2014 Research Report

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“Mexican-American students make up a large portion of the K-12 student body, but they aren’t being represented in music education programs,”
- Amanda Soto, music education professor

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Amanda Soto teaching her Mexican Music class

Bringing a New Tune to Classrooms

Music education professor writing book to teach Mexican and Mexican-American musical genres

By Tara Roberts
Photos by UI Photo Services

Growing up in south Texas, Amanda Soto was immersed in Mexican and Mexican-American music – but she never realized it was important.

“I thought it wasn’t great music because it wasn’t taught in the classroom,” says Soto, now an assistant professor of music education in the University of Idaho’s Lionel Hampton School of Music.

Soto wants to ensure future generations of Mexican-American students don’t miss the value in their cultural music. Funded by the UI Seed Grant Program, she is conducting case studies in communities across the Northwest and the United States to understand how Mexican and Mexican-American musical genres can be incorporated into K-12 music education.

Her research will become a book targeted at music teachers, classroom teachers and professors who guide future music educators. Soto and her mentor, University of Washington music education and ethnomusicology professor Patricia Campbell, have been awarded a contract by Oxford University Press.

Recent census data show more than 34 million people identify themselves as Mexican-Americans.

“Mexican-American students make up a large portion of the K-12 student body, but they aren’t being represented in music education programs,” Soto says. “There’s a lot of other music they’re listening to, dancing to, singing to, interacting with.”

Many Americans encounter Mexican and Mexican-American music through one genre – mariachi. But Soto seeks to bring attention to folk and pop styles such as banda – “which is kind of like a German brass band but with Mexican flair” – and conjunto, a style featuring accordion and 12-string guitar, which Soto grew up listening, singing and dancing to.

Many of these styles developed or evolved in the United States, such as pasito duranguense, a dance music with Mexican roots that became increasingly popular in Chicago and spread nationwide among Mexican-American youth. Son jorocho, a community-focused genre that involves percussive dancing on a wooden box and competitive improvising among musicians, has gained a foothold along the West Coast and other pockets of the United States.

“It’s part community music, part social justice movement,” Soto says.

Faculty Amanda Soto's Mexican Music classIn addition to featuring information about various genres’ musical styles, dances, artists and traditions, Soto’s book will include interactive lessons for teachers, guidance on recruiting and retaining Mexican and Mexican-American students in music programs and information to help teachers better understand their students’ cultures.

Bringing cultural music into classrooms is vital, Soto says, because research shows that young children who understand and accept their own culture are more open to others.

“I think it’s important for students to have pride in their music and the cultures they come from, and for others to recognize and respect it,” she says. “When you don’t validate the music, you don’t validate the people behind it. Music is a representation of the human self.”