Still more on ‘engagement’ & band

I have thought that students who participate in their school band are inherently engaged in learning. That is not necessarily so. As established through various agreements around engagement, it is more than just doing. In a traditional band setting, students sit in their sections and rehearse as a full ensemble, with various levels of enthusiasm and attentiveness, for the duration of the rehearsal, which also vary from school to school. The expectations and demands of teachers and students have changed, including the way content is delivered and received. The band, often long standing institutions within the institutions, should also be addressed in ways that encourage greater participation from the school population, and that means that the content delivery may look different, as well.

My evolving position on music education and the way I structure my classes for heightened student engagement have been shaped by professional experiences, conflicting philosophies of music education, and by pragmatic necessity for program existence within the school. I suggest that a particular axiology is inherent to the program design; for me, placing importance on new strategies for a changing sociology, and including student reflections on ways engagement strategies are implemented in the band class.

Schewe (2016) reminds us that phenomena, like engagement, are changing states of being and are affected by various environments. She continues that the development of engagement strategies should be goals toward the motivation of students. Marzano (2007) encourages action steps to promote physical activity, to challenge students’ thinking, and to stimulate attention. The large ensemble is not the only means of teaching and learning, and in some scholarly writing, it is now suggested that the focus of large ensemble instruction is detrimental to individual musicianship and growth, hence to the music education profession (Wiggins, in Kooistra, 2016; Mantie, 2012). This article is not going to defend or deny such position; however, this may be an example of the unsettling condition suggested by music scholars, Elliott and Silverman (2012).

Over the years, different words have been used when referring to students’ on task behaviors. I like to think of our current trend toward engagement to mean not only that students are task-doing, but that they are fully and actively engaged with their own learning. Having been in the profession for a good amount of time, I have encountered time and time again colleagues who opine that strategies of the day are not intended for or useful in the band room. I encourage any colleague who feels this way to acknowledge everyone’s evolution, including ours in the band room, and try reaching students in ways that may seem different; in most cases, that will be the point. As Reeve (in Marzano, 2007) suggested 10 years ago, “when engagement is characterized by the full range of on-task behavior, positive emotions, invested cognition, and personal voice, it functions as the engine for learning and development” (p.99).


Kooistra, L. (2016). Information music education: The nature of a young child’s engagement in an individual piano lesson setting. Research Studies in Music Education, Vol. 38(1), pp. 115-129. DOI: 10.1177/1321103X15609800

Elliott, D., and Silverman, M. (2012). Rethinking philosophy, re-viewing musical-emotional experiences. In W. Bowman and A. Frega (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy in Music Education, pp. 37-62. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mantie, R. (2012). Striking up the band: Music education through a Foucaultian lens. Action, Criticism, & Theory for Music Education, 11(1), 99–123.

Marzano, R. (2007). The art and science of teaching. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Schewe, A. (2016). Making Student Engagement Visible: Using Self-Determination Theory to Examine How Two Social Studies Teachers Support Students’ Needs for Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness. Dissertation, Georgia State University.


About mundyviar

Mundy Viar, PhD, is an educator, administrator, researcher, and musician. A credentialed educator and education administrator in California, Dr. Viar has practiced in several school districts throughout the Golden State, leading instrumental and vocal music programs in the K-12 systems. Prior to working in the K-12 system, Dr. Viar served as a Program Director for the Blue Devils, an internationally celebrated youth organization dedicated to performance excellence, based in Concord, California. During his time with the Blue Devils, the "B" Corps performed as a Div. II Finalist at the 1997 Drum Corps International World Championships in Florida, and as the US representative at the 1998 World Marching Band Festival in Kanagawa Prefecture Japan. Additionally, Dr. Viar is an adjunct facilitator for the University of the West Indies Open Campus, where is has served as doctoral Research Supervisor, thesis defense committee member, and course tutor. Dr. Viar is a graduate of the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco (PhD); the University of California, Berkeley (MA); and, Virginia Commonwealth University (BS). Key attributes: communication, collaboration, shared and distributed leadership, ABCD, PAR
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