Critical Music Education: New Sound Universes for Social Transformation

The importance of music education in particular and artistic education in general is beyond doubt, as it not only helps citizens to access and enjoy culture more fully, but also serves as a fundamental tool to inspire and encourage dialogue, respect, and tolerance among all members of the educational community. For that reason, at PedaLAB, the pedagogical laboratory of the University of Granada, we are working on several innovative and critical approaches to music education that primarily promote knowledge of the political, social, and cultural dimensions of music. This allows us, in the first place, to open up to new sound universes: new styles, genres and periods that are not generally part of the official curricula or of the teaching that is given, something that essentially contributes to broadening the cultural training of the students. But our project also seeks to contribute to the development of educational practices that foster a critical understanding of music as a cultural phenomenon and one of social transformation, as well as to hybridise knowledge from school and the academic-university space. All this from an approach that seeks to promote the emancipation of the subject and social transformation, both through the identification and deconstruction of repertoires canonized by tradition, and through identity recognition, horizontal participation, and autonomous thought. In the background, everything is based on a socio-critical paradigm that questions the structures and dispositions of teaching, with the aim of creating contexts for the shared construction of critical judgement.

Our methodology is based on the implementation of different strategies for approaching the students’ own sound universes, through musical dialogic gatherings for example.

These spaces are set up for discussion, debate and reflection on different themes that arise from the musical elements of the selected songs themselves, but which can also be approached from different sociological or political perspectives. These dialogic gatherings are characterised by the real incorporation of the students’ musical preferences, something that generates a more open and horizontal conversation, in which all participants can be heard and recognised (Marín-Liébana, 2021). No longer are only the greatest works in the history of music selected by the teacher listened to and analysed, but also those songs that usually populate the eardrums of the students. This, in addition to inspiring students to develop their active listening skills and their capacity for argumentation, contributes to the construction of a more inclusive school environment where certain logics of power inherited from a more classical or conventional vision of music are overturned. Here, C. Tangana shakes hands with Bach, and Rosalía discusses with Beethoven why there are hardly any women creating music in the past.

One of the fundamental objectives of these didactic and research strategies is the construction of knowledge based on the dialogue between the author/performer of the music, his or her time, and the listener and his or her present. Their implementation helps us to better understand purely musical concepts, such as rhythm, melody, harmony, form and texture, but also, through dialogue and reflection on the lyrics of songs, how our societies, our relationships or our conflicts work (Marín-Liébana and Botella, 2018). With this, we open to new sonorities, discover new musical styles, and finally broaden the cultural and civic education of the students.

(Imagen realizada por una inteligencia artificial [Stable Diffusion] a partir del prompt: “Two kids, listening to music, with headphones, cartoon style”)

At PedaLAB UGR we are carrying out a collaborative research project funded by the Department of Educational Development and Training of the Andalusian Regional Government under the title “Musical identities and democratic values in the classroom: educational implications of the use of students’ musical preferences” (PIV-021/22) where these musical practices are being implemented and evaluated in Primary and Secondary Education in different educational centres of the Andalusian community. These practices have shown us that students feel much more motivated when they are allowed to express their musical preferences and participate in decision-making. But we also observed that these students are, in a way, prey to the voracious dynamics of consumption that currently exist in the music market (Bieletto-Bueno, 2019). Their tastes and preferences change as fast as the charts of the streaming platforms they use change, and their own musical preferences collected in the process, just a few weeks later, are rejected by the same students who had chosen them. We observe that students’ sound worlds are mediated by the way in which digital platforms capitalise on their use, and this should lead teachers who want to rethink their teaching from a critical perspective to ask themselves a series of questions: how can they expand their students’ sound horizons, how can they bring them closer to music they are unfamiliar with, and how can they turn the act of listening into a more conscious and informed decision, and not just the product of a cold algorithmic process of hyper-personalised recommendation.

Both musical dialogic gatherings and the use of students’ musical preferences are fantastic didactic tools that can help us in the development of our teaching to broaden our cultural horizons, raise topics for debate linked to current affairs, learn to respect the opinions of others, learn to argue coherently and convincingly, debate and respect turns of speech, etc. But like any didactic technique or procedure, they are empty of content if we strip them of any theoretical and pedagogical basis. Therefore, we must understand that music education can contribute to the emancipation of the subject and to social transformation through the continuous questioning of the repertoires we use, critical reflection on power relations in the classroom, and debate on the representation of social reality in educational contexts. This implies a leap from a music education that has traditionally emphasised technical mastery or the acquisition of skills (Díaz and Giráldez, 2007), to one that continually asks what music is for our society and how it builds us as citizens. Always with the aim of generating a more cultured, fairer, and freer school.


Bieletto-Bueno, N. (2019). Regímenes aurales a través de la escucha musical: ideologías e instituciones en el siglo XXI. El oído Pensante, 7(2).

Díaz, M. y Giráldez, A. (Coords.) (2007). Aportaciones teóricas y metodológicas a la educación musical: una selección de autores relevantes. Graó.

Marín, P. y Botella, A. M. (2018). El repertorio musical como elemento posibilitador de un enfoque sociocrítico en Educación Primaria. Estudio del currículum impartido en el municipio de Valencia. Revista Electrónica Complutense de Investigación en Educación Musical, 15, 19-37.

Marín-Liébana, P. (2021). La incorporación de las preferencias musicales de los estudiantes como aproximación a una educación crítica. Análisis de la realidad curricular y desarrollo didáctico. [Tesis doctoral, Universitat de València].

(Imagen realizada por una inteligencia artificial [Stable Diffusion] a partir del prompt: “Two kids, listening to music, with headphones, cartoon style”)


Ramón Montes-Rodríguez

Research Group ICUFOP “Research in Curriculum and teacher training”

University of Granada


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