The appendix to the submitted article is shown separately at The Global Perspective on Music in Education, Appendix. The reference to it appears in Section 4: Extrinsic Motives for Music and the Arts in Education. Ed.

Advocacy for Music Education

It often takes research outside music education to understand the reasons why music is pivotal to education. When one advocates for music education, one seeks that which music is and does for people, its purposes – not just students, but all people, because music is ubiquitous – there is no community on planet earth that does not engage in musical activity. One has to ask why, what it is that music ‘does’ for humans?

Stefanakis (2003)1 addresses this question through a literature review across a range of disciplines from neuroscience to philosophy. Her thesis seeks to determine the basic intrinsic values of music in order to develop a music education rationale statement based on them and to suggest a curriculum that meets the ideals of the rationale. It concentrates on the intrinsic values of music because it assumes two things:

  • Firstly, that students are humans and thus engage in musical activity for exactly the same reasons as the rest of the population
  • Secondly, if the intrinsic musical needs of students can be met in an educational setting then the extrinsic outcomes of music will be a natural by-product.

The thesis concludes from the research that what people derive from musical experiences is:

  • The development of a sense of equilibrium or wellbeing (particularly emotional wellbeing)
  • Control of the sound environment
  • The ability to engage all aspects of perceptive process in a holistic manner
  • The ability to express, communicate, connect and share through sound
  • The development of skills and techniques required to imagine, create, interpret and analyse in an abstract medium
  • The development of fine and gross motor and coordination skills
  • A sense of personal, social and cultural identity
  • An understanding of a life context.

It defines ‘intrinsic values’ as those which are the reasons for human engagement with music and for the continuing evolution of music. There is no reference in these aims to what music ‘does’ for one’s literacy and numeracy abilities and the reader will not find this in the aims of any arts curriculum document. It could be argued that what we should seek to aim for in music education is to enhance what music naturally does for people – to provide the opportunity for students to reach their full musical potential precisely because they have engaged in musical activity in an educational setting. Harwood and Marsh (2012)2 suggest that ‘the formal school curriculum is to complement rather than duplicate out-of-school experiences, both in terms of content and learning processes’ (p. 322). But they warn that providing musical experiences in school settings which are at odds with students’ out-of-school experiences we place ourselves (as music educators) and our learners, in a sense, at odds with each other. (See also Marsh, 2012).3

In some instances we advocate for music education on the basis of what music ‘does’, but fail to provide a music education which actually achieves these aims. For example a music education devoid of any access to composing, arranging and improvising experiences is unlikely to enhance a child’s creativity. Welch and McPherson (2012)4 discuss the need for engagement in the range of musical processes in order to understand what music ‘is’.

To be musically educated implies some form of understanding of the nature of music, expressed either through musical behaviour (being able to make musical gestures), or in being able to ‘make sense’ of the auditory stimuli that are customarily available to the individual within a particular musical culture’ (p. 6).

Musician, philosopher and educator Wayne Bowman5 warns that it takes a particular music education to enable for students the intrinsic and extrinsic values that we advocate. He says music can acutely, ‘harm’ or ‘miseducate’ (sic).

It may trivialize rather than enhance the imagination; it may thwart rather than stimulate creativity. …There‘s nothing inherently or intrinsically good about teaching and learning music … . Music‘s capacity to achieve educational ends always depends upon things like a) how, b) by whom, c) for whom d) under what circumstances we make and teach music (2010, p. 33).

Following a similar theme in an article sometimes questioning music education advocacy, Bowman believes that it is only with an understanding of the nature and value of music, of education and how these two come together that we can make a judgement as to whether music education should be universal.6. It is a reminder that any advocacy for music education must outline the ‘how, by whom and under what circumstances we make and teach music’, or in other words, what constitutes a quality music education; what kind of music education addresses what music ‘is’ and ‘does’. And we need to specify why the intrinsic and extrinsic values of music need to be explored in an educational setting.

For these reasons in this review, there is firstly an elaboration on the major researchers from whom the intrinsic values described previously are drawn and an update of some of their thinking. Secondly, research exploring what kind of music education is required to achieve these inherent musical qualities is presented, particularly drawing on the work of those at Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School. Thirdly research into why music in educational settings is deemed important is provided. The perceived extrinsic values of music education are also explored as they have strong currency amongst government and education decision makers. Finally conclusions are drawn as to the areas of research essential for a complete advocacy tool.

Current and Past Research into What Music ‘Is’ and ‘Does’

Equilibrium, Identity, Well-Being

Antonio Damasio is a neuroscientist who has spent thirty years attempting to unravel the holy grail of consciousness. He has a holistic view of the way in which the body, brain and mind collaborate and sees the purpose of consciousness as a means of placing ourselves in greater control of our holistic well-being. He perceives our conscious need to seek a sense of personal and collective identity as an extension and manifestation of our physical requirement to achieve homeostatic regulation or dynamic equilibrium7 Damasio believes the arts have been fundamental to what he sees as the unique sense of human ‘autobiographical self’ or consciousness. In his latest book8 he explores the notion of the development of emotive responses to sounds and shapes that helped lead to the development of the arts. He says:

I suspect that the same homeostatic impulse that shaped the development of myths and religions was behind the emergence of the arts, aided by the same intellectual curiosity and explanatory drive. … If the need to manage life was one of the reasons music, dance, painting and sculpting first emerged, then the ability to improve communication and organize social life were two other strong reasons and gave the arts additional staying power. (Damasio, 2012, p. 312)

Ellen Dissanayake, Affiliate Professor of Music at the University of Washington9 has taken an anthropological approach in her research to reach similar conclusions in her studies of the origins of the arts. She speaks of the need humans have to connect with and relate to others, to develop an understanding of selves through the creation of ritual, which she sees as one of the original channels for artistic expression. Ritual, by nature, has an order, structure and aesthetic and provides humans with a sense of control over their world.

Wayne Bowman shares Damasio’s holistic view and applies it to the nature of music – the embodiment of self in its engagement with music, that is, the physical, the emotional and the intellectual. His work is represented in copious journal articles and book chapters including Liora Bresler’s International Handbook of Research in Arts Education10 where he and Kimberley Powell11 discuss the role of the body in music and how, historically, it is the intellectual approach to music, often the deconstruction of music we listen to, which has been lauded as a more academic pursuit than the use of the body to actually make music. He and Powell explore the duality inherent in the history of music education, particularly in the United States where music education has either taught the mind through ‘aesthetic’ education – learning to listen, or through technique, the ‘training of the monkey how to play an instrument’ approach (brain versus brawn). This is similar to Damasio’s critique of Descartes’ view of a separate mind and body. In educational parlance, the mind is affiliated with ‘the academic’, the body a separate entity and when it comes to ‘clever’ the mind wins, hands down. However just as Damasio explores the holistic nature of humanness, the dependence of all aspects of ‘being’ on each other, so Bowman and Powell, with reference to the work of Eleanor Stubley12, argue that learning to perform is a way of learning to experience the self as a developing identity (see also Stefanakis, 2005)13.They also refer to the ‘collective identities’ music making enhances. Bowman affirms that ‘music is an important resource for world making, for the construction, reinforcement and/or reconstruction of realities and identities’ (p. 10). Anthony Storr14 also explores the centrality of identity to the musical experience as do Hargreaves, Macdonald and Miell who ‘conceive of musical identities as ubiquitous, constantly evolving aspects of the self-concept that are negotiated across a range of social situations.15


Ratey16 reminds us that sound is a defence mechanism as it acts as a warning signal. We have an emotive/physical (e-mote means ‘move’) reaction to sound which ensures that we take appropriate action to either move towards or away from sounds. Hence police sirens, fire alarms, rather than the use of light to warn us. Light cannot travel around corners as music can. Music enhances visuals in a movie because it draws on our emotions. Through music, we make choices about the sounds we surround ourselves with, never more so than in the current age of ear buds! Music allows us to control our sound environment and thus our emotional responses as Anthony Storr suggests (1992). Playing and composing our own music enhances this control. Also see Sloboda and Juslin.17

Although music can make us feel negative emotions such as anger and sadness, we choose music that will make us feel this way because it provides an empathetic conduit we may need in our lives at particular times. The importance of emotional connection with music cannot be underestimated. McPherson, Davidson and Faulkner’s longitudinal study of instrumental students found that the provision of freedom to have fun and enjoy their musical activities predicated a continuity with their learning and that it was an engagement with the expressive, communicative and emotive aspects of music which were most rewarding for learners18.

In speaking of emotion in music education, Richard Letts19 states that in his ten years of study in music at universities in Australia and the United States there were only a few occasions when his lecturers acknowledged that ‘music carries emotions (or even might be beautiful)’. He goes on to point out that music curricula often advocate self-expression and affective experiences in music, but often fail to follow through in their content descriptors or competencies. He suggests that music ‘does bring us together, perhaps sometimes because of shared amazement with its intellectual intricacies but more likely because we feel as one its emotional unfolding’ and questions therefore ‘what can we be thinking of in excluding emotion from the formal music curriculum?’ (p. 649). Hodges and Gruhn20 also discuss the importance of emotion to musical learning, remarking that although the relationship between emotions and musical learning is still not fully understood, what is understood is that positive emotions induced by interactions with preferred music is both rewarding and motivating for learners. This harks back to the intrinsic values of music, the uniqueness of music, and whether we actually incorporate these values into our curricula, let alone the mindset in our teaching methodologies.


Stephen Brown21 discusses the fact that music is the only way in which people can communicate through sound simultaneously, using rhythm to measure the production of sound horizontally and harmony to connect vertically. We can sing together in unison or harmonically. We can unite to play instruments together. This cannot be achieved through language, except, perhaps, poetry, but in music, it is something we often strive to do. Many other authors have investigated this social connecting aspect of music including Isabel Peretz22, William McNeill23 and Judith Becker24 who talks about the promotion of internal body regulation, group cooperation and bonding through unified music-making, improving the chances of human survival.

Judith Becker (2001) speaks of the relationship between states of musical trance and the sense of religious enlightenment Damasio refers to. Although a continued religious faith may not be based on the transcendental state Becker refers to she focuses on this sense in regard to our emotional responses and discusses the importance of connection with others to social cohesion. This is also the view of Mc’Neill (1995) who has studied the synchronisation of body movements in marching and dance for example. See also Todd, Lee and O’Boyle25

The Musical Brain

On TedMed, Robert Gupta26 a neurobiologist and musician accepted as violinist with the LA Symphony Orchestra at the age of nineteen, works with those who have degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, and those with brain injuries and mental illnesses, particularly schizophrenia. He speaks about the power of music to transform the lives of those who have ‘lost their voice’ physically, mentally and/or socially. For example he speaks of how through the use of a combination of melody and words in patients who have lost aspects of Broca’s area in the left-hemisphere of the brain, music can rewire the language function in the right-hemisphere. He speaks of the different structure of musician’s brains and how when engaged in musical activity (particularly playing) the entire brain lights from the pre-frontal cortex (executive decision making) to the oldest part of the brain, the cerebellum which, amongst other functions, is responsible for aspects of our balance and ballistic fine-motor control, essential for playing an instrument. It is also a connection point to many areas of the brain and is increasingly cited as a centre for a range of cognitive and affective functions. The cerebellum is compromised in students on the autism spectrum.27 Connecting the brain hemispheres is also compromised in children on this spectrum and is part of the reason for their difficulties with social skills and motor skills. Robert Gupta refers to the extensive research of Gottfried Schlaug,28 just one researcher who has found that the area connecting the right and left hemispheres, the corpus callosum, is thicker in musicians, specifically keyboard and string players, and particularly if they started learning an instrument before the age of seven. Why is this important? Because when it comes down to the really pivotal aspects of functioning in society, it is not so much the ability to retain and logically process information, because computers do this; it is the ability to think creatively and to communicate effectively with others in work and social environments which are pivotal to independent survival (see also Reinvesting in Arts Education (2011)29). One only need consider those in the community who find these social skills difficult, to understand this truth.

It is Gupta’s advocacy for the intrinsic values of music (‘music is oxygen’) and his examples of the power of music in recovering, through musical exchange (engaging the physical, emotional, intellectual and the social) the identity of people rendered incapacitated and socially dysfunctional due to mental illness, which is most potent.

Dawn Merrett and Sarah Wilson, music psychologists at the University of Melbourne also review Schlaug’s and many others’ research into the workings of the brain with musical engagement and include a brain map which highlights areas of the brain enhanced in musicians as compared to non-musicians30. The review also discusses the merits of beginning instrumental lessons at a young age, partially based on the fact that those beginning lessons earlier have practised more and therefore contributed more to changes in brain structure. (See also Hodges and Gruhn, 2012.) The authors highlight that the brain structure of adults is equally plastic. They also discuss research into the quality of music practice and conclude that repetitive, focused, structured practice designed with specific outcomes is more successful in musical development and long-lasting change in brain structure.

It can be seen that these areas are dispersed across the brain as Gupta states and engage areas associated with cognition, sensory perception, movement and the body-mapping Damasio discusses, which are associated with these areas and the cerebellum (fine motor skills, positioning in space and emotional responses to name but a few functions). It is the holism of music, as these researchers emphasise, that is its greatest asset.

There has been a massive increase in the study of how the brain processes music, as some see music as a biological luxury.31 There has been a tenacious amount of research into how music ‘works’ in an attempt to unravel this evolutionary mystery. For example see Peretz and Zatorre (2003)32. Both the physiology of the brain and the chemistry have been studied with Daniel Levitin researching the neurochemical responses music evokes in both listeners and performers concentrating on areas of self-regulation, motivation and well-being. He warns of the confounding factors relating to many aspects of neurobiological and psychological research into music believing that there is still much work to be done in the area33.

Levitin also questions our definitions of musicality, reminding us that there are broad areas involved in ‘being musical’ from the agility and expressiveness of a performer, some good sight-readers and others, good aural learners, to the creative processing of a composer, to the insight of a conductor to the receptivity of avid music listeners. He feels that society still wrongly labels people as being musically ‘gifted’ or not musical at all. He suggests that a greater understanding of the underlying genetic emphases in all these areas including the abilities for sustained attention and perseverance are necessary, partially to assist music educators sculpt appropriate courses for students and to identify various areas of individual and collective musical potential.34


Barrett and Tafuri35 remind us that humans are cognisant of sound even before birth and that long before they are making visual marks with drawing implements, they are sharing improvised sounds with their nurturers. They refer to the work of Dissanayake in suggesting that the need for ‘mutuality, belonging to, finding and making meaning, competence through handling and making and elaboration’ lie beneath the cultural experience for all humans. Barrett and Tafuri say that such initial creative exploration with sound constitutes the building of musical memory and ‘a repertoire of musical gestures … with self, others and the materials of their environment’ (p. 298). They highlight the need to provide the sensory opportunities for purposeful aural play and to experience a broad range of genres of music to enhance the aural palette of young children. This is also a theme of Harwood and Marsh in describing the ‘outside the classroom’ music, movement and dramatic gestures of young students. It emphasises that although students may be practising and refining their musical activities in the playground, they describe it as ‘play’ and they discuss the ways in which students naturally accommodate each other’s differing ability levels using a range of devices including improvisation and repetition. They say, ‘Whereas individual virtuosity is a value embedded in presentational music, social synchrony, a sense of belonging to the group, is a deeply embedded value of playground music’ (p. 326). They draw attention to the United Kingdom’s Musical Futures initiative which uses the ‘garage band’ out-of-school approach to music learning and transports it into the classroom. The features of this method which the authors describe are that students:

  • Start with music they have chosen
  • Learn by emulating recorded versions of the music (aurally)
  • Learn alone or in groups in a self-directed manner
  • Develop skills in an idiosyncratic way
  • Integrate listening, performing, improvisation and composing, with an emphasis on individual creativity.

Why Music in Education

Harwood and Marsh (2012) remind us how fortunate we are to teach a subject which students seek out in out-of-school environments. We access music in a range of ways and many learn to play instruments themselves and listen to music privately and shared with others, often obsessively as Levitin suggests. The internet is also providing increased access for people to connect through music, whether or not they’re in an educational setting.

In his Nancy Hanks Lecture lauded cellist, Yo-Yo Ma36 talks about Arts for Life’s Sake. Ma is a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities referenced later in this review. His thesis is that the twenty-first century workforce requires participants to be collaborative, flexible, imaginative and innovative and suggests that the arts, both individually and collectively, provide the greatest opportunities for people to excel in these skills. Ma gives examples of what have been dubbed ‘turnaround’ schools in the US, schools where the achievement rate in Maths, Science and English have been in the lowest 5%. He gives examples where arts programs have been introduced into these schools and ‘turned around’ student retention rates and achievement standards. But the focus in his lecture is not on the capacity of arts rich curricula to aid performance in other areas. He speaks of what he calls ‘the edge effect’ referring to the dynamic, the cultural growth that occurs when two contrasting systems meet; his example is when forest meets savannah. His point is that we unnaturally separate the links between sciences and arts or cognition and imagination for example. And he refers to Obama’s suggestion that the United States is suffering from an ‘empathy deficit’ which, he feels the arts (and he refers to music specifically) can address very powerfully. His own involvement in ‘giving back’ through music to arts education advocacy, to returned soldiers’ re-imaging through musical engagement, to the Chicago Symphony’s active participation in a range of social projects, are examples of arts for life’s sake.

It could therefore be argued that music education, a quality music education, can often best be provided in schools. Ma, for example, speaks of the crucial point of development and goal setting at year six – an ‘edge’ point before the transition to secondary studies. Schools can provide access to a unity between instrumental lessons, which may often focus on the development of skills and techniques on an instrument, and a broad classroom curriculum where students engage in composing, listening and performing tasks in a whole-world context. Ma says musicians are trained to look at life in terms of ‘the biggest possible picture and the smallest detail’ (2013). Students can use the skills that they develop in the instrumental program and apply them in the classroom to a range of topics. The classroom encourages engagement with others – musical connection, the development of skills in working together, of articulating responses to music which students listen and respond to analytically, opportunities to think creatively, imaginatively, flexibly and collaboratively. Ensembles provide opportunities to share through sound and motivate students to work to achieve a high standard of performance. Music in an educational setting has the power to provide students with seminal aesthetic experiences which can influence the perspectives of, and be utilised by, students in a whole range of ways for life.

In her thesis on the provision of music programs to regional Victorian schools, Jenni Heinrich draws on current literature which looks at the intrinsic and extrinsic values of music education. She refers to the value of music ‘for music’s sake’37 and in so doing outlines the outcomes of learning in music which some would define as ‘extrinsic’. As stated previously, in this context the definition of ‘intrinsic’ is those outcomes of music which people seek through their engagement with music and, research suggests, the reasons why music continues to evolve ubiquitously. Extrinsic outcomes are the by-products of these intrinsic outcomes. For example one could say that because of their increased motivation through music education, students are more focussed in learning in other disciplines. This is an extrinsic outcome. It is not one of the reasons why people engage with music. Below are a series of studies which look at both intrinsic and extrinsic outcomes. A study in England which questioned 2465 adolescents about their engagement with music found that over 50% were playing musical instruments or had spent a substantial amount of time doing so. They concluded that music is important to adolescents and that the major reasons were that it helped them portray an image or identity to the outside world and it satisfied their emotional needs.38

Patricia Campbell39 asked students to submit essays on music to a teen magazine. The outcomes were that music assists with:

  • Identity formation
  • Emotional benefits
  • Music’s life benefits including character building and life skills (such as the discipline required to learn an instrument)
  • Social benefits (connecting with peers)

There were both positive and negative impressions of music education programs in schools by respondents. This is glossed over on the NAMM website, but it is an important issue. We cannot argue for music education for music’s sake unless we are managing to fulfil the musical needs of students through music education. So the quotes taken from the NAMM website below do not convey the entire picture presented in the research it cites.

‘This study outlines what music and music making means to teens—that it helps define them as they grow up, it gives them purpose and meaning, and contributes to their success in school and in life’, said Joe Lamond, president and CEO, NAMM. ‘Music is their social glue—a bridge for building acceptance and tolerance for people of different ages and cultural circumstances. Music provides opportunities in school for teens’ engagement as performers, composers and intelligent listeners, and these activities and qualities appear to be deeply meaningful to them. For teens who are desperately seeking relevance, musical study may give them the balanced experience they require’.40

The approach suggested by this research is one in which the musical needs of students outside school are addressed by the music curriculum and pedagogical approaches. Lucy Green, Professor of Music at the University of London, has long advocated for an informal music learning approach whereby students are provided with opportunities to learn music collaboratively and within a context that they often direct, based on their cultural musical heritage and predominant musical interests, an approach pursued by England’s ‘Musical Futures’ approach. Her research highlights the need to look at pedagogical methodologies in addition to curriculum and organisational structures in music education41

The focus of the paper prepared by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in the US highlights the need for creative thinking skills. ‘America’s children will need to be inventive, resourceful, and imaginative. The best way to foster that is through arts education.’ (2011, p. 1). President Obama is keen to reintroduce an emphasis on Arts Education across America where policy and funding are largely dominated by the states. However this committee outlines an agenda to provide some propulsion with the states for the President’s views. The focus of this document is presented below.

Extrinsic Motives for Music and the Arts in Education

There is a plethora of evidence supporting the fact that music education positively influences educational outcomes in areas such as numeracy and literacy. A litany of research can be found on varying international music advocacy websites such as NAMM and the National Association for Music Education42. There is also a book by Phillip Sheppard entitled appropriately, Music Makes Your Child Smarter (2005).43 Is this what we ultimately seek from education in music, or do we seek musical outcomes? In America, all the President’s people still consider the extrinsic values of music education the best way to ‘sell it’ to the various states as can be seen from the following aspects of this report, although it could be argued that some in this list are actually ‘intrinsic’ in that they are the very reasons why people engage with music and why music continues to exist.

‘While there is support for the intrinsic value of developing cultural literacy and teaching artistic skills and techniques, leadership groups typically emphasize instrumental outcomes derived from high quality arts education in one or more of the following categories:

  • Student achievement, typically as represented by reading and mathematics performance on high stakes tests, including transfer of skills learning from the arts to learning in other academic areas—for example, the spatial-temporal reasoning skills developed by music instruction;
  • Student motivation and engagement, including improved attendance, persistence, focused attention, heightened educational aspirations, and intellectual risk taking;
  • Development of habits of mind including problem solving, critical and creative thinking, dealing with ambiguity and complexity, integration of multiple skill sets, and working with others; and
  • Development of social competencies, including collaboration and team work skills, social tolerance, and self-confidence.

While the overall picture can appear bleak, in recent years several factors have converged to build a strong case for scaling up arts education opportunities to reach more students—one that is supported by educators, business leaders, parents, artists, and members of the general public, and which would be successful in meeting important educational outcomes. These factors include:

  • new allies interested in developing students’ creativity and problem solving skills—skills that are directly supported by arts education;
  • increased interest in the potential of arts integration as a way to bring arts tomore young people and achieve other benefits as well;
  • a developing community of teaching artists who are eager to serve in education in a systematic and dynamic way; and
  • a critical mass of successful arts education approaches and models, including arts integration models, that can serve as the foundation for reaching more schools (p. 37).

The logistics of providing access to arts education is a topic being dealt with on a much greater scale in Western countries and all focus on the notion of ‘hubs’ or ‘lighthouse’ schools with connections to feeder schools, communication between primary, post-primary schools and tertiary institutions and the arts community. Further, the value of creativity is being recognised with greater alacrity.

‘There has been increasing emphasis and rigor applied to establishing linkages between arts education and student achievement in the last decade, primarily filtered through the lens of reading and math test scores. We are pleased that this research has yielded promising educational outcomes, and we support additional resources and effort in this area. However, we see a tremendous opportunity for measuring other significant educational outcomes in connection with arts education. For example, it is especially important to have credible evidence about the relationship between participation in arts education and creativity. Given the importance of 21st Century Skills to educators and policymakers, we believe it is critical to know more about how and under what circumstances arts education can develop students’ divergent thinking skills. It is generally accepted that arts education has the potential to develop students’ creativity, but more definitive information is needed along with measurement methods that can be replicated by local school districts (p. 53).

Arts learning assessments are also important tools here. Proficiency in arts competencies is difficult to measure accurately and consistently on a large scale but without measurement it is difficult for teachers to gauge students’ progress and for researchers to substantiate the learning benefits of the arts. With support from the federal government, test developers are designing a new generation of assessment tools. We urge attention to measuring arts competencies at the school and classroom level along with other types of performance’ (p. 54).

The plethora of research referred to in this report is replicated in The Global Perspective on Music in Education, Appendix. The issue of accurate arts education assessment also mentioned in this report is an ongoing one. There needs to be accurate assessment of both student achievement within a music education program and accurate assessment of the program itself. Neither of these aspects of assessment is as difficult as some would have us believe, however there is much research that needs to be conducted in this area. An excellent contribution is made by Martin Fautley and Richard Colwell44 who discuss the range of assessments required for different aspects of learning in music. Of particular note is their description of the need to differentiate between the demonstration of skills, for example through a performance, as distinct from the learning that is taking place in this scenario. They discuss the development of criteria to assess creative process (see also Leong, Burnard, Jeanneret, Leung and Waugh, 2012)45 and the need to ensure student understanding of the expectations of assessment tasks. They also discuss the ability of assessment tools to accurately assess an outcome and the vexed area of objective and subjective assessment. It is an important issue for advocates of music education. Standardised testing, whether beneficial or not, is common throughout the Western world and Asia. It is used to legitimise the value of learning areas despite the tests often being narrow in their conceptualisation and application. What would seem essential is that the methods of assessment developed for music education do not compromise the quality and intent of the music programs they are used to assess as has happened in other learning areas. This issue is addressed by Pamela Burnard in her commentary on musical creativity46

Assessment is a topic also discussed by the researchers at Project Zero as an essential tool in ensuring ongoing quality arts education opportunities for students.

What Is a Quality Arts Education?

Content and Logistics

As part of Project Zero at Harvard, researchers looked at this question. Important aspects of this research are provided here. From research with arts educators they determined what people perceived to be quality in arts education.47

From the Executive Summary their questions were:

  • How do arts educators in the United States – including leading practitioners, theorists, and administrators– conceive of and define high quality arts learning and teaching?
  • What markers of excellence do educators and administrators look for in the actual activities of arts learning and teaching as they unfold in the classroom?
  • How do a program’s foundational decisions, as well as its ongoing day-to-day decisions, affect the pursuit and achievement of quality?

‘Most educators we interviewed wanted young people to have experience with quality – with excellent materials, outstanding works of art, passionate and accomplished artist-teachers modelling their artistic processes – and experiences of quality – powerful group interactions and ensemble work, performances that make them feel proud, rewarding practice sessions, technical excellence, and successful expressivity’ (p. iii).

They also found from their research that ‘Quality arts education serves multiple purposes simultaneously. The question of what constitutes high quality arts education is deeply linked to the question of why we should be teaching the arts. It is not surprising that when arts educators talk about excellence they also express ideas about the fundamental purposes of arts education – ideas about what students ought to learn through the arts and why these outcomes are important.

Our informants mentioned many purposes, and most of them cluster into a handful of broad areas. For example, many arts educators believe that one of the important purposes of arts education is to foster broad dispositions and habits of mind, especially the capacity to think creatively, and the capacity to make connections. Many also believe that arts education should help students develop aesthetic awareness and visual observation skills and provide venues for self-expression and self-exploration. It is notable that most of the people with whom we spoke believe that good arts programs tend to serve several purposes simultaneously. Though arts programs differ widely in their contexts, goals, art forms, and constituencies, a hallmark sign of high quality arts learning in any program is that the learning experiences are rich and complex for all learners, engaging them on many levels and helping them learn and grow in a variety of ways’ (p. iii).

Ultimately the report defines seven broad purposes of Arts Education. They are:

  1. ‘Arts education should foster broad dispositions and skills, especially the capacity to think creatively and the capacity to make connections.
  2. Arts education should teach artistic skills and techniques without making these primary.
  3. Arts education should develop aesthetic awareness.
  4. Arts practices should provide ways of pursuing understanding of the world.
  5. Arts education should provide a way for students to engage with community, civic, and social issues.
  6. Arts education should provide a venue for students to express themselves.
  7. Arts education should help students develop as individuals.’ (pp. 18 – 37).

The report discusses the ways in which these purposes of arts education need to be addressed adequately and with quality through what it describes as ‘The Four Learning Lenses’. They are elaborated upon within the document.

‘The Four Learning Lenses

  • learning
  • pedagogy
  • community dynamics (teachers and students, students and students etc)
  • environment (space, materials, physical resources, time offered for engagement)’ (pp. 30-42)

The report also came to the conclusion that it is imperative that everyone is working with the same objectives.

The report is important in providing a cohesive view of what a quality arts education might look like. Its broad purposes largely reflect the initial music education aims suggested at the beginning of this review. But they add to this the logistics of how such aims can be achieved.

Marie McCarthy48 refers to international research demonstrating that there are common issues in achieving the kind of ‘quality’ music education described in the Project Zero report. They include curriculum reform, the provision of sufficient time in school schedules, parental support, materials and resources. But the greatest hurdle expressed ‘globally’, is the lack of qualifications to teach music by specialists and generalist teachers. The Music Council of Australia is working to address this particular hurdle by providing a range of realistic strategies for the education and ongoing professional development of teachers to be considered by governments at state and national levels. The logistics, rather than the aims, are the focus of the so-called ‘Henley Report’ into Music Education in England49, an advisory document to the Government, which makes a series of recommendations on how to enhance music education, in a country which has already had a huge injection of funds for this purpose over the last five years. The document looks mainly at how to improve both access to, and the quality of, music education experiences. The very first recommendation of the report is that, ‘Schools should provide children with a broad Music Education, which includes performing, composing, listening, reviewing and evaluating’ (p. 11).

The other recommendations read like a checklist of what many in Australia have advocated for over many years. They include Recommendation 8, ‘The best model for Music Education includes a combination of classroom teaching, instrumental and vocal music tuition and input from professional musicians. Partnership between organisations is the key to success’ (p. 13) and Recommendations 21 and 22, ‘Much primary school classroom teaching of music is provided by non-specialist teachers. The amount of time dedicated to music in most Initial Teacher Training courses is inadequate to create a workforce that is confident in its own ability to teach the subject in the classroom. It is recommended that a new minimum number of hours of ITT for primary music teachers be spent on the delivery of Music Education’ and ‘All primary schools should have access to a specialist music teacher’ (p. 25). The recommendations encourage conservatoriums to essentially provide courses and qualifications to equip practising musicians to also be capable music educators, in a similar fashion to the Masters of Performance Education being offered at the University of Melbourne. It acknowledges the need for skilling Music Education managers, such as Heads of Music with managerial education. As with the US’s ‘President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities’ (2011), it makes for essential reading, with a common voice in both countries in many regards.

McPherson and Welch’s The Oxford Handbook of Music Education50 draws comprehensively on the work of the world’s most renowned contemporary music education researchers and is an invaluable resource. Perhaps its greatest asset across two mighty volumes is the united voice it presents throughout. It explores the philosophy of music education and the practice. The practice includes chapters which range across the breadth of a musical life, from early infancy onwards. It encapsulates the changes which have occurred in the world, forging a re-think of what music education constitutes and what a ‘quality’ music education might look like based on very fast access to music from around the world and technologies allowing us to learn, to share, to compose, to perform as never before. Chee-Hoo Lum and Kathryn Marsh51 look at this phenomenon, the multiplicity of learning opportunities available to students.

Jeanneret and Degraffenfreid52 discuss the vexed issue of teaching music in the generalist classroom and state that in this setting ‘musical knowledge is not enough, and neither is confidence. Knowledge and confidence must be part of an integrated whole with a best practice pedagogy that is learner-centred and mindful of the multiple ways children learn and what each child brings to the classroom’ (p. 410).

Learning in the various facets of the musical experience are covered in depth, from the use of technology and its role in adolescents lives53 as a teaching tool54, and as a learning tool55 to teaching and learning of choral and vocal music, with attention to pedagogical approaches, repertoire and the logistics and requirements of performance spaces,56 learning technique and continued health of the voice.57 There are similar chapters relating to every conceivable aspect of instrumental and ensemble music and it is heart-warming to read in the introduction to this section58 a changing attitude to learning, from the myopic focus on the reading and interpretation of increasingly difficult repertoire to a consideration of the reasons for student engagement with an instrument. It advocates a more student-focused pedagogy that considers playing by ear, composing and improvising and opportunities to play in ensembles both within and beyond the school gates. And as expressed earlier by Ma (2013) it emphasises the need to consider musicianship, not just technical prowess as an essential learning outcome.

The second volume explores the breadth of music learners, and emphasises the need for a differential approach to cater for individual requirements. Again, the research is rich and explicit. Of particular note, the guidelines for an inclusive classroom are applicable to any learning environment. The pedagogical and logistic approaches Judith Jellison describes with reference to Rose and Myer59 are to:

  • Provide multiple, flexible methods of presentation. Give learners various ways to acquire information and knowledge.
  • Provide multiple, flexible methods of expression and apprenticeship. Offer students alternatives for demonstrating what they know.
  • Provide multiple, flexible methods of engagement in order to help learners get interested, be challenged, and stay motivated (p. ix)

Jellison says that when these principles are applied to any music classroom, students are engaged in meaningful tasks, activities provide multiple participatory formats, learning goals are not compromised for any student and the progress of individuals is assessed.60 The theme, therefore, of meeting the individual needs of students, which not only infuses quality music education programs, but is the benchmark across all areas of learning, is highlighted throughout McPherson and Welch’s work.

Ultimately, say Hallan and Bautista, what students ‘need to develop as a result of their learning is a love of music and the meta-cognitive skills that will support them throughout their lifetimes in whatever musical activities they choose to pursue’61. Perhaps this should be music education’s mantra in considering further research directions.

What Further Research Is Required?

The suggestion is that advocacy for music education in Australia needs research in several areas. The questions that need to be addressed, in what is hopefully a logical progression are:

  • What are the intrinsic and extrinsic values of music, and therefore, of music education?
  • What, therefore, should the aims of a quality music education be?
  • What does a quality music education look like in terms of curriculum content and pedagogical approaches if it is to meet these aims?
  • What is required to implement such a music program? (What are the logistics?)
  • How can we accurately and objectively assess student achievement and outcomes in music education?
  • How can we accurately and objectively assess the quality of all facets of music programs?

There is rich research available in all these areas globally and there has been a massive Australian contribution to this research. It is suggested that the gaps in Australian understanding relate largely to the availability of music and, just as importantly, the availability of music education research to all stakeholders. The gaps would therefore seem to be:


How creativity in music might infuse other areas of learning.


There is much in-depth research describing the kinds of attributes one would expect of a ‘quality’ music education referenced here. There is a need for some distillation of this information to serve our purposes.

The Australian Music Education Landscape

1. What music education is currently provided in Australia and how does this compare with provision in other countries? As was made abundantly clear at the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry, there is NO central collection of data relating to current music education provision in schools in Victoria. This needs to be addressed and we need to find out whether this lack of knowledge is prevalent in other states. (See Literature Review and contributions to Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Music Education62

See NSW report developed with the MCA. Use gathered resources on global perspectives and directions in music education

2. What are the optimal models for implementing the optimal form of music education in Australian Schools?

Once a quality of music education model is described, research into where such programs are occurring and in what shapes and forms they take are essential. It won’t be a ‘one size fits all’ model. (See Project Zero and The Oxford Handbook of Music Education)

3. What policies and actions are required to achieve the optimal forms of music education for Australian schools?

This section will need to make reference to the findings from previous federal and state government inquiries and reports as well as views currently being developed by various working groups within the MCA [see reports on their websites]—for example, teacher professional development and pre-service teacher education.

4. Assuming that the implementation of a music program in the majority of government and Catholic primary schools will be through generalist teachers, what should the minimum standards in music discipline knowledge and skills as well as music pedagogy be for primary teacher registration?

This question is best addressed through:

  • MCA Teacher Professional Development Working Group resources
  • discussion or survey
  • examination of the requirements to implement The Australian Curriculum: The Arts using the achievement standards and content descriptors for knowledge required. Need another source to define pedagogical standards. Don’t think these exist!
  • collaboration with state and national registration bodies
  • research into current requirements of primary teacher training institutions

5. Specifically in relation to instrumental (vocal/choral) music in schools, what are the factors that facilitate as well as hinder co-curricular and extra-curricular musical engagement by young people in Australia?

a. Support

i. School administration

ii. School culture

iii. Music Department administration

iv. Instrumental music staff

v. Parents.

b. Musical culture

i. Length of establishment of music culture

ii. Nature of the music culture in the school

iii. Parental involvement, for example attending lessons, supervising practice, communicating with teachers

iv. Ensemble and/or performing opportunities.

c. Commencement of tuition

i. Access to instrumental music tuition at primary school

ii. Access to instrumental music tuition at secondary school

iii. Liaison / collaboration between primary and secondary school administration and music departments.

Draw on McPherson research in the area of instrumental music, and refer to other areas (listed above) which also need much more focused research. Contributions to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Music Education provide some research and data in these areas.63


Mandy Stefanakis, May 2013. Entered on Knowledge Base 31 October 2013.


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  63. See for submissions. See also transcripts (gradually updated) from the inquiry at↩︎

Mandy Stefanakis is a sessional lecturer in music education at Deakin University. She was previously Director of Music at Christ Church Grammar School and Essex Heights Primary School. She is a member of the Advisory Council of The Music Trust, Assistant Editor of the Trust’s e-zine Loudmouth, past-President and a Life Member of the Association of Music Educators. She lectured in music education at the University of Melbourne where she received her Master of Education degree. She has contributed to many arts curriculum initiatives and conducted professional development to assist implement these curricula over several decades. Mandy is the author of the Australian music focused education kits, Turn it Up! She has conducted extensive interviews for the National Film and Sound Archive, is an avid composer and her obsession with piano and cello continues.

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