Analysis of the Teaching of Music Fundamentals

For our Foundations of Music Education I: Philosophy and History course, we have to write three papers. Because I am currently procrastinating doing my reading for this week, I’ll share a bit about my paper with you. The prompt was as follows:

You’ve now read generally about WHAT are history and philosophy, the AIMS of music education, STORY-ING music in education, various CURRICULAR movements, and this week, AESTHETIC and PRAXIAL approaches/outcomes of music in the lives of people (namely children and youth).

In this, the first of three papers, write about your own aims and curricula. Then address the following questions:

  1. Name one specific thing that you teach (e.g., sight singing, cello, band), and briefly describe how you usually teach this topic.

  2. What critiques could you raise or should you raise about this particular practice?

  3. Finally, leave readers (your facilitators) with a sense of next steps: How will you consider and/or re-consider the way you enact the practice you've chosen to critique given the readings and live classroom discussions?

Remember that the point of enrolling in graduate school goes far beyond pay raises; it is about self-initiated professional development. This paper, of course, is an opportunity for you to demonstrate where historical and philosophical ideas and practice might powerfully intersect in what some would call the perfect storm or more academically as NEXUS.

Grading Considerations

Having been trained in my professional life to function in a standards-referenced system, I find I struggle with traditional grading when I encounter it as a teacher or student. For example, the sum of our graded assignments in this course equals 100 points. The breakdown is as follows:

  • Discussion 1: 4 points (2 for original post, 1 for each reply)

  • Discussion 2: 6 points (2 for original post, 2 for each reply)

  • Discussion 3: 6 points

  • Paper 1: 20 points (rubric posted below)

  • Discussion 4: 6 points

  • Discussion 5: 6 points

  • Paper 2: 20 points

  • Discussion 6: 6 points

  • Discussion 7: 6 points

  • Paper 3: 20 points

We were also provided with the following rubric for our papers:


You may be thinking, as my wife did when she saw the rubric, “the worst grade you can get is a 60?!?” However, passing grades for graduate music education classes at Boston University are 80% or higher. Anything lower than 80% and you do not receive credit for the course.

During the week the paper was due, we also received an e-mail clarifying that the word counts for the body of our papers should be 1100 words for Papers 1 and 2 and 1500 words for Paper 3.

My Paper

Scholarly work in music education uses the American Psychological Association (APA) format. I chose to write about my Music Fundamentals class at Centennial High School.

Analysis of the Teaching of Music Fundamentals

Music Fundamentals is a course offered at Ankeny Centennial High School for students to understand the fundamentals of writing music. (Ankeny Community School District, 2018, p. 39).  Functionally, the course serves as a non-Advanced Placement music theory class. While the district recommends that only juniors or seniors with a solid background in music take the course, students of all ability levels in tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade enroll (p. 39). A set of content standards were not defined for the course during the district’s previous curriculum review cycle (Ankeny Community School District, n.d.), so I have a lot of freedom in choosing content, teaching methods, and forms of assessment.

With my new understandings from Foundations of Music Education I: Philosophy and History, I can conclude several points.  First, my teaching of music theory is certainly a product of my experiences (Shute, Frost, and Laffey, 1933).  As a student, my high school only offered music theory as an independent study, so much of my time was spent reading and completing assignments out of Benward and Saker’s Music in theory and practice(1997).  Most of my undergraduate theory courses continued to work out of the same texts.  Our district uses Kostka and Payne’s Tonal harmony(2008) for both Music Fundamentals and AP Music Theory, a text I find much too dense for our high school students.  In response to these experiences, I find myself helping students discover multiple ways to understand the concepts presented in the course: different explanations, demonstrations using a variety of instruments, and integrating technology.

Second, I find myself adjusting specific aims for the goals of each student due to the range of age and ability levels in the course.  Predominantly, many of the students take Music Fundamentals as a precursor to AP Music Theory, although that is not required.  My goals are then to provide them with a solid foundation in reading, writing, and singing melodies and harmonies so they are prepared for the depth and breadth of content required for them in AP Music Theory.  The next largest group of students take the class because they enjoy music.  They are usually in band and/or choir, although some are only involved in community music groups or personal independent study, and want to learn more about music. Our goals are usually to help them develop a better understanding of how music is constructed which hopefully leads to a deeper appreciation for music.  I would classify both sets of aims as aesthetic formalism in the way Alperson describes it: teaching students about form and function within compositions (1994, p. 221).  However, I think my aim for the second group of students ties closer in to Reimer’s purpose of aesthetic education: developing the ability to perceive and react to the expressive qualities of works of art (1989, p. 106).

In terms of curriculum, our district and music department believe in Bruner’s “concept learning” (1960).  We have informally developed a set of content standards for Music Fundamentals and AP Music Theory and assess students according to how well they have mastered each standard or concept.  We also, as Bruner suggests, spiral the curriculum in order for students to continually have opportunities to demonstrate mastery (1960).

I do not believe that I could classify the way I approach Music Fundamentals, nor the student outcomes of the course, as either aesthetic or praxial in the ways they are defined by Reimer (1989) and Elliott (1995).  While I definitely aim for something in all my courses akin to Reimer’s purpose for an aesthetic education (1989, p. 106), it does not hold true to his definition of a truly musical experience where “listeners must perceive and respond to the aesthetic qualities of music alone” (as cited in Elliott, 1995, p. 33).  While I would also say that my teaching attempts an “open and validating” approach as Regelski advocates (1996), due to the constraints of the class, the vast majority of music we analyze and listen to fits squarely within the established works of the Classical and Romantic eras.  My teaching does not involve different cultural groups or their musical practices as McCarthy & Goble define a praxial philosophy of music education (2002, p. 21).

Beginning with hearing Dr. Scott Shuler, then president of the National Association for Music Educators, speak at the Iowa Music Educators Association Conference in 2011, I realized the need to begin broadening our spheres of influence as music educators.  In secondary schools across Iowa, the music offerings typically consist of only band, choir, and sometimes orchestra.  General music typically stops after fifth or sixth grade, but some high schools offer music theory, history, or appreciation courses.  What exposure to music are the vast majority of students in our secondary schools receiving?  How can we, as M.A. Lanier put it in our first Live Classroom, “provide the opportunity for every person to learn about music, to make music, and to create music” (personal communication, September 15, 2018)?  As I think more about what such opportunities would look like in secondary schools, I see the need for elements of both aesthetic and praxial philosophies of music education.  From McCarthy and Goble’s definition of an aesthetic philosophy of music education, I want students “to perceive and respond appropriately to musical worksas forms of art” (p. 21).  I also agree with Reimer’s philosophy of conceptualizing the perception dimension of aesthetic experience but that it is impossible to conceptualize the reaction aspect (1989, p. 109).  However, I believe, as Elliott does, that “works of music always involve several interrelated dimensions of music making” (1995, p. 34), and are not solely limited to the object, product, or commodity divorced from their surroundings (Reimer, as cited in McCarthy & Goble, 2002, p. 21).  Can we craft experiences for all students that expose them to as many dimensions and relationships as possible from Elliot’s multi-dimensional concept (pp. 40-45)?

Within the scope of the Music Fundamentals course, I do not think I, as an individual teacher, or even we, as a music faculty, can begin to craft music experiences for all students in our school.  I do think though, that it is a good place to start.  Because of the freedom allowed within the course, we could be “involving students in the musical practicesof different cultural groups and helping them to understand the intentions of those who undertake them, as well as the social, historical, and cultural conditions in which they originate, exist, and have meaning.” (McCarthy & Goble, 2002, p. 21).  Students would not be limited to the works found in the textbook that fit post-Bach writing practices.

Crafting music experiences for all students in our school would involve branching out beyond our curricular offerings.  Our media center currently hosts a monthly Open Mic Night that could potentially provide a venue for more exposure.  We have also been collaborating with our media center to build a music studio with a dedicated computer, microphones, and instruments for students to record.  Our courtyard, coffee shop, and atrium provide more opportunities to involve the student population in music experiences.  As we consider different philosophies of music and music education, I am encouraged by the opportunities available to all students in our schools.


Alperson, P. (1994). What should one expect from a philosophy of music education? Journal of Aesthetic Education, 25(3) 215-242.

Ankeny Community School District. (2013). Music curriculum review summary. Retrieved from

Ankeny Community School District. (2018). 2018-2019 Ankeny community schools high school course description guide. Retrieved from

Ankeny Community School District. (n.d.). Content standards. Retrieved from

Benward, B., & Saker, M. (1997). Music in theory and practice (7th ed., Vol. 1). Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill College.

Bruner, J.S. (1960). The process of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Des Moines Area Community College. (2018). 2018-2019 Course catalog. Retrieved from

Elliott, D. J. (1995). Toward a new philosophy. In D. J. Elliott, Music matters: A new philosophy of music education (pp. 18-46). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Kostka, S., and Payne, D. (2008). Tonal harmony: With an introduction to twentieth century music (6th ed.). Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill College.

McCarthy, M., & Goble, J. S. (2002). Music education philosophy: Changing times. Music Educators Journal, 89(1), 19-26.

Regelski, T.A. (1996). Prolegomenon to a praxial philosophy of music and music educationMusiikkikasvatus: Finnish Journal of Music Education, 1, 35-36.

Reimer, B. (1989). Experiencing art. In B. Reimer, A philosophy of music education (2nd ed.), (pp. 99-118). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Shute, F. L., Frost, W., and Laffey, M. E. (1933). Aims and objectives of music education. Music Supervisors' Journal, 20(2), 5.

The College Board. (2012). Music theory course description. Retrieved from

I can honestly say I was stressed about this particular assignment. First, we had only received a few grades on our first few discussions, so I was not sure of the grading style of our facilitating professor. Second, the guidelines for writing this paper were limited to what I have posted above and a reference to a Sample One-Experiment Paper in the Publication Manual of the APA. Third, I felt rushed to complete this paper with family being here 5 of the 7 days during the week it was due. I had both my wife (Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering from Iowa State University) and my sister (M.S. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Kansas) proofread my paper for content and formatting before submitting.

Now all that being said, I earned 19.2 of the 20 available points. I was docked 0.8 points for a few minor errors in APA formatting. These errors included too long of a header and not including DOI (digital object identifier) or URL numbers for four sources. All in all, not too bad! Now to get back to my reading…


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.