Graduate Music Education

By Phillips, Kenneth H. | Research and Issues in Music Education (RIME), September 2008 | Go to article overview

Graduate Music Education


Phillips, Kenneth H., Research and Issues in Music Education (RIME)


This essay on graduate music education is in response to an article by David Hebert on challenges and solutions in online music teacher education that appeared in the online journal, Research and Issues in Music Education, 5(1). I found the article stimulating because so little has been written on the topic of music teacher education at the graduate level.

It appears that graduate music education in institutions of higher learning is locked into traditions that online programs are ready to challenge. In this essay I consider this challenge from a traditionalist viewpoint to determine if an online approach is a feasible option to music education at the doctorate and master's levels. Specifically, I seek to determine what the nature of graduate degrees in music education are or should be, if online and traditional curricula are in agreement in fulfilling these requirements, and if some variant or compromise is appropriate in developing music teachers at the graduate level.

Doctoral Music Education

The principal objective of the doctoral curriculum in music education (specifically the Ph.D., but also, in some cases, the D.M.A. and Ed.D.) is to develop scholars who do research. Most universities and colleges expect their faculty to participate in the discovery of new knowledge and to publish their findings in refereed journals. Scholarly productivity has become synonymous with the awarding of tenure. While teaching and service are additional components included in tenure decisions at most schools, it is common knowledge that without a publication record most professors find it almost impossible to be promoted to tenured ranks. Therefore, doctoral students take courses that emphasize the research process, and are expected to produce a dissertation that reflects a major research investigation.

Impart Knowledge

The coursework in the doctoral curriculum typically focuses on four main areas: music theory, music history (western and nonwestern), music education, and research. The delivery for courses in these areas is very much a book-lecture format. Professors present lectures based upon assigned readings, and assessment is made via written tests. In addition, papers and/or projects are regularly required. This traditional approach seems to adapt well to online delivery where knowledge is the key element. Students electing online courses have the advantage of moving through content at their own pace and at a schedule that does not require set class attendance. The educational goal to "impart knowledge" in a flexible format is one of the strengths of online programs.

A dissertation is the culminating research project in the doctoral curriculum. Each student chooses a topic and works closely on a major research investigation with a faculty member. I have worked with students via the Internet in the dissertation process, and while I prefer the one-on-one rapport established when working in person with a student, there is no reason that a student cannot fulfill the dissertation requirement while working with the director online. Preliminary discussion when formulating the dissertation topic could be more difficult than a face-to-face meeting, but such work also can be accomplished via the telephone. A dissertation is basically a knowledge component requiring the student to work more independently as he or she develops the capacity to do research. The online process is amenable to this process.

Grow in Musical Skills

It is my experience that most doctoral students in residence desire to continue their development as musicians. Many will continue to study in their applied areas, and some, hoping to find college jobs that include an ensemble component, continue their study of conducting. An ensemble requirement is common among schools of music, and doctoral students can be found in the ranks of choruses, bands, orchestras, and operas. …

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