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Music and Urban Engagement, EMU425 - Experiential Learning Hub


Music and Urban Engagement, EMU425

The Music and Urban Engagement course (EMU425) is a reflective practicum experience in a unique urban setting. Students are mentored by professional community music teachers and assist in preparing and leading music making sessions with youth residing in detention centres. Students develop collaborative improvisation skills and music teaching skills. Through engagement in a unique urban setting, students have the opportunity to investigate what role music plays for youth in the justice system and how music is an important tool for social justice.

A group of students smiling and laughing

Program Details

Instructor / Program Coordinator(s):

Bina John, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream: Music Education, Early Childhood, Psychology, Faculty of Music and Lisa Jack, Graduate Experiential Learning Coordinator, Faculty of Music


External Partners Faculty & Staff Students


Faculty of Music

Benefits to Students:

Students described their experiences as “life changing,” “empowering,” and “the most beneficial course ever taken at U of T.” The students’ lack of skills in genres such as hip hop empowered the youth to “become the teachers”. The students’ vulnerability and their openness to new knowledge were often met with surprise and humour by the youth, resulting in very meaningful experiences for both the students and the youth.

Benefits to External Partners and the Community:

The music making sessions promoted a sense of connectedness among the youth, the music teachers, and music students, especially when improvisation was the primary focus. Musical improvisation facilitates non-verbal communication, is egalitarian in essence, thereby facilitating social bonding while enabling the youth to explore their own musical identity.

Benefits to the University:

This course revealed the necessity of learning popular music and improvisation. Their perceived “deficits” led the students to advocate for broader course offerings, such as rap and hip hop. The students voiced their concerns directly to the Dean of Music, an experience that the students identified as both novel and positive.

Information for Interested Students:

Take a look at the Faculty of Music’s Academic Calendar to find additional information about EMU425.

Advice for Faculty and Staff Interested in Creating a Similar Experiential Learning Opportunity:

It is critical to limit enrolment and carefully screen students in CEL courses, when interacting with vulnerable populations, such as youth in detention. Encourage honest, two-way communication during course time, between the students, professors, and community organizations. One-third of the course was devoted to orientation sessions led by staff from each of the community organizations. Client needs must be prioritized. All student interactions must be carefully supervised in order to protect the youth’s needs. No screening process can be 100% accurate so contingency plans must be in place.

Students from EMU425 (Photo courtesy of Professor Bina John)


Partnership Based



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