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Melissa Leider

Philosophy of Music Education


Music teachers have been key role models in my development both as an adolescent in
the public school system and as a musician. I went to a private elementary school and only had
ten people in my grade. My first music teacher showed how music could be a tool to turn a class
into a community and helped begin to inspire and foster my creative side. In middle school, I
found myself in a much more diverse band program as I made the switch from private to public
school. My middle school band director became my role model, and towards the middle of 6th
grade I decided that I wanted to become a band director myself. She not only managed to turn a
group of awkward and rambunctious 6th graders into a relatively well-behaved and awardwinning band, but she taught us the skill of listening, which transferred to our lives outside of
music as well. In high school, my band director constantly challenged me to grow in many ways.
It is through his advice and support that I became a music education major at JMU.
In looking towards the future, I would like to teach in a public school system. The
challenge of teaching in a low-income area is appealing to me, because I am interested in social
justice issues as well. Based on my practicum experience so far, I enjoy the smaller, more rural
schools the best, especially Wilson Middle School in Fishersville; I can picture myself working
in this type of community. In regards to preferred grade level, I would like to teach middle or
elementary music. Middle school appeals to me from a psychology standpoint, because the
mental development from 6th to 8th grade is so phenomenal. After more in-depth practicum at the
elementary level as well as elementary-focused courses at JMU, I am now also considering
elementary music because I love the fast-paced and energetic nature of the teaching.

The most important dispositions for a music teacher to have are passion, creativity,
flexibility, and humility. Passion for music is obviously very important for a music teacher to
have, but passion for teaching and for the students in general is also essential. As I experience
teaching in different schools, different grades, and even different subjects through my practicum,
I am realizing how passionate I am about teaching. A major part of the job of a music teacher is
to choose music to use in class that is mentally accessible to the students and that provides
teachable moments for greater musical concepts. This requires huge creativity, as does dealing
with more concrete issues such as the way music programs are being treated in public schools
today. Flexibility is also crucial, because, while a teacher can have extremely thorough and
detailed lessons, students are unpredictable. Also, if a student is not grasping a concept or goal, it
is the job of the teacher to be flexible and be able to explain the material in another way. Lastly,
humility is vital because music teachers are responsible for a vast amount of knowledge and are
bound to make a mistake (for example, if a saxophonist teaches a sixth grader learning trombone
an incorrect slide position). The teacher must be able to be humble and accept their mistake.
For me, passion is a strength. I have been passionate about teaching since third grade
when I started helping out in a local preschool. This passion has grown throughout the years as I
began teaching Hebrew, Sunday School, and saxophone lessons. I am also passionate about
music and express this every day as a music major at JMU playing for at least five hours every
day through ensembles and practicing. Creativity is also a strength for me; I love the challenge of
coming up with unique ways to teach materials that most effectively engage students. Coming
into JMU, flexibility was definitely my biggest weakness. In reflecting on my early peer
teaching, I noticed that I was unable to move away from my lesson plan if needed, and that I was

even sometimes reading straight from the plan instead of being spontaneous and reacting to the
class. I have made much progress in this area, even switching to teaching a new song in a recent
practicum when the students already had learned the song I was planning on teaching.
In thinking about goals for my future students, I hope, on a very broad level, that my
students will understand the fundamentals of music appropriately for their specific grade and
concentration as well as have the ability to perform at a level appropriate of their grade. These
fundamentals would include the ability to read and notate music, an understanding of rhythms,
the ability to perform (either vocally or instrumentally) with good technique, and an
understanding of music history/composers. In regards to performing, not only do I hope to put on
a great concert, but also to have the students understand the process of learning a piece of music
(in regards to preparing an individual part, playing as an ensemble, etc.). In understanding the
process of music-making at any level, students will then be able to apply the procedure in other
pieces, ensembles, or classes. Furthermore, I want students to be able at all levels to attach
emotionally with a piece of music. Whether this is through activities like painting as we listen to
music or having a discussion about how playing a piece makes us feel, I hope by sharing pieces
of music that touch me emotionally with my class that they will mirror me and find pieces that
move them.
Not only do I want my students to gain material knowledge from me about music, but
also to learn how to act as a responsible and respectful member of the band community, the
school community, and outside world. While many teachers do this concretely, by having a
characteristic of the month or hammering the 7 pillars, I would hope that my students would
learn through interaction with their peers and imitation of me as a teacher and role model. In the
music classroom setting, students learn quickly that the final product is significantly better when

they are on task, respectful, and flexible. Through positive reinforcement of exemplary behavior
in my classroom, students would hopefully learn quickly what was expected of them and then
apply the same behavior in other classes and at home.
In any setting at any level, I believe that the incorporation of improvisation is an
important teaching principal. Not only does it promote creativity, but it provides a medium to
connect emotion and personality to music. Furthermore, it develops students ears (in both being
able to hear chord changes and being able to develop an idea from a peer or recording) far more
than the monotonous ear training exercises so many music classes currently use. Finally,
improvisation is a great tool in gaining competence on any instrument (or voice) at any level.
Beyond focusing on improvisation, I also emphasize connecting music to other fields. As Daniel
Pink discusses in A Whole New Mind, right-brained thinkers are becoming more influential in
the work place as technology is taking the place of the jobs of left-brained thinkers. Music is
currently too isolated as a subject; I would encourage discussions on not only how it relates to
other art forms, but also to other more academic subjects.
Classroom management is an aspect of teaching that definitely depends on the school
system and the specific students, but there are some fundamental principals that should be
employed everywhere. First of all, when a student is being disruptive, the teachers first strategy
must be to redirect. For example, if Johnny is talking out during rehearsal, instead of pointing out
the undesired behavior by asking Johnny to be quiet, the teacher can ask Johnny to play a scale.
This causes Johnny to stop talking without any negativity. I also believe that all feedback should
be given in ten words or less. Teachers tend to get quite verbose in their instructions and students
disengage. Not only should the feedback be concise, but also specific and focused on a behavior
that can be changed, not a vague concept. If after the feedback nothing changes, instead of

focusing on what is wrong, the teacher should sing or demonstrate the desired outcome. Also,
positive reinforcement is extremely effective when used in moderation. If a band director
comments That was great! after every rep, it will mean nothing. If however, the teacher makes
occasional comments such as, Jose, your staccato notes are cutting through the texture nicely,
students will strive to play better to receive more positive feedback.
Finally, since society is changing so rapidly both in regards to music and society in
general, it is crucial to move away from the traditional rehearsal model where the teacher picks
music, prepares it, performs it, and starts over. Collaboration between music classes and art
classes could help students make connections beyond the classroom. Working with the
community could help music education gain support by those whose can vote. Students should
not only be learning their pieces, but also composing, improvising, and developing holistically as
an artist.
Currently, at JMU, I am taking advantage many opportunities that allow me to grow
professionally as an undergraduate. Kappa Delta Pi is an international honor society in education
that aims to sustain an honored community of diverse educators by promoting excellence and
advancing scholarship, leadership, and service (kdp.org). In this organization, I participate in
social events, community service events, and professional learning events. The social events
connect me to other education majors and, through collaboration, I am gaining other perspectives
on contemporary education issues. The community service events give me experience in the
classroom, working with parents, and working with children other settings (childrens museum,
fun fairs, etc.). The professional growth events highlight specific areas in education through
guest lecturers and allow me to be more informed.

Big Brother Big Sister is truly allowing me to make a difference in a students life. I have
been paired with my little for almost two years now, and watch her grow from a third grader to
a beginning middle schooler. Experiencing milestones in her life with her, such as the move to
middle school and the birth of a new sister, have been some of the most meaningful moments of
my time here at JMU. This experience is helping me develop my ability to make and maintain a
deep connection one-on-one. It helps me understand what it truly means to be a role model. As a
teacher, I will have a full classroom as opposed to just one student to impact. I am hoping that
being a big will be a stepping stone to making meaningful connections with all of my students.