Archive for April, 2018

The Achievement of Musical Values in Novices

April 29, 2018

The Achievement of Musical Values in Novices

It is possible for novice musicers and listeners to achieve the values of music and listening.  The values of musicing and listening are general human values not unique to only high-level professional musicians, but to all types of musicers, regardless of ability level.  If we assume that some of the values of musicing include the development of human skill, the enjoyment in that process, the strengthening of empathy through cooperation, the enhancement of human emotional expression, and the development of self-esteem, then it seems reasonable to assume that novice musicers can achieve these values by learning and exploring music in both structured and unstructured environments.  According to Elliott and Silverman (2015), “as persons, we have an innate desire to deploy our enactive-embodied powers to achieve human flourishing, happiness, fellowship, meaningfulness, and self-knowledge through self-other knowledge. One way human beings have sought out this knowledge is through musicing and listening” (p. 360).  

One of the most powerful human drives and human values is the development of skill.  Since novices have a great deal of skill that needs developing, it seems reasonable that with enough discipline they will realize this value.  Elliott and Silverman (2015) state, “the most powerful drive in the ascent of man is his pleasure in his own skill. He loves to do what he does well and, having done it well, he loves to do it better” (p. 368).  It seems pretty clear that both the interest in and attainability of this value is high in both novice and professional musicers alike.  A simple observation of the number of music settings in the world in which novices play a significant role supports this idea. According to Elliott and Silverman (2015), “indeed, even a quick glance around the world is enough to show that although some people make music chiefly for money, status, and other tangible rewards, most do not. Most musicers and listeners find the actions of musicing and listening meaningful in themselves, for the sake of the self, and for the sake of the self and others” (p. 363).

           With the assistance of a great music teacher or CM facilitator, it becomes even more possible for a novice musicer to not only develop their skills, but to also achieve a state of flow while doing so.  Flow is the optimal state between challenge and ease that allows the process of making music to go smoothly for the student. In mentioning a hypothetical example of a music student name Sara, Elliott and Silverman (2015) state that “balancing of musical understanding and musical challenge will restore enjoyment, and place Sara back in the channel of enjoyment and self-growth(p. 385).  According to Csikszentmihalyi, Silverman, and Elliott, happiness isn’t necessarily directly caused by praise but rather in the achievement and state of flow experienced by the musicer (Elliott & Silverman, 2015, p.374).

           The enjoyment and benefit of taking part in a community of musicians is also equally available to the novice musicer as the expert.  Through interacting with others in a musical practice, the novice can learn more about both themselves, the means for teamwork, and community values.  According to Elliott and Silverman (2015), “the key to understanding “self” is the relationships the self has to others” (p. 362). Through interacting with others, the novice musicer can gain insight into their own identity.  There is no need to have an expert skill level in order to attain these insights during musical exploration.

It is also pretty clear that novice musicers can enjoy the communal benefits that music provides without having an expert level of skill.  My church choir is made up of primarily novice musicians exercising their right to worship through song. There are countless millions of community organizations around the world in which people are involved in the enjoyment of making music on a novice level.  As Elliott and Silverman (2015) say, “on the most obvious level, performers, improvisers, composers, arrangers, and conductors make musical sounds for a variety of purposes, including dancing, worshipping, celebrating, marching, mourning, socializing, teaching, learning, and so on” (p. 379).  Many of the participants in these forms of musicing are novices.


One condition that contributes to students not investing themselves in musics is a poor environment, be it at school or in the person’s living environment.  School environments that are dominated by fear, an overemphasis on standardized testing, or even the American overemphasis on writing and math all contribute to a lack of investment in musics.  As Elliott and Silverman (2015) say, “positive social circumstances are necessary for developing the understandings and knowings necessary to achieve flow. Sustained effort and concentration are not likely to occur in learning environments that are dominated by fear, embarrassment, or punishment-all of which can arise from unethical teaching” (p. 369).

Another situation in which it would be difficult for students to invest themselves in musics is when their basic biological needs for food or shelter are not met.  Schools in underprivileged areas come to mind. “When biological and social needs intrude into consciousness, the result is disorder. Order is restored in consciousness by satisfying these needs” (Elliott & Silverman, 2015, p. 369).  In such needy environments students are unable to achieve the focus necessary to invest themselves in musicing and listening.

Another unfortunate situation that occurs in schools which prevent students from safely musicing and listening is bullying.  Within schools, “music classrooms are ‘homes’ for [students’] growing sense of individuality and intersubjectivity” (Elliott & Silverman, 2015, p. 374).  In spite of this fact, bullying still pervades some school environments and even affects the lives of the music teachers themselves.  

Some people simply do not find music interesting or aligning with life values that they would otherwise find important, and thus do not invest themselves.  “Accordingly, there will always be a few students who find musics incongruent with their personal values and goals” (Elliott & Silverman, 2015, p. 385).  In addition to not finding musicing interesting, some people might not agree with the ideas, values, and meanings in particular musical products (Elliott & Silverman, 2015, p. 385).

Within the context of the school, some students may not be able to achieve flow within the music classroom for a variety of reasons. This may lead to those students losing or never attaining interest in musicing and listening.  This also implies a great responsibility on the part of the teacher to ensure that flow is taking place within the walls of the classroom. According to Elliott and Silverman (2015), “as music teachers well know, some students who arrive at points S2 or S3 may give up altogether. Some may not buy into the challenge-knowledge relationship as it manifests itself in the musical context” (p. 385).

Finally, while attempting to develop skill, some students may never be able to develop a framework for exemplars of musicing and give up, feeling as if they haven’t accomplished anything.  According to Elliott and Silverman (2015), students “require practice in recognizing when, why, and how they are meeting their musical goals. Unless they learn how to gauge feedback in relation to contexts and flexible traditions of musical praxis, they will not experience self-growth and musical enjoyment” (p. 386).  Without the help of an experienced teacher, an otherwise promising novice may give up on the path to attaining mastery because they do not have a proper definition of mastery and do not have a clear goal to strive for.

In conclusion, if we consider the values of music to be those stated above, then it is certainly possible for novices to attain the values of musicing/listening, especially if they by engage in quality CM music programs and music instruction (Elliott & Silverman, 2015, p. 387).  When there are barriers within the community or the classroom, then there is less of a possibility of novices attaining these values, assuming they have an internal interest in and alignment with the values of musicing.


Elliott, J, & Silverman, M.  (2015). Music Matters: A Philosophy of Music Education.  New York, NY: Oxford University Press.


Musicianship/Listenership is Context-Specific

April 29, 2018

Musicianship/Listenership is Context-Specific

In the 15th century, Descartes put forth the idea “I think therefore I am,” spreading the idea of the duality of mind and body, or that the mind (and therefore knowledge/knowing) is separate from the body. In much of today’s music education philosophy, we find traces of this mind-body split (see, for example, Reimer, 2002). However, this archaic notion of the mind-body split calls into question the very essence of contextual personhood, and, therefore, musical understanding being context dependent. Therefore, in this paper I will show that both the teaching and practice of music is at odds with Descartes’ idea because it is inseparable from the “mind-body” and the musics and culture in which a person is practicing.  Since music is inseparable from the context of the human beings that create its sounds and from the context of the musics and culture that exist during, before, and after its creation, musicianship/listenership is context-specific.

Many people don’t necessarily need to know music theory or how to read notation in order to enjoy music.  As listeners, if they are absorbed in the “context” of their musical culture, many people say they are able to both understand and enjoy the idioms of their type of music.  According to Gary Marcus, “listeners don’t need to know the structural details of a song to enjoy it, any more than patrons of a magic show need to know how a magician can hide a coin in the palm of his or her hand” (Elliott & Silverman, 2015, p. 195).  How are these people able to still enjoy and understand these art forms? They are able to do this through the repeated listening of a variety of songs within the genres and idioms ubiquitous to their culture, which become very familiar to them. In this way, uninformed musical listenership is context-specific.

The case is no different for uninformed musicianship.  “Quite remarkably, many people ‘just pick up’ the abilities needed to sing songs they hear in everyday life, sing along well with recordings, and play instruments by ear, without informal or formal instruction”  (Elliott & Silverman, p. 196). One example I can think of off the top of my head is the Beatles, who were arguably the most popular original rock band of all time. They have stated in interviews that they could not read or write traditional music notation and instead invented their own form of notational “shorthand” used to remember the chords and lyrics of songs.  They also felt that if they could not remember a song the next day, it wasn’t worth “saving” and was probably not a hit song. Paul McCartney said, “we would write down the words and if we needed to we might write the name of the chords but we wouldn’t really bother too much. We had a rule that came in very early out of sheer practicality, which was, if we couldn’t remember the song the next day, then it was no good” (Miles, 1998, p. 37).  Therefore musical praxis of the “greatest rock band of all time” was context-specific to their “mind-body” as well as the idioms of their day.

There is also a directly biological component to being able to enjoy and reproduce music.  In his article, “Enacting Musical Experiences,” Joel Krueger (2010) discusses people with “amusia, an experience of pitch distortion occurring simultaneously with gradual hearing loss,” eventually leading to people who hear music as random noise  (p. 114). Eventually, some of these patients are able to recover part of their listening via sustained perceptual attention. As Krueger (2010) says later in the article, “within this sort of focused deep listening, we enact perceptual gestures that very literally change the structure of the piece-as-perceived” (p. 114).  This example shows how inextricably linked and specific music is to the context of the human body and its functioning.

An out-of-context verbal understanding and knowledge of something is different from the actual performance of that thing.  Consider the experience of an educator practicing a lesson plan alone versus practicing in front of students. Everything is much different when done in front of students.  The audience always changes the course of a lesson. In the same vein, when a band performs live, they may change how loud or soft they perform a passage or even change the next choice of song in their set list in response to the cheers (or jeers) from the crowd.  Just like the complete practice of teaching is inseparable from the context of the classroom, which includes the students, the school, the materials, etc., the complete practice of a musical performance is inseparable from and context-specific to the audience, the auditorium, the instruments used, and the social and cultural norms within which that music is performed.

Separate from but also in addition to music teaching, it is also difficult for music to exist outside of the technological advances of the time.  For example, it is unfathomable to imagine EDM existing without both computer technology and African loop-based musical forms. Furthermore, “musical instruments play a key role in our appreciation of many of the skills of music making”  (Alperson, 2008, p. 37). Imagine trying to play a pianissimo melodic passage on a harpsichord or a band trying to perform the chorus of “Good Vibrations” without a Theremin. It can’t be done. In this way music is context-specific to the instruments and technologies it is created with.

Similarly, being able to create and perform music effectively can only exist in relation to the “products, values, and cultural norms” within that practice of music and its culture.  For example, a jazz drummer is not necessarily going to be a proficient rock drummer. A wedding band drummer is not necessarily a proficient original band drummer. Each position with each group requires a different set of skills, ideas, beliefs, and decisions to be made.  

Moreover, when evaluating a music performance as “good” or “bad,” if such a thing exists, or evaluating a practitioner or teacher as “skilled” or “insufficiently skilled,” one cannot separate their evaluation from the context of the musical products they are attempting to demonstrate (Elliott & Silverman, 2015, p. 234).  Bruce Springsteen’s singing is an example of music making in which “pitch-matching ability” or “proper vocal technique” removed from the context of the musical style is meaningless. According to Marissa Silverman, “If we expect Bruce Springsteen to sound like Placido Domingo, we’d wrongly evaluate his singing (and vice versa).”  

Music performance and music educational praxes are also context-specific to the rules of being a good human being within one’s culture and the rest of the world.  “Of course, it’s very possible to perform and listen to “Daybreak Express” without understanding its cultural-ideological dimension and its relationship to the praxis-specific traditions of 1930s American jazz.  But to do so would be to overlook and “underhear” something significant” (Elliott & Silverman, 2015, p. 226). What would one make of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” without knowing about the Civil Rights Movement?

It follows from what has been stated previously that a musician’s “knowing” is evident not in what she says but what she does, and much of this knowledge falls outside the realm of Cartesian cold-cognition.  “True, many brilliant performers, improvisors, composers, and so on talk and write eloquently about music. But many others don’t.” “Knowing how to make musical judgments depends on an understanding of the musical contexts…”  In order to achieve this ability, “music makers and listeners acquire nonverbal impressions, or an affective “sense of things:’ while doing, making, and critically reflecting in specific musical situations” (Elliott & Silverman, 2015, p. 224).  

In conclusion, “knowing” music is inseparable from the context of the experience of and performance of itself and other related musics.  Artists’ knowledge is not reducible to propositional knowledge (Elliott & Silverman, 2015, p. 215). Musicianship/listenership does not exist outside the context of human beings, but lives and breathes within the body of humanity and connects to other musicians and music practices, other human beings, and human life and culture both past and present.



Elliott, J, & Silverman, M.  (2015). Music Matters: A Philosophy of Music Education.  New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Alperson, P. (2008).  “The Instrumentality of Music.”  Denver, CO: The American Society for Aesthetics.

Kruger, J. W. (2010).  “Enacting Musical Experience.”  Exeter, EX: Imprint Academic.

Miles, B.  (1998). Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now.  New York, NY: Henry Hold and Company, L.L.C.


An Argument For School and Community Music

April 29, 2018

An Argument For School and Community Music

           As a full-time performing musician and music teacher I encounter many different points of view in my daily life and work experience as to the value of music and whether it is an essential need in our country’s school curriculums and communities.  In what follows, I argue that music is both an essential part of a well-rounded education as well as an important community activity that can greatly increase the overall happiness and quality of life of the individuals who partake in it.

           In order to make this argument, first I will put forth a definition of happiness.  According to Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness, one of the main contributors to human happiness is the development of virtue.  “The human virtues, to be capitalized on in attaining authentic happiness include wisdom and knowledge; courage, love and humanity; justice, temperance, and spirituality-transcendence(Seligmanquoted in Wellik and Hoover, 2004, p. 59). In part three of Seligman’s book, he talks about “eudaimonia,” which is a state of persistent happiness.  Seligman states that this condition can only exist when an individual engages in “activity consistent with noble purposes.  In a nutshell, when we focus on causes outside ourselves that benefit humankind and utilize our unique signature strengths, we transcend to higher and higher planes of authentic happiness”(Wellik and Hoover, 2004, p. 60).

           The practice of music contains both “musical values” and “extra-musical values” that are associated with music performance and being part of a musical ensemble, which help achieve Seligman’s goals of authentic happiness.  These can be defined as valuables that come directly from the act of engaging with the music and those that arise indirectly from performing and creating music.

Within the musical realm there is the building of musical skill itself through rehearsal and repetition of musical passages.  The practice of building musical skill seems to engage a person in the kinds of activities that Seligman proposes help oneachieve happiness, which are activities that cause us to focus on things outside of ourselves (creation and performance).  In addition to gaining physical and mental skills that are directly musical, someone engaged in the act of music can achieve a state of “flow,” a term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professional psychologist, to mean “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter” (Csikszentmihalyi, 2009, p. 4).  Wellik and Hoover state, “clearly, readers will recognize the similarities between Seligman’s ideas and Csikszentmihalyi’s (1975) notion of flow (well worth reclaiming readers’ time) and Maslow’s “peak experiences” (Wellik and Hoover, 2004, p. 59). Musical problem solving inherent in creation and performance seems to take us outside of our own personal problems and get us to focus in the moment on something that will last eternally for consumption by others.

In between the bounds of both musical and extra-musical values, there is the practice of music as a means of self-expression and self-awareness.  Not inherent exclusively to music, these values can be achieved in all art forms. According to Bennett Reimer, “consequences of musical experience, in addition to the sheer pleasure and fulfillment brought about by creating and sharing musical sounds, include the sense of deepened individuality it yields, the societal beliefs it enables to be embodied and shared, the breadth and depth of feelings it adds to our inner lives, the awareness we gain of both the universality and cultural specificity of the human condition, the dimension of depth (or “specialness”) it adds to our experience of life, [and] the fulfillment of an inborn capacity to create and share the meanings expressive sounds afford…” (Reimer, 2002, p.4).  According to Kwasi Enin, a 17-year old from Long Island, who was accepted into all eight Ivy-League universities, “music became the spark of his intellectual curiosity” (Ehnes, 2014, p. 2).

Moving toward extra-musical values, the development of one’s own personal methodology and approach to practice, rehearsal, and creation also helps someone along his or her path to “esteem” and “self-actualization,” which are part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.  According to Saul McLeod, as each individual is unique, the motivation for self-actualization leads people in different directions (Kenrick et al., 2010).  For some people self-actualization can be achieved through creating works of art or literature, for others through sport, in the classroom, or within a corporate setting”  (McLeod, 2017, p. 6). Music is clearly an art form in which one can work towards achieving self-actualization through creation and performance.

Also within the “extra-musical” realm there is the element of “community-building” in music performance both within the classroom and within community music settings in which a group of musicians is rehearsing and performing the music.  Seligman examines“secure attachment” and “feeling positive emotion and expressing it”  (Wellik and Hoover, 2004). “Belonging” isafoundationalneedin the pyramid of Maslow’s hierarchyof needs(McLeod, 2017).  Even if we don’t invoke Seligman or Maslow it seems obvious that itisimportant to feel like one belongs to something.  Certainly, being a member of a musical group gives one a sense of belonging within that group.

Another extra-musical value is that the practice of and achievement of musical skill can result in eventual monetary gain for students as they embark on careers as music educators, live performers, and composers.  This is also another means of achieving many of the layers of Maslow’s Hierarchy, including “self-actualization,” “esteem,” “belonging and love,” and obviously, “safety” and “physiological needs.”

In conclusion, there are many reasons why music education is important and essential in our schools, and the most important one is that music can be shown to be a practice that greatly adds to human happiness while satisfying many human needs.   If we revisit Seligman’s virtues of happiness, we can see that the practice of music aids in the attainment of many of those virtues mentioned. To me, all of the benefits discussed, and especially the attainment of happiness are excellent reasons for including it in our education curriculum and in community practice.


  1. Wellik, J. J. and Hoover, J. H., (Spring 2004).  Authentic Happiness [Review of the book Authentic Happiness, by M. Seligman.  Reclaiming Children and Youth, pp. 59-60, Retrieved from
  2. McLeod, S. (2017) Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved from
  3. Kenrick, D. T., Neuberg, S. L., Griskevicius, V., Becker, D. V., & Schaller, M. (2010). Goal-Driven Cognition and Functional Behavior The Fundamental-Motives Framework.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(1), 63-67.
  4. Reimer, B.  (Spring, 2002).  Why Do Humans Value Music?  Philosophy of Music Education Review 10, no. 1.  Retrieved from


  1.  Ehnes, J. (April 18, 2014).  The Value of Music. Huffington Post.  Retrived from
  2. Csikszentmihalyi, M.  (2009). Flow:The Psychology of Optimal Experience.  New York, NY: Harper Collins.


Email to My Professor

April 28, 2018

I’m finally getting to your article on happiness and I read the story
about the administrator.  After listening to that, I feel like I have
enough evidence to state that there are a huge number of these people
in power who feel they have to (and are able to) make these “big,
bold” (and ultimately unsubstantiated) statements that profoundly
affect their teachers.

Where does that come from?  Is that an American cultural thing?

I feel this at in my district as well.  Why do so many people in these
power positions feel that:

(a) They even have enough intellect to say something that is that
important/groundbreaking (ever)


(b)  That it is even possible to say something that groundbreaking
every single day


(c) They have enough intellect to see some change in things that
“common folk” (read: teachers) couldn’t have figured out already.

It’s like everybody in middle management is a visionary, and as
(Webster?) would say, nobody is a visionary.

This is the big problem I have with the idiocy that runs rampant in
education.  And I’m not hearing of this kind of thing in other

Most of the people in these power positions listen to their own hot
air enough times that they convince themselves that they are saying
something meaningful when they aren’t.

Is this our culture?  What is it?  I think Russell said that the
biggest problem with the world is the the smallest minded individuals
are so sure of themselves whilst the most intelligent ones never are.