How Many Teaching and Learning Strategies Are In Your Bag?

Bag of Tricks:

How Many Teaching and Learning Strategies Are In Your Bag?

By NAfME member Richard Cangro, Ph.D.
Western Illinois University


First a Story About a Ham …

One day a woman was cooking a ham and cut an inch off the end. She learned how to cook from watching her mom and thought, why did she always do that? She called her mom and asked “Why do you always cut an inch off the ham when you cook it?” The mother replied that she learned to cook by watching her mom. So they called the grandmother together and asked, “When you cook a ham, why do always cut an inch off the end?” The grandmother, rather perplexed, answered “That’s because I never had a roasting pan large enough to fit a whole ham.”

This story illustrates several points about teaching. Why do we teach the way we do? Do we have good cause to teach what we teach, how we teach, when we teach concepts, why we teach what we teach?

Peggy Saunders from Webster State University sums it up this way,

“We tend to teach the way we have been taught, not the way we have been taught to teach. Break the cycle.”



This line of thinking invites us to reflect on how we teach and decide if what we do promotes the goal of developing independent learners; specifically, those who are able to understand, appreciate, and make music without a teacher. When students graduate from high school, they will no longer have a teacher to cue them to play, or show them different music styles, or critique the expressiveness of their performance, or help them understand where the B section happens in a piece. If students are expected to be independent musicians, able to create, perform, and respond when they graduate high school, it is reasonable to suggest that music students need to experience independent, standards-based learning while still under the guidance of a teacher.

Younker (2012) pointed out that “Questioning, inquiring, and being curious in communities of learning involves all participants who are recognized as stakeholders and knowledge bearers, and who construct understanding and meaning through active participation” (p. 169). Whoever does all of the thinking and decision-making in a class or rehearsal determines the quality of the long-term output; the ability to transfer learning and apply it to a new situation.


Student Engagement

Imagine a continuum of student engagement. On one side, teacher-driven and teacher-centered models of instruction. On the other side, student-centered and student-driven models of learning and instruction. Which part of the continuum represents a majority of the experiences in your class or ensemble? Effective teachers use a variety of models to provide various opportunities for students, leading them to eventually becoming independent musicians when they graduate.


teaching Minerva Studios


On the teacher-driven side of the continuum, models of instruction would include: lecture, direct instruction, and concept inquiry learning. All of these models center around the delivery of information by the teacher and can be summarized in the following way.

  • Lecture = Listen to this…
  • Direct Instruction = What do you know about this?
  • Concept Inquiry = What can we do about this?

These three strategies – lecture, direct instruction, concept inquiry – are all teacher-driven and teacher-centered. Information is delivered by the instructor to the students. Lecture is a one-way road for information: teacher speaks, students listen. Learning is assumed. Direct instruction is teacher-driven with the teacher delivering instruction, though student understanding is assessed through questioning and written activities with guided practice (classwork) and independent practice (homework). Concept inquiry begins to tap into the potential for students to solve problems without everything being presented by the teacher. Simply put, the teacher presents a task or a problem and the student then has to figure out a solution.

On the other side of the continuum there are student-centered and student-driven models of learning that have the learners constructing their understanding at their own pace of conceptual development. Strategies such as class discussion, cooperative learning, and group investigation allow students to learn from their mistakes, take ownership for their learning, and possibly help others along the way. Some student-centered/student-driven tasks include the following.

  • Class discussion = Let’s brainstorm this.
  • Cooperative learning = Let’s work together on this.
  • Group investigation = What are we gonna to do about this?

Class discussion is a popular brainstorming activity where students get into groups and make a list or respond to something that requires multiple answers. Cooperative learning can have more accountability, positive interdependence, simultaneous interaction, and equal participation than group discussion. Tasks that require students to critically think and work together toward a common goal, such as a group music arrangement or peer coaching, works well with this model of learning.


cooperative learning franckreporter


Group investigation is the ultimate independent activity where student groups are formed and choose a topic to research and present. The students are in charge of everything from choosing the topic, delegating responsibility, individual accountability, and the final presentation. This strategy works best with older, more mature students who are able to work with this much independence and responsibility.

Don’t let your class be where the students attend but the teacher does all of the thinking.

Final Thought

All of these models of instruction are valid, valuable, and can be effectively used in the music rehearsal/classroom. However, using models that are only teacher-driven or only student-driven limits the potency of your curriculum. Students should experience various types of learning because students have various learning styles. Most of all, students need to have independent music learning experiences in your class because they will eventually finish school and hopefully continue to make or appreciate music after they graduate.

Don’t let your class be where the students attend but the teacher does all of the thinking.

For a demonstration of all teaching and learning strategies listed in this article, please attend Dr. Cangro’s session on Friday, November 11, at 11:30am at the NAfME National In-Service Conference in Grapevine, Texas.


References and Further Information

De wey, J. (1916) Democracy and education. An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York, NY: Free Press.

Elliott, D., & Silverman, M. (2014). Music matters: A philosophy of music education (2nd ed.). New York, NY; Oxford University Press.

Green, L. (2008). Music, informal learning and the school: A new classroom pedagogy. London: Ashgate.

Jorgensen, E. R. (1995). Music education as community. Journal of Aesthetic Education. 29(3), 71-84.

Kagan, S. (1997). Cooperative learning (2nd ed.). San Clemente, CA: Resources for Teachers.

Mantie, R., & Tucker, L. (2008). Closing the gap: Does music-making have to stop upon graduation? International Journal of Community Music, 7, 217-227. doi: 10.1386/ijcm.1.2.217_1

Shuler, S. C. (2011). Music education for life: The three artistic processes-paths to lifelong 21st-century skills through music. Music Educators Journal, 97, 9-13. doi:10.1177/0027432111409828

Younker, B.A. (2012). Focusing on critical practice and insights in the music teacher Education curriculum. In C Beynon & K. Veblen (Eds.), Critical perspectives in Canadian Music Education (pp.165-180), Wilfred Laurier Press: University of Wilfred Laurier.


About the author:

Aug 16 - Cangro conductor pic

Richard M. Cangro, Ph. D., is an Associate Professor of Music Education and Director of the Community Music School at Western Illinois University. Formerly a band and orchestra director for 15 years in Connecticut, he is a frequent presenter, curriculum consultant, adjudicator, and guest conductor. He has presented at numerous music educator events throughout the US, and has presented professional development sessions in Canada, Myanmar, Taiwan, and the UK. He has published articles in several music educator journals and is a board member of the International Association for the Study of Cooperation in Education. Musically, he is the conductor for the Monmouth Civic Orchestra and the Quincy Area Youth Orchestra, and a member of the trumpet section for the Knox-Galesburg Symphony.


Richard Cangro will be presenting on his topic “Bag of tricks: How many teaching and learning strategies are in your bag?” at the 2016 NAfME National In-Service Conference this November in Grapevine, TX! Register today!

music education

Join us for more than 100 innovative professional development sessions, nightly entertainment, extraordinary performances from across the country, and tons of networking opportunities with over 3,000+ other music educators! Learn more and register today: And follow the hashtag #NAfME2016!

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