It might be presumed that by having the words music education in its title, the British Journal of Music Education (BJME) would have a coherent view as to what its main topic of interest ought to be! But as we have often said, BJME is a ‘broad church’, and all sorts of interpretations of the terminology are welcomed. But sometimes, especially for students embarking on academic study of the domain, definitions can be helpful. With this in mind, let us think about what the terminology might mean nowadays.

Estelle Jorgensen (1997 p.2) offers us two positions to begin our discussion:

First, assuming that Western classical music represents the epitome of musical development and Western music education is the ideal or quintessential form of music education, only Western music and music education are worthy of study…

Second, our study broadens to include all forms of music education, irrespective of the societal derivation.

This is interesting, as there are still battles being fought here. These can be characterised as “music teacher as cultural gatekeeper” matters. But creating this polarity, and asserting only the former, denies a rich living cultural heritage, in which pupils at choir schools play in rock bands, and pupils in inner-city secondary schools sing madrigals. The reality on the ground is far more complex, much more like Jorgensen’s second perspective. But in case this is perceived as a dichotomy between child-centred and ‘traditional education, John Finney (2011 p.2) reminds us that this too needs rethinking:

No longer is a ‘child-centred’ education promoted. The ideas is both passé and politically inept. Instead, there is talk of an education that is ‘learner-centred’, and where there is ‘personalized learning’ addressing the needs of the child as a consumer and producer of education.

In the UK, whenever revisions to the National Curriculum for music are proposed, all sorts of anti-revisionists take to the pages of the national press to bemoan the downgrading of Western classical music, in case (perish the thought) children and young people in some schools might actually study music they are interested in! As a former editor of BJME, Stephanie Pitts (2000 p.34) has observed:

Broadly speaking, music education has been advocated only rarely for the acquisition of subject knowledge, but rather for its desirable cultural influence, its preparation for the profitable use of leisure time, and its development of sensitivity and imagination.

This does create problems for us! But in the nearly 15 years since she wrote this, have things changed? Which brings us back to our main question, what is music education? Hopefully no-one will wish to denigrate the wide variety of activities that take place in contemporary schools in favour of a return of a return to some mythical golden-age (which may not have existed)?

In addressing this issue, Wayne Bowman goes back to the bifurcated nature of the word education itself, and considers it from its Latin roots in educare and educere.

educare, to train or to mold; educere, to lead out or draw out. Educare involves the preservation of knowledge and tradition … Educere involves preparing new generations for the inevitability of change. (Bowman, 2012 p.24)

Building on these distinctions, Bowman goes on to suggest that:

I suggest we call instruction within music “training” and that we reserve the word “educating” for musical instruction’s broader and more essential life-serving functions. (Bowman, 2012 p.32)

These are interesting and useful definitions, which certainly help us on our way a lot. But they also raise an issue for the distinction between ‘teaching’ and instruction’, especially in the UK, where historically ‘instructor’ was the term used for an unqualified teacher, with instruction concomitantly downgraded to being considered ‘not as good’ as teaching. For our transatlantic colleagues, this distinction does not exist to the same extent, but the notion of ‘instruction’ rather than ‘teaching’ makes many music educators in the UK bristle somewhat, as the unqualified instructors would be both paid less than their teacher equivalents, and have a lower status. But with the rise of direct instruction (DI) as a modality (Engelmann & Carnine, 1982), maybe this is another terminology due for revision?

But to return to the original discussion, to develop the matter further, it may be helpful to think of three conceptualisations. These are:

1)    Music Education

In this usage, music education, the principal concern is with a general education concerning music. It encompasses music generative activities, such as composing and improvising; performing opportunities, and learning about and listening to music.

2)    Musical Education

This involves a very specific focus on a small subset of the above, often performing, and takes this to be the principal reason for the activity taking place. It can encompass learning at school, in some jurisdictions this becomes what is meant in totality by ‘music education ‘(thus adding to the confusion!). This is certainly what takes place at the conservatoire, and is in many cases delineated by a concentrated focus on developing expertise.

3)    Music in Education

Unlike the first two, this takes as its centre of concern the role that music plays in the general education of learners. It might involve either (or both) of the above, but is conceptually separated in that it pays singular attention to the way music functions as a timetabled subject on the school curriculum.

Now, admittedly, these are over-simplistic and crude definitions, with a degree of porousness between them, and they certainly do not hold up to too much by way of definitive analysis, but there is a very real reason for considering them at this time. In the UK, and elsewhere, much attention is being paid to the what of the curriculum in schools. Subjects are jockeying for position, with STEM subjects (Science. Technology, Engineering and Maths) being challenged to include the arts, making the acronym STEAM. Music too falls under this spotlight. We already have the situation where in some jurisdictions a primarily performance modality is how music appears in schools, whilst in others there is a more generalist non-specific approach to music learning. The reason that these distinctions are important is that sometimes one is mistaken for the other! In the UK we are in the throes of having big arguments, with some holding that music education should not focus solely on learning to play an instrument or singing (what was  termed ‘musical education’ above,) but that it should be that labelled ‘music education’. This matters because funding follows – or does not follow – and so mistaking one for the other helps no-one. This blog has not suggested a preference or a hierarchy, the concern has been to observe that the linguistic niceties of the definitions of each can be problematic if not taken into account, especially if all music in education is schools is assumed to follow only one of these paths.

What matters in when our policy makers, our chief spokespeople, and our leaders and representatives are not clear in their own minds what they are referring to, and with so many voices in favour of music education there is a danger they can become diluted by being at odds with each other in the resulting farrago. In an academic journal we need to understand our terminologies, and so these distinctions are offered as a starting point for considering the many roles of music and education.

-Martin Fautley and Regina Murphy

You can read the latest issue of BJME now on Cambridge Journals Online, with free access to the editorial on which this blog post is based.

To keep up with the latest updates from BJME, follow @BJMEMusic on Twitter. You can also follow the editorial team at @DrFautley and @reginawit.




Bowman, W. (2012) ‘Music’s place in education’. In McPherson, G. & Welch, G. (Eds), The Oxford Handbook of Music Education, Vol. 1, p. 21. New York, Oxford University Press.

Engelmann, S. & Carnine, D. (1982) Theory of instruction: Principles and applications, New York, Irvington Publishers.

Finney, J. (2011) Music Education in England, 1950-2010: The Child-Centred Progressive Tradition, Farnham, Ashgate.

Jorgensen, E. R. (1997) In search of music education, Champaign, IL, University of Illinois Press.

Pitts, S. (2000) Reasons to teach music: Establishing a place in the contemporary curriculum. British Journal of Music Education, 17, 1, 32-42.

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