Identity, Community, and Music Making

This post started out much differently than it looks now. I began writing something that would look more like Week 1, Week 2, or Week 3 of my Psychology and Sociology in Music Education class, but as I kept reading and writing, I wanted to be able to tell you more about what I was thinking and less within the confines of the reading response and the paper. I’ll leave you with some of that first, traditional draft, but then transition to something that better fits what I wanted to write.

Week 4 began looking at education and music education through a sociological lens. This week we specifically looked at identity, community, and music making. We dove into another of our main texts, Sociology for Music Teachers: Practical Applications. then looked at Identity, Music, Schools, and Community. We also had a reading response and a paper due this week.


  • Identity, Music, and Schools

  • Identity, Music, and Community

    • Veblen, K. K. (2007). The many ways of community music. International Journal of Community Music, 1, 5–21.

    • Waldron, J. (2007). Once the beat gets going it really grooves: Informal music learning as experienced by two Irish traditional musicians. International Journal of Community Music, 1, 89–103.

Prompt: In what ways is your own musical identity influenced by and/or evident in your teaching?


Prompt: Write a short paper in which you connect some aspect the material from Week 3 and/or Week 4 to your personal teaching practices. The purpose of the assignment is to demonstrate an understanding of the course content, as well as an ability to relate findings from empirical research to classroom practice. In the first part of your paper, you should (a) discuss important concepts related to one topic that was covered during Weeks 3 and 4, (b) describe some research in education (which could include music education) that addresses the topic you selected, and (c) discuss how research or theories related to that topic have influenced contemporary classroom practices, (which could include music education). In the remainder of the paper, you will either describe how your own classroom practices reflect research related to your topic, or discuss how the research that you read may lead to a change in how you approach teaching. Papers should be about 1000 words, not including references.

What I actually want to talk about

Both my Reading Response and my Paper get at the issue I want to discuss here, but the word limits and other requirements really prevented me from saying what I wanted to say: Band, Orchestra, and Choir are not enough in music education.

I began having those thoughts after hearing Dr. Scott Shuler (then President of NAfME) speak at the 2011 Iowa Music Educators Association Conference. His Keynote Address was entitled "Music Education for Life in the 21st Century: Vision and Challenges," and his premise was our current paradigm of general music, band, orchestra, and choir isn’t reaching enough students. I left the session as an undergraduate music education student thinking, “how can I reach more students in my program?” Unfortunately, I have not made many strides towards that goal of providing music education to more students.

For this week’s paper, I cited a demographic profile of high school music ensemble students in the United States by Elpus and Abril (2011). They took data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ (part of the Institute of Education Sciences in the US Department of Education) Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 (a nationally representative study of the class of 2004 beginning their sophomore year of high school) to look at participation numbers in high school music ensembles. Of the nearly 3 million students in the study, only 21% of them participated in band, orchestra, and/or choir their senior year. This means that more than 2.3 million students did not study music in an ensemble. Now, it is possible that some percentage of these 2.3M students did take some other music-based elective (theory, history, appreciation, etc.) or was involved in music outside of school—the study did not measure this, but it is likely that the majority of these students did not study music in their senior year.

This begs the question, why didn’t these students study music their senior year? Many of our readings on creativity and motivation (Week 3) and musical identity (Week 4) attempted to answer this question. Before I discuss some of that, let me give you a little more data on what music courses are out there—what does our paradigm look like? Another report from the NCES (2012) entitled Arts Education In Public Elementary and Secondary Schools 1999–2000 and 2009–10 tells us that in the 2009-10 school year, 94% of elementary principals and 91% of secondary principals in public schools surveyed provided instruction in music. Other data included in the survey for music education involved:

  • frequency of instruction

  • the space used for instruction

  • types of arts instructors employed to teach music

  • the availability of district curriculum guides

  • types of music professional development offered for teachers

  • the integration of music and other subject areas

  • types of formal student assessment used

I am going to focus on the secondary school data, as that is where our current band/orchestra/choir (BOC) paradigm occurs. Of those surveyed, only 46% of secondary principals reported offering 5 or more music courses in the 2008-09 school year. Question 17 asked principals the types of music instruction offered, in what grades were they offered, and what percentage of students participated. They did not publish that data for secondary schools, but for elementary schools during school hours, 90% offered General Music, 44% offered Chorus, 44% offered Band, 28% offered Strings/Orchestra, and 6% offered Other. I am curious what that would look like at the secondary level.

Going back to my premise, if 91% of secondary schools are providing instruction in music, why are only 21% of high school seniors enrolled in an ensemble-based music class? Because our ensemble-based paradigm is not reaching the other 79% of students. Our readings the past two weeks have discussed this premise through the lens of self-determination theory—humans will seek out growth and vitality as long as their psychological and motivational needs are met. When discussing self-determination theory, our readings frequently cited the work of Ryan and Deci (2002) who identified these psychological and motivational needs as:

  • competence: feeling effective and successful

  • relatedness: feeling connected and integrated socially

  • autonomy: having choice

Renwick and Reeve (2012) found that when these three needs were met, young musicians were more likely to be intrinsically motivated to continue their study of music. Evans, McPherson, and Davidson (2012) found that students who stopped the study of a musical instrument likely did so because one or more of these needs were thwarted.

What should we do? Froehlich and Smith (2017) want us to be “sociologically informed” teachers that help students develop musical competence, relatedness, and autonomy through more informal learning. They say informal learning occurs when a student immerses themselves in a music-making culture voluntarily where the teacher takes on the role of a mentor or coach as part of the community. Examples of informal learning include what Powell and Bernstein call Modern Band (study of more popular genres and instruments), the work of the organization Musical Futures, or a music production course (looking at digital audio workstations and recording & reinforcement equipment).

I don’t think that these informal learning opportunities should come at the cost of our BOC paradigm. We do, however, need to incorporate more student-centered practices into our ensemble-based courses. We are (hopefully) quite good at building students’ competence and relatedness in the context of our “classical” traditions, but do they have the autonomy to transfer that competence to genres of music outside of our paradigm? What can we do in our ensembles to build music literacies in other traditions? The best attempt in my own teaching so far has been our ensemble project where students select their own groups and literature to rehearse and perform.

These changes have some huge implications for teachers that was not necessary for me to unpack in the paper. One such implication is that most teacher education programs still train future music educators within our traditional paradigm. How many pre-service music teachers learn to play rock instruments or other non-classical genres of music? Another implication is the schedules of music teachers. When I was teaching in Iowa, my day was booked solid from 7am-4pm with a little time for lunch and no plan. Band directors for whom I have subbed out here may have 1 or 2 plans in a day, making it difficult to add more courses to their teaching load. This needs to be looked at from a systemic lens—incorporating all music teachers in a school or district—asking how can we offer music to students who are not currently taking it?

This also ties in to discussions I have been having with my friend and colleague, Nick Covington, about progressive education, as well as other learning I have been doing from books like Timeless Learning or Teaching as a Subversive Activity. It also is closely related to my research proposal on makerspaces and music education. Somehow, it all seems to be tying together without any prior intention on my part!


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.