Teaching music in the 21st century

29th September 2015

How can music technology support teaching and learning in your classroom? David A Williams explains.

Experiencing music today is often very different than it was one hundred years ago. We have an abundance of new musical styles, we have new musical instruments that are capable of producing new sounds, and we have new concert venues that include the internet and in-ear listening.

The musical landscape of the early 21st century is vastly different than it was at the turn of the previous century. Today, music is everywhere at all times, there is near-instant access to any music you would care to hear, and personal music making can take on a variety of different forms, regardless of skill level or previous musical experience.

Have you seen the 2017 training programme from Musical Futures?

Yet, even with the evolution in music and musical involvement in society, little has changed in the way musicians are educated and developed in school music programs, especially in the United States. Our models originated when music making was a vastly different enterprise, and today it can be argued that these models encompass musics that are now mainly at the fringes of musical culture.

Reexamining music education

It is time, perhaps past time, for those involved with music education in the United States, as well as other parts of the world, to reexamine what it is we do and how we go about doing it.

I have five suggestions for how we might improve our situation in schools, and at the same time, help students to become independent, life-long music makers, capable of making creative musical decisions on their own.

  1. We must take off our blinders and stop ignoring the realities of the musical cultures where our students live.
  2. We must stop pretending there are certain worthy music styles – those being the ones we know and do – and begin helping students realise how they can be active participants in their own musical cultures.
  3. We must stop degrading musics that hold meaning to students and accept the fact that any music that is meaningful to individuals is in fact important and worthy of our attention.
  4. We need to start considering pedagogical approaches that might lead to more relevance for students – pedagogies that focus on small learner centred groups, involving mainly aural musicianship skills, where students have significant autonomy over what musical styles and instruments are studied and where they have substantial opportunities to make creative decisions for themselves.
  5. We need to start admitting students with more diverse musical backgrounds to music teacher education programs. Students who play in rock bands, DJ with turntables, perform hip-hop, and are involved with various world music cultures need opportunities to become music teachers in schools.

Video: The iPad as a musical instrument: Touch (the USF faculty iPad band) at TEDxTampaBay

David A. Williams is an Associate Professor of Music Education, and the Associate Director of the School of Music at the University of South Florida in the United States. He joined the faculty at USF in the Fall of 1998 and he teaches classes in music education and technology. Dr. Williams holds a Ph.D. in music education from Northwestern University. His research interests center on the enhancement of teaching/learning situations in music education especially through learner centered pedagogies. Dr. Williams presented the workshop iPads and Music: Live Performance and Creativity at the Music Learning Revolution.

Musical Futures training and CPD programme 2017

Excellent workshops ‑ extremely accessible for all abilities and levels."

Claire Armour, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra