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Word count – 2100 (excluding references and bibliography) Sophia Fang Ying Lai ID: 936611

Applied Instrumental Teaching Philosophy Essay

My Philosophy of Instrumental Teaching

Introduction

Through my development as a musician and teacher my philosophy towards

instrumental music education has been constantly changing as I am shaped by life

experiences and interactions with people. In this essay I will attempt to critically review

main points in philosophies of instrumental music education which resonate with me.

Connections will be drawn to my cultural background and experiences and their part in

determining the paths I took on my musical journey. Lastly, there will be a summary of

my current philosophical position and how I see myself proceeding from this point.

The value of instrumental music education and music education in general has

traditionally been upheld by the utilitarian philosophy of music education: the idea that

music contributes to the ethical, intellectual and social development of students

(Jorgensen, 2006). This is a philosophy which has deep historical roots stemming from

Plato’s use of music to develop the ideal citizen onwards to Lowell Mason’s claim that

music gives moral, health and intellectual benefits (Tan, 2015). This view, coupled with a

formalist approach to instrumental teaching is a philosophy I stood by in my early years

as a student and teacher. As years have gone by, I have started to shift towards the idea of

aesthetics and teaching music for itself rather than the traditional utilitarian approach.
Word count – 2100 (excluding references and bibliography) Sophia Fang Ying Lai ID: 936611
Applied Instrumental Teaching Philosophy Essay

Bennett Reimer and Aesthetics

The movement away from the utilitarian philosophy to aesthetics has been

championed by writers such as Bennett Reimer, who brought the aesthetic values of

music into the light. Reimer took ideas from Susanne Langer, John Dewey and Leonard

Meyer among others, and published A Philosophy of Music Education in 1970.

(Jorgensen, 2006). This book had great influence in the shift towards music education

viewed as aesthetic education -an approach that focussed on appreciation towards music

as art and its beauty.

Elements of Reimer’s philosophy resonate strongly with my Chinese upbringing

and the values in our culture. Reimer writes that aesthetic education ‘lies at the core of a

humane society’ and that music education provides knowledge about reality and so it

should be valued (Reimer, 1989). Confucius, an ancient Chinese philosopher whose

teachings are drummed into young minds in China to this day, also writes that an

aesthetic education with music at its centre is the ‘foundation’ of a humane society (Tan,

2015). Music education in Confucianism is regarded as self-expression of feelings, self-

cultivation and a force of social stability. In other words, predating Reimer the Chinese

placed music at the forefront of allowing one to live a fulfilled and meaningful life. A

famous Chinese saying denoting the importance of the arts in a person’s life,

qinqishuhua(琴棋书画), places qin (琴) the instrument or music at the front (Tan,

2015). This is significant in seeing how far the aesthetic value of music reaches back to

ancient times in China. Reimer includes seven areas of music which can be used to

explore aesthetics which include performing, composition and listening. It is interesting


Word count – 2100 (excluding references and bibliography) Sophia Fang Ying Lai ID: 936611
Applied Instrumental Teaching Philosophy Essay

to see how Western philosophies such as Reimer’s show parallels with ancient Chinese

perspective on the importance of music as aesthetic education.

Another point which helped shape my current instrumental teaching philosophy is

how Reimer highlights inclusion for both the general and professional music student.

Reimer emphasises individual feeling as well as feelings in the music listener and the

performer as listener (Reimer, 1989). My early experiences with an instrumental teacher

was based around a formalist approach which emphasised the ‘product’ rather than the

process. More attention was given to the ‘gifted’ students who had potential for

professional careers and they were the only ones allowed to play in studio concerts. The

constant feeling of being compared to other students was a source of stress and resulted

in a lot of tension at and away from the piano in these formative years. For me it carries

more sense to treat all types of music students equally as this allows for a broader

learning environment with more diverse music programs. There will be a greater sense of

enjoyment and I strive to incorporate this into my instrumental teaching practice.

David Elliot and Praxialism

David Elliot’s praxial philosophy of music education provides interesting insights

which have shaped another facet of my instrumental teaching philosophy. Elliot

highlights the action of music and the fact that music is a completely cognitive human

activity (Elliot, 2009). He suggests the cognitive use of performance interpretation,

expression, musical representation and culture in music learning. A positive point of his

philosophy which is useful for instrumental music education is the promotion of music as

a performance experience and high-quality musicianship. As an instrumental teacher, I


Word count – 2100 (excluding references and bibliography) Sophia Fang Ying Lai ID: 936611
Applied Instrumental Teaching Philosophy Essay

believe it is important to cultivate in students from a young age positive associations with

performance. Performance as a skill needs to be practised and honed over time. Lack of

practice in this skill will likely lead to increased anxiety in a performance situation. As

students grow older, opportunities to perform as an amateur classical musician become

less as the standard is raised. The Eisteddfod culture I have experienced in Melbourne has

been positive and provides numerous opportunities and incentives for students to

participate and perform.

Reimer versus Elliot

Elliot clearly states a praxial philosophy of music education which attempts to

distinguish itself from Reimer’s aesthetic outlook. I have found strong agreements in their

overall purpose and goal which has shaped my own views towards instrumental music

education. Both Reimer and Elliot highlight cognitive development as a strong purpose in

music with the final goal of improved self-knowledge and self-growth (Reimer, 1989). I

strongly agree with these ideas as through unique cognitive development, instrumental

music educates students in ways which is different to any other subject taught in or out of

schools. It is an aural experience which is critical to cognitive development through

exposure to different sounds and rhythms. Understanding and comradeship with one’s

own instrument is nurtured. It can develop language proficiency, spatial reasoning and

temporal reasoning as well as providing enrichment for our ‘human’ side. It increases

understanding of moods, emotions as well as cultures. In other words, Confucius, Reimer

and Elliot all arrive at the similar view that music education is personalist at heart and its

value lies in its ability to cultivate self-growth.


Word count – 2100 (excluding references and bibliography) Sophia Fang Ying Lai ID: 936611
Applied Instrumental Teaching Philosophy Essay

Reimer and Elliot arrive at a personalist philosophy through different routes with

one aesthetic and the other praxial. There are problems to be found if one takes a purely

aesthetic or purely praxial approach to instrumental music teaching. A purely aesthetic

approach tends to only focus on the benefits of expressive music, which according to

Reimer is the only ‘good music’ and excludes other considerations such as artistic or

cultural traditions (Reimer, 1989). Yet it is unclear what constitutes the idea of ‘good

music’. All music, even programmatic music has a purpose of invoking sound worlds and

colours and by way of definition is ‘expressive’. Elliot states that problems with aesthetic

education also lie with its dependence on the actions of the individual educator. If

teachers do not understand the basis of aesthetic education, it is easy to fall into a breadth

over depth approach. This will result in students that perform quantitatively but lack

quality in performance skill.

Similarly, I find that Elliot’s praxial philosophy is not without its limitations, as it

places sole emphasis on the action of music making and high levels of musicianship.

Praxialism attempts to define enjoyment from music as purely cognitive. This has

similarities to ‘flow’ theory, a term coined in 1969 by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly

Csikszentmihalyi (McCarthy, 2002). A person maintains flow when they engage in a task

where the difficulty matches the ability. Elliot also highlights the importance of

increasing levels of musicianship in order to meet challenges in the music. He defines a

fine musical work as a work that people with great levels of musicianship consider a

major achievement in a musical tradition. Following this line of thinking, the underlying

assumption is that if there is a lack of challenge in a music performance, then it would not

be a fulfilling musical experience (McCarthy, 2002). This view is flawed because it


Word count – 2100 (excluding references and bibliography) Sophia Fang Ying Lai ID: 936611
Applied Instrumental Teaching Philosophy Essay

essentially dismisses the performance of common, traditional works that do not require

demanding cognitive facility in the performer. The listener is also excluded as these types

of music commonly hold social traditions in society. Elliot’s pure praxialism approach is

not the precise answer to a successful music experience as it does not explain the reason

behind pre-existing feelings which music can evoke. Reimer’s pure aesthetics outlook is

likewise limited by its dependence on the expertise and actions of the individual teacher.

Personal Philosophy

My current philosophy behind instrumental music education is a blend of

aesthetics and elements of praxialism. I wish to instil in my students an appreciation

towards music as a beautiful aural experience as well as develop musicianship. I believe

good cognitive development individual to the student is important in the enjoyment of

music. Ultimately, I have a strong belief that music is an enduring experience which can

carry through a person’s whole life. As a teacher, regardless if students’ study for casual

or professional reasons it is more important that they learn self-growth and fulfilment.

This view has taken a long time to evolve to its present form, as prior I was driven

by purely extrinsic reasons in the classical field which emphasised product over process.

Exams, competitions, performance careers were the only worthwhile pursuits. This bled

into my prior instrumental teaching philosophy and on reflection it did not work well

with many students. Exams and competitions are small events in the bigger scheme of

things and do not define our true value as a musician. Extrinsic factors such as these can

often be risky as they are unstable, narrow routes where failure is often more common

than success.
Word count – 2100 (excluding references and bibliography) Sophia Fang Ying Lai ID: 936611
Applied Instrumental Teaching Philosophy Essay

Reimer and Elliot both outline the importance of teachers who have extensive

pedagogical experience as well as high levels of musicianship. Teachers who fit that

criteria have had a strong impact on my musical development and life choices. Suffice to

say if I had not met certain teachers during these years, I would not have chosen to

continue with music and set myself so firmly on this career path. Understanding that as a

teacher, the extent of my impact on students’ lives has forced me to critically review my

philosophy as an instrumental music teacher. By placing more emphasis on the process of

learning I have found that students become more intrinsically motivated. They develop

independence and confidence by taking charge of their own learning. True passion and

enjoyment in music is fostered which will increase the likelihood of students continuing

with instrumental music studies.

Conclusion

In summary, I have viewed both Reimer and Elliot’s philosophies regarding

aesthetics and praxial music education and noted cultural connections with Chinese

Confucian teachings. Common themes which were explored were personalism and the

purpose of music education for the goal of self-growth. Both philosophies taken

individually were challenged and I shaped my own philosophy behind instrumental music

education from a combination and expansion of these ideas. My goal as a teacher is to

allow my students to appreciate the aesthetics behind music learning on top of a

foundation of good musicianship.

As I have primarily compared only Reimer and Elliot, for future research it would

be valuable to examine other philosophers who may resonate or contradict these


Word count – 2100 (excluding references and bibliography) Sophia Fang Ying Lai ID: 936611
Applied Instrumental Teaching Philosophy Essay

movements in music education. This will ensure a well-informed approach to my

constantly evolving philosophy behind instrumental teaching. I understand that to the

general public the utilitarian approach is traditionally more relatable. However, I believe

my philosophy which embraces both the aesthetic and praxialism ideologies is something

which can be accepted. Instrumental music provides opportunities for teamwork,

organisation and communication while engaging aural and cognitive skills on the

instrument. It teaches sensitivity of the spirit which is something intangible and more far-

reaching than any other discipline. These reasons will continue to fuel my conviction that

instrumental music education is important.


Word count – 2100 (excluding references and bibliography) Sophia Fang Ying Lai ID: 936611
Applied Instrumental Teaching Philosophy Essay

References

Elliot, D. J. (Ed.). (2009). Praxial music education: Reflections and dialogues.


Oxford university press.

Jorgensen, E. R. (2006). Reflections on futures for music education philosophy.


Philosophy of Music Education Review, 14(1), 15-22.

McCarthy, M., & Goble, J. S. (2002). Music education philosophy: Changing


times. Music Educators Journal, 89(1), 19-26.

Reimer, B. (1989). A philosophy of music education (Vol. 2). Englewood Cliffs,


NJ: Prentice Hall.

Tan, L. (2015). Reimer through confucian lenses: Resonances with classical


chinese aesthetics. Philosophy of Music Education Review, 23(2), 183-201.
Word count – 2100 (excluding references and bibliography) Sophia Fang Ying Lai ID: 936611
Applied Instrumental Teaching Philosophy Essay

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