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Response to Frede V. Nielsen,"Didactology as a Field of Theory and Research in Music Education"
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Philosophy of Music Education Review 13.1 (2005) 98-102

Marja Heimonen

Sibelius Academy, Finland

Frede Nielsen describes the two main aspects of music pedagogy as the normative (and prescriptive) and the descriptive (and analytical) aspects. As a precondition for his discussion, he explores some important concepts and terms such as Didaktik. He argues that it is impossible to translate and transfer certain concepts into English. The German tradition, however, has influenced Scandinavian pedagogical discussion and the content of pedagogical terms and concepts in Denmark and Finland is usually congruent with German terminology. Therefore, Nielsen analyzes the German concepts carefully.

An example from my own experience as a teacher of both pedagogy and didactics at the Helsinki Conservatory/Polytechnic may throw some light on this matter from the Finnish perspective. The traditional title of the subject "piano pedagogy" (offered to students who aim to become instrumental teachers) was changed to "piano didactics" some years ago. The content of this course also changed in that alongside practical work (teaching) theoretical courses were also included. The reason for this change was expressed in the same terms that Nielsen presents in his paper: Didaktik (in Finnish didaktiikka) signifies both a theoretical and a practice-oriented approach to teaching.

According to Nielsen, the principal question concerning Didaktik is What is the essential content in music education? This is a philosophical (as well as a legal) issue concerning the aims of education and the matter of who has the right to decide the content. These kinds of matters can also be drawn on a larger canvas: the education of human beings generally. Music education (especially in the context of general education) is not only concerned with the skills that will enable pupils to become competent musicians. On the contrary and more profoundly, it aims to broaden the mind and expand the possibilities of thought and feeling. According to several researchers (such as Estelle Jorgensen, Anthony E. Kemp, David Best, Matti Huttunen, and Heidi Westerlund) music teachers should cultivate a wide understanding of the meaning of education so that music education can relate to human experience and social practices.

Nielsen has created four paradigms that might be used when the content of music teaching is formulated. The point of departure may be (a)the subject itself, music, (b)the pupil's culture (or the local culture); in other words, the micro-cultural level, (c)the social problems or conditions of democracy (the macro-cultural level), and/or (d)the fundamental existential condition of human beings. These paradigms do not exclude one another. I consider their function to resemble that of legal principles: they have to be weighed and balanced in a particular situation and context. One or several may, for some time, take priority and push the others into the background just as Nielsen argues. Legal principles are not used as legal rules, but they are "strong" as rules.

Legal rules have been compared with rails: rules and regulations (just as rails) are either followed or not. This comparison to a train running on rails also clarifies the relationship between legal regulations and human behaviour: most of these rules are obeyed by habit without profound thinking about aims and principles (c.f. Nielsen's paradigms) behind the legal texts.

The most important question Nielsen attempts to raise is the relationship between music and pedagogy (Didaktik). He points out that his aim is not to give normative regulations about what should or should not be taught. Raising questions is an important aim of philosophical research. However, this kind of research may also have normative implications. For instance, philosophical questions regarding the aims and the content of a subject (such as music) are included in the planning of a National Curriculum (or the National Framework Curriculum formulated by the National Board of Education, as we used to have in Finland). This curriculum is normative: the regulations have to be obeyed when syllabi are formulated in schools at the local level. The Framework Curriculum includes several educational aims; for instance, "a good relationship to music" should be created between the pupil and music. The normative character of this kind of educational aim is interesting since one criterion for legal...



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