With teachers who are also performers, and with performers who teach, the matter of defining one’s philosophy of music education can sometimes be a ‘hot topic’.  Why do we teach music?  What are the goals, strategies and outcomes we wish to include in our teaching?  How are teaching and performing connected?  Should music education be centered around the process of making music, or on the performative product?  Might process and product be seen as goals on the same spectrum of teaching and learning music? For me, one of the most influential voices among music educators is David Elliott.  His 1995 book Music Matters, now reprinted in 2nd edition is a foundation for Elliott’s further publications, is an essential resource for music teachers.

For Elliott, music is process before, and more importantly than it is product.   Musical understanding involves many closely related kinds of thinking and knowing, and musical works involve many kinds of meanings.   Elliott coined the term, musiking which he describes as, “performing-and-listening, improvising-and-listening, composing-and-listening, arranging –and-listening, conducting-and-listening.  Music is not simply a collection of objects.  Fundamentally, music is something people do (Elliott, 39).” For someone who experiences performance anxiety, thinking of performance as just one part of the process of musical learning is a very helpful lens.

This allows that all music students be viewed and taught in the same basic way: as reflective music practitioners engaged in the kind of cognitive apprenticeship we call music education (Elliott, 104).  Such a powerful re-frame to think of each and every music student I have the privilege of teaching as a reflective music practitioner who is apprenticing with me as their musical mentor.

Elliott later adds later that “works of music are multi-dimensional thought generators” (Elliott, 296).  I love this!  Isn’t is so true that there is a lot to think about when we listen to music or make music? For me, this suggests that students who engage in music making are becoming higher-level thinkers because music is a process that requires active participation and problem solving.

So what does this mean for Cathy the music teacher?



-Ebb and flow in musiking.

-Listening is an essential skill to develop in myself and in my students.

-Meeting students where they are at.

-Mentoring students through to the next layer in their own process of musiking.

-Putting performance opportunities in perspective, and contextualizing performance as part of an ongoing process of development.  C’est pas la fin du monde!


Sounds like a philosophy of music education I can live with!

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