Letter from Scott Shuler

UPDATE: Scott has also updated the downloadable draft standards to include a refined version of what he wrote here. If you haven’t participated, visit nccas.wikispaces.com to review.

UPDATE: My response is at the bottom.

Just received this thorough reply to an email message with my previous post. Thanks, Scott, for being so responsive!

Thanks, Tim.

I just read your blog and the subsequent postings. Thank you for sharing your ideas. They are very helpful in helping us design an introduction to the material that will avert the kinds of misunderstandings, based on incomplete information, that tend to inflame the blogosphere. For example, some band directors have decried the lack of band standards, not understanding that this particular draft is intended for PreK-8 general music classes.

Because NAfME and the music writing team is working in collaboration with leaders in other art forms, we were limited in the amount of music-specific detail that we could provide in our original posting. However, based on reading your blog and several other early responses, I’ve crafted the following overview that should clear up several of the most common misconceptions. This is still in draft form, and will therefore be refined further, but you can feel free to post it on your site as a draft. Watch for regular updates, on the survey site and/or wiki site.


  • Through the Philosophy, Goals, Artistic Processes and Enduring Understandings, the final standards will not only outline the skills that are the traditional emphasis of music classrooms, but also the purpose of music education: to foster the kind of independent musicianship that will enable students to continue their involvement beyond graduation.
  • These draft standards are INCOMPLETE, but have been released to provide the field with an early preview and an opportunity to provide input:
    • Specialized subcommittees are working on standards for other common music course sequences: theory/composition, guitar/keyboard, traditional ensembles (band, orchestra, choir), and emerging ensembles (mariachi, rock, steel pan, jazz, etc.).
    • Each Anchor Standard and Performance Standard begins with the implied words “Students will…”. These standards are descriptions of what students should learn to do, not how teachers should teach. They are deliberately written to avoid dictating methodology or endorsing any particular pedagogy (Orff, Kodaly, etc.).
    • While the new National Core Music Standards will call for students in every music class to learn at least something about all three artistic processes – creating, performing, and responding – standards for specialized course sequences will recognize key differences among types of music classes. For example, ensemble standards will place greater emphasis on performing, and composition standards will place greater emphasis on creating.
    • All final standards will eventually provide ADDITIONAL key material – including SKILLS, vocabulary and concepts, and possible repertoire – as well as key traits for evaluating student work and model cornerstone assessments. (See the Framework document for more details.) Vocabulary and concepts will include the elements of music, as well as other terms used in the standards themselves.
    • Final standards will also include a clear description of the instructional delivery system (amount of instructional time, expert certified music teachers, etc.) on which the standards are based. Language will make it clear that teachers should not be held accountable for quality learning if they have not been provided with quality instructional time and other resources.


  • Before the standards writing team, subcommittee members, and reviewers were identified, NAfME distributed a call to music educators across the country, inviting interested teachers to submit a letter of interest, resume, and other supporting materials. More than 300 responded. Each applicant who signed the necessary confidentiality agreement was offered some role as either a writing team member, a subcommittee member, or a reviewer.The majority of writing team members are current or recent district music supervisors who were also teachers, with experience at all grade levels and specialty areas. Several are current or recent university music education faculty. All members work with music teachers on a regular basis. Several have been co-authors of major music textbook series.
  • Subcommittees writing specific standards consist entirely of current teachers, former teachers working at the university level, and district supervisors.
  • The majority of subcommittee members are current teachers, who are experimenting in their own classrooms with draft standards ideas before the standards are finalized.
  • Each subcommittee also includes a research advisor, who has access to complete reviews of existing research on students’ musical development at various ages and in various specialties within music education. These research advisors ensure that each standard is developmentally appropriate. Eventually, they will also guide the development and classroom piloting of model cornerstone assessments.
  • These PreK-8 draft standards are the product not only of the writing team, but also of expert grade level (PreK-2, 3-5, and 6-8) subcommittees. These standards have already been reviewed by a number of music teachers who applied to serve as confidential advisors.

You are a thoughtful processor of the information you have, Tim. You now know that a number of your original impressions and assumptions about process, writers, etc. were based on incomplete information. Incomplete information typically leads to misunderstanding, and thence to inaccurate conclusions. I hope that you will feel better informed now, and remain flexible enough to revise any inaccurate conclusions that you and some of your bloggers originally drew. In many cases – such as our continuing commitment to reaching out to all students, and our systematic inclusion of practicing teachers on subcommittees representing all of the major approaches to music pedagogy that you list – those conclusions are the direct opposite of reality.

You may also wish to reread some of the MEJ columns I wrote as NAfME president to get a clearer sense of the vision you seek. Note my mention of the myths of talent, the emphasis on reaching all students, the empowerment of students as decision-makers and doers, etc.

You now know that skills WILL be a part of the new standards. One key point of apparent disagreement about skills: they are not the ends, they are means. They are essential building blocks for literacy, defined (read the Philosophy and Goals in the framework carefully) as the tools for satisfying, lifelong music-making … as long as they are combined with the necessary understandings and independence to apply them in satisfying ways.


Scott C. Shuler, Ph.D.

Arts Consultant

Academic Office

Standards, Curriculum & Instruction

Connecticut State Department of Education

165 Capitol Ave., Room 227

Hartford, CT 06106

E-mail: scott.shuler@ct.gov

Phone: (860) 713-6746

Fax: (860) 713-7018

CSDE Arts Web Page: Standards, Guide, Common Assessments, Advocacy, Survey, etc.

Model Units/Tasks: www.CTcurriculum.org

Immediate Past-President

NAfME: The National Association for Music Education (formerly MENC)




Thanks again for taking the time to respond to my post and email. I appreciate your commitment to open dialogue and feedback!

Let me start by acknowledging what I learned from your email. First, I must admit to being heavily involved in AOSA and Iowa state standards development over the past decade (and job-hunting as I lost two positions), and have not been actively involved by requesting to be on a writing team. I am grateful to everyone that did.

Second, I do understand now that many of the subcommittees that filled in the grade level matrix for each standard were practicing teachers who responded to this call. I believe I am correct in stating that the Anchor Standards themselves were written by the primary writing team, which as you have confirmed, are not practicing K-8 educators. It would be interesting to know how many have taught at that age range, especially in general music.

Third, there is a lot more to come after this draft, including standards specific for different courses and connections to specific skills, vocabulary, and concepts.

Fourth, I understand that you agree with my concerns about talent vs. skill and lifelong music-making, although we differ on the semantics of skills as means or end. If you reread my message, you will see that I stated that “making music” was the point, not “skills.” I don’t disagree that understanding music is important as well.

Some of my concerns were not addressed, which I will assume means that you are considering these issues for the revision process. The draft standards as now written appear to elevate analytical skills from a very young age, while relegating performance and literacy skills to supplementary documents. When I speak of not teaching all children to make music due to time constraints, I am speaking of what I would see as the effect of this structure, not necessarily as the intent (although, despite your personal assurances, I would not assume that everyone has the same mindset).

Whether intended or not, the Performing and Responding processes will be read as sequences, beginning with student selection, and only the PreK-Kdg descriptions include the words “guidance” or “support.” It would not be possible to teach my children the rich, multicultural, historical, and varied stylistic repertoire that I use in the classroom if I do not make decisions concerning repertoire selection. The Rehearse and Present standards as written now will be read in context of the Select standard, and not as independently important standards.

Likewise, the Creating process will be seen as a sequence, even though I believe it is flawed to assume that the students will control each aspect of this process with minimal guidance. For example, a common lesson I use is to take the structure (phrase form) from a familiar folk song and have the students create improvisations or compositions based on this phrase form. I use similar lessons to explore new pitches, rhythms, etc. These actively involve the students in the creative process, yet do not fit the criteria described in Imagine or Plan, as I am giving them building blocks to manipulate.

The draft standards read as high-level assessment guidelines. If they were presented as such, I would think they were awesome! But the shift from 1994 to now gives me concern about what the word “standard” truly means.

One final note, about inflaming the blogosphere. I am merely stating my one personal viewpoint, based on experience and understanding. I would assume that people who are interested in my viewpoint would then think for themselves and participate in the NCCAS survey. I hope by sharing my viewpoint I get more people off the sidelines and involved in the process!

Tim Purdum

6 thoughts on “Letter from Scott Shuler”

  1. Scott, I appreciate your response to our concerns. However, your response has not put my concerns to rest. You have written that “specialized subcommittees” are working on standards for ensembles, choir, composition, etc. Therefore, a Specialized Subcommittee, the majority made up of CERTIFIED General Music Specialists, equally represented by the most recognized approaches to teaching General Music: Dalcroze, Kodaly, and Orff-Schulwerk, should be writing AND reviewing the General Music Standards as well.

    General Music should not be ignored and treated as less important than ensembles, composition, choral, etc, by allowing the standards to be written by music educators who are not intimate with General Music. National General Music Standards deserve and MUST be written by highly qualified, certified General Music Specialists.

    I agree with Tim, that the standards, right now, as written, lack vision and understanding of what children CAN and should do in a quality music classroom.

    1. Carol,

      Excellent points! If there are standards for each ensemble, theory class, etc., then there would HAVE to be general music standards, right? Except that I think that’s what the basic standards are intended to be. But like you said, they do not appear to have been written by general music specialists.

  2. Well said Tim. I must admit I am in all likelihood the “band director” that “decried the lack of band standards” on our Facebook group of 11,000 members. I did not however decry the lack of band standards, I decried the way the Three Processes are being segmented in such a way as to discount their natural interdependence. Rehearsing and performing apparently does not create anything, nor involve responding. Well, that isn’t they way I approach *making* music with my band and orchestra students. True, the ensemble standards are not finished yet, but should they recognize the process interdependence then they will be completely inconsistent with the K-8 draft.

    And as you said, speaking out on these important philosophical issues does not mean we are misinformed.

    Brian Wis

    1. Thanks, Brian. I think it’s funny, being an Orff general music guy, that I am saying “hold the phone” on creating standards. It makes me sound like a band geek 🙂 (which I was once upon a time).

      I just think it’s too specific and prescriptive to say that students must creat new ideas from free improv., students must plan out their own creation, etc. As an assessment piece, this assignment would be fantastic! I just wouldn’t use it as the normal creative process.

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