The Relationship Between Theory & Practice in Music Education

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The Relationship Between Theory & Practice in Music Education

There is growing concern among educators that current music training schemas can hinder students’ creative growth. There are many research studies and much debate over the topic. One professor, Estelle Jorgensen, suggests four perspectives to explain how scholars learn. The models range from accepting theory and practice as two completely independent concerns to recognizing the two principles in cohesive existence. Research about how students absorb knowledge started with studies completed in the early sixties. Now, with the gap between education and practice widening, academics attempt to bring classroom knowledge more in line with reality.

Debating Theory Versus Practice

There is a growing divide between formal training and what artists produce in the real world. To remedy this, instructors are observing mainstream songs and investigating informal teaching methods, while education researchers are looking to other music forms to gain real insight into mainstream song development. As a result, they have found that the formal teaching structures that exist within the rock genre outside the classroom may also occur in other genres.

Largely due to a 1995 research study that focused on garage bands, researchers delved into the various other ethnic genres to understand how culture affects the way composers learn. Scientists studying the rap genre revealed that popular music can provide clues to help educators create modern study plans for today’s music learning needs. Notably, these scientific explorations have yet to trickle down to pre-college classes.

Possible Learning Scenarios
In a Philosophy of Music Education Review journal entry, graduate Professor Estelle Jorgensen contemplates four possible student learning paradigms. She discusses what is, in her opinion, the positive and negative characteristics of several viewpoints that educators can use to try to understand how learners grasp new information. The four models are:
• Dichotomy
• Polarity
• Fusion
• Dialectic

Jorgensen’s first hypothetical learning model is dichotomy. The concept mirrors philosophic contrasts such as Plato’s “world of appearances” and “world of ideas” as well as the “phenomenal world” and “philosophical understandings” opined by Descartes. Jorgensen somewhat favors this model, because it is a convenient scale for judging learning merits. However, it does not work well in contemporary society because it draws an exaggerated extreme between theory and practice.

The second Jorgensen model is polarity. This concept has the same two extremes as the dichotomy model. However, it incorporates a sliding scale that varies from one pole to the other. With this model, the idea is that formal and informal music training influences each pupil uniquely. The concept is valid in that it applies to all learners in some way. According to Jorgensen, this same trait renders the construct virtually meaningless, because it offers no empirical evidence and simply states that students retain varying degrees of formal and informal training.

Fusion, Jorgensen’s third model, suggests that theory and practice exist as one construct. She based this model on educator Paulo Friere’s “praxis” concept. With music education, the theory suggests that apprentices enter the world with their acquired knowledge and generate change based on their education and beliefs. In her journal entry, Jorgensen refutes this viewpoint, because the model ignores the divide between theory and practice as well as formal and informal training. She voices that this ideal will only serve to maintain the status quo. Although Jorgensen’s opinion does not consider exactly what students absorb in various environments, this factor can considerably change researchers’ findings when exploring learning habits.

Among the four theories, the dialectic model is Jorgensen’s chosen concept. This theory relates that music students learn from their academic and personal environment. It is her belief that this explains the relationship between formal and informal training. It is, however, possible that this model magnifies the disconnection between the classroom and the real world, while providing no clues for educators to duplicate successful teaching strategies.

Solutions on the Horizon
Studies show that new curricula that blend formal music training with informal class projects result in students’ fluid transition to professional careers. These new practices have helped educators advance teaching methods and understand how current music evolves.

Essentially, learning development took root in the 1960’s with research conducted by Jean Piaget. The researcher’s work touches many disciplines, including music, and has greatly served the teaching arena. Today, researchers use these theories to continue their attempts at unlocking how students gain knowledge.

As mainstream music and classroom training continue to resemble each other less, teachers work to bring the classroom back into contemporary relevance. How to do this is still unclear, but the answer seems to lie with students freely showcasing their creativity in the academic setting. Educator Estelle Jorgensen attempted to outline several possible ways to view student learning. Her models explored theoretical training and real life composition as it exists in graduates’ minds and lives. Meanwhile, other education researchers – in a ceaseless effort to improve student learning outcomes – have built on Piaget’s early works and continue to find new and innovative ways to train musicians.

Indiana University Bloomington. About Estelle Jorgensen. Jocobs School of Music [Web Page]. Available at: Accessed 2016.

AB4.pdf. Mozart Home Page. 2006. Accessed 2016.

Tobias E. Crossfading music education: Connections between secondary students’ in- and out-of-school music experience. International Journal of Music Education. February 2014;33(1):18-35.

Learning Theories. UNAM, Posgrado en Musica. Accessed 2016.

Jorgensen ER. Four Philosophical Models of the Relation Between Theory and Practice. Philosophy of Music Education Review. 2005;13(1):21-36.


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