Informal Vs. Formal: The Pathway to Education

Because I grew up in the Catholic elementary school system, my school in Brampton never had music lessons. Thus, for a really long time, I thought that my only musical training was the private music training I received from my private piano teacher. Even as I pursued music studies in university, I felt that I had been behind in my musical training because the other students had music classes throughout their elementary, high school, and private school experience.

It was not until researching into the concept of informal learning that I began to realize that I did in fact always have training in music – just not the type of training that may have been considered “classroom training.” Furthermore, I realized that from my experiences growing up in a lower income neighborhood, I also had training in different genres outside of classical music through my experiences with my neighbors and my friends from school. These experiences were just more “informal.”



Defining Experiences: Is It Really Informal vs. Formal?

In “Formal and informal learning situations or practices vs. formal and informal ways of learning,” Folkstead (2006) does a good job of providing possible definitions for informal and formal learning situations and settings. Formal learning is described as an activity “sequenced beforehand. That is, it is arrange and put into order by a ‘teacher,’ who leads and carries out the activity” (p. 141). Informal learning is described as “not sequenced beforehand; the activity steers the way of working/playing/composing, and the process proceeds by the interaction of the participants in the activity. It is also described as ‘self-chosen and voluntary learning” (p. 141). In many ways, the experiences I outlined beforehand fall into these two categories: the formal aspect being the instruction I gained in high school and university versus the informal aspect I learned from creating music with my friends for fun in elementary school.

However, the main concept from Folkstead’s (2006) work that I think is remarkable is that in music education “formal and informal aspects [are] not static, but rather shif[t] continuously.” In other words, although classrooms may seem formal, there always aspects of informal learning and informal settings taking place. Thus, informal and formal learning situations can be present and changing when in interaction with one another.

shutterstock_114113191Where Do These Classrooms Exist Today?

I think that Folkstead is correct to put forward this theory. While it would be easy to use Wright’s (2015) work “Now We’re The Musicians’: Using Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, capital and field to analyze informal learning in Canadian music education” due to Wright’s work in the Musical Futures initiative, I would instead like to support Folkstead’s ideas using an Australian context based example.

Marsh’s (2012) work “The beat will make you be courage’: The role of a secondary school music program in supporting young refugees and newly arrived immigrants in Australia” excellently displays how formal and informal situations mix together and allow for effective learning. In this work, refugee and immigrant students are involved in hip hop lessons guided by a teacher. However, students are encouraged to voice whether they have a preference to music, and to bring forth their own experiences and knowledge with music outside the classroom. In one case, a student actually puts forth a rhythm from a folk song from her country that gets added to the piece. In this way, students are interacting and participating in a community based compositional activity, which is close to what Folkstead defined before as informal.

From a Teaching Standpoint

I believe that integrating formal and informal practices into a classroom can be extremely beneficial to student learning. Just like the child in Marsh’s work, I believe that incorporating formal and informal learning situations allows students to have autonomy in the classroom. Allowing children to have autonomy in the classroom is important as “a music teacher never meets musically ignorant, untutored or uneducated pupils: on the contrary, when pupils come to school they al possess a rich and in some ways sophistic musical knowledge, acquired from a variety of outside – school musical activities” (Folkstead, as cited in Folkstead, 2006 p. 136).

As a private music teacher, there is many ways in which I have been able to experience informal learning when teaching students. One particular experience was when my student came for their lesson and began to play the Imperial March on piano. The student had been excited to play, but when they were finished they insisted that the song was not as important as some of the “classical” music they were learning with me. In situations like these I like to remind students that any form of musical creation and musical genre is important.  In this case, I had told my student that they could learn whatever piece they wanted, and that they should bring songs from different genres to the class. In this way, I wanted to integrate the informal learning that my students were involved in with their friends and with media so that they would be able to learn music in both formal and informal situations.  Furthermore, I wanted to provide my students with an opportunity to have more autonomy in the class by choosing music they felt was important to them.

fq72jolguu_1408949327266Concluding Thoughts

Encouraging the fusion of informal and formal practices in school settings is highly important. By allowing for more informal settings to be part of the classroom, teachers acknowledge that students prior experiences are important and relevant to their education. Also, it allows students with the ability to chose the music they want to learn, and therefore begin learning how to create musical goal sin which to achieve in the future.


Australian Institute of Business. (2016). Why Teamwork is Important in the Workplace.   Retrieved from

Folkestad, G. (2006). Formal and informal learning situations or practices vs formal and informal ways of learning. British Journal of Music Education 23(2): 135-145.

Haiku Deck. (2015). Conclusion. Retrieved from            education-presentation-SS7EjYOzlq

Quinn, C. (2009). Social Networking: Bridging Formal and Informal Learning. Retrieved from         and-informal-learning

Marsh, K. (2012b). “The beat will make you be courage’: The role of a secondary school music program in supporting young refugees and newly arrived immigrants in Australia. Research Studies in Music Education, 34(2), 93 – 111. Retrieved from   

Wright, R. (2015). ‘Now We’re the Musicians’; Using Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, capital and field to analyze informal learning in Canadian music education. In P. Burnard, J.   Soderman, & Y. Hofvander-Trulson, (Eds.), Bourdieu and the Sociology of Music, Music    Education and Research. Lower case except for first word  (pp. 79 – 98) Farnham:     Ashgate.



Memes and Music Education: Down the Internet Rabbit Hole

Both my mother and father heavily use technology and the internet. In fact, there are often times when my dad complains that I don’t use the internet as much as he does. For my father, having the internet available has allowed him to gain easy access to knowledge from various fields, which he never had access to when he was a child in Sri Lanka. For my mother, the internet, and the rise of Facebook, allowed her to have connections with friends back in Sri Lanka. For my siblings and I, having the internet has just felt like a normal part of our lives because we all grew up using it.

As a musician, having the internet available has opened many doors. For example, if I wanted to research a new field of musical study, such as a diverse cultures music, I could easily access information from Google or YouTube. Furthermore, as a musician I can upload videos of myself performing pieces on piano for my relatives to see on Facebook.  However, in music education and the classroom, the use of digital media has only started to recently become integrated. That’s why I was interested in reading Waldron’s (2013) work “User-generated content, YouTube and participatory culture on the Web: music learning and teaching in two contrasting online communities.” Waldron’s descriptions of user generated content and participatory culture allow for a great discussion on the use of digital media and music education. Specifically, it allows for me to deliberate on whether memes can be used in music education.

UCG and Participatory Culture

Waldron (2013) describes user generated content, or UGC for short, as follows:

“UGC is a term coined by new media researchers to refer to digital artefact created by ordinary people acting on their own belief – as opposed to corporations or commercial interests … Because it is made with the intention of uploading to the Internet for sharing with the general public, UGC can – and often does – function as a platform for participation and debate … ” (p. 258).

In other words, a UGC is a form of digital media created by individuals to share, manipulate, and discuss with other individuals in a “Participatory culture” (Waldron, 2013, p. 262). Individuals who come into contact with the digital artefact created can choose to create content based on the artefact. While Waldron describes UGC as internet videos and podcast, I was struck by a sudden realization: a meme can be considered a UGC as well.

dicaprio3-583e33155f9b58d5b19e3a00A meme is “an image, video, piece of text, etc, typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users, often with slight variations” (Oxford Dictionary). A meme is a joke shared and recreated by users on the internet as a means of sharing a funny idea or background knowledge in a creative way. However, unlike podcasts, and informational videos such as TED Talks, memes may not be the first idea in many educators minds to integrate into the classroom, because memes can often be crude, and too context specific to be understandable, especially across different generations.

But Why is this Related to Music Education?

As globalization and technological advancements continue, more students are entering into the classroom with years of experience browsing and participating in online communities. Thus, students are interacting with forms of memes on a daily basis. Finding a way to integrate memes into a classroom can allow teachers to use students already existing knowledge and experiences to help create opportunities for music education to flourish on a broader scale.

One particular meme that supports this point of view is the video of the son and father playing trombone and opening and closing the stove together. While the video is based off of an electronic song, users on the internet recreated and appropriated the video and created new content to reflect the video. One of the video’s that spiraled off this meme was this video: three music students from Berkeley recreating the video on brass instruments for fun.

While this was funny, I think it showcased an important point: music students using their musical and technical skills in a way that brought them joy, which was situated in their own daily experiences with the global world. In a classroom setting, giving students an opportunity to recreate musical memes found on the internet using the instruments they are learning in class could allow for greater learning to take place. Also, it could allow students to experience music education in a way that is closer to their experiences of digital media.

As a private piano teacher, I was able to use the John Cena meme when I wanted to help my student with ear training exercise. Because my student knew the meme from using the internet, I had them try and play it by ear on the piano. The experience was enjoyable for both of us, because I was able to see how my student could transfer sound into notation, and my student was able to perform something that he found funny. Furthermore, later when we were discussing the concept of different keys, my student and I were able to see if we could recreate the John Cena meme in different keys.



Concluding Thoughts

Although memes may be considered crude, and not always appropriate for classroom settings, memes are a form of UGC that can be incorporated into music education. Allowing students to use digital media that they are familiar with can allow students the opportunity to learn more effectively. Furthermore, the participatory nature of creating memes allows students to interact with one another as a community.



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Mybrainkindhoyts. (2015). When your whole squad backs you up in a fight but you music af.      Retrieved from          whole-squad-backs-you-up-in-a-fight-but

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Waldron, J. (2013). User-generated content, YouTube and participatory culture on the Web:         Music learning and teaching in two contrasting online communities. Music Education      Research, 15(3), 257-274.




Diversity and Habitus: Teacher and Student Interactions

cultural-diversityAs a person of color, one of my favorites things to do is read articles about how music educators deal with cultural diverse students in the classroom. With issues of race present in society, I find it interesting to see how different authors acknowledge and seek to resolve conflicts that may arise through the instruction of music in classroom settings. Also, I am deeply fascinated with understanding how different areas in the world allow for both positive and negative instruction of music and the reasoning behind these observations. That’s why I was incredibly excited to read Silverman’s (2009) work “Rethinking Music ‘Appreciation.”

In Silverman’s (2009) work, one major argument Silverman details is how music educators appreciation of certain musical styles may differ from students, and how misunderstandings of appreciation can result in a negative learning environment.  One of my favorite passages from this work is the following:

“Many of them said they didn’t understand it, or that it all sounded the same … Nevertheless, the response that seemed most telling was when Angelique said: ‘That’s white people’s music. How is that going to help me?’ Indeed, what was this music ‘good for’ in these students’ immediate lives and cultural contexts” (p. 8).

Sociology and Habitus

What I love about this passage, and Silverman’s argument on differing musical appreciation perspectives, is how it relates closely to Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological concept of Habitus. Bourdieu’s concept of habitus is the idea that individuals have “transposable dispositions which, integrating past experiences, functions at every moment as a matric of perceptions, appreciates, and actionBusiness colleagues shaking handss” (Bourdieu, as cited by Hall, 2015, p. 46). In other words: everyone has a set of ideas and perceptions that are acquired through experiences from one’s past, present, and interactions with others, which influence how individuals act in the present and the future.

In Silverman’s (2009) case, Silverman had acquired a habitus that was based in “white, European, classical prejudices” (p. 8), which was different from the habitus of the students who were culturally diverse. Therefore, when Silverman tried to teach “classical” music appreciation, students were not interested. It is only when Silverman steps outside of this teacher habitus and classical prejudices, that “[Silverman] accepted the students and their musics ‘as they were.’ Perhaps it was because [Silverman] tried to find where the students were, and began the process of learning there. Overall, [Silverman thought] it was because [they] moved beyond the conventional wisdom embedded in traditional ‘music appreciation” (p. 24).

Present vs. Non Existent: Are Issues of Habitus Still Present?

As a private music teacher, I face issues of habitus constantly. When I first began teaching, I acted similarly to Silverman, as I tried to have students learn and appreciate only classical western art music. And, likewise to Silverman, my students did not always enjoy the lessons because they appreciated different types of music outside of the classical western art tradition. When I began to explore different genres and encourage my students to bring in music they wanted to learn, I was able to move beyond my classical perspective. Thus, in many ways, Silverman’s work deeply resonated with my own teaching philosophies on encouraging different perspectives in the classroom.

In regards to culturally diverse students however, one particular example from my private teaching experience resonates with me. A couple of weeks ago I had begun to teach two Icelandic siblings. When I began the students lesson, I had asked both students whether they already could play some songs on piano and whether they would want to perform them for me. At first the students refused. When I inquired why, I was shocked to hear that they thought I would not want to hear the songs. They thought I was a classical pianist and that I would not enjoy the songs they knew because they were Icelandic songs.

What I loved about this experience was that my students had assumed my habitus, and had tried to adjust their own to match. As a teacher, I found it was a key learning experience, because it made me realize that I carry the impression that I am only classically trained to those who do not know me. Also, in this case, I realized that that impression did not allow for a positive learning environment. In a way, it made me acknowledge my own placement in my students lives. In order to acknowledge this, I began to play both jazz and popular songs for my students, which allowed my two students to feel comfortable playing Icelandic folk music for me.

fq72jolguu_1408949327266Concluding Thoughts
I believe that Silverman (2009) was correct to acknowledge that misunderstandings about musical appreciation between teachers and students can create negative learning environments. As educators, we should encourage for multiple diverse perspectives to be able to be present in the room and to influence classroom lesson direction. Furthermore, I believe that educators should use these experiences of conflict to reflect on their placement in their students lives and how it affects learning. By understanding that we can learn from students just as much as students learn from us, we as educators can create positive spaces for learning and community.


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Hall, C. (2015). Singing Gender and Class: Understanding Choirboys’ Musical Habitus. In          P. Burnard, J. Soderman, & Y. Hofvander-Trulson, (Eds.) Bourdieu and the Sociology of        Music, Music Education and Research. Lower case except for first word (pp. 43 – 60)       Farnham: Ashgate

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