"A New Philosophy of Music Education" (1995)

David Elliot

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Degrees from University of Toronto and has had a lengthy career at U of T which includes visiting professorships at Northwestern University, The University of North Texas, and Indiana University. Before teaching at the University of Toronto Elliot was an active jazz trombonist and taught in Toronto secondary schools.

Motivation to write "Music Matters"?

"I am discontent with the conventional thinking; after studying and teaching the traditional philosophy of music education as aesthetic education for many years, I have become more convinced of its logical and practical flaws."


"…although I disagree with the philosophy he avows, I count my doctoral studies with Professor Bennett Reimer among the most important steps I have taken toward (my) present view."


David Elliot wants YOU to change the state of Music Education.

Elliot is advocating for a "new" philosophy of music education that we will refer to as praxial education. Music is an activity not an exclusively an object. "Without some form of intentional human activity, there can be neither musical sounds nor works of musical sound. In short, what music is, at root, is a human activity."

"Fundamentally, music is something that people do(!!)" - Elliot

In order for you to enroll in Elliot's Army and buy into the "new" philosophy, you should probably know what "the" philosophy has been (aesthetic music education philosophy).

Aesthetic Music Education (the philosophy)

What is music? Musical Works… Works of Art… (basically objects)

The Greek work aisthesis, meaning "sense experience," or perception leads us to "the term aesthetic…suggests the perception and contemplation of things rather than their creation - looking, listening, or reading rather than making." - Ralph Smith

In "A Philosophy of Music Education" by Reimer, Elliot quotes "for an experience to be truly musical listeners must perceive and respond to the aesthetic qualities of music alone." [Therefore, listening for relationships between musical patterns and matters of moral, social, cultural, historical, political, or otherwise nonstructural nature is to listen "non musically."] "The elements of music are rhythm, melody, harmony, tone color, texture and form - they are functions of the aesthetic qualities themselves…music education must be so arranged that aesthetic experience is central."

"This philosophy insists that all music everywhere - across all cultures - ought to be listened to in the same narrow way."

Let's be fair...

Reimer and friends do endorse that performing should be a major means in (aesthetic) music education. Elliot also endorses performing but goes further. Elliot strongly encourages educators to practice "the process of making music" as the central part of a music education experience.

So, where we separate is that Elliot does not believe that the aesthetic experience should be the central part of music education. The process of making music (performing, improvising, composing…musicing) should be the central part of the participant's experience. To fully develop strong musicianship we must become musicers and make music. We must be human and dive into this human activity of music.

What can "Music as an Object" look like in education?

Will we understand music well by purely explaining, studying and listening to musical works?

Ready for some listening maps!?

Let's explore and understand the music better through visual aides!

(These are examples of attempting to gain insightful musical knowledge without going through the process of making music.)

Carnival of the Animals: Listening Map for "The Aquarium"
Vivaldi, Winter, Four Seasons (Allegro), with animated score
Debussy, Arabesque #1, Piano Solo (animation ver. 2)

Let's be fair...

Musical maps like these previous examples can be excellent supplements to music class lessons. The danger is making these maps (or objects like them) as the focal point of the musical experience for participants in music education.

A New Philosophy

Through "Musicing" we will change the world.

"To have 'music' in the familiar sense of audible performances, someone must first take action to make music."

"Musicing in the sense of musical performing is a form of intentional human action. To perform music is to achieve intended changes of musical kind through actions that are taken up deliberately or at will. What this means, is that to perform music is to act thoughtfully and knowingly. For selecting, deploying, directing, adjusting and judging are definite forms of thinking and knowing."

Through "Musicing" we develop our "Listenership"

"Listening for the music one is making oneself (and with others) enables a student to understand how different aspects of musicing and listening relate to one another in terms of cause-effect, whole-part, form-function, comparison-contrast, and production-interpretation relations. Learning to listen deeply and intelligently for the music of a particular practice requires that students learn music from inside musical practices, from the perspective of reflective musical practitioners."

"If I know how to interpret and perform a work well, then I understand it and i Know how to listen for it."

"…a musical performance is a rich, nonverbal explanation of what a performer understands…"


What Elliot urges is that a musical performance should be valued simply as "an embodiment of a student's musical understanding of a given work and its related practice. A performance provides authentic and tangible evidence of a person's moment-to-moment musical understanding (including music-listening ability) with regard to all relevant dimensions of a musical work and the musical practice in which it is embedded.

Musicianship: "Music making and music listening are interdependent…"

Go Make Music! NOW!

What should Music Education look like then?!?

…the process of making music...

Hold on! Developing MUSICIANSHIP is not the only goal!

Our task as music educators is to develop musicianship in students through providing carefully planned musical challenges that results "in students' self-growth, enjoyment and self-knowledge." The balance of a selecting a "musical challenge" within the student's own musicianship is the challenge for educators.

"Self-growth, self-knowledge, and musical enjoyment are the aims of music education overall and the primary goals of every music teaching-learning episode."


Getting to the CORE… Self-Growth and Enjoyment!

Setting the Conditions of Self-Growth and Enjoyment

"Enjoyment comes at a very specific point: whenever the opportunities for action perceived by the individual are equal to his or her capabilities… Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person's capacity to act."


"A challenge is what sets self-growth and enjoyment in motion. …(musical) challenges may take many forms: a composition to perform and listen for; an improvisation to improvise; a composition to compose; a performance to listen for as an audience member."

KEY: both the challenges and the knowledge and define the pursuit must become more complex over time to achieve lasting self-growth and enjoyment.

"I shall argue that music making and music listening are unique and major ways of bringing order to consciousness and achieving self-growth and self-knowledge."

Why is Self-Growth & Enjoyment so important?

Control: "...people do not enjoy being in control of their actions as much as that they enjoy exercising control because of their know-how…Since their "know-how" enables people to meet the challenges presented by a mountain to climb, a chess game to be played, or a musical work to be performed/listened to." (Csikszentmihalyi) [chick-sent-me-hi]

A sense of "Flow": "When the level of challenge and the level of know-how match within a definite context of action, the psychic energy of attention is fully taken up. The doer experiences a oneness with the doing of the action itself. When we are thinking-in-action effectively, events follow one another so smoothly, with such a feeling of flow, that our actions seem effortless, or spontaneous…"


Talent vs. Form of Knowledge...

Music is for EVERYONE. "Unfortunately for children, our society's irrational tendency to label music a talent instead of a form of knowledge is politically and financially convenient for many politicians and administrators…the unexamined association between music and talent causes the general public to assume, wrongly, that music is inaccessible or unachievable for and therefore an inappropriate or unnecessary subject for the majority of school children. From a political standpoint this saves public education a great deal of money that would otherwise have to be spent hiring qualified music teachers to teach all children music in the same way that all children are expected to be taught math or reading."

Let's get this straight...


INSTEAD…people are born with the conscious capacities of attention, awareness and memory that enable them to learn how to think linguistically - to read and write one or more languages; it is neither a gift nor a talent.

Will some having a deeper interest or excel further than others? Sure, but the vast majority of people have sufficient linguistic intelligence to achieve at least a competent level of literacy through reading and writing education.


INSTEAD…people are born with the conscious capacities of attention, awareness and memory that enable them to learn how to think mathematically - to add, subtract, and divide competently, if not proficiently. Numeracy is achieved through teaching and learning; it is neither a gift nor a talent.

Will some having a deeper interest or excel further than others? Sure, but the vast majority of people have sufficient mathematical intelligence to achieve at least a competent level of numeracy through mathematics education.


INSTEAD…people are born with the conscious capacities of attention, awareness and memory that enable them to learn how to think musically - to make music and listen for music competently, if not proficiently. Musicianship is achieved through music teaching and learning; it is neither a gift nor a talent.

Will some having a deeper interest or excel further than others? Sure, but the vast majority of people have sufficient musical intelligence to achieve at least a competent level of musicianship through music education.

Not everyone who is taught how to read and write are expected to become a Shakespeare or a Robert Frost...

…But schools still attempt to teach all students to read and write well. Not everyone who is taught math are expected to become an Albert Einstein, but school still attempt to teach everyone to do well in math. Not everyone who is taught music is expected to become Mozart, but all schools should attempt to teach all students to make and listen for music well.

"For the values inherent to knowing hot to make and listen for music intelligently are central to making a life; self-growth, self-knowledge, self-esteem, creative achievement, humanistic empathy and enjoyment are central life goals and life values in all human cultures."

Advocacy Task: educate our public about what MUSIC is and what it takes to make music well.

Music Matters

Let's be honest. You need to have "Music Matters" in your personal library. I wish I was able to cover more information including "Curriculum-as-practicum," "Creativity in Context," "Improvising," and more… This is a heavy book but well worth the time and energy. - Chris Meredith

Follow up publication by David Elliot:

"Praxial Music Education: Reflections and Dialogues" - Elliot