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An International Comparison of Music Education in England the United States

Daniel Johnson, Department of Music, University of North Carolina, Wilmington, NC, USA

Martin Fautley, School of Education and Social Work, Birmingham City University, Birmingham, UK


The aim of this research was to:

  • compare systems of instrumental music education in England and the United States
  • explore the resulting implications for assessment practices
  • define the underlying pedagogical assumptions prevalent in both countries

This research is innovative because it is the first of its kind in music education. It combines an international comparison of instrumental music education practices with a study of corresponding assessments. In addition, it explores the underlying assumptions of educational priorities and outcomes in terms of the different terminology used.

In this study, the authors rely on the English National Curriculum and the American National Core Arts Standards. These two curricula and their underlying teaching and learning assumptions guided the discussion of musical and pedagogical issues. In addition, they used Hall’s Linguistic Theory to explore the different denotations and connotations with associated terminology.

For this research, the sample group was guiding documents for the English and American national music education curricula. Along with reports from corresponding district and local levels, these were the data sources. The authors used a constant comparative, open-coding content analysis as research tools.

Results indicated that the American approach to instrumental music education is more performance and group oriented, while the approach in England focuses on creativity and individualized pedagogies.

Implications of this study are to consider ways both the English and American systems could learn from each other. While teachers in the English system could consider ways to focus on performance and wider societal engagement, their American counterparts could include creativity and interdisciplinary skills as part of their learning outcomes. Pursuing these and other lessons to be learned from the other system, both English and American music educators could clarify their respective goals and recognise the most promising ways to adapt and adopt best practices for the benefit of their students.

Results of this study highlight the need to rethink pedagogical aims and objectives. By comparing any approaches to teaching and learning with those of parallel systems, educators can more clearly articulate those features that define their own approaches. After reconsidering what any pedagogical approach espouses and operationalizes, teachers and teacher-educators are prepared to develop well-aligned assessments.

Next steps could be to conduct more detailed comparisons of the English and American approaches to instrumental music education. Parallel case studies in each country could provide specific examples and scenarios of the corresponding pedagogical approaches.

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