Teaching Philosophy

Author:  Kristen Barret

Music Lessons by Kristen Music Studios

“Music is an ethical encounter in some important senses, an awareness that may help us develop and articulate deeper understandings of music’s significance, or at the least to better conceptualize what music instruction might look like if undertaken with specifically educational and ethical intent” (Bowman, p.17, 2001).

I developed my teaching philosophy from research that I gathered throughout my studies and from personal experiences teaching in a private studio.  It is important for teachers to not only have a teaching philosophy, but also to practice their philosophical beliefs in the classroom (Tanner & Tanner, 2006).  I ascribe to a progressive reconstructionalist philosophy with beliefs that follow the tenets of critical pedagogy, praxial education and both aesthetic and utilitarian philosophies (Tanner & Tanner, 2006).  I ascribe to these philosophies because I believe that teachers are morally obligated to teach a curriculum that best suits student needs (Froehlich, 2006).  In order to best serve my students’ needs, I need to reevaluate the curriculum, include student input, appreciate music for its intrinsic and extrinsic benefits, strive to make equal the power imbalance between student and teacher, support cultural diversity and teach music making practices (Tanner & Tanner, 2006).

Curriculum Reevaluation


The curriculum should be continuously reevaluated because dated curriculums can lead to student misunderstanding, boredom and impatience (Tanner & Tanner, 2006).  For example, a traditional curriculum that ignores the musical interests of students is unlikely to hold the students’ attention, which can lead to a situation where students do not learn the concepts presented (Abrahams, 2005).  A curriculum that does not take advantage of advances in technology will be considered irrelevant (Mato, n.d.).  A curriculum that doesn’t recognize new educational philosophies will no longer be considered progressive (Tanner & Tanner, 2006).  Therefore, in order for progressive reconstructionalist teachers to succeed in teaching students musical concepts and technologies, the curriculum must be reevaluated and reformed (Tanner & Tanner, 2006).

This philosophical view has been constructed from the ethical viewpoint that teachers are morally obligated to best serve student needs (Abrahams, 1997).  Teachers, students and parents can work together through open discussion to make sure the curriculum is up to date, keeps the student’s interest and includes key learning objectives (Tanner & Tanner, 2006).  Students and their parents will be most affected by curriculum decisions and so their voices should be heard (Jones, 2006a).  Teachers understand the demographic of their school and their community and can help change the curriculum to better suit student needs (Jones, 2006a).  Outdated songs, confusing references and activities that miss the point of the lesson can be cut out and replaced with new songs, references and activities.  New educational philosophies can be evaluated and considered for the curriculum.  Technologies that aid the learning process can be added to the teacher’s studio.  Reforming the curriculum in these ways can lead to better student understanding and learning (Tanner & Tanner, 2006).

Student Input


Because students have valuable knowledge, they should have real input when developing the curriculum (Abrahams, 1997).  This philosophical view has been constructed from the ethical viewpoint that teachers are morally obligated to respect student ideas and to create a student-centered curriculum (Abrahams, 1997).  Critical pedagogues believe that students come to the music studio with some knowledge in the subject and therefore, students should not be subjected to the teacher treating them like they are empty vessels to be filled with knowledge (Abrahams, 2005).  Teachers who treat students as empty vessels follow a perennialist or essentialist philosophy.  These teachers believe that students should strive for academic excellence by memorizing information given by the teacher (Tanner & Tanner, 2006).  When teachers use this “banking” method student knowledge is cast aside, which is disrespectful to the student (Freire, 2000).

Teachers should act as a guide to learning rather than as an authority in the studio (Abrahams, 1997).  Progressive teachers follow this teaching example by, “facilitating rather than dominating; they help students explore problems rather than memorize and recall learning that is force fed” (Elliott, 1995, p. 228).  A progressive classroom includes student teacher discussions about concepts learned, philosophical ideas and student goals.  Progressive lessons consist of exploring new concepts using tools and technologies available.  Progressive teachers respect student input and welcome student ideas in the classroom (Tanner & Tanner, 2006).  Students will have input when developing and reforming the curriculum.

Musical Benefits


Music is both intrinsically and extrinsically beneficial.  The true value of music education lies not only in the music, but also in all of the extrinsic benefits music education provides (Reimer, 2002; C. Phillips, 2012).  This philosophical view has been constructed from the ethical viewpoint that teachers are morally obligated to advocate music education (Ivey, 1999).  The rationale that music is intrinsically beneficial stems from the aesthetic philosophy that music provides mankind with beauty (Reimer, 2002).  Phillips stated, “The study of music teaches people to appreciate quality… when one is able to understand and experience the great works of art, one is more able to experience the richness and beauty of life in its highest form” (K. Phillips, 1993, p. 1).  Because people desire beauty in their lives, music should be included as a part of education (K. Phillips, 1993).   Discussions about the aesthetic quality of the song, song meaning and emotional responses to the song will occur in order to better understand the intrinsic benefits that music provides.

Because music has many extrinsic benefits, many rationales were developed for music education (C. Phillips, 2012).  Advocates for music education use these benefits to successfully encourage people to participate in music (Jorgensen, 1995).  Music education develops musical responsiveness and gives a means of self-expression to students (Shute, Frost & Laffey, 1993).  Students’ interest in music becomes more permanent when music is included in their education.  Music classes also teach teamwork and give students an opportunity to express their emotions in practice and performance (Shute, Frost & Laffey, 1993).  Music education can also positively affect other learning areas such as language, reasoning and creative thinking (C. Phillips, 2012).  When advocating a music curriculum, the teacher will use these extrinsic benefits for reasons why students should participate in music.

Power Balance


The power balance between students and teacher should be made equal because when teachers hold all of the power in the classroom, students become oppressed (Freire, 2000).  In many courses, teachers hold authority on determining the course content they will teach to their students (Schmidt, 2005).  Even music teachers face the problem of dominating the classroom by making all of the musical choices (Regelski, 2006).  Teachers should not abuse their power by controlling students through forced curricular decisions because this creates a power imbalance that casts teachers as the all-knowledgeable ones and students as the ones who need knowledge (Schmidt, 2005).   According to critical pedagogues, this oppression of students’ ideas needs to be liberated (Freire, 2000).

This philosophical view has been constructed from the ethical viewpoint that teachers have the moral responsibility to make equal the power imbalance between the student and teacher (Freire, 2000).  One way to address this power struggle is to allow students input on what they learn in class(Abrahams, 1997).  Students can express their ideas, give input on the curriculum and choose their own songs.  Although the teacher still has control of the studio, the power is more equally dispersed between student and teacher when student input is respected (Abrahams, 1997).

Another way to address the power imbalance between student and teacher is to take concepts out of the classroom and relate the concepts to real world experiences (Abrahams, 1997).  For example, when discussing a learning objective such as improvisation, students may feel like novices learning a brand new concept.  In this case, the student would consider the teacher as the one who has all knowledge and wait for the teacher to share that knowledge with him or her.  This presents an imbalance of power.  But, the teacher can help the student realize that improvisation is not a brand new concept. Rather, it is an activity that the student has used throughout his or her life.  Improvisation occurs whenever a student is asked to deal with a new situation (Schwartz, 2001).  Improvisation also happens in other subjects such as writing, art, dance, music and more (Schwartz, 2001).  By presenting improvisation as a real world concept, the student will be able to share his or her own experiences with the teacher and therefore the power will be more equally distributed between student and teacher (Abrahams, 1997).

Cultural Diversity


Students should learn about different cultures because music enriches culture and brings people together (Jorgensen, 2002).  Students may not have a good understanding about the different cultures that exist in America and throughout the world.  Music education, by giving students an internal glimpse of other cultures, teaches students to be empathetic towards the people of these cultures (C. Phillips, 2012).  This philosophical view has been constructed from the ethical viewpoint that teachers are morally obligated to celebrate cultural diversity (Elliott, 1995).  The belief that students should participate in the making of music from different cultures follows a praxial philosophy (Szego, 2009).

Although teachers should support cultural diversity through music, they should not force inauthentic songs from different cultures on students (Jones, 2006b).  In order to avoid this inauthenticity and still include music from different cultures into the curriculum, students should be encouraged to select songs that reflect their own cultural background (Splitter, 2007).  For example, a student with an Irish background may desire to learn Irish folk songs.  The student could bring in an Irish fake book, research the historical significance of a song, learn new vocal techniques and discuss his or her findings with the teacher.  The student would gain a better understanding of Irish music culture, and also gain insight to his or her own musical identity (Hargreaves & Marshall, 2003).

Music Making


In order to become more accomplished musicians, students should practice making music.  Through musical practice, students advance their musical ability and knowledge (Elliott, 2009).  This philosophical view has been constructed from the ethical viewpoint that teachers are morally obligated to provide educational opportunities that will advance student knowledge and ability (Arnstine, 2000).  By including music making activities, the curriculum follows a praxial philosophy (Elliott, 2009).  Students can participate in music making by singing vocal exercises, participating in musical activities and performing.  Students who participate in musical activities inside and outside of the studio will practice more frequently than students who only participate in music making during their lesson.  These students who practice making music frequently will advance their vocal technique, allowing them to sing more difficult musical pieces (StGeorge, Holbrook & Cantwell, 2012).  By practicing frequently, students gain confidence in their musical ability, which makes performing less stressful and more enjoyable (St.George, Holbrook & Cantwell, 2012).

Through music making, students also gain many musical benefits (Jorgensen, 1995).  For example, students gain increased self-efficacy through performance practice (StGeorge, Holbrook & Cantwell, 2012).  Students also gain the ability to express their emotions through music when they participate in music making (Shute, Frost & Laffey, 1993).  Because students gain these, and other, musical benefits by participating in music making and because music making practice advances students’ musical abilities, music making is an important inclusion in the curriculum.




The philosophies and ethical viewpoints presented in this section were developed from philosophical research and personal experiences.  I consider myself a progressive reconstructionalist teacher because I reevaluate the curriculum and strive to make the curriculum relevant to student’s lives (Tanner & Tanner, 2006).  Many of my beliefs about student input, the balance of power in the classroom and cultural diversity follow a critical pedagogy philosophy because I believe that students’ needs should always be considered.  When advocating music education, I follow both aesthetic and utilitarian philosophies because I believe that music is both intrinsically and extrinsically beneficial.  Finally, because my curriculum is based on the “doing” of music through activities, exercises and performances, I follow a praxial philosophy (Tanner & Tanner, 2006).  These philosophical and ethical viewpoints led to the creation of a music curriculum for beginning vocal students.