A Few Lessons from the World of Music Education

From time to time We Thought We Should Mention accepts guest posts from external writers involved in the worlds of technology and education.  Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blogger. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, researching various online degrees and blogging about student life. For more of her work, you can read her recent article on the gender wage gap.  Maria has submitted the following post on some of the similarities between music education and other areas of assessment.  Maria provides a unique perspective on assessment from the world of music education.

 It can be difficult for teachers to accurately assess how well they’re teaching and how much their students are actually learning.  Sure, they can administer exams, monitor progress through weekly tests, and even check for understanding with daily quizzes, but there’s no guarantee that those assessments will adequately capture everything the student has learned.   Any number of factors may interfere with attempts to accurately assess a student’s progress.  Some students may not always test well, some have some distractions on test day, and some may simply be unmotivated by assessment and are disinterested in performing well. On the other hand, there may also be students who have scored well on a particular test, but haven’t quite internalized key concepts.  As any teacher knows, assessments are not the only touchstone  when it comes to education measurement, but it can be difficult to find alternative methods of assessment. Assessment is an integral part of education and can’t be eliminated, but there’s always the possibility of adding new measurement techniques in order to supplement a teacher’s understanding of a student’s progress.

In the world of music instruction, there are some specific tools used by teachers to evaluate both themselves and their students in terms of educational progress. Some of these techniques may find crossover in other content areas and can be adapted for classroom use, making the process of education measurement more holistic and multi-dimensional.

Measuring in Music

Assessing student progress in music is done similarly across instruments, but for the purpose of our example, we’ll discuss techniques that have specifically been used in teaching piano. There are three major categories of measurement that can be implemented in the classroom: observation and student reporting, re-teaching, and improvisation. This last category requires some creativity to make it useful in the classroom, but it can become a valuable tool when implemented.

Observation and Student Reporting

A classroom teacher may be unable to replicate the effect produced by a one-on-one music lesson, but it’s still possible to measure with observation. Music teachers provide assignment sheets at each lesson, as do most other teachers.  Many music teachers also provide practice logs. This encourages students to record exactly how much time they spend practicing each item on the assignment sheet, giving the teacher a good idea of how much practice is required to master a certain skill. Many music teachers include incentives like learning a piece of the student’s choice if practice is consistent.  In the world of music, consistent practice is one of the most essential principles underlying progress. 

As has been written on this blog before, consistent, deliberate practice is one of the primary characteristics of the move from novice to expert.    By extension, the principle of consistent, deliberate practice can easily be incorporated into other classrooms as well.  To incorporate this into the classroom, teachers can assign homework to be accomplished on specific days so that “practice” is consistently occurring throughout the week, not just during the five minutes before class starts. As with music lessons, parental involvement may be required for accountability, but assessing the consistency of practice and learning is an important facet of education measurement. 


Often, a music teacher will ask a student to “re-teach” a new skill or technique – a process that typically involves some one-on-one interaction.  In the classroom, however,  where one on one individualization may not be possible or practical, students could work in pairs to complete this exercise. The essential idea is for one student to pretend a lack of basic understanding so that the other student can “teach” the skill. This encourages learning by teaching, which is a practical and effective technique.   This practice typically encourages students to ask more questions about what they’re learning, helping them internalize the concepts behind the lessons and promoting a deeper conceptual understanding of the content material.


Measuring a student’s ability to improvise is a music teacher’s best friend. The central idea behind improvisation is to encourage a student to use any and all techniques with which he or she feels comfortable, demonstrating a working level of skill and knowledge for each technique used. Improvisation demonstrates that a student has internalized certain concepts and is able to use them when needed, combining them with other skills to produce something original. Extending this use into a content area classroom, could mean a set of story problems with directions that encourage students to use any combination of mathematical techniques to solve the problems. It could mean writing different parts of speech on the board and instructing students to write a creative sentence using at least one of each. There are many possibilities for this technique and few limits, making it a valuable tool for education measurement in the classroom.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.