Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Ruth Wright


This study utilizes a collective case study methodology to investigate the relationship between agency and engagement in three non-traditional music education programs in Ontario: an informal music learning course in the secondary school music class; an improvising and composing undergraduate music education course, and an intergenerational singing program for secondary school students and persons with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The study employs a dual theoretical framework comprising Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory (SDT) (1985), and Karlsen’s (2011) exploration of musical agency to examine the role the constructs of engagement and agency might serve in the pedagogical practices accompanying successful music programs that involve participants at various life stages.

While SDT highlights the psychological commonalities of autonomy, relatedness, and competence required to facilitate optimal learning environments across all programs, each cohort in this investigation revealed specific factors that facilitated rewarding learning experiences. Analysis revealed emergent themes pertaining to programmatic and environmental needs that nurtured optimal musical engagement. Accompanied by an underlying temporal field of continuity and reinforcement these fundamentals were then successful in affording learner agency through developing the participants’ will, ability, and power to act in musical situations. Their demonstration of agency was identified as enacted through motivation, continued engagement, mobility of learning, ownership of the learning process, and ownership of the learning objectives. The research findings contribute to knowledge in this area through an examination of engagement and agency that crosses the temporal plane and links distinct generational age cohorts to one another. The research offers insights into the relationship between pedagogies and specific engagement and agentic needs of varying generational cohorts. It is this iterative relationship between engagement and agency and its fundamental importance to ongoing engagement in musicking that the current study has illuminated. A series of models has been developed that illustrate the relationship between engagement and agency and their connections to multi-generational cohorts that give rise to generation-specific pedagogies.