Patrick M. Jones, Ph.D.

The University of the Arts


The music education profession’s response to shrinking programs is advocacy to maintain the status quo instead of reformation to meet society’s needs. We continue to offer essentially the same kinds of music classes and produce the same kinds of music teachers we have since mid-20th Century and exclude musicians who have different abilities, interests and ideas from entering the profession. This is a symptom of curricular myopia. We lack the strategic vision that studying foundations of music education can provide.


This professional near-sightedness may be the result of generations of music teachers prepared through curricula too heavily weighted toward vocational training with a preponderance of “how to” methodology courses and containing very few “why to” disciplinary foundations courses in history, philosophy, sociology, and psychology. Such narrow training reinforces the status quo instead of providing the depth of insight and breadth of knowledge that could help teachers chart new directions for the profession. A required sequence of rigorous relevant foundations courses could be the antidote by producing music teachers who bring historical perspective, philosophical insight, and scientific inquisitiveness and rigor to their classrooms.


Thought leaders in the US music education community and music education researchers have themselves brought such disciplinary perspectives to the issues of their day from the early 20th Century. Music teacher education curricula, however, appear to reflect the traditions of the 19th Century summer music institutes rather than the intellectual practices and recommendations of the profession.


To determine the extent to which foundations courses are included in music education curricula in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a survey of all music teacher education programs in the Commonwealth was conducted during the 2003-2004 academic year. The results indicate psychology courses are required at 100% of the responding institutions for undergraduate music education majors, 50% require a history of music education course, 27% require philosophy of music education, and only 1 program requires sociology of music education. The respondents also indicated the situation at the graduate level is similar. Thus, while all music education majors study psychology, only half study history of music education, less than a third study philosophy of music education, and students in only one program study sociology of music education.


The data also indicates that faculty teaching these courses are primarily not music education professors. Discrete discipline-focused foundations courses appear to be outsourced to faculty outside the music education unit to places such as colleges of education. Such professors are incapable of bringing music expertise and examples of relevance for music education majors to their courses. Where music education professors teach any foundational content whatsoever are primarily in “combination” courses including more than one foundational discipline necessitating much less depth be included.


To find a national vantage point a review of all postings of the Music Vacancy List for calendar year 2003 was conducted. It revealed that of 128 positions nationally advertised that included music education in the job responsibilities, only 22 (17%) listed teaching foundations courses. Meanwhile, 68% required teaching methods, 52% supervising student teachers, 34% conducting ensembles, 23% teaching applied lessons, and 18% teaching research. This indicates the teaching responsibilities of music education professors nationally, at least at the assistant professor level, are weighted toward methods, student teaching, ensembles, and lessons, with less than one-fifth having responsibility for teaching research and foundations, the very intellectual bases of our profession.


Music education professors who themselves had a lack of foundations courses in their own education and are focused on teaching methods courses, observing student teachers, conducting large ensembles, and teaching studio lessons may be neither prepared nor inclined to provide intellectual guidance for the profession to move in new directions that would challenge the status quo. Not only are such professors intellectually unprepared to do so, it is a conflict of interest. Their training, personal interests, and continued employment depend on maintenance of the status quo.


There is a clear disconnect between the disciplinary perspectives personally employed by the thought leaders of the music education profession and what, instead, amounts to the vocational training education of K12 teachers. The music education professoriate may itself be ill positioned to change things in the current scenario due to delimiting conditions of their own preparation and teaching responsibilities. Making a difference will require taking risks. We have no choice because we must take responsibility for the intellectual growth of our profession.


The intellectual development of our profession is the only way to end our trade-like short sightedness. If we truly aspire to being a profession that serves the musical needs of all children and communities we need to begin with the K12 teachers in the trenches who must make decisions on a daily basis. However, we must equip them with the intellectual resources for making decisions beyond maintenance of the status quo.


This paper is a report of the research mentioned above with discussion of its implications for the music education profession. It includes recommendations for reforming music teacher education curricula and the teaching responsibilities of music education professors.