Graduate student’s future is dedicated to music, community and learning


Alex-Adams

Alex Adams, Master of Music in Music Learning and Teaching.

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Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Alex Adams, who is earning a Master of Music in music learning and teaching this spring from Arizona State University, is a musician, artist and teacher. He is also a recipient of the 2024 Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts’ Outstanding Design or Arts Educator award for his work in music education.

Adams has worked with musicians from 5 years old to undergraduates during his 15 years as a music educator. His teaching career is focused on inclusive excellence and community connections.

He also became interested in composing as an undergraduate student and began integrating composition with music education. His research efforts focus on songwriting’s place in music education.

“I believe that teaching students to make music that expresses their own perspectives and creative intent is the best way to facilitate lifelong music making,” said Adams. “When you can make your own music, music itself becomes a dialogue, and you become an empowered speaker of music.” 

He is a certified teaching artist through Documentary Songwriters and has presented nationally about using DocSong to create meaningful compositions from students' lived experiences.

At ASU, Adams redesigned two music courses: MUS 210, The Arts Around Us, framed around students’ analysis and creation of their own artistic works based on their experiences, and MUE 319, The Digital and Hybrid Lab, focusing on the ways teachers engage in digital and hybrid musicianship including technical skills and how and why to use technology in learning spaces.

He is a mentor to music student teachers in local schools and currently works with the Consortium for Innovation and Technology in Music Education.

“Alex Adams is changing lives with his teaching,” said Sandra Stauffer, professor of music learning and teaching and vice dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “His ability to connect theory and practice and to design projects that excite students is extraordinary. He has leveraged his considerable experience teaching learners from K–12 through adulthood to reinvent courses in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre.”

An accomplished musician, Adams plays guitar, bass, banjo and ukulele.

He received a graduate assistantship and special talent award from the School of Music, Dance and Theatre that allowed him to work with undergraduate students in the classroom. 

“The funding allowed me to continue teaching while I studied, which is something I value,” said Adams. “It’s the interactions with undergraduates and the learning we do together where the real magic of ASU is happening.” 

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study music education?

Answer: I became a music teacher because I wanted to make sure that there were greater opportunities for music education than those I was able to access. As a guitarist I wasn’t able to access school music, and though I was active outside of school in many ways as a musician, there wasn’t any programming that represented popular music or ways that people in my musical community were making music.

Q: What is something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: Dr. Joyce McCall taught me some of the most important lessons of my time here. Her commitment to community, scholarship and high standards were important in establishing what it means to be a scholar. Her unwavering commitment to connecting her own work to the music and the people who make it offered me a new way to see academic work in music learning and teaching. I was challenged to think deeply and differently, and think about teaching as a responsibility. 

The work of ASU Professor Punya Mishra and Matthew J. Koehler and their TPACK framework also changed my perspective. Working closely with my own professors to develop fluency in TPACK for music education offered me a powerful conceptual tool for developing an understanding of the specialized kinds of knowledge that teachers of technology use.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of its faculty and their commitment to pushing music learning and teaching forward. The powerful voices here have been advocating for expanded definitions of what it means to be a music teacher as well as presenting the field with critical and important calls to action around access, equity and justice. Particularly important was the ability to work with professors who had a wide range of skills and interests and who would be able to help me develop as someone who moves us forward with a deep commitment to empower students in music classrooms to be contributors to their musical and cultural heritages. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. Sandra Stauffer taught me the most important lessons while I have been at ASU. Sometimes through her fantastic teaching but most often through her example. Watching her teach with a genuine warmth and kindness that connects to her students was a master class in authenticity in teaching. This care for others combined with her deep knowledge provides a powerful example of the kind of educator that I would like to be. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Do the work, but do it in ways that are meaningful to you. The classes you take and the ways you make connections between them far outweigh the individual assignments.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?    

A: I will be teaching a one-week course this summer at ASU focusing on songwriting for music teachers. I have been accepted into ASU’s music learning and teaching PhD program and will be pursuing a doctoral degree starting in the fall.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I think one problem I’d try to help solve would be to elevate the voices of marginalized people in music education through establishing a continuing endowment that offers funding for research, living expense and grant funding for pilot projects aimed at shifting the foundational assumptions of the field.

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