Teaching Music in the 21st Century


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 almost 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.

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.

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 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 realize 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 centered 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. My workshop at the Music Learning Revolution will examine the use of iPads, as authentic digital musical instruments, as one means of realizing these suggestions for change.

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 will present the workshop iPads and Music: Live Performance and Creativity at the Music Learning Revolution.

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