Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology

First Advisor

Dana L. Fox - Committee Co-Chair

Second Advisor

David E. Myers - Committee Co-Chair

Third Advisor

Jodi Kaufmann - Committee Member

Fourth Advisor

Joyce E. Many - Committee Member


This ethnographic study investigated the interactions between the musical lives of adolescents and school music-learning culture in a suburban high school. Participants included two music teachers and seven adolescents. Framed within a symbolic interactionist perspective (Blumer, 1969), data were collected via methods consistent with qualitative inquiry, including an innovative data collection technique utilizing music elicitation interviews with adolescents. Findings emerged from the data via thematic analysis (Grbich, 2007). Findings indicate limited interactions between the musical lives of adolescents and school music-learning culture because participants portrayed and experienced a dichotomy between the musical assumptions and practices inside and outside of school. Interactions occurred when participants engaged in sharing musical capital that overcame segmentation among music learning, out-of-school experience, and elective participation in secondary school music programs. Supporting findings indicate that the school music-learning culture derived from teachers' negotiating between two major influences: 1) their own musical values, which were based on their musical backgrounds and the long-established professional tradition of formal performance emphases in school music programs; and 2) the musical values of their students. Adolescents self-defined their musical lives as largely informal musical activities commonly experienced outside of school. They expressed a wealth of personal musical knowledge and described their affinity for music across four dimensions: 1) expression and feeling, 2) relevance, 3) quality in artistry and craftsmanship, and 4) diversity. Three themes describe how adolescents’ personal relationships with music influenced their beliefs and choices regarding music participation and learning: 1) musical roots: nurturing personal and social connections with music, 2) motivated learning: seeking relevance and challenge, and 3) finding a voice: striving toward musical independence. Findings indicate that music teachers may enhance interactions between adolescents’ musical lives and school music-learning culture by acknowledging students’ musical engagement outside of school, honoring their personal musical knowledge and interests, and making them collaborators in developing music-learning models rooted in their affinity for, and personal relationships with, music.


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