Monday, August 8, 2016

Responding to Music: Chapter 5 Reflection

Bauer (2014) begins this chapter with a very apropos quotation from the composer Paul Hindemith. "Music is meaningless noise unless it touches a receiving mind." (p. 101) As a kid, I remember my parents being irritated with my music choices, as I often was with theirs, and hearing them say, "turn down that noise!" As I got older and learned more about music, I grew to better appreciate the Kenny Rogers tunes they listened to in the car, and would dance the polka with my mother while drying dishes at the lake, listening to WDAY's Polka Hour. My friends surprised me when they shared that their parents had started to like their music, and my best friend's mom loved to listen to R.E.M. with us in the car while driving us to the mall. This is an important thing to remember as a teacher, because our students biggest need is not the information we give them, it's the connection we make with them. Bauer (2014) describes a new teacher who goes into her first job wanting to make all the students love what she loves and how she loves it, but she learns that her methods won't work; she must meet the kids where they are and teach them based on their knowledge base and through methods that will capture their attention (p. 102-104). Teaching and learning have changed a lot in the last 20 years, and teachers must change, too, in order to be effective.

Bauer reminds us of the power of music and of the myriad of different ways music is used in cultures around the world (Bauer, 2014, p. 104-105). Though most teachers have specialized in a particular area, whether it is as a singer in a mixed choir, a saxophonist in a jazz band, etc., we must recognize that music is so much more than that, and it is our responsibility to open all the doors for our students. We have so many more tools at our fingertips now, and through the internet, free software, cloud-based offerings and streaming services, our students have instant access to music we only dreamed of or heard rumors about when we were their age. As teachers, we have a duty to guide our students and to help them find what we might call "the good stuff". Through services like Spotify and Youtube we can create playlists to share with our students, through Pandora we can devise stations they can tune into, and blogs, twitter, and other forms of social media can be great ways to share music and articles with students and with parents, which is a great way to advocate for a music program.

Our students may be able to access lots of music, but they still need to be taught how to listen to it. As Bauer suggests, sometimes music that is forced on kids in school becomes almost inaccessible to them due to their own preconceived notions and disdain for "homework". However, there are techniques we can use to open up their ears and get them to really dig into the music and discover more about it. Some of that includes asking for their ideas on what they hear, and having them share sometime they know that is comparable to the music we are learning in class. We can also approach it from different directions, like having them identify the form through a map or some visual aids, have them identify timbres, ask them about the music makers or the culture it came from, and asking them what the music was intended to mean or what function it serves. There are so many different ways to look at a piece of music, and so much to learn from them!

As things change, and as the musical world opens up, our students are discovering music that, while made many years ago, is new and fresh to them. Things seem to be different than they were when I was a student, and popular music stuck to a general sound during a certain time period. Now, I have students who listen to things from 20, 30 and 40 years ago and really see it no differently than something recorded last week. After discussions with some students, I had a very special encounter with one 8th grade boy. Listening to him talk about his favorite music, and hearing some of the tunes he "had to share with you, Mrs. B!", I got thinking about his musical tastes and his own abilities. I said to him one day, "you know, Nick? I think you'd really like The Cure. Have you ever heard anything they have done?" He hadn't, and kind of brushed off the suggestion. A few weeks later, I was doing some paperwork during my prep time and listening to music. He came in for his lesson the next period, and I had The Cure's "Plainsong" from the album Disintegration playing. His eyes grew enormous, his jaw dropped, and he said, "WHAT! IS! THIS????" An amazing connection was made that day!

As our roles change, we as music teachers must adapt to make sure that the most important role we play does not change. We must continue to make connections with our students and find a way to connect what they do to the music we know they need and they deserve.


Bauer, W.I. (2014) Music learning today: Digital pedagogy for creating, performing, and responding to music. New York: Oxford University Press.

Smith, R., Gallup, S., O'Donnell, R.,  Thompson, P., Williams, B., & Tolhurst, L.  (1989) Plainsong. On Disintegration [CD]. London: Fiction Records.


  1. Ronica,

    Great post! I remember listening to a huge variety of music growing up, and it has definitely shaped who I am and what kind of musician I am. I remember one of my students told me his freshman year that he didn't quite understand why everyone thought Bach was so great. I told him it was an acquired taste. Four years later, after he had taken two years of music theory classes he was practically jumping for joy when I found a new Bach record at Goodwill! Through education he learned to appreciate the intricacies of a Bach chorale and was able to further appreciate the romantic era music that he always loved. The best part about responding to music, though, is the reciprocal relationship that sharing music can create. I taught him about the theory behind the music we were talking about in class, and in return he often shared his Pandora playlists with me and I grew to love the folk-inspired genres and artists that he introduced me to. These kinds of experiences are why I love teaching and coming to work each day!

  2. Hi Ronica,
    I love what you said about the connection we make with kids being more important than the information we give them. I totally agree with this statement. In fact, I think kids are much more receptive to what we have to say if we listen to them first and validate their perspectives. I also love the example you gave of your parents and how your musical tastes grew more receptive as you got older. I remember as a kid, the music of my parent's generation was allowed - we could listen to the "oldies" of the 60's and 70's whenever we wanted. But when my sister wanted to start listening to the music of our generation, hiphop and pop music, my parents pretty much forbid it. If found out later that my grandparents had forbid rock n' roll of the 60's and 70's when my mom had been a kid. I guess my parents just carried on that tradition! I also think it's a mistake to assume kids won't like classical music and other genres. I know many students who were moved to tears the first time they heard Chopin's Prelude 4 in E Minor. We should give kids the opportunity to form their own thoughts and feelings about music without us superimposing our own judgements. Thanks for this awesome post!