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The Rise of the Developmental Music Curriculum - An Aesthetic Approach to Music Education in Queensland

Judith Hewton


Music has occupied a place in education since Plato and Aristotle. It was Plato who selected both the forms of music to be used in the education process and the recipients of the musical experiences, because new modes of music were considered to be potentially dangerous instruments of change. Aristotle judged the suitability of the music according to the age and status of the listener, and emphasised the importance of the aesthetic component of intellectual enjoyment (to be experienced by the elite only). The inclusion of music in education had a political purpose - "to maintain traditional cultural values and to develop the ideal citizen" (Mark, 1982:15).

From the Greeks and Romans, through the Middle Ages, Charlemagne and Martin Luther, to the nineteenth century, music education was a privilege enjoyed by the wealthy (ibid: 15-16). In the twentieth century, music changed from being 'aristocratic' to becoming part of a 'meritocratic' ideology where education was sought as a means of success in life (Hodgkinson, 1977:31). For the first time, music educators replaced intellectual, political and religious leaders in society as the foremost writers in music (Mark, ibid).

In recent times, demands for the justification of music in the curriculum have led to a preoccupation with measurable, non-musical outcomes (Knieter, 1983:33, 35). In reply, there continues to be a strong argument for the inclusion of music for music's sake. "Music has intrinsic value: it requires no external justification" (Leonhard and House, 1972:4). Such arguments apart, the basis of a philosophy for music curricula must originate in the relationship of music to the human condition.

Human beings seek meaning from their experiences (Eisner, 1980:5). Control over the manipulation of symbol systems, as in languages and mathematics, means access to both deeper levels and other modes of comprehension. It is the unique symbol system of music which offers yet another way of knowing - of moving from the condition of 'being' into one of growth and 'becoming' (Thelan, 1982:32). This is a powerful argument for the inclusion of music in the curriculum.

If the aesthetic appreciation of music is a desirable human response, this will be enhanced by the development of skills and knowledge to the highest degree possible according to the individual's capacity to respond. Musical knowledge is contained within the human consciousness and does not exist independently (Kamii, 1975:82-93). By its nature, music demands a personal response from the individual. It is then interpreted in the light of personal knowledge.

All knowledge is determined by social conditions. Personal knowledge, mediated by the individual's conceptual framework, is conditioned by the social structure of the culture (Pring, 1975:128-137). Knowledge can, therefore, be considered as information that explores and extends one's personal world-view. The uniqueness of music as 'another way of knowing' in this life is indisputable, as is music's place in human existence. The continued 'gatherings of people in societies around musical 'performances' and the continuing demand for musical 'accompaniments' to major events in public traditions and public life serve to maintain the position of music in the social structure of different cultures. It is the relevance of music to the social context which defines it as public knowledge. Thus music exists as both personal and public knowledge today.

Schools transmit culture (Stenhouse, 1975) by facilitating access to the many symbol systems used by society. As public knowledge, music may be transmitted, learned and shared (Morrish, 1972). As a public tradition, music has the right to be included in the school curriculum.



Music curriculum in Australia developed along British lines from the mid-nineteenth century, reflecting a strong singing tradition from notable British music educators such as Hullah and Curwen (Bridges, 1974:11-12).

Traditional singing classes were paid for by the participating pupils until the then newly-formed Department of Education initiated a policy of having music taught in schools by the class teacher instead of specialists. In the 1920s a 'music appreciation' movement in schools found teachers to be lacking in the skills necessary to teach the intricacies of the subject and, in the late 1930s, wealthy independent schools began employing full-time music specialists to fill the demand (ibid: 13). At first the States trained music teachers for secondary schools only, not moving into the primary area significantly until the 'sixties.


The 1960 syllabus, Handbook of Music for Teachers (Department of Education, Queensland), was a lengthy, prescriptive document whose contents reflected a strong British influence. It failed to initiate widespread curriculum implementation in music because the musical content was too advanced for class teachers, and there was no evidence in the document of any understanding of how children learn as the basis for any skills development.

In 1970 a supervisor of music for Queensland State schools was appointed for the first time. A broad-framework curriculum document (A Curriculum Guide for Music in the Primary School, Department of Education, Queensland, 1974) was developed. The format and content of this syllabus reflected the growing influence of the USA over economic, social and educational development in Australia.

In the 'seventies, for the first time, there were specialist music teachers in most large primary schools in Queensland. Egalitarian ideals were adopted from mainstream educational thinking and applied to music education. The broad flexible format of the 1974 curriculum guide pointed the way to a 'popular' approach to music education based on freedom of choice and ecumenicity.

Deweyan in philosophy, this popular approach embraced the principle of universality - "Music is the broadest possible view is the proper perspective for the music educator" (McAllester, 1980:8). Given the time constraints imposed by the length of the school day and the demands of other curriculum areas, teachers adopting this approach ran the risk of presenting a program of unconnected experiences - a diluted bland assortment of activities which could never aspire to providing the key to musical literacy, i.e. mastery over its symbol system. Without literacy, the student is forever dependent on others for musical experience.

Music education in the 'seventies was based on the Aristotleian ethic of improvement and edification, and on the contemporary socialism of the time. Music was made available to, and even forced upon all and sundry (Fletcher, 1980:4). It was assumed at the time that a creative, child-centred approach would bring meaningful musical experiences to all, developing the imagination and a new awareness of music. In fact the 'universal smorgasboard' approach to the provision of music curriculum offered all music to all people with inadequate time allocated to sequential skill development aimed at musical independence (ibid: 6).

Emerging as it did from the economic backdrop of the business-industry ethos that had been applied to education in the USA, the smorgasboard curriculum trivialised education by legitimating mindless fads. (Knieter, 1983:33-34). It exists today in music programs that jump from one unconnected unit to the next.

The popular approach is also characterised by the use of child-initiated experiments in the classroom. Teachers may then abdicate from teaching in the interests of the child's 'self-discovery' activities (Swanwick, 1979:4). This anchors the child in 'being' with no thought of 'becoming'. Also, when children choose music, they choose 'pop' or 'rock' music because that is what they hear most often (Rainbow, 1981:12). In attempting to please their students, teachers may allow 'pop' to dominate the music classroom at the expense of an introduction to the wider world of quality music.

Such 'trendy' approaches to classroom music only serve to legitimate musical mediocrity:

Today's pop music achieves success not because its art is developed but because the power of mass media supports it and markets it largely to adolescents whose poor musical education leaves them susceptible to the worst influences of the craft. (Porter, 1986:247)
The failure by teachers to realise that only the best music (whether 'pop' or 'classical') is good enough for their students has led to the alienation of serious music from the classroom. The absence of an aesthetic appreciation of music based on sensitivity, responsiveness and development of the critical faculty has relegated music curriculum to the ranks of the banal in many classrooms. To aim for excellence in music requires teaching of such discernments as valuing and reflecting (Wilson, 1980:32-35). Teachers must have mastered the best possible musical pedagogy available to them in order to comprehend the value of aesthetic experiences gained from the use of music of the highest quality in the classroom (Choksy, 1981:8).


After the initial euphoria of the sudden expansion in music personnel available to schools in the 'seventies, there was a reaction against the lack of direction demonstrated by the musical smorgasboard approach manifest in the numerous 'ad hoc' programs which mushroomed in schools throughout Queensland. This reaction was to become visible in what can be identified as a major initiative in Queensland music curriculum for primary schools. Based on the aesthetic rationale of 'musicality', it has had Statewide influence on music curriculum in primary schools which continues to this day.

In 1976, the Music Board of Australia Council asked the first Queensland Supervisor of Music to evaluate the West Sydney Music Research Project. This project was an adaptation of Kodaly-based music education as seen in Hungary by Deanna Hoermann who initiated the Sydney project in 1973. She demonstrated that classroom teachers could learn music skills along with their students when supported by a music consultant. The class teachers also learned developmental teaching skills which they practised daily in their own classrooms.

The Supervisor of Music saw possibilities in Hoermann's work for future Queensland curriculum development. A pilot program was established in three primary schools, and in-service was conducted regularly for both music and classroom teachers.

As already mentioned, developmental music education has sprung from the philosophy of Zoltan Kodaly (18821967), Hungarian composer, conductor, music folk-lorist, musicologist and pedagogue. He proposed:

His pedagogy is without peer. Students learn music through an ordered process of hearing, singing, deriving, writing, reading and creating (Choksy, 1981:10). The approach is child-developmental, not subject-logic as in the popular approach of the 'seventies.

The argument for a return to musical values is strong. The capacity for musical response and musical growth must predominate in any rationalisation of music curriculum (Knieter, 1983:35).

Kodaly-based developmental music curriculum has provided a means of achieving the degree of aesthetic excellence in music for which many music teachers were searching. Such programs are finely structured and sequential. They are characterised by spontaneity, confidence and creativity when in the hands of able, committed teachers.

The musically sensitive teacher, having mastered the advanced musical and pedagogical skills required may then concentrate on literacy as a major aim so that students may work towards varying degrees of musical independence according to their interest and ability. Such programs are in operation in a number of primary schools today and continue to serve as the basis of most in-service music education throughout the State. Their advantages and outcomes are documented in evaluation studies conducted by Research Services, Department of Education, Queensland (Hewton, 1985).


Children need an intellectually sincere, aesthetic approach to music education. They need teachers of skill and sensitivity who understand how children learn and who believe that only the best is good enough for our children. Without music of the highest quality, the developing critical faculty has no basis of comparison for judging and valuing, and aesthetic sensibility remains dormant. Without literacy, there can be little independent musical action of consequence and we will continue to produce generations of people who have been denied their right of access to the greatest music humankind has created (Eisner and Vallance, 1974: 12).

To deny students access to the very best intellectual and aesthetic products that civilisation has created is to deny them the core of what education can provide. But the products of science and of art do not speak of themselves. Ideas become instrument and works of art become aesthetic only when they are approached through appropriate modes of inquiry and perception. (ibid: 15)
The genius of Kodaly has provided the approach - what remains now is to continue to support is implementation in schools as widely and as effectively as possible.


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Eisner, E. and Vallance, E. (eds) Conflicting Conceptions of Curriculum, McCutcham, California, 1974.

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Pring, R.-"Knowledge out of Control", in Golby, M. et al (eds) Curriculum Design, Croom Helm and Open University Books, London, 1975.

Rainbow, B. "Plato and Music Today", Music Teacher, 60:12, 1981.

Stenhouse, L. An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development, Heinemann, London, 1975.

Swanwick, K. "The Challenge to Music Education in the Nineteen Eighties", Australian Journal of Music Education, 25, 1979.

Thelan, H. "Authenticity, Legitimacy and Productivity: A study of the tensions among values underlying educational activity", Journal of Curriculum Studies, 14:1, 1982.

Wilson, P. "Aesthetic Education and the Compulsory Curriculum", Journal of Curriculum Studies, 21 :1, 1980.

Please cite as: Hewton, J. (1989). The Rise of the Developmental Music Curriculum - An Aesthetic Approach to Music Education in Queensland. Queensland Researcher, 5(1), 4-14. http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr5/hewton.html

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