Statement of Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy closely follows Carl Rogers, who said “How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for their own personal growth?” Jazz legend and pedagogue Butch Morris would often challenge his students’ imaginations, directing and empowering them to “Have an idea!” and “If you’re a student of music and you don’t have a question, you’re in trouble.” With this in mind, my teaching and learning philosophy rests on three principle actions: Exploration, Enaction, and Articulation. Influenced by James Gibson’s ecological psychology, and Christopher Smalls’ notion of musicking, I aim to guide my students to make conscious contact with their embodied knowledge, and nurture their growth into fully integrated musicians.

I have written on specific curricular tools I’ve developed for use in music theory and aural skills courses designed to bridge the theory classroom with students’ backgrounds and personal musical goals. Ultimately I aim to nourish and empower students’ capacity to construct a theoretical scaffolding that supports their own creative work, be it composition, interpretive or historical performance, or critical scholarship. Students, rather than having “learned theory” as traditionally conceived, in essence, become theorists.


2019 Harvard University, Mind-Brain-Behavior Initiative | Cambridge, MA
Teaching Fellow | The Role of Music in Health and Education 

2019 Northeastern University, Department of Music | Boston, MA
Instructor | Music Analysis Seminar 

2018-19 Kutztown University, Department of Music | Kutztown, PA 
Scholar-In-Residence, Full-time Instructor (18 units)

2016-17  Chapman University, Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music | Orange, CA
Adjunct Professor | Psychology of Music

2015-18  University of California, San Diego, Department of Music | San Diego, CA
Associate Instructor, Teaching Assistant (40 units)

2012-13 Life Pacific College | San Dimas, CA 
Adjunct professor (9 units)

2011-13   Azusa Pacific University, School of Music | Azusa, CA
Adjunct professor (40 units)

Courses as instructor of record: 83 Units

Student Evaluations

Web Tutorials | MusicTheoryAdvanced


Student as Theorist: Embodiment as a Paradigm for Music Theory Pedagogy

“We all have this theory…let’s do something with it!” ― Lawrence (Butch) Morris


Professor David Borgo | Music
Professor Alan Daly | Education
Professor Mark Dresser | Music
Professor Rafael Núñez | Cognitive Science
Professor Stephanie Richards | Music


Music education at the college level conventionally requires studies in music theory. Given the accelerating shifts in modes of music production and consumption, diversification of teaching and learning technologies, and an increasingly globalized musical landscape, the value of this core study in its present form has been called into question. This dissertation contemplates the potential of theory study in tertiary music education through surveying contemporary curricular reform trajectories, critically examining dualist commitments that underlie theory’s pedagogical traditions, and exploring the interdisciplinary lens of embodiment as a paradigm for vitalizing teaching and learning. The result is both a defense of music theory study, in principal, and a detailed proposal for its restoration and renewal.

This study adopts an integrative approach toward the current uncertainty in theory teaching, constructing a linear argument across multiple disciplines –– including music theory, sociology, education studies, philosophy of mind, and embodied cognition –– and utilizing several research methods –– including quantitative and qualitative surveys, ethnographic/contextual interviews, historiographical analysis, and informal experimentation in classroom contexts. It first investigates the perspectives of undergraduate music students and the forces driving curricular reform at the institutional level. Placing these trajectories within a larger sociohistorical context, a historicist reading of three music theoretical traditions –– the speculative, regulative, and analytic –– is interpolated with a sociology of embodiment and with embodied cognition, illuminating an interdisciplinary framework for conceptualizing theory pedagogy in terms of agency and body-world relations. Butch Morris’ Conduction® method –– adapted specifically for the theory classroom –– is offered as a proof-of-concept application of the embodied approach, as defined.

Students, in this paradigm, are not merely theory learners, but en-actively participate in the production of theory. The proposed pedagogical framework is not a fixed curriculum or methodology, but rather an indeterminate methodological field through which educators, institutions, and curriculum reformers might evaluate and reimagine the potential of theory study. In this way, this dissertation intends to be a resource for all who are invested in twenty-first century music education.

Table of Contents

Students Evaluate Music Theory Courses: A Reddit Community Survey
Gutierrez, J. (2018) College Music Symposium. Vol. 58, No. 2.


Undergraduate music programs are currently reexamining the place and value of theory study. While some have argued for this core subject to be dissolved and absorbed by related courses, others defend that music theory is a non-negotiable core of musicianship and not specialized enough. Amidst the scholarly debate over the curricular needs of the 21st century musician-in-training, the voice of students themselves are regularly treated tangentially, if not dismissed. As such, when it comes to understanding the student experience, many educators remain in the dark. How has theory class contributed to the professional lives of recent music program graduates? What aspects of theory class are seen to be the most beneficial, and the most confounding? How do students view the relationship between what is assessed and what is most personally useful? To shine some light on these questions a detailed online survey was conducted via the social media website, targeting recent graduates of music programs. Despite the diverse musical backgrounds of respondents (n=291), results show significant agreement in student views toward their theory experience. Generally, results affirm that (1) music majors tend to view music theory as a highly valuable subject of study, and (2) there are significant trends in what students identify as areas for improvement. Specifically, students complaints revolved around three issues: integration, diversity, and creativity. The analysis presented in this paper opens a powerful window to the student perspective, offers curricular recommendations, and discusses the advantages and limitations of Reddit as a recruitment source.

Mean agreement with statements following “Music theory class”

Skills rated as grade-vital versus personally useful

Positive, negative, and neutral Comments about music theory experience

An Enactive Approach to Learning Music Theory? Obstacles and Openings

Gutierrez, James. 2019. Front. Educ., 19 November 2019 |


While music theory learning remains at the core of traditional music education, calls for more embodied and enactive approaches to music instruction rarely address theory pedagogy directly. This paper reconsiders theory teaching through a 4E lens, by (1) clarifying the obstacles that attend a legacy of Cartesian thought underlying conventional theory curricula, and (2) introducing an affordance-rich curricular tool that promotes embodied and enactive sense-making in music theory classroom environment. The tool is an adaptation of Conduction®–a lexicon of signs and gestures created by jazz artist Butch Morris as a flexible alternative to notation, allowing Morris to compose in real-time with an ensemble of any type, size, or background. In a theory-learning context, students bring their instruments to class, form an ensemble, and take turns using signs and gestures to conduct their peers, guided through processes aligned with learning objectives (e.g., harmonic minor scales, Neapolitan chords, or polytonality), as well as to more freely experiment with musical structure in situ, with minimal or no reliance upon notation. Listening skills, structural knowledge, analytical proficiency, and performance technique are all enacted in the three roles students play: individual performer, ensemble member, and conductor. As students are placed in contact with the conceptual metaphors that scaffold a sense of musical structure, the cumulative effect is a deeply embodied sense of musicality, and an experience of music theory not just as an abstract exercise, but as theorizing in the present through bodily action.

Frederick Douglass Music Competition

As a Frederick Douglass Teaching Fellow through the Frederick Douglass Institute at Kutztown University, James initiated the now annual FDI Music Competition, in collaboration with FDI director Maria Sanelli, and funding generously provided by local businesses in Allentown, PA.

The Frederick Douglass Institute at Kutztown University will present ‘Celebrating Black Music’ at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 1, in Schaeffer Auditorium. The concert caps the Institute’s efforts to highlight the legacy of Frederick Douglass and will feature the music of black composers, including jazz, pop, classical, spoken word and hip-hop. The concert is free and open to the public.

To end Black History Month on a strong and positive note, the Frederick Douglass Institute is holding the concert to highlight the scope of the contributions of black musicians and promote an eclectic repertoire among emerging young talent. The concert will feature performers from Wilson High School, Muhlenberg High School, Governor Mifflin High School, Northampton Area High School and Kutztown University, all of whom participated in a music competition held by the Institute. These applicants submitted recordings of themselves performing works by black composers, and seven talented individuals/groups were selected and will be awarded a cash prize.

The program of the event includes works by classical composer H.T. Burleigh, contemporary composer Marques Garret, and jazz composers Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Joe Henderson and William Grant. It will also feature the music of Michael Jackson, Childish Gambino and KU student Derick Knox.

Cambridge Common Voices

Cambridge Common Voices is a community chorus established in partnership between Harvard College and the Threshold Program at Lesley University, a transition program for young adults with diverse learning challenges. This ensemble strives to create an inclusive musical space and practice, affirming individual voices, and explore innovative approaches to music-making, including elements of Universal Design for Learning and Empowering Song.

Cambridge Common Voices positions disability not as deficit, but as a facet of human diversity worthy of creative exploration and appreciation. Affirming the individual and collective funds of knowledge within its community, the ensemble aspires to frame disability as a resource of artistic ingenuity that holds the potential to broaden the concepts of choral music and revolutionize artistic praxis in conventional settings.

Director: Dr. Andrew Clark
Managing Director: Dr. James Gutierrez

Cambridge Common Voices: An Introduction

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Songs & Stories: A Refugee Artist Series

The Center for World Music (CWM) is instituting the Songs and Stories series for the purpose of bridging San Diego’s growing refugee population with the public. In 2018 over 30 refugees living in San Diego county performed in public venues, free to attend, as a result of this initiative spearheaded by James Gutierrez (CWM board member) and Monica Emery (CWM Executive Director). Federal partnership with local humanitarian organizations rightly prioritize basic needs such as housing, health, and jobs. Yet, there are needs just as fundamental to all human life that remain a daily struggle for these families: the need for community, a sense of belonging, and the opportunity to speak their voice and be heard in their new home.

The program aimed to work directly with these local communities to identify performers and artistic leaders, and provide them the opportunity to creatively interface with the public, and immerse audiences in their traditions, journeys, and voices. The objectives were to (1) Demonstrate to the public the experiences and contributions of refugees through  traditional arts; (2) Present the performing arts as a vehicle for introducing deep cultural institutions in a safe environment, reducing the social distance between San Diego public and its refugee communities; and (3) Give voice to populations that are invisible and excluded.

This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit  Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of California Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This project was also made possible with matching funds from the Peacemakers Fund and through a partnership with the San Diego Public Library system. Financial support is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture.