Decoding the Discipline of Music History for Our Students

J. Peter Burkholder


Each discipline has a different set of paradigms and expectations, and it can be difficult for students to understand a new discipline and grasp what we are after in our courses. David Pace and Joan Middendorf have developed the model of “Decoding the Disciplines”: making explicit the modes of thought we use, and giving students practice in using them, so that they learn how to participate in a discipline by doing it. This paper applies the model to teaching music history. A practical application of the model presents the teacher with a series of steps: identifying a task that is difficult for students to perform but important for their success in the course and in the discipline; describing the operations an expert follows in performing the task; modeling those operations explicitly for the students; giving the students practice in following those steps to perform the task and feedback on their achievements; motivating the students to stay with the process; and assessing their mastery of the task. The paper illustrates the approach using as examples two related tasks that face students in music history courses: figuring out what are the significant features of a musical style or genre that distinguishes it from others, and developing a strategy for identifying unknown works by genre, composer, date, or style.


disciplinary thinking; style; genre; identification

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ISSN 2155-109X