Incorporating the Socratic Method and Critical Thinking in music education in schools involves creativity and a break from traditional classroom teaching strategies.

What are the benefits of Critical Thinking?
The Socratic Method is based on the question-and-answer style of teaching accredited to the philosopher Socrates. Critical thinking in music education takes the basic premise of debate and inquiry and applies it to music education in schools. This teaching strategy encourages students to question each other, and removes the instructor from all-knowing professor to a fellow seeker of knowledge.

From the University of Phoenix to California’s public school system, educators and students alike have found the benefits of critical thinking strategies in the classroom.
As one student at California’s KIPP High School mentioned, “[Critical Thinking is] thinking beyond what you hear, what you know in your brain, in your heart, in your soul.”
Critical thinking puts the power of influence in the hands of the student, giving students the tools they need to function in college and in society (Edutopia, Geert ten Dam).

Critical thinking strategies extend from private lessons to the public university setting. In the United States, where an emphasis on standardized testing has changed the music teacher’s role in music education in schools, critical thinking strategies aid music classrooms by providing a framework that incorporates reading and writing requirements within an artistic scope.

Music Critique Circle (Secondary)
A key component of critical thinking and the Socratic method involves students learning how to critique each other in a constructive way. In the Music Critique Circle, students present a music project (ex. a simple composition, music performance, or paper presentation) to the class. After the presentation, students take turns responding to the performance or project with thoughtful questions. For example, a student may ask a piano student, “Is there a reason why you performed the Moonlight Sonata in a sad way?” or “What would happen if you played Beethoven’s piece allegro?”

The key here is to emphasize critical thinking, engaging discussion, and constructive debate.

Music Listening Exercise (Primary & Secondary)
Music educator can encourage age appropriate discussions at both the primary and secondary levels using music listening activities. The music educator selects several recordings in different styles and moods. After playing an excerpt, the music instructor engages students in a discussion using critical thinking questions.

Some sample questions include:
“Why do you think this song makes you happy?”
“If the musician played a drum instead of a flute, what would happen?”
“Does this type of music always have strings?”
“What do the lyrics mean to you?”

As a variation to these music teaching strategies for older students, the instructor can divide students into several small groups and give each group a series of critical thinking questions. After fifteen minutes, each group shares their responses to the questions. The music educator follows up with challenging questions that encourage students to view their discussion from alternate viewpoints. Questions like “Why do you think that?” and “Group A stated the opposite view. How can you support your viewpoint?”

Exit Tickets (Primary & Secondary)
Writer and educator Maria Stefanova encourages the use of “Exit Tickets” in her article “Developing Critical Thinking and Assessment in Music Classrooms”. The “Exit Ticket” teaching strategy requires every child to answer a critical thinking question before leaving the class. This strategy encourages the concept of “Asking a question instead of giving the answer,” a key component in another popular teaching method – the Suzuki Method (Stefanova, pg 30).

Incorporating critical thinking strategies in the music classroom promotes higher order thinking and engaging discussion. By involving students in the discussion process, you will prepare students for future success.

But now we want to hear from you!!How do you incorporate critical thinking in your music classroom? What are some of your favourite resources for learning more about critical thinking?

Edutopia. (2011, August 17). Critical Thinking Wins the Day at a KIPP High School [Video file]. Retrieved from website:
Stefanova, M. (2011). Developing Critical Thinking and Assessment in the MUsic Classrooms. American String Teacher, 61(2), 29-31.
Nobori, M. (2011). Ten Takeaway Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking. Retrieved from
Fisher, C. (2008). The Socratic Medthod. Socratic Method–Research Startes Education, 1.
Geert ten Dam, (., & Monique, V. (2004). Critical Thinking as a citizenship competence: teaching strategies. Learning and Instruction, 14 359-379.doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2004.01.005