You Want me to Teach What? Student Teacher Experiences in and Perceptions of Teaching Popular Music


Chad West, Ithaca College


Although research suggests that popular music is the musical style choice of young people (Hargreaves & North, 1997; LeBlanc, 1979; May, 1985; Mills, 2000; Walker, 2005), school music programs inheriting strong military, church, and aristocratic traditions have been slow to reflect those musical preferences (Allsup & Benedict, 2008). This is not lost on the students; we know that as students progress through school they increasingly perceive a disconnect between music experienced inside of school and music experienced outside of school (Hargreaves, Comber, & Colley, 1995; Devries, 2010; Greer, Dorow, & Randall, 1974; McPherson & Hendricks, 2010). Part of the problem is that music teachers are not prepared to teach popularmusic (Byrne & Sheridan, 2000) and often skeptical of its use in school contexts (Davis & Blair, 2011; Hebert & Campbell, 2000). In fact, less than one percent of the time in music teacher education programs is devoted to popular music (Wang & Humphreys, 2009). Instead, most music teachers learn to teach how they were taught, in a traditional concert band/orchestra/choir setting focusing primarily on reproducing notation and following the “expert” instruction of a single person.


With the aim of interrogating traditional roles within music teacher education including notions of expert, learner, and teacher, undergraduates were first required to take a “Contemporary Ensembles” based on informal music learning practices. Following this class, these undergraduates conducted private lessons and led large group ensembles of two different groups of elementary aged students: One group consisting of students playing “traditional” band instruments (e.g., trumpet and clarinet); and the other group consisting of students playing “modern” band instruments (e.g., guitar and drum set).


Using a qualitative case study design (Merriam & Tisdell, 2015) to explore the meanings these preservice music teachers constructed about both of their experiences teaching within both settings, observation, field note, semi-structured interview, and pedagogical artifact data were collected. This presentation will describe the journeys of these preservice music teachers as they struggled with issues of identity by reimagining their roles as “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side.”


Findings to be discussed include complex questions about traditional roles within and aims of music teacher education. Through honoring diverse forms of knowledge and expertise, we might reconfigure music teacher education programs toward a more inclusive and diverse community of stakeholders, knowledge bearers, and gatekeepers. Through this reconfiguration we may discover that traditional roles of shaping give place to new roles of responding to broad and ever evolving notions of what it means to be a 21st century musician, music educator, and music teacher educator.


Since the preservice music teachers in the current study experienced and reflected on two possible futures—one where they taught using traditional instruments and formal teaching practices, and the other where they facilitated informal learning experiences using contemporary instruments—this presentation perhaps complements this year’s theme of imagining possible futures. In addition, this presentation would perhaps support the work of ASPA #1 (Critical Examination of the Curriculum), and ASPA #4 (Music Teacher Socialization).



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