Learning how to respond to music is an important part of any music classroom. As Bauer (2014) points out, music-listening is already a large part of most of our students’ lives. Hallam (as cited in Bauer, 2014) suggests that appreciating music is a natural human experience and elicits a variety of individual physical and emotional responses. In addition, students are far more likely to continue using music listening skills throughout their lives than they are to continue composing or making music. In my experience teaching elementary general music, there can sometimes be a difference of opinion regarding how much “music appreciation” to include music classes as opposed to active music-making.
For the last two years, I was working in an urban district with a very large music department, which included about ten elementary general music teachers. During several of our departmental in-service days, our goal was to determine some unified grade-level expectations, which had never been previously developed in a city-wide curriculum. We were left to do this entirely on our own, as our department head was a self-proclaimed “band guy” and provided little support with topics of general music. In discussing our individual approaches to our planning and teaching, it became clear that there were significant differences in our priorities. Interestingly, these differences were very divided by age, with the more senior members of the department including very little singing and active music-making in their classrooms and the newer and younger teachers leaning towards including as much music-making as possible, in addition to developing listening skills and music appreciation.
Unfortunately, I learned through these experiences and several observations of teachers in their classrooms that “music appreciation” can sometimes be a catch-all phrase to justify lazy teaching. Although Bauer (2014) suggests that students, especially in the lower elementary levels, should be exposed to a wide range of musical styles, it must be done in through a well-planned and meaningful lesson in order to be a genuine and valuable musical experience. For example, showing an age-appropriate musical to a class can be a valuable experience if the genre is discussed and students are encouraged to respond to the music, especially if the group of students is otherwise unlikely to be exposed to the material. However, frequently showing movies of different musical genres in class without providing the necessary context or guidance is doing a great disservice to the students. Unfortunately, I have encountered several music teachers for whom this is the norm. Instead, music listening assignments should be incorporated thoughtfully into the music classroom by incorporating appropriate technology, expanding musical vocabulary, using visual aids such as listening maps, and developing knowledge of music theory and differences between genres and world cultures.
Bauer, W. I. (2014). Music learning today: digital pedagogy for creating, performing, and responding to music. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.