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Music education has for many years focused on the musical role of performance and teaching from the traditional canon of Western classical music. In recent years, it has been noted that just a small portion of students participate in music offerings in secondary schools. Yet, the mission of the music education profession is for all students to experience and make music. To reach more students, music education must be relevant to students’ real world, pragmatic for a lifetime of musical involvement, and must help students build their identities. Providing a comprehensive music education in which students experience all musical roles, such as those of composing and songwriting, could address and meet the issues of relevance, pragmatism, and identity construction. In turn, potentially more students may identify as a ‘musician’ in one of the various roles and thus continue their education in music. This comprehensive music education must begin in elementary general music classes. However, it is unknown how often songwriting is incorporated, what strategies are used to teach it, and how it is experienced by teachers and students in elementary general music. The purpose of this study was to investigate how songwriting is included and experienced in elementary general music classes. To gain a comprehensive understanding, teachers and students were included in this two-part research study. Through an anonymous survey, 180 teacher participants reported how often they include songwriting, how comfortable they are teaching songwriting, perceived challenges, and strategies they use when teaching songwriting. Additionally, 50 of the researcher’s third-grade students participated in action research to explore how students experience songwriting and how effective visual art might be as one songwriting strategy. The results of the teacher survey suggested that songwriting is not regularly incorporated in elementary general music, with nearly half of participants never or rarely including it, while the other half only occasionally include songwriting. Teachers also reported being less comfortable teaching songwriting than teaching traditional instrumental composition. Through analysis of the data sets it was discovered that participants who were more comfortable teaching songwriting taught it more frequently and also utilized more songwriting strategies. The greatest reported challenges to songwriting in the general music classroom included students feeling stuck in their writing, songwriting taking too much class time, and songwriting being messy and chaotic. As part of the action research conducted in the classroom, 50 students working in pairs wrote 12-bar blues songs based on an environmental justice theme of their choosing without any other sort of prompt. Teacher observation and student work analysis revealed lyrical idea generation to be a significant challenge and many students struggled to complete thorough, prosodic verses. Following the days spent on the environmental justice topic, the same student participants wrote another blues song in pairs using a piece of social justice artwork as a visual prompt strategy. Analysis of the student work and student questionnaires after using the art prompt revealed most students felt more confident, found idea generation to be less of a challenge, and completed more detailed, thorough verses. Generating rhyming pairs of words was still a considerable challenge in both parts of the student songwriting study, and a small number of student songwriters found it more challenging to use the visual art prompt. Taken in the context of one another, the results of the teacher survey and student research indicates using strategies such as a visual art prompt when teaching songwriting in general music could help remedy some of the teacher-perceived songwriting challenges, increase teachers’ songwriting comfort level, and boost songwriting frequency by improving the student songwriting experience. Consequently, the vision of a comprehensive music education could begin to take shape if songwriting is included more often. Further research needs to be conducted that explores the effectiveness of other songwriting strategies and ways in which teachers can receive more training in general music classroom songwriting.


comprehensive music education; songwriting; general music; composition; identity; relevant; 21st century; musical roles

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