Philosophy Scenario in Music Education


Art education requires from teachers even more innovative approaches that any other education does. Professionals speak of the whole philosophy of art education that covers existing methods and approaches. Inexperienced teachers might claim that there is no need in such philosophy as knowing how to make art is enough in itself. However, Reimer claims that “to the degree that individual music educators are helped to formulate a compelling philosophy, the profession will become more solid and secure.” (Reimer, 2003, p. 15)

The reality of modern education is such that teachers are rarely aware of the philosophical nature of their decisions (Regelski, 2005, p. 219). The very notion of music is philosophical, teachers who do not strive to understand this meaning will not get the practical implications expected, instead they will suffer all sorts of difficulties.

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Regelski claims that one of the main problems that appear because of the teacher’s philosophical unawareness is the question of whether the meaning of music is “aesthetic, autonomous, immanent and, thus, intrinsic to the sounds (or scores) of musical ‘works’”, or whether it is “not ‘in’ the sounds of the moment (or ‘in’ a score) but rather arises in connection with the situated personal and social uses and status-functions at stake.” (Regelski, 2005, p. 219) The aesthetic philosophy of music considers musical meaning as aesthetic whereas the latter philosophy roots music in and as praxis.

“Music education as aesthetic education” has historically been the basis for music education. It finds its main support in idealism that separated the mind (ideas) from the body (sentience). The mind is given precedence while the body is depreciated (Regelski, 2005, p. 220).

The main objective that the teachers following this kind of music education pursue is to develop with their students aesthetic responsiveness through concentration on the aesthetic qualities of musical works.

According to this approach the value of music consists in the capacity of musical sound patterns to objectify human feelings. Teachers are interested in “music as a type of aesthetic experience. In aesthetic experience we perceive objects in order to grasp their sensuous characteristics and not primarily to further knowledge or useful enterprises.” (Elliot, 1995, p. 27) During their music classes students are encouraged to develop their responsiveness to the aesthetic qualities of musical works.

This goes along with development of aesthetic perception and with fostering aesthetic experiences “so that such experiences may occur more often and at more subtle levels of response.” (Elliot, 1995, p.27) Reacting to the formal and technical qualities of musical objects students acquire aesthetic experience. Through acquiring this experience aesthetic raising of consciousness is achieved. Moreover, there exists a view that “the aesthetic qualities of musical works capture and represent the general forms of human feelings (tension and resolution, motion and rest, rise and fall)” (Elliot, 1995, p. 28). Therefore, understanding music results in developing the students’ ability to understand themselves and the people around.

Teachers who operate within the aesthetic philosophy focus their efforts on various ways to evoke in their students bright images that result from listening to this or that piece of music. At classes the teachers may ask students to draw pictures of what they hear or to write some story related to the images that the music offers. The teacher strives to arouse students’ feelings and emotions. The classes and rehearsals of the type help the students build up their strong personalities that can adequately control their feelings and emotions without being indifferent to what is going around them. Outside classes and rehearsals also seem an effective tool in aesthetic education.

The students comprehend the qualities of music in an open air that contributes to their understanding of the beauty around. The beauty of the music is thus combined with the beauty of the nature. The students see how skillfully some music works might render the same feelings that the nature evokes with them and try to do the same through composing. Thus, passive listening turns into active one when the students become creators themselves.

The main objective of praxial philosophy of music education is to offer an explanation of the nature and values of music. The nature and values of music and the way they should be explained to pupils are considered in David J. Elliott’s work Music Matters: A New Philosophy of Music Education (1995). The author offers “multidimensional” concept of music, musical works, musical understanding and music values in human life. The multiple approach to achieve these values that the teachers following the principles of paraxial philosophy should implement in teaching presupposes promoting a mixture of reflective and codependent actions: the students are encouraged to perform and to listen, to improvise and to listen, to compose and to listen, to arrange and to listen, to conduct and to listen.

Model teacher, adherent of the paraxial philosophy in music education, should place music making and music listening at the centre of his/her teaching. While performing and improvising music the students should be encouraged to compose, arrange and conduct music themselves. Music teaching situations should include recorded music and conversations about music that enhance the students’ understanding of how they should listen to music and make it well.

The philosophy of music education under consideration comprises the main principles of a “praxial” view of art. The latter resists the assumption that art can best be understood on the basis of some universal or absolute feature or set of features, such as aesthetic formalism, whether of the strict or enhanced variety. Art is understood through perception of the variety of meaning and values observed in actual practice in particular cultures (Alperson, 1991, p.234).

The approach does not imply abandoning the idea of aesthetic experience and in the long run it admits the cultural significance of this or that piece of art. The thing is that the emphasis is made on “nonaesthetic” functions that art performs. The concepts of art are examined through the context of human practices defined in terms of the specific skills and knowledge. In terms of music education praxial philosophy aims to show what music means for listeners.

In practice teaching music according to this approach means that exploration of production, study, and appreciation of music in contexts is of primary importance whereas the aesthetic qualities are less essential to the practice. In the process of learning the students become critically reflective listeners and musical amateurs who are capable to give music an important place in their lives and the lives of people around them. As musical works involve many kinds of meanings the students are encouraged to decipher them. Musical understanding involves various kinds of thinking and knowing which are developed in the process of learning. The significance of music is disclosed when students explore the essence and the meaning of life values.

In terms of praxial philosophy it is especially important that students’ musical education equally combines performing and improvising art. Composing, arranging and conducting should be taught repeatedly to a reasonable diversity of music genres or musical practices.

Thomas A. Regelski in his work Teaching General Music in Grades 4-8: A Musicianship Approach (2004) elaborates an “Action Learning Model,” based on praxial theory of music education. The author highlights the importance of musical learning and skills that have real-life applications and lifelong importance. In this view music classes are regarded as “musicianship laboratories” where students’ basic musicianship skills are developed in close interconnection with holistic musical actions such as composing, performing, signing and listening. In such laboratories children acquire investigatory experiences.

The teacher’s efforts are focused on promotion of life-skills relevant to the student’s world, teaching functional musical skills, evoking interest in unfamiliar musical experiences and addressing student’s “need to achieve” (Regelski, 2004, p. 5).

The main postulates of this approach are:

  • To connect students’ school and out of school life (for example, “recreational singing, music reading sufficient to church and community choirs, “making sense” of music and enjoyment through listening” (Regelski, 2004, p. 5);
  • To involve students in actual apprenticeships, practicums, internships and externships;
  • To teach by doing typical tasks needed to succeed in life;
  • To implement educational games, to solve realistic problems that require action strategies (Regelski, 2004, p. 15).

Action Learning within music education is concerned with modeling and developing meanings, values and purposes of a specifically musical kind. Teaching in ways that evoke and develop such musical intentionality differs from the kind of teaching where students are encouraged to “go along” with the fun of musical activities without any clear sense, image or model of their long-term purpose or value (Regelski, 2004, p. 16).

Teachers who follow the postulates of Action Learning encourage students to have musical intentions in mind: they do not simply learn for fun, for fear or to get the grade needed. For example, when students compose a song they strive for musical results and new mastery of musical materials (to some extent, composing is fun) (Regelski, 2004, Ch. 4). Activity for its own sake is not needed: “musical intentionality is fostered when real-life models of musicking are at stake and where part of the intention is to be musically “grown-up.” (Regelski, 2004, p. 16)


The teachers who operate in accordance with praxial philosophy principles build up their classes in such a way so that they combine introducing theoretical material and developing the students’ practical skills. The teacher should beware of making his/her lessons dull and single-type. Creative approaches that the teacher should resort to are expected to make exploration of production, study, and appreciation of music an interesting and useful occupation rather than a routine work.

The tasks that the teacher offers should be of various types but should be directed to enriching the students’ scope of music knowledge and skills. Through listening to music and composing it the students will learn how to decipher the various meanings that music works possess. Introducing the students into the intricate worlds of professionals involved into music creation the educators teach the students how to uncover the mysteries of music.

Thus, the two kinds of music education discussed above if properly implemented will not simply result in the students’ knowledge in the sphere of music but in the development of their personalities. The two approaches offer teachers different ways of how to foster in students the burning desire to know. If the teacher wants to achieve certain results he/she has to understand the essence of the approaches and make use of their best achievements.


Alperson, Philip. (1991). What should one expect from a philosophy of music education. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 25 (3), 215-242.

Elliott, David J. (1995). Music matters: A new philosophy of music education. New York: Oxford University Press.

Regelski, Thomas A. (2004). Teaching general music in grades 4-8: A musicianship approach. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Regelski, Thomas A. (2005). Curriculum: Implications of aesthetic versus praxial philosophies. In David J. Elliot (Ed.), Praxial Music Education: Reflections and Dialogues (pp. 219-48). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Reimer, Bennett. (2003). A philosophy of music education. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.