Frank Abrahams

Professor of Music Education

Westminster Choir College of Rider University

Princeton, New Jersey


This session describes a best teaching practice called Critical Pedagogy for Music Education as it impacts the preparation of future music educators. In a college laboratory school in residence at a nearby middle school, pre-service undergraduate music education majors collaborate with their professor to create music lessons and teach them to sixth graders in general music classes that meet once each week for a semester.


Grounded social theories of Freire, McLaren, Giroux and Habermas the music lessons explore problem posing and problem solving strategies that engage children in critical thinking, critical action and critical feeling. They create a dialogue that breaks down power structures and barriers that separate the music students hear in the classroom from the music they prefer in their world outside. In the process, students are empowered as musicians and come to know that they know, a state identified by Freire as “conscientization.” The result is a transformational experience for students and their teacher.


Four essential questions, gleaned from Habermas, guide the development of each music lesson. They are: Who am I? Who are my students? What might they become? and What might we become together? Instruction is sequenced in an 8-step teaching model that differentiates instruction and alternates left and right mode hemispheric processing. Contrary to common practice, lessons do not center on a lesson objective. Instead, concepts emerge as students and teachers construct their own meaning from the music itself. In addition, strategies for teaching language literacy are embedded into each lesson step in such a way as to maintain the integrity of the music lesson.


An assessment was completed after the spring of the second year. Sixth graders were interviewed four months after they completed their music course. Results showed that they were able to discuss the concepts presented, remembered the musical content and had overall positive feelings about their experiences in the general music class. Further, they were able to meet the benchmarks for music students in grades 5 – 8 as articulated in the National Standards documents. Pre-service music education majors who participated in the program expressed confidence that they could replicate the program when they had their own music classes. They had positive attitudes toward teaching classroom music at the Middle School level and were enthusiastic. The college students and their professor, who was the lab school teacher, reported that teaching in the program provided opportunities to renew their own musicianship, an outcome they had not expected when they began.


Responding to the success of the program, the Music Education Department developed three courses in Critical Pedagogy as prerequisites for elementary and secondary methods courses. They are: Critical Pedagogy I: Foundations and Contexts, Critical Pedagogy II: Praxial Applications, and Critical Pedagogy III: Philosophy and Social Theory. In these courses pre-service music education majors come to view music education as a pedagogy of resistance and possibility and acquire a teaching identity that empowers them to contextualize music education and situate it within the greater global goals of schooling.