Previous Philosophies of Music Education

As we have progressed through Week 1 and Week 2 of my first doctoral class, Foundations of Music Education I: Philosophy and History, I have found myself revisiting my prior philosophies of music education. At first, I was hesitant to share them because (1) I have not looked at or thought about them in quite some time, and (2) our learning in this class is more towards philosophy as an action. Here is a sampling from the prompt for our final paper:

The point of this exercise is not to produce a "philosophy of music education" — something antithetical to the spirit of this class (which is much more about philosophy as a verb), but rather, to provide a well-reasoned argument (a thesis) that demonstrates you understand the merits and pitfalls of various practices—the possible implications for individuals and for society by engaging in this rather than that, especially as these relate to the particulars of your own learning and teaching context.


My first introduction to the concept of a philosophy of music education was in Iowa State’s sophomore music education class where we worked through Bennet Reimer’s A Philosophy of Music Education. The end product was our own philosophy that, in my opinion, attempted to justify the existence of our imagined program, rather than discussed what we saw as important components of music education. In the following junior and senior music education classes, we continued to refine our philosophy statements to eventually include as part of our portfolio. I was able to dig that statement up out of some old archives! Below is the finalized version that was included in my portfolio after student teaching.

I believe music education is an integral part of human development, and thus an integral part of education. I view music as an integration of all fields of study, including the major subjects covered in education: language, mathematics, science, and social studies. This unified approach has been considered since ancient Greece. Music education also cultivates life skills such as critical thinking, analysis, creativity, and others. These utilitarian reasons for music education are bi-products of the subject.

Music has always been a central part in defining culture. As an outward expression of human emotion, it creates a sense of beauty in all those involved, performers and listeners alike. An appreciation and understanding of music is something that has been essential to every culture in human existence. Music education is a crucial part in producing well-rounded world citizens, the goal of education as a whole.

We need to be about the business of preparing students to be musicians that can think critically after the education process. Our students should be able to perform at high levels both inside and outside of our ensembles. We need to equip them with the necessary skills to be musicians.

There are definitely some cringe-worthy moments in there for me. However, as I recall, there were some strict grading requirements to this assignment about pieces we needed to include as means of advocacy. I find I still disagree with the premise that we needed to craft a philosophy for the purpose of advocacy. I have been lucky enough, knock on wood, to teach in programs where I did not have to advocate for the existence of the program itself. Rather, I had to advocate for the program to function the way I envisioned. To that end, I now believe that a philosophy of music education needs to talk about the what we want students to know and be able to do. Then, the what and how we do it become the justification and advocacy for the program.


The next philosophy evolved out of that thinking. In my first year of teaching, I saw my colleague and I wanting to make changes to the program we inherited, and I process those thoughts better through writing (hence, this blog!). So here was my second attempt at a philosophy of music education, written during the 2010-2011 school year:

I believe music to be an integral part of human development and education. Music is a unifying element across a broad range of content areas in education as a real-world application in careers, an expression or defining characteristic of culture, and a means of developing literacy skills. This is reflected in the Iowa Core Curriculum, showing numerous examples of the important role music plays in education. The Iowa Core specifically lists the following as Essential Concepts and/or Skills:

  • Real-world application in a music career

    • Understanding, analyze, transform, and apply algebraic expressions (Mathematics - Algebra, Grades 9-12)

    • Understand and apply knowledge of the behavior of organisms (Science - Life Science, Grades 9-12)

    • Understand and apply some basic mathematics of information processing and the internet (Literacy - Quantitative Literacy, Grades 9-12)

    • Use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others (21st Century Skills - Technology Literacy, Grades 9-12)

    • Understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior (21st Century Skills - Technology Literacy, Grades 9-12)

    • Use technology resources to create original products, identify patterns and problems, make predictions, and propose solutions (21st Century Skills - Technology Literacy, Grades 9-12)

    • Use a range of strategies to interpret visual media (Literacy - Viewing, Grades 9-12)

    • Understand how literary forms can be represented in visual narratives (Literacy - Viewing, Grades 6-8, 9-12)

  • Recognizing music as an expression or defining characteristic of culture

    • Understand interactions between the self and the peer group (Social Studies - Behavioral Sciences, Grades K-2)

    • Understand the changing nature of society (Social Studies - Behavioral Sciences, 3-5)

    • Understand the process of how humans develop, learn, adapt to the environment, and internalize their culture (Social Studies - Behavioral Sciences, Grades 3-5)

    • Understand how geographic and human characteristics create culture and define regions (Social Studies - Behavioral Sciences, Grades 3-5)

    • Listen to establish, maintain, and enhance relationships (Literacy - Listening, Grades 9-12)

    • Understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior (21st Century Skills - Technology Literacy, Grades 9-12)

    • Use technology resources to create original products, identify patterns and problems, make predictions, and propose solutions (21st Century Skills - Technology Literacy, Grades 9-12)

    • Use a range of strategies to interpret visual media (Literacy - Viewing, Grades 9-12)

    • Understand how literary forms can be represented in visual narratives (Literacy - Viewing, Grades 6-8, 9-12)

  • Using music as a means for developing literacy skills

    • Listen for interpretation, analysis, and evaluation (Literacy - Listening, Grades 9-12)

    • Listen to establish, maintain, and enhance relationships (Literacy - Listening, Grades 9-12)

    • Understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior (21st Century Skills - Technology Literacy, Grades 9-12)

    • Use technology resources to create original products, identify patterns and problems, make predictions, and propose solutions (21st Century Skills - Technology Literacy, Grades 9-12)

    • Use a range of strategies to interpret visual media (Literacy - Viewing, Grades 9-12)

    • Understand how literary forms can be represented in visual narratives (Literacy - Viewing, Grades 6-8, 9-12)

Music spans all five of the core content areas listed in the Iowa Core Curriculum (Literacy, Mathematics, Science, Social Science, and 21st Century Skills). The concepts and skills that music provides our students are essential to be a functioning member of society, concepts and skills that they need to be equipped with before graduating high school.

In order to better equip our students, music needs to be something our students come in contact with every day, whether this be through rehearsals, lessons, general music classes, or other electives like music theory, music history, music appreciation, composition/arranging, etc. This means that each and every student needs to come in contact with music on a daily basis, not just the students in our ensembles, not just for a day or two a week. Every student needs music every day, and we need to be setting our programs up to provide music on this level.

At the elementary level, this should function through the means of a general music class. Unfortunately, daily contact is not something that happens in the current paradigm in elementary schools. I believe that more collaboration with the classroom teacher would provide better opportunities for more contact time. Elementary general music instruction should be focused on moving from aural/oral to reading/writing. The goal would be that students beginning instrumental or vocal music at the end of elementary or beginning of middle school would have adequate music literacy skills to transfer through the study of an instrument or voice.

At the middle school level, students should begin to have a wider variety of choices in music. Instrumental and vocal ensembles should be the capstones of this part of the program. Students should not be forced to choose between instrumental or vocal, but students who choose neither ensemble should be required to continue some form of music education. This continuing education could take the form of a general music or music appreciation class.

At the high school level, students should be able to continue in the wide variety of choices. The capstones should continue to be the instrumental and vocal ensembles. A general music/appreciation course should also be offered. Supplemental instruction from either the ensembles or the general music/appreciation route should also be offered in the forms of music theory, music history, composition/arranging, recording/mixing, etc.

As students begin the study of an instrument or the voice, it is important that they receive small-group or individual instruction to develop proper techniques. When students are younger, these groupings can be done by ability to better facilitate getting started. As students develop and progress, these groupings should be done by instrumentation or voice type to better facilitate teaching the idiosyncrasies of each instrument. In these small-group or individual lessons, the goal should be the development of the students as an independently-functioning musician. By graduation from the high school program, students should be able to problem solve on their instrument to perform reasonably difficult literature. This would facilitate them pursuing careers or hobbies that involved music. This is not possible through ensemble literature alone, but rather through methods designed specifically for each instrument or voice.

At the current time, we are not adequately preparing all students with the skills necessary to incorporate music into daily living beyond high school. Music is an essential part of daily living, even for those who do not perform or study an instrument. We need to be better providing our students with exposure and guided instruction in music to better equip them for life after secondary education.

I am not sure why I chose to include the links to the Iowa Core Curriculum. I vaguely remember going through their website and correlating it with guides which are no longer available from the Iowa Alliance for Arts Education, Iowa Music Educators Association, and the Iowa Bandmasters Association. This was also prior to the adoption of the National Core Arts Standards in 2014 (read my thoughts on those) or Iowa’s adoption of those Fine Arts Standards (again, my thoughts). I can see the beginnings of my thoughts about expanding music education beyond our traditional ensembles. I can also see some of my responses to the program I inherited.


For now, this post is intended to merely serve as cud upon which for me (and possibly you) to chew. My thinking on this has evolved since 2011, and it is rapidly changing due to the learning I am doing in this course. I am greatly appreciating the processing space this blog affords me, as well as you for putting up with it!

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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.