Music Class," (3). Another text of the same name, edited by Jones (4), deals with the various aspects of secondary general music in 36 pages out of 523 in the book. Andrews and Cockerille, in Your School Music Program (5), devote 16 pages out of 289 to secondary general music classes. Dykema and Cundiff, in their work on elementary and junior high school music, School Music Handbook (6), discuss the junior high school general music class in 34 pages out of a total of 669.

Even books which deal specifically with secondary school music often offer meager attention to the general music class. Wilson's excellent discussion of the general music course in Music in the High School (7), is confined to 8 pages out of 440. Dykema and Gehrkens, in High School Music (8), deal with general music classes and with music history and appreciation classes in 33 pages out of 614. Sur and Schuller discuss the general music class in 24 pages out of 478 in their Music Education for Teen-agers (9). The ratio of attention to general music seems to be substantially the same in most books on music education. One small monograph by Dickinson, The Study of Music as a Liberal Art (10), is entirely devoted to a discussion of the possibility of presenting the art of music in a broader context than performance, but, unfortunately, it limits its application solely to the college level.

The suggested content for courses in general music, as set forth in the professional literature, consists primarily of a continuation of elementary school activities in the junior high school, and of substantially the same activities, supplemented by a slightly more emphasized historical approach, for the high school. Detailed discussions of the content of junior high school courses are available, but suggestions for the high school level general music course are difficult to find. It is assumed by practically all writers on junior high school general music that the "song singing" approach which is dominant in the elementary schools continues to be relevant for junior high school. Andrews and Leeder emphasize classroom singing of songs and the building of a repertoire of songs as a primary function of the junior high school general music class (11). At the same time they recognize what all junior high school teachers of music recognize—that the musical activities of the elementary school are often disdained by junior high school students. This situation is a highly unsettling one for those involved in junior high school music (and is one of the reasons why so few music teachers are willing to work at this level), but one searches in vain for what seems to be a logical deduction—that junior high school students actually do need different kinds of experiences with music than do elementary students. Instead there is an almost universal clinging to the concept of junior high school music as a continuation of elementary music. "It is a source of concern to some teachers that the music work done in the first year of the junior high school appears in some instances to be of lower caliber than does the music work in the last year of the elementary school," say Andrews and Leeder. The teacher, therefore, "must not set a standard beyond the ability level of the class members and must reassure them about their lapse in musical performance (if there is a lapse). Junior high school music should be a continuation and expansion of the elementary school music program; teachers should build up the latter wherever possible and make evident to pupils the relationship between the two situations." (11. pp. 65, 67).

This argument seems to be accepted with little question by writers on junior high school music and by teachers of general music at this level. "The children don't much like what we do in general music class, but they must be shown that they should like it." This writer cannot find, in the standard literature of music education, a single treatment of junior high general music which raises the possibility of relegating singing activities to a minor role and of presenting music through discussions of the nature of art, the nature of the art of music, how music is made and how it has changed through history, what great music consists of and what are examples of great music, why some music is considered to be great and some not great, how one can understand and enjoy great music, etc., with rich experiences in listening, analyzing, discussing, reading, as the major activities of the class. This kind of approach is directly relevant for the great majority of students, who will not be performers of music, but who will be, hopefully, intelligent consumers of music throughout their lives. It begins to prepare the student in junior high school, continuing in high school, for perceptive, intelligent, enjoyable experiences with music as a patron rather than a creator of this art. That such an approach is more meaningful, more relevant and more likely to produce the result of increased enjoyment and understanding of good music than the "song singing" approach is the basic premise of this project.

The problem, then, is to rethink and redefine the nature of the experiences with music offered to junior and senior high school students who are not, and most likely will not be, performers or composers, but who should be intelligent consumers of the art of music. The general music class is the logical—indeed the only—place where preparation of this nature can be given to all secondary school students. It would seem reasonable and fruitful to develop a course for each level which dealt with the study of music from a humanities-oriented approach, and to make available to teachers of general music a syllabus which would be of assistance to them in presenting such courses. No doubt all teachers would not adopt the approach suggested here. At present, however, no option exists—there are no systematic presentations of courses such as are being developed. It seems to this writer, and to many people in the music education profession, that an option of this sort is most necessary.

2. The Rationale

The human enterprise has largely consisted of the attempt to raise the quality of the individual's experience of life and of reality—to endow life with beauty, with meaning, with wisdom. The history of civilization is basically the history of man's efforts to create social orders which would provide for the fullest and most satisfying life possible. The landmarks of civilization—the products which have embodied and celebrated man's deepest insights about life and reality—are the art-works created in each era. The arts have been regarded since ancient times as the finest fruits of civilization, and the man who is wise in the ways of art has always been considered to be a man who is truly educated and deeply human. It is the high and noble purpose of aesthetic education to enable all people to understand and enjoy the arts, and thus to broaden the dimension of meaningfulness and beauty in their lives.

In our times and in our country this important function has been entrusted to the public schools, and largely to the art of music within the public schools. The main and overriding purpose of public school music education is to develop every child's potential to understand and appreciate the great art of music, and thereby to gain access to the richness and beauty which high quality aesthetic experience provides. The goal of musical instruction, therefore, is not simple pleasure or transitory enjoyment, but lasting appreciation and deep understanding of the best products of the musical art.

In the elementary grades it is important that healthy and positive attitudes be developed toward music, and that basic skills and knowledge about music be gained. Teen-agers should have opportunities to continue their contact with music through performance organizations of all sorts. Every teen-ager who likes to sing should have the opportunity to sing in choirs, choruses, glee clubs and vocal ensembles of every description. Every teen-ager who likes to play an instrument should have similar opportunities. But all teen-agers, regardless of specialized interest in singing or playing, should have the opportunity to study music in a systematic and meaningful fashion, so that their abilities to enjoy music as consumers can be nurtured and developed. This function falls to the general music class, which must consider as its primary aim the introduction of the student to the best products of music and to the means to understand and enjoy these products.

The problem, of course, is how this aim can best be fulfilled. The rationale upon which this project is based is that present practices in the teaching of secondary general music are inadequate, and that a humanities-oriented approach should be developed and tried, in the expectation that such an approach will be more relevant to the aims of music education and more suitable for secondary school students than are the typical courses offered at present.

This rationale is neither radical nor new. Thoughtful musicians and educators have always held that the appreciation of great music is the aim of music education. If there is any area of agreement at all among the writers in the N.S.S.E. Yearbook Basic Concepts in Music Education (12), it is that serious music is serious educational business. As Leonhard and House put it in their perceptive work Foundations and Principles of Music Education (13. pp. 100, 101), "Aesthetic quality is the source of man's highest satisfaction in living, and while all experience that is carried on intelligently has aesthetic quality, man's most valued experience is in connection with art objects consciously and feelingfully conceived and contemplated. . . . The music education program should be primarily aesthetic education."

In recent years the music education profession has shown increased interest in the problem of heightening the aesthetic experience of music for all students. It has become clearer to the profession as a whole that the performance aspects of music have been overemphasized—that the primary aim of music education has been ill-served by concentrating all effort on bands and choirs and letting the general music classes fend for themselves. Further, it has become somewhat of an embarrassment to the profession that in all of music education in the public schools, a solid body of subject matter, taught in a rigorous, thorough and challenging manner, can scarcely be found. With the recent surge of interest in high-quality education and elimination of fads and frills from public school curricula, music education has been caught in an uncomfortable position. Public notice of this fact was given in 1962, when the theme chosen for the national convention of the Music Educators National Conference was "The Teaching of Music: An Academic Discipline." This convention represented a large step toward academic respectability by a profession which has for many years been on the borderline of the public school curriculum. No doubt the phrase "academic discipline" will seem to many to be an unfortunate one to describe one of the fine arts, but the change of emphasis was apparent. In 1963, the North Central regional convention of the MENC was organized on the theme "Music and the Humanities." This was a more felicitous phrasing of the newly aroused interest in the non-performance aspects of music education, and shows the continuing concern of the profession with the problem of developing courses in music which stress appreciations and understandings rather than skills and techniques.

There is little question that the music education profession is ready to accept as a primary function the teaching of general music courses which are challenging intellectually and rewarding aesthetically. The great need at the moment is for materials and procedures to be developed which music teachers can use in presenting such courses. While a wealth of material on music appreciation is available for college and adult use, there has been no attempt to reorganize and restate this material so that it will be meaningful and understandable to teen-agers. Present teachers of music cannot be expected to perform this task themselves. The preparation of music teachers in our country is basically vocational—we prepare band directors and choir directors, but we do not offer, in any institution in the United States, a teacher education curriculum which thoroughly trains the prospective music teacher in aesthetics, art history and philosophy, cultural history, and the humanities in general. Until a basic and far-reaching change is made in the kind of curricula offered in colleges preparing music teachers, present and future teachers of music will need as much help as they can possibly be given in the form of detailed suggestions for teaching general music. The purpose of the present project is to develop such materials.

3. Objectives

The first objective is to draw up a clear-cut and unambiguous statement of the most important aims of the teaching of music in the public schools. Present philosophies of music education tend to be unorganized and narrow in scope. Only a very few formulations of the aims of music education are both broad and consistent (cf. 13, chap. 4, and 12, chap. 2, 3, 4, 9, 14). This writer has for several years been concerned with the problem of the value of music education in society (14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19) and has studied existing philosophies of music education in systematic fashion. A consistent and convincing statement of the need for all students to develop and grow in appreciation of art and of music will set the stage for the formulation of the kinds of courses being recommended for general music in the secondary schools. To assist the director in the formulation of the general conceptual framework of the courses and major problems of implementation, an advisory panel of consultants is being utilized. Outstanding musicians and educators have agreed to work with the director on various aspects of the project.

The second objective is to build a logical pattern of concepts about music and experiences with music which would help teen-agers become intelligent about what music is supposed to do and how it does it. This, of course, is the major task of the project, and will occupy the greatest amount of time and effort. The course outline being developed will hopefully deal with those aspects of music most basic to intelligent enjoyment of this art. The same outline will be used for both the junior high school course and the senior high school course. There are two basic reasons for employing the same outline at both levels, one reason practical, the other pedagogical. The practical reason is that many students cannot take general music in both junior high school and senior high school. The one course such a student takes must of necessity be complete in itself. Those students who are able to take both courses would find, in the senior high school, that their acquaintance with the concepts developed in the junior high school is being broadened and deepened. Educationally, this cyclical plan is widely accepted as valid. Especially in a subject such as general music is such a plan beneficial, conforming to all we know about how individuals develop in aesthetic sensitivity (cf. 2, chap. 1). The activities in the junior high school course—listening, discussing, reading, singing and playing when useful for specific purposes of developing appreciation, would in the senior high school course be carried on more intensively and at a higher level of abstraction. More musical works would be studied and more difficult works would be included. In all aspects the senior high school course would be both complete in itself and a logical continuation of the junior high school course.

The final objective is the drawing up of a syllabus for each course. Each syllabus will state and explain the philosophy of music education upon which the course is based, give an overall view of the structure and content of the course, and for each unit will list concepts to be developed, musical examples to be employed, structural features of the music to be studied, historical and cultural background of the era, of the composer, and of the particular work being examined, skills to be cultivated, activities to be carried on, and any other specifics which would be helpful to a teacher presenting the course. Also included for each unit will be suggested supplementary materials for 1) the teacher of the course who wants to broaden his own background in relevant areas, and 2) students who want to supplement the course content with outside work. Other contents for the syllabi will no doubt suggest themselves as the project develops. Each syllabus will contain sufficient material for a one-year course meeting 3 or 4 times per week for 45 to 50 minute periods, or for a one-semester course meeting 5 times per week. Specific suggestions will be given as to which material could best be deleted for courses meeting less frequently or for shorter periods.

4. Procedure

The first step has been a systematic review of existing philosophies of music education as stated in standard texts in the field and in pertinent periodicals dealing with music and education. These philosophies are being compared with a general statement of the value of art in human life, as developed from a survey of relevant writings in aesthetics, philosophy of education and psychology. A statement of the philosophy underlying the approach to general music being developed will be included in each syllabus as the justification for the kinds of content being recommended for general music classes.

Three procedures are being employed to inform the director fully about the current status of general music teaching. First, as noted above, an exhaustive examination is being made of the professional literature on secondary general music. Second, selected state and large city curriculum bulletins on music are being surveyed to discover the amount of attention actually being given to secondary general music by the various states and city systems, and the kinds of courses actually being taught. A good overall view of current practices can be gained with relative ease by this device. It is more difficult, however, to identify and become acquainted with examples of general music teaching which are truly outstanding and imaginative. Printed curriculum materials indicate roughly the kinds of emphases in existence and, generally, the kinds of activities carried on. But one cannot depend on such materials alone for identifying teachers who are committed to the problem of secondary general music, and who have developed courses which show ingenuity, thoughtfulness and relevance to the aims of music education. It would be safe to assume that in the United States there are such teachers and such courses. It is most important that the director becomes well acquainted with them.

For this purpose letters have been sent to 1) Professors of music education in selected institutions preparing music teachers, 2) Consultants in Music attached to the State Office of Public Instruction in selected states, 3) Directors of Music Education in the twelve to fifteen largest city school systems, and 4) other prominent music educators, asking for an identification and short description of what they would consider the two or three outstanding general music situations of their acquaintance. From the resulting file of recommendations about half of the most promising are being invited to send course outlines and any other materials which would help the director formulate a good picture of the courses being offered. From this information seven or eight outstanding general music situations will be chosen, representing a reasonably well-dispersed geographical distribution. The director will then arrange to visit each of these teachers personally for the purpose of observing actual classes being taught, discussing with the teacher how the course content was formulated and what the musical results seem to be, and to examine the materials being used by the teacher in presenting the course.

After the first year, during which seven or eight visitations are being made, two or three observation trips per year will be made to follow-up those situations which seem to warrant further study and to visit an occasional new situation which presents itself as being exceptionally promising. While this procedure is rather time consuming, it is felt that the resulting first-hand acquaintance gained by the director with the best practices extant will be invaluable to him as he develops his courses. There seems to be no device quite as helpful as personal observation to give one the actual sense, psychologically, aesthetically and pedagogically, of what is transpiring in a teaching-learning situation. The combination of the survey of professional literature, the examination of state and city curriculum bulletins, and personal observations, should make the director as well informed about general music practices in the United States as one can reasonably expect to be.

The next procedure, which will occupy most of the first two years, is the systematic development of the contents and procedures for the two courses. This involves a great deal of reading, of listening to and analyzing music, and of writing up the materials for the syllabi in a clear, forthright and practical style. Each syllabus, as indicated previously, will contain enough information and suggestions so that the teacher using it as a guide for his course can depend on having more than enough material for a one-year presentation. Every effort will be made to present the material unambiguously and practically. The syllabi are not conceived as theoretical treatises, but as working guides for meaningful courses in general music for teen-agers.

In the second year, two graduate assistants will be hired to assist the director in developing materials and to prepare for trial teaching of the courses in the third year of the project. In the third year, the courses will be taught separately by the director and each of his assistants in three different communities. Experiences will be carefully and closely compared. Revisions, additions, deletions, etc. will be made as needed, so that the resulting syllabi will be as free from extraneous, confusing, impractical and unhelpful material as it is possible to make them. During the trial teaching year evaluative measures will be devised for inclusion in the syllabi. There are no existing measures for the kinds of aesthetic sensitivity and appreciation these courses are supposed to foster. The director has formulated and used several examinations which measure the conceptual understanding and musical perceptivity of students in courses such as are being proposed. These instruments will be revised for use with junior and senior high school students, and will be employed during the trial teaching year. Suggestions for their use, as well as a general discussion of evaluation in courses of this type, will be included in the syllabi.

It is hoped that this project will result in some useful, practical, and aesthetically valid materials which have the potential to significantly deepen the level of musical understanding of teen-agers. It is also hoped that if the approach recommended here does prove successful, the music education profession will become more aware than it is at present of the need to prepare teachers who are specialists in secondary general music.


1. Research Monograph 1963-M3, "Music and Art in the Public Schools," Research Division, National Education Association.

2. James Mursell, Education for Musical Growth, Ginn and Co., Boston, 1948.

3. Russell Van Dyke Morgan and Hazel Nohavec Morgan, Music Education in Action, Neil A. Kjos Music Co., Chicago, 1954.

4. Archie N. Jones (ed.), Music Education in Action, Allyn and Bacon, Inc., Boston, 1960.

5. Frances M. Andrews and Clara E. Cockerille, Your School Music Program, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1958.

6. Peter W. Dykema and Hannah M. Cundiff, School Music Handbook, C.C. Birchard and Co., Boston, 1955.

7. Harry Robert Wilson, Music in the High School, Silver Burdett Co., New York, 1941.

8. Peter W. Dykema and Karl W. Gehrkens, High School Music, C.C. Birchard and Co., Boston, 1941.

9. William R. Sur and Charles F. Schuller, Music Education for Teen-Agers, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1958.

10. George Sherman Dickinson, The Study of Music as a Liberal Art, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York, 1953.

11. Frances M. Andrews and Joseph A. Leeder, Guiding Junior High School Pupils in Music Experiences, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1953.

12. National Society for the Study of Education, 57th Yearbook, Basic Concepts in Music Education, 1958.

13. Charles Leonhard and Robert W. House, Foundations and Principles of Music Education, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1959.

14. Bennett Reimer, "Teaching the Beginning Instrumentalist: A Guiding Philosophy," Virginia Music Educators Association Notes, October, 1956.

15. , "What Music Cannot Do," Music Educators Journal, September-October, 1959.

16. , "Leonard Meyer's Theory of Value and Greatness in Music," Journal of Research in Music Education, X, No. 2 (Fall, 1962), pp. 87-99.

17. , "The Common Dimensions of Aesthetic and Religious Experience," Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of Illinois, Urbana, 1963.

18. , "Subject Matter and Meaning in Music," Illinois Music Educator, Vol. 24, No. 4, March, 1964.

19. , "Information Theory and the Analysis of Musical Meaning," Council for Research in Music Education, Bulletin 2, Winter, 1964.

4151 Last modified on November 14, 2018