The Power of Music as a Language

I am strong believer in the power of music as a unifier. I have always felt it is the one true universal language, it is possible for people from around the world who speak different languages and cannot communicate in other way to come together over a piece of Music and create something bigger, better and more beautiful than they could by themselves. It is a unifying force, indiscriminate in its nature, Music crosses over all social classes and demographics, races, cultures, religions. It is an activity for a team, it helps build relationships, unifying people in a common goal and outcome where everyone wins and everyone plays an important role in the bigger picture. Music helps teach valuable life skills including problem solving, team work, discipline and commitment.

14480659_1242952775736748_5444989310490045892_oI had a recent experience that help confirm my thoughts and beliefs when I was contacted by a parent wanting some additional lessons for their daughter while they were on holidays. The family were from Taiwan and were out holidaying in Perth, their daughter, let’s call her Mary for the sake of this post, a talented young clarinetist…the catch is that she could not really speak or understand a great deal of English. It would prove especially difficult considering I’m an Australian who really does slur his words, speaks with a have Australian accent and at a million miles an hour.

The question was, how would I go about teaching her? How could we work together to bridge this language barrier so that she got the most out of this experience?

The answer actually proved quite simple, through modelling. Every elements of the lesson I made sure that I modelled first, we followed the principle, “if you want to become better, do as I do…follow my example” and this seemed to work really well. We managed to achieve considerable improvement in Mary’s sense of time, rhythmic concept and tone production in a short period of time.

Playing Music managed to bring us together and communicate on a higher level to achieve a tangible result. Not only this but Music managed to teach Mary life skills and musicianship skills to assist in her future development as she returned home to Taiwan.

I have continued to think on these lessons, I feel that I have learnt a lot out of these myself. My personal pedagogy has been effected. Why waste time with words in lessons or ensemble rehearsals when they are not needed…maybe more teachers need to follow the principle of “do as I do” and model the behaviours and skills to their students…after all, isn’t this why we became musicians and educators in the first place? To play music and inspire the next generation to follow and grow in their understanding of the world around them, to fully express themselves and impact the lives of others?

I am hoping to see Mary again in the future, if not for more lessons then hopefully on the world stage somewhere as a Concert Clarinetist inspiring other young women to follow in her footsteps.

Effective Teaching and Classroom Management


I believe that as a teacher I have the responsibility to assist students in developing the skills necessary to live full and successful lives as positive contributors in the society in which we live. This belief has, unfortunately, been formed as a result of my experiences teaching in high schools across Perth where the future generation of our country, the men and women who will shape our country’s future, no longer are receiving this in the context of the family unit.

I believe that the nature of children is to belong and be recognized as valuable and important for who they are and not what they do. This belief has been formed from my interaction with my music students in high schools. The children identify themselves in their social groups or the extra curricular activities that they participate in, such as sport and music.

I have learnt the conditions necessary for students to learn through my association with school band programs. I believe that students learn through being in a welcoming environment with peers of a higher ability in tasks than themselves and that through their association and interaction they develop new skills. This has happened on many occasions with my beginner students who I encourage to join band as soon as they have learnt enough notes. Their musical ability increases by being surround by better students who assist them to grow in their abilities.

The purpose of discipline is not to punish a student but to help them grow and develop in the choices and decisions that they make to become positive contributing members of society. My music students experience this with regards commitment to practice, they learn that to improve and develop in a skill takes time and commitment, the weeks they commit to the required practice they see growth. Similarly, they learn that the weeks they do not practice they have to live with the consequence of not improving and repeating the work the following week.


Students are disruptive in a classroom not because they are bad people but because their basic values or needs are not being met. A student trumpeter in one of the bands I ran many years ago started misbehaving on a regular basis which was out of character. After doing some investigating, I discovered that he was feeling threatened and jealous of the abilities of another trumpeter in the band. We worked hard as a band to help the trumpeter realize that we valued him and his contribution to the band’s success the misbehavior ceased.

The teacher and the students share an equal power, equal responsibility in the classroom. My instrumental lessons a prime example of this, I have the power to teach the student how to play, however, if they don’t apply to learning the concept and practicing throughout the week they will not master the concept.

I believe that a teacher has the role of being a mentor and model for the students to be admired and inspired to be like. I believe this due to the impact that my first saxophone teacher had on me when I was nine. He managed to instill in me a love for the saxophone which has seen me pursue it as a full time career.

The use of a variety of teaching strategies is important to create a better opportunity for students to grasp new concepts and ideas. I have experienced this through my work as a Musical Director for over ten years at my local church. Working with amateur musicians meant I needed to adopt simplistic and innovative ways to teach songs and form an effective team atmosphere.


I am going to reference throughout my theory section elements of the psycho-education response theories from Rudolph Dreikurs (Goal Directed Behavior, Misguided Goals and Logical Consequences) and William Glasser (Choice Theory) as well as examine Cognitivism through Vygotsky’s Sociocultural theory of development, and elements of Humanism. My aim is to draw conclusions that will support my overarching philosophy; “a teacher needs to be responsible in assisting students develop the necessary skills to live full and successful lives” and, in doing so, address my beliefs on factors that impact a student’s learning capacity and behavior inside the classroom.

“The recognized function of the school is to prepare children for life, for responsible adulthood. This requires more than teaching a particular subject matter and increasing the knowledge of the students….We have to recognize the school as a value forming agency” (Dreikurs, 1982. p. 78).

Dreikurs suggests that a teacher’s role is not merely teaching subject content, rather that it has the potential to form men and women who can be positive and contributing members of society. He suggests that the school is the child’s second group,  stands between the family and society and “provides the opportunity to change many of the influences made by parents (1982, p. 56). Dreikurs suggests that as I teacher I need to be aware of and take responsibility to influence my students in forming values and goals that align with those of society, thus strengthening my philosophy of the responsibility teachers need to assume in forming and preparing students for a life in society.

The ClassroomDreikurs states in his Goal Directed Behavior Theory that “humans are social beings with the overriding goal of belonging or finding a place in society” (1982, p. 9). If this is considered with Dreikurs’ belief that the school is the child’s second group after family (1982, p. 56) it could be concluded that Dreikurs believes in the importance for teachers  to create an environment where students feel that they belong and can find their place in their “society” being the classroom. Through creating this belonging environment it is possible to conclude that students are influenced to develop these democratic societal behaviors (1982, p. 67).

William Glasser identifies the need to belong as one of the five basic needs that every human is trying to satisfy through their behavior (1998, p. 15) thus, supporting Dreikurs’ opinion that student have the overriding desire to find their place in society (1982. p. 9).

Glasser furthers the assumption on the nature of children by stating that all behavior comes from in desire for humans to satisfy one of their five basic needs of including survive, to belong (including love), to have power (a sense of control over one’s life), to have freedom (to be able to self manage) and to have fun. Glasser suggests that if a student has some of their needs satisfied in classroom they will be “more likely to apply themselves to what is being learned” (1998, p. 33).

“If what is being taught does not satisfy the needs about which a student is currently most concerned, it will make little difference how brilliantly the teacher teaches – the student will not learn” (Glasser, 1998, p. 21).

This emphasis that Glasser places on satisfying the needs of the student in the classroom could be compared to in some ways to the humanistic approach to learning, especially to Maslow’s theory of a hierarchy of needs (1943, 1954, 1968, 1970).

“Perhaps Maslow’s greatest contribution to the humanist psychology and our understanding of learning in that context is his position that people are driven to satisfy their needs and these needs can be organized into a hierarchy” (Churchill et al., 2011. Pg 77).

Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsMaslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1960, 1970, 1987) suggests that all people have needs and are motivated to satisfy and fulfill them. Unlike Glasser, who believes that all the basic needs are equal in their desire to be satisfied to “fulfill our biological destiny” (1998, p. 25), Maslow believed that these needs can be separated into two categories of Deficiency, being; the needs for survival, safety, belonging and self esteem, and Growth Needs; being intellectual achievement, aesthetic appreciation and self-actualization. “According to Maslow, people won’t move to higher needs [these being the growth needs] unless the deficiency needs… have all been met”(Eggen & Kauchak, 2007, p. 303).

The importance of whether the needs of students being satisfied in a hierarchal manner or not, I believe, is not relevant in supporting my theory into how students learn and are motivated, however, it could be assumed both Maslow and Glasser agree that students whose basic needs are met in the classroom are more likely to be motivated to learn, and apply themselves to the activities occurring in the classroom would support a part of my belief about how students learn and are motivated, through relational connection and having a sense of belonging in a classroom.

A cognitive approach to how students learn and are motivated to further their ability to construct knowledge, particularly in relation to Vygotsky’s Sociocultural theory of development (1978) supports my belief in the way that students learn and process information into knowledge through their experiences and social interactions with others.

“Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on a social level, and later, on the individual level; first between people (interpyscholgocial) and then inside the child (intrapyschologocial). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concept. All the higher functions originate as actual relationship between individuals.” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 57).

Vygotsky asserts that a child’s cognitive development is primarily by their social interactions (relationships) with others, which also assumes the necessity to be able to communicate (language) through communication in an attempt to try and understand their world (culture).

Zone of Proximal DevelopmentAn emphasis is placed in this theory in the child learning from social interactions with more knowledgeable others, know as “MKO”. The Zone of Proximity, which is defined as “the distance between the actual development level and the level of potential development as determined through the problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86). He suggests that a child’s learning can be enhanced through collaborating and socializing with others who have attained a higher level of ability, or MKO,  in that specific subject area

Cognitive Learning, specifically Vygotsky’s Sociocultural theory of development could possibly be used in collaboration with a Humanistic approach to learning demonstrated through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Vygotsky’s view of learning and development “ arising directly from social interactions [or relationships]” (Eggan & Kauchak, 2007, p. 201) indicate the importance of creating an environment where the basic needs to belong and feel safe (Humanistic View) are met, without this it could be assumed that students are less likely to interact. The cognitive view on motivation that children learn due to “the need to understand” (Eggen & Kauchak, 2007, p. 306) appear to be similar to Growth Needs defined by Maslow, as needs “that increase as people have experiences of them…[and] growth needs [being intellectual learning, aesthetic appreciation and self-actualization] are never met” (Eggan & Kauchak, 2007, p. 201). My belief on the way students earn and their motivation to learn comes from the collaboration of these two learning theories in the classroom.

Dreikurs’ (1982, p. 4) Goal Directed Theory suggests that a child will continue to behave in a certain way for as long as their primary need to belong and be recognized is being achieved. His work in identifying The Four Mistaken Goals (1948); gaining undue attention, to seek power, to seek revenge or to get even and to display inadequacy (1982, p. 14) help me understand the nature of why students misbehave in the classroom, because their goal to belong and gain recognition is not being achieved.

“The child lost his belief that he can find the belonging and recognition that he desires and erroneously believes that he will find acceptance through provocative behavior by pursuing the mistaken goals” (Dreikurs, 1982, p. 14).

This assertion explaining why students misbehave by identifying The Four Misguided Goals supports my views that misbehavior from students occurs when they perceive that their values or goals are not being met.

Total Behaviors, being a combination of the four individual components; acting, thinking, feeling and physiology are used by Glasser (1998, p. 49) to explain student misbehavior. These total behaviors can be both conscious or subconscious but are all present in every behavior and interaction that occurs and “that we choose most of our total behaviors to try and gain control of people or ourselves”(1998, p. 51). Glasser suggests that students can develop an awareness to their total behaviors and in doing so take responsibility for the choices that they make and the reactions that they choose. This action of encouraging students to take responsibility for their choices and decisions helps support my belief on discipline having the purpose of empowering students to take responsibility and control of their life.

Dreikurs’ assertion that “discipline in the classroom means teaching the child a set of inner controls that will provide him with a pattern of behavior that is acceptable to society and that will contribute to his own welfare and progress” (1982, p. 83) and that “it is possible to stimulate children to proper and acceptable behavior through the use of natural and applied consequences” (1982, p. 117) strengthen my belief that the outcome of discipline is to help students make choices that will maximize their learning and live full lives in society.

Dreikurs (1982, p. 80) and Glasser (1998, pp 54-55) seem to believe that discipline comes from helping students to recognize the cause of their behavior and motivate them internally to make better, more acceptable decisions in the future. Perhaps Dreikurs and Glasser’s belief is an example of students learning by Cognitive Learning Theory due to the focus on a change in their mental processes and constructs in an attempt to make sense of the world”(Eggen and Kauchak, 2007, p. 201).

This would appear to not be the only similarity that Dreikurs and Glasser have in common with Cognitive Learning Theory. The “Zone of Proximal Development” (Vygotsky, 1978) places emphasis on the teacher assisting, the student to be able to self manage their learning. “Choice Theory” (Glasser, 1998) and Dreikurs’ “Four Misguided Goals” encourage teachers to assist students to recognize their behavior is a result of their basic needs (Glasser) or need to belong and be recognized (Dreikurs) not being satisfied, take responsibility for these behaviors and make more socially acceptable ones in the future. It is possible to conclude that these theorists, therefore, believe that students and teachers share the responsibility of power in the classroom and the role of the teacher is as a mentor. This support my belief that the teacher has the role of a mentor and assists students in making decisions that will enable them to take leadership in their life and be valued contributors to society.


The practices that I plan on using to help students effectively behave and learn are proactive in nature. Whilst occasions will arise for reactive responses to occur, it is important to remember that “the child’s potential for learning is greatly enhanced when the child is viewed with mutual respect and when he is given a sense of equality and of equal responsibility along with an acknowledged role in decision making” (Dreikurs, 1982, p. 6). This challenges me as a teacher to always look for means to be building a sense of mutual respect, equality and equal responsibility in every student. This can only effectively be achieved through careful thought and planning prior to being needed in a classroom environment, in other words, by being proactive.

CommunityBuilding an authentic and positive personal relationship with each student and, in doing so, connecting with their needs is one of the proactive behaviors that I am going to use as a teacher. This will be done through activities including learning students names at the beginning of the year and always referring to them by name when greeting them at the beginning of class at the door, assisting them with work, asking them a question, seeing them around the school grounds or even if a happen to run into one of them throughout the course of the week such as in a shopping centre. Taking an interest in their passions and the activities that they participate in away from school, such as sports and music, asking them leading questions and then actively engaging through eyes contact, open body language and my undivided attention to let student know that I authentically care and value them as a person.

At the beginning of the school year I will invest time into developing the class into a community. “Getting to Know” activities to help students find people with similar interests away from the classroom environment such as name games, having to find people with similar favorite pastimes, number of pets will help students get to know each other. This is supported by Glasser (1998) referring to the teacher as a Modern Manager, responsible for creating a more satisfying environment for students to work in and Dreikurs (1982) who asserts that by getting acquainted at the beginning of the year can prevent conflicts later on and build community, “when a child knows that his classmates are friends, that they are interested in him for himself, then he doesn’t have to show off or act up to get attention” (p. 86).

Student work groupsThe desks in the classroom will be arranged into small working group sizes of approximately four to five people. This will assist in creating the community environment and facilitate group learning similar to “Learning Teams” (Glasser, 1998, Chapter 6) this also aligns with Vygotsky’s (1978) Sociocultural theory of development that children learn first between people and then inside (p. 57). The work groups will consist of students of various levels of ability to encourage learner development through social interaction in the form of discussion. This integration of the academically stronger students will benefit all students in the group. The lesser academically gifted students learning by scaffolding, or with the help from a More Knowledgable Other in their Zone of Proximal Development to acquire knew information and the ability to do the task by independently (Vygotsky, 1978).

The stronger students will “find it need fulfilling to help the weaker ones because they want the power and friendship that go with a high performing team” (Glasser, 1998, pg 81).

The work groups will be arranged so that I can move freely between the groups throughout the duration of the activities. This enables me to assist groups as a facilitator, resource and coach (Glasser, 1998, p. 81) and allow me to observe the level of participation of students and encourage students and groups who have not remained on task.

The values and expectations for the class will be established with consultation with the class on the first day of the school year. Year Seven to Nine will achieve achieve this through working in small groups to discuss and come up with five points that they feel are necessary for the classroom to be a great place to learn. Year Ten to Twelve will do a similar activity through the technique of “think, pair, share” another learning strategy that I will use in my classes. Both groups of students will be asked a framed question as follows:

Teacher: “We need to take responsibility as a class group for creating a positive environment for all students to learn. What we’re going to do is take a moment to think about what you believe is necessary to create that positive learning environment (pause). Now we’re going to get into pairs, or groups of three and discuss what we believe is needed. After we have done this I will be asking at random some of your groups to suggest your beliefs.”

As the discussion is occurring I will interact with the groups, listening to their ideas and giving suggestions on possible ways they could articulate what they are attempting to say in a positive and encouraging manner. At the conclusion of the group discussion time I will call on various groups to contribute their established beliefs, all which through my guidance will have arrived at versions of valuing effort, valuing learning, valuing each other, valuing property and valuing our class, these values will be written on the white board to give students a visual aide and then asked at the conclusion of the discussion if they all agree. Dreikurs asserts that it the teacher has “the purpose of group discussions is not only to change behaviors but to change values [which are] the objectives that the teacher has for the class” (1982, p. 145).

I will use a diverse range of teaching techniques and strategies to encourage students to learn including, as previously mentioned, framing questions, think pair share, placemat activities and group discussions. Another technique I will use is presenting the subject matter in a manner that is relevant and interesting to the students. As a music teacher this will be achieved through making the course practical base, that being playing music. One activity that I can do is separate the class into small bands and give them a project where they have to learn to perform a song in a specific genre of music being studied and also give a presentation on the song and the history of the genre including stylistic elements. This could be explained as an example of cognitive learning in agreement with Vygotsky’s Sociocultural theory of development.

School BooksA variety of low and medium level responses will be used in the classroom to deal with misbehavior issues. Identifying the “Mistaken Goal” (Dreikurs, 1982, Chapter 4) is important to decide how the student needs to be approached to develop long term growth in the student and not to reinforce the Mistaken Goal. I would use of low level responses including intentional ignoring, waiting for student’s attention, proximity and calling the student by name. These strategies would be used in a non-confrontational manner to prevent a power struggle with the student and always in a manner to cause the least amount of distraction. In the circumstances where the low level responses didn’t work I would employ medium level responses which would highlight to the student the natural or logical consequences that could result from their behavior if they choose to continue not to adhere to the values the class has established. If the student changes their behavior then I would thank them and continue with no further mention, if the behavior continues then I would need to follow through with the having them experience the consequence. If this occurs I would also need to ensure that I met with the student at a later time to follow up and facilitate growth and change in the student’s value;

“In every case the student must be helped to understand why he is behaving as he does, how this kind of behavior  has brought him ‘success’ until now, how it affects other people, and finally how he can obtain status through more acceptable methods of behavior” (Dreikurs, 1982, p. 129).


This assignment has provided me with the valuable opportunity to learn about myself through committing to the process on reflecting on my philosophy, beliefs and values as a teacher, the nature of children and the way that they learn. Whilst I am confident that my core beliefs on teaching have not changed as a result of these units I do feel as though I am now coming from a stronger position on what I believe, why I believe it, how this aligns with teaching theories and classroom management theorists and, most importantly how I can apply all of this in a learning environment to motivate students to develop in their knowledge of both the curriculum and in the skills needed to live full and successful lives as positive, contributing members of society.

I have recognized over the course of the semester that my implementation of strategies to learning and classroom management is different in my instrumental tuition and ensemble direction in my current jobs in local high schools. I have found myself becoming more reflective on my behaviors and interactions with students whether it be in trying to find a more interesting method of communicating a new concept to the students and making attempts to build a sense of responsibility into the students through allowing them to have more input into the repertoire that is selected.

I feel that I now have a much broader and effective range of strategies to organize lessons and engage students through group learning activities and discussions in a class room setting. This is a method that I always love to use on an individual music lesson basis and knowing that there are ways that I can effectively keep this style in a classroom context is very empowering and encouraging for me.

Another aspect that I feel more equipped in is techniques to manage a classroom in a non-confrontational and empowering manner. The theories presented by both Dreikurs and Glasser really resonated with my beliefs about empowering students to make good choices and to take responsibility for the decisions that they make. Their strategies to assist students develop into fully functioning and responsible adults I really feel gives me some support and a method to try and make a difference in molding and developing the values of the future leaders of our local community, state and country.




Churchill, R., Ferguson, P., Godinho, S., Johnson, N., Keddie, A., Letts, W., Mackay, J., McGill, M., Moss, J., Nagel, C., Nicholson, P., Vick, M. (2011). Teaching: making a difference.: John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd.

Dreikurs, R., Grunwald B., Pepper, P. (1982). Maintaining Sanity in the Classroom: Classroom Management Techniques, 2/E (2nd ed.).

Dreikurs, R. (1971). Social Equality: The Challenge of Today.: Henry Regenry.

Dreikurs, R. (1948). The Challenge of Parenthood. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce.

Eggen, P. K., D. (2007). Educational Psychology; windows on classrooms (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Person Education Inc.

Glasser, W. (1998). Choice Theory in the Classroom (Revised Edition). New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

Hergenhahn, B. O., MH. (2005). An introduction to theories of learning (7th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper.

Maslow, A. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370 – 396.

McDonald, T. (2010). Classroom Management: engaging students in learning. (1st ed.): Oxford University Press.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge: MIT Press.

The Importance of Music Ensembles in Schools – A Rationale Examining the Educational Benefits

The educational role of the large ensemble in a school music program and whether it contributes to the development of students’ is a debate occurring in both education and wider community groups. The recent decision of the Queensland State Government to withdraw support and funding for the bi-annual “Fanfare” band festival due to budget cuts (Ironside 2012) could be suggested as an example of the current politically motivated trend in education to focus on and “reinforce a hierarchy where literacy and numeracy are considered to essential for life, and a prerequisite to long-term security, wealth, health and happiness.” (McPherson, Davidson, Faulkner, 2012, p. 3).


Like all art forms, music has the capacity to engage, inspire and enrich all students, exciting the imagination and encouraging students to reach their creative and expressive potential…Students’ active participation in music fosters learning for life-long well-being, developing understanding of other times, places, cultures and contexts. (ACARA, 2012, p. 91).


ClarinetThe rationale for the draft of the Australian National Curriculum states that music has the capacity for all students to reach their creative potential and expressive potential through the active participation in musical activities. McPherson, Davidson and Faulkner (2012) suggest that “music is fundamental to the human condition” (p. 190) and that the attraction to making and creating music is associated with it’s communicative socializing function, in other words, based on relationship and communicating with others. This relational transaction could perhaps be fostered and developed in schools through the use of large ensembles.


The large ensemble is a unique educative group inside the school community. Students who have the opportunity to participate as a member of one of these ensemble experience an environment where they need to learn and develop their skills in self-discipline in learning one’s part as well as attending and concentrating throughout rehearsals,  being able to work with others and in a team, problem solving and creative thinking all of which are “highly valued outcomes of schooling” in today’s modern society (McPherson, Davidson, Faulkner, 2012, p. 3). Allsup (2012) suggests that one of the powerful educative roles that the large ensemble can, and should, fulfill in the school community is in the development of the whole student and their moral and social compass as individuals, how to relate and interact with others and contribute to the well-being and success of the community in which they live.


Whilst McPherson, Davidson and Faulkner’s assertion into the function music  can contribute in developing these highly desired schooling outcomes is general, it is possible to extend this to an educative justification of the large ensemble.


When working with others, students develop and practice social skills that assist them to communicate effectively, work collaboratively, make considered group decisions and show leadership (ACARA, 2012, p. 15).


ClassroomThe draft of the National Curriculum (2012) highlights the importance for all curriculum areas to develop a number of general capabilities which “encompass the knowledge, skills, behaviors and dispositions that, together with curriculum content in each learning area…will assist students to live and work successfully in the twenty-first century” (p. 15). Student’s personal and social capabilities are referred to as one of these general capabilities as it “assists students to work to the best of their ability, both individually and collaboratively.” By developing a student’s personal and social capabilities they will be able to identify and assess personal strengths, interests, challenges, developing and applying personal skills and dispositions including self-discipline, goal setting, working independently, showing initiative, confidence, resilience and adaptability as well as be able to to empathize with the emotions and needs of others, appreciate other’s perspectives and be able to understand and negotiate different types of relationships.


Because of the high levels of task interdependence in music ensembles, even students with limited skills may find themselves making a contribution to a highly valued and complex conjunctive task that generates a sense of competency, and that regularly exposes them to modeling of more advanced techniques. Similarly such groups often generate high levels of social interdependence, positive reinforcement for values and beliefs about participation in the ensemble and music in general(McPherson, Davidson, Faulkner, 2012, p. 119).


McPherson, Davidson and Faulkner (2012) allude to the social interdependence of the large ensemble and the positive reinforcement being an effective motivator in engaging students. Their assertion that students being regularly exposed to the modeling of more advanced musical techniques and concepts from both their peers and the ensemble director can facilitate a growth in their musical perception and, with good pedagogical practices improvement in their musicianship. Coy (2012) suggests that “the art of sensitive, intense, ‘polyphonic’ listening and the ability to integrate with other parts takes years to develop” which aligns with the ACARA music rationale (2012) in highlighting that intentional listening in music “underpins all music activities” and that students engage this both through individual and collaborative experiences the the elements and concepts of music “through composing, performing and responding to create, communicate and evaluate music.” Possibly, one of the ways this can occur effectively in a collaborative setting is through the use of the large ensemble in an educative role.

Whilst large ensembles appear to provide an opportunity to develop student’s personal and social capabilities it could be suggested that the primary role of the ensemble is to help develop individual musicianship amongst the ensemble members. Coy (2012) suggests the role of a large ensemble in a school is primarily to “create better musicians.” He highlights the criteria addressed in good ensemble rehearsals include; teaching of a proper understanding and accuracy of rhythms,  development beyond basic pitch accuracy to develop better intonation and tone quality and an observation of stylistic features including dynamics and articulation. Coy’s identification in the necessity of students developing these skills to develop into better musicians is supported with the inclusion of a number of these elements in the draft of the National Curriculum (2012, p. 92) including duration, pitch, dynamics and expression, structure, texture and timbre.

Perhaps it could be suggested that by taking an educative approach to the large ensemble that these identified key elements can be established in students, developing better musicians individually and influencing their musical perspective and “contribute to the quality of their solo performance ability” (Coy, 2012).


The development and creation of better musicians through effective ensemble practices (Coy 2012) is supported by McPherson, Davidson and Faulkner’s research where they discovered that “the acquisition of fluency was most often through ensemble rehearsals and repertoire selection performed where directors…took the initiative in decoding phrases and giving directions about performance style to the students” (2012, p. 216). This research and Coy’s assertions help justify the role the large ensemble can fulfill to achieve the Aims of Music as outlined in the Australian Curriculum, specifically; “the confidence to be creative, innovative, thoughtful, skillful and informed musicians both individually and collaboratively; their knowledge, understanding and skills in music through developing skills in musicianship (fluency), composing, performing, improvising, responding and listening with intent and purpose; aesthetic knowledge and respect for music and music practices across global communities, cultures and musical traditions; understanding how to use knowledge and skills to build a future as a global music citizen with music for a lifetime” (2012, p. 91).

The role of the large ensemble must be considered in conjunction with an active classroom music and instrumental tuition music program. McPherson, Davidson and Faulkner suggest, “a balance of individual and ensemble learning from the outset of instrumental learning is more likely to generate levels of motivation and more effective support for learning than either if these options alone” (2012, p. 122). The national curriculum defining learning in music (p. 92) as occurring through students singing, playing instruments, composing, performing and listening to music suggests that students learn music through doing a variety of tasks one of which could, possibly be the large ensemble.

It is necessary to recognize that there are a number of criticisms of the use of large ensembles in school music programs as an educative tool. Some of the criticisms cited by music educators, participants, parents and observers include the heavy focus on the traditional authoritarian and controlling manner of the conductor, competitive nature and means to an end pragmatism (Allsup & Benedict, 2008).

concertResearch by McPherson, Davidson and Faulkner (2012, p. 119) indicate that some of the costs of large ensembles on musical development include a lack of motivation for practicing parts that make little musical sense when independent of the ensemble experience and “exercising little autonomy over repertoire during rehearsals or performance itself, or even, over the instrument given to the student to play,” in other words, the needs of the band to make a “balanced sound” was considered by the director to be more important than the needs and interests of the individual student. McPherson, Davidson and Faulkner continue that where the needs and interests of students, especially pertaining to the instrument initial selection of instrument, were not regarded as important that “not one of the students who was initially unhappy about the allocation of a specific instrument continued beyond the first year, and… none ever engaged with formal instrumental instruction again.”

The competitive nature and means to an ends pragmatic approach to band (Allsup & Benedict, 2008) is one of the largest criticisms of the large ensemble system. McPherson, Davidson and Faulkner’s (2012) assertions that music is a communicative transaction, being relationally and collaboratively based puts it in direct opposition to the competitive nature of sporting teams in which by their very nature their needs to be a winner and a loser.

The authoritarian / controlling nature of the conductor when coupled with the competitive nature that exist in some large ensembles tends to lead towards members experiencing fear (Allsup & Benedict, 2008). The increase in fear would also lead to an increase in anxiety in students, which “generally is considered to have a negative impact on children’s motivation and achievement” (Churchill, 2011, p. 123).

It appears that the majority of these criticisms of large ensembles could be interpreted as being not related directly to the value of the large ensemble in an educational role but rather a criticism of the manner in which these ensembles are run and directed. Allsup and Benedict (2008) suggest that conductors need to accept responsibility for the atmosphere of rehearsals and performances and that is something that they can change. They suggest that it is important for conductors and band directors to consider them selves primarily as educators who need to take an interest in exposing students to multicultural musics in conjunction with traditional repertoire and teaching students “how to move into the world as independent musicians with the skills to make music.”

Allsup (2012) and Coy (2012) both suggest that for the large ensemble to be successful their needs to be a greater focus needs to be placed on the relational connection between the director and the student participants. Coy (2012) asserts that directors need to know students’ capabilities and select a wide range of repertoire that both challenges and targets the developmental needs of the students. Allsup (2008) suggests that the large ensemble needs to provide for both the educational needs of students, through expanding and challenging their understanding and their student interests the resultant being a formation of “new meaning in the learner’s life.”

Two of the key components identified by McPherson, Davidson and Faulkner (2012, p. 215) to ongoing musical engagement are that of enjoyment and having fun and that “musical activities that aim to encourage musical development need to make provision for communication, expression, and affect” (p. 215). They suggest in an ensemble context that involving students in decision making including timing, phrasing, dynamics and overall mood of sections of works “would be an excellent lesson in…expressive education, as well as a good opportunity for peer collaboration.” Through the involvement of students in making these creative decision for the ensemble it would be possible for it to be used to help fulfill some of the requirements outlined in the band descriptors in the National Curriculum (2012, pp. 105 – 112, s.8.1- 8.5, 8.8, 8.9, 10.2 – 10.5, 10.7, 10.9).

euphonium-93872_640The large ensemble also “provides students the opportunity to study traditions that exist outside what they can access at home or in the hallway” (Allsup, 2012). There is an emphasis in the draft of the Australian Curriculum placed on students’ ability to listen to, appreciate and be influenced in their making of, and responding to music from a diverse range of traditions. The emergence of digital technology such as iPods and the exposure students have to especially the conventional contemporary rock band including the “garage band phenomena” (McPherson, Davidson, Faulkner, 2012) align with Allsup’s observations that the traditional Western Art Music (WAM) and Concert Band Music genres are not readily accessible to students in their every day life. Allsup (2012) argues that from an educational perspective “band educators have an obligation to afford students the opportunity to engage in traditional, classical, and unfamiliar music – as long as the end  is student growth. It could be suggested that the inclusion of large ensembles can be educative in exposing student’s to rehearsal, performance and listening experiences which they would not receive in their every day and in doing so create a deeper understanding and ability to perform, compose and listen to music (ACARA, 2012).

The educative role of the large ensemble in the school setting would appear to be an effective and justified means to assist in student growth and development both in general and musical capabilities as outlined in the draft of the Australian National Curriculum (2012). Research by McPherson, Davidson and Faulkner (2012) into the role music influences the lives of people, the motivational factors to encourage growth and development of musicianship including the importance of ensembles in facilitating facility, understanding of musical concepts and elements including duration, pitch, dynamics and expression, structure, texture and timbre (ACARA, 2012) can all be assisted through the large ensemble model. Allsup (2012) and Allsup and Benedict (2008) assert the importance in building meaningful relationships between the conductor and ensemble members, providing experiences that are student needs focused (McPherson, Davidson, Faulkner, 2012, p. 215). Through this relationship conductors can identify student capabilities and select repertoire that appeals to their interests and challenges them to become “better musicians” (Coy, 2012). It could be suggested that whilst there as a focus on the needs of the students the educative role of large ensembles in schools is the responsibility of the director (Allsup & Benedict, 2008) to consider them self primarily as an educator and provide the “opportunity to study traditions that exist outside what they can access at home or in the hallway” (Allsup, 2012). Possibly, a conclusion is that with effective educational outcomes and student centered goals from the director the large ensemble can be utilized as an educative function inside the Australian school system.


Reference List.

Allsup, R.A., & Benedict, C. (2008). The problems of a band: An inquiry into the future of instrumental music education. Philosophy of Music Education Review, 16(2), 156-171.

Allsup, R.A. (2012). The Moral Ends of Band. Theory into Practice, 51(3), 1-9.

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, [ACARA] (July 2012). Australian curriculum: The arts: Foundation to year 10 – draft for consultation. Retrieved from ACARA website:

Churchill, R., Ferguson, P., Godinho, S., Johnson, N., Keddie, A., Letts, W., Mackay, J., McGill, M., Moss, J., Nagel, C., Nicholson, P., Vick, M. (2011). Teaching: making a difference.: John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd.

Coy, N. (2012, February). Why do we have ensembles, anyway? (Toward a rationale that justifies all our efforts…). SIM News. 

Crittenden, S. (2012, July 27). Please don’t stop the music Mr Newman. Global Mail. Retrieved from:

Ironside, R. (2012, July 19). Campbell Newman’s razor gang deals blow to school band competition. The Courier Mail. Retrieved from:

McPherson, G. E., Davidson, J. W., Faulkner, F. (2012). Music in our lives: Rethinking musical ability, development & Identity. New York: Oxford University Press.

Privacy Policy

Copyright © 2009-2017