Reaching All Students with Music Education

Reaching All Students with
Music Education: 
Professional Development Opportunities in
Popular Music Pedagogy

By Gareth Dylan Smith, sponsored by Little Kids Rock

Popular music is not suitable for every music classroom. Similarly, pedagogical approaches commonly associated with popular music education (e.g., informal learning, non-formal learning, improvisation) are not appropriate in all music education contexts. However, for teachers who wish to reach students beyond the relatively small number involved nationwide in traditional large ensembles in middle and high schools, or for some who may be seeking ways to revive arts programing in a district where funding cuts threaten to kill off music teaching altogether, popular music can provide myriad means to engage students in relevant, creative exploration of vital aspects of contemporary culture.

In this post, I highlight a handful of professional development opportunities available to teachers looking to expand or deepen their repertoire of pedagogical skills and approaches.

NAfME National Conference

At NAfME’s national conference last year in Dallas, TX, there were two full days of workshops on Modern Band. Teachers and curriculum writers from across the country led the sessions. Session topics included beginning guitar, songwriting, brass for Modern Band, ukulele, drum kit, soloing on guitar, and improvising. The sessions were all geared toward enabling teachers less familiar (or altogether unfamiliar!) with popular music pedagogy, to be able to return to their classrooms and get started with confidence.

Little Kids Rock
Photo courtesy of Little Kids Rock

Modern Band Fellowship Course

Five times per year, Little Kids Rock (a national music education non-profit organization) offers music education faculty in full-time college-teaching positions, a five-day professional development course with experienced teachers of Modern Band. The course aims to prepare college faculty to teach their students how to incorporate popular music and popular music pedagogies into their careers as classroom teachers in elementary, middle, and high schools.

Association for Popular Music Education Annual Conference

Once a year, the Association for Popular Music Education brings together musicians and teachers from the United States and around the world to share teaching practices, curricula, and research in popular music education. Attendees include professors preparing undergraduate and graduate students for careers in popular music, professors who are using popular music in their pre-service music teacher preparation programs, and teachers working in K–12 schools. There is a focus on music-making, with performances, workshops, and other hands-on opportunities. This year’s conference takes place in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, June 24 – 28, and registration includes a one-day pass to the Summer NAMM Show.

Music Education
Photo courtesy of Little Kids Rock

Modern Band Summit

The Modern Band Summit takes place on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, July 8 – 11. This four-day event brings together Modern Band teachers from around the country to share practices and ideas in culturally responsive music education. Scores of sessions are given by teachers, for teachers. Everyone is given a guitar upon arrival, and opportunities abound for collaborative performance and creativity. Key thinkers from popular music education scholarship also present at the Summit.

This is an exciting time for teachers looking for professional development opportunities in popular music education, as we have seen recently from Steve Holley’s fantastic NAfME blog posts. I look forward to seeing some of you at events above!

About the author:

 Little Kids Rock

Gareth Dylan Smith is Manager of Program Effectiveness at Little Kids Rock, President of the Association for Popular Music Education, and Visiting Research Professor at New York University. Gareth’s performance career extends from punk, hard rock and psycho-ceilidh bands through jazz and musical theater to international folk-fusion. He has taught from Kindergarten to doctoral level in the UK and the US and written for magazines including Rolling Stone and Rhythm. He is a founding editor of the Journal of Popular Music Education and is a contributor to several encyclopedias including the Grove Dictionary of American Music. He was lead editor 2017’s Routledge Research Companion to Popular Music Education and Punk Pedagogies: Music Culture and Learning. His research interests include embodiment in performance, democracy and symbolic violence in pedagogy and curriculum, identity and eudaimonia. Gareth’s first love is to play drums as loudly as he can with people who don’t mind.

Music Education
Photo courtesy of Little Kids Rock


Little Kids Rock was a Platinum Sponsor of the 2017 National In-Service Conference, which took place November 2017 in Dallas, TX. The 2018 conference will take place November 11-14, 2018, in Dallas, TX; sponsor and exhibitor opportunities are available. If interested, please email

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