Process Before Product in the New Music Standards

ImageLearning is a process. While there are signposts made of assessments and evaluations along the way, more is gained from the process of learning than from a completed summative product. When the product is valued above the process, corners can easily be cut, and valuable learning opportunities can be missed or avoided. “Teaching to the test” is one example of such corner cutting, and teacher centered music ensemble rehearsals and classes are others. Though dictating interpretations and providing analyses for students is expedient, such teaching often results in only limited student retention, and may lead to an individual abandoning music during school years or after graduation. A better alternative to teaching music is to use what I shall call a process-oriented model.

In a process-oriented model, students are given greater responsibility for their learning by more actively engaging them in the process of learning. The new music standards are organized around artistic processes of select, analyze, interpret, evaluate and present. Students learn to select musical works for performance or responding based on interest, ability, knowledge, and purpose or context. The use and organization of musical elements are learned from analysis, the composer’s intent is made known through carrying the analysis into interpretation and demonstrated with performance, and evaluation is done on the performance, setting up refinement and further evaluation.

The antithesis of a process-oriented model is one that is product-based. Here, priority is given to preparing the performance, with the teacher doing much of the in-depth studying. In a product-based music ensemble, the director-conductor selects repertoire based on curriculum need, analyzes the music during score study, and is the primary interpreter while the musicians “follow the conductor.” Materials for general music classes are handled in a similar way. The teacher selects materials suitable for use in teaching to a goal or standard, and then “teaches the piece” to the class. Under this model, relatively little of the responsibility for learning is left to the student. The teacher does the bulk of the prep work and the student learns the music from the teacher, not the score. The goal is to “get” the students to perform and the performance is the product and the goal.

The new music standards encourage a process-based approach. By focusing on the processes of selecting, analyzing, interpreting, evaluating, and performing, the focus shifts from the performance to the process, and from teacher to the students, who discover how composers employ musical elements  to express an intent, and how they as performers express that intent through interpretation. Using it results in students interacting with musical works in a more personal, imaginative, and creative way. Students take time to get to know composers’ works on a personal level, and discover their inner expressive and creative selves in a way that is not possible in a product-based model. The teacher still teaches skills and concepts to students, but the content taught is driven by what the student needs to know to proceed in their self-directed learning. The taught content is relevant to what the student is learning and the student can immediately learn new knowledge. Because the taught content is student driven, the nature of the knowledge learned is aligned with the student’s experience of the music instead of with knowledge about the musical artifact. Valuing process over product more effectively meets student needs, and achieves rigor, and depth.


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