A Spotlight on Professor Robert Duke

Marina McLerran

Editor, McLerran Journal

Assistant Band Director, Center ISD, TX


I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Duke at the 2016 University of Texas Conducting Symposium and have attended several of his lectures at the Texas Music Educators Association Convention. Professor Duke is not only brilliant, but also charismatic and well-spoken.


Professor Robert Duke is currently the Marlene and Morton Meyerson Centennial Professor and Head of Music and Human Learning at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also a clinical professor in the Dell Medical School at UT Austin and the director of the Psychology of Learning program at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles. His achievements also include being named University of Texas System Distinguished Teaching Professor, the Elizabeth Shatto Massey Distinguished Fellow in Teacher Education, and becoming the Director of the Center for Music Learning. Professor Duke is an internationally renowned educator, writer, radio host, clinician, and has published multiple books on how the brain learns.

Originally from New Jersey, Professor Duke had always felt an attraction to the sunny southern states. Although he had “always loved making music,” Dr. Duke shared that his father had originally planned for him to become an attorney, stating, “I talk a lot and I’m good at reasoning.” However, in the final months of his high school career (and contrary to his father’s wishes), Professor Duke instead decided to apply for a degree in music. He has also studied multiple behavior disciplines including motor skill learning, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience. Dr. Duke has always been fascinated with the inner-workings of the brain and continues to work towards developing science-tested educational methods. Professor Duke accepted a public-school teaching position in Atlanta, Georgia. He described working with children as both a “pleasant” and “enlightening experience.” After completing his doctorate at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Dr. Duke accepted a position at Kent State University in Ohio. The constantly overcast skies and “outrageous snowfall” made him yearn for the white beaches of Florida and it was not long before he jumped at the opportunity to teach at the University of Texas in Austin; a position that he has held for thirty-two years.

In addition to teaching, Professor Duke also hosts the KUT radio show Two Guys on Your Head with his colleague, Dr. Art Markman (Human Dimensions of Organizations, University of Texas at Austin). According to Dr. Duke, this highly successful project began “completely by accident” only a few years ago. As a part of the regular KUT Radio lectures held at the Cactus Café at UT Austin, Professor Markman had been invited to speak on the functions of the brain and invited Professor Duke to participate. The lecture was an enormous success and the pair quickly became regular guests at the event. Soon after, Ms. Rebecca McInroy, the show’s producer, contacted Dr. Markman and Dr. Duke about putting their talks on the radio. Two Guys on Your Head records weekly and covers a wide range of topics including emotional health, parenting strategies, and the impact of technology on the brain. About the show, Professor Duke said, “we all like each other so it’s mostly fun and not work.”

Throughout both his personal education and his time as an educator, Professor Duke has placed a strong emphasis on behavioral studies. He believes that one of “the most important things” that an educator can do is to “evaluate one’s self.” When Dr. Duke first entered the field, educators would evaluate their teaching habits by reviewing an audio recording of a lecture and writing down how much time was spent on various behaviors; speaking to the class, listening to the class perform, individual playing, etc. As technology became more prevalent in the workplace, videos became the standard instead of audio recordings. Because computers could not yet run multiple programs simultaneously, it was necessary to switch back and forth between the video and a text-based program which Dr. Duke described as being “cumbersome and clumsy.”  He saw an opportunity for a new software and created the Scribe 4 program which allowed educators to enter data on one side of the screen while watching a video on the other. According to the Center for Music Learning at the University of Texas, Scribe 4 is currently used in multiple universities across the United States and in “teaching and research applications” abroad.

Professor Duke has published multiple books on the relationship between education and the brain. His most recent titles include Intelligent Music Teaching; Essays on the Core Principles of Effective Instruction, Brain Briefs (co-authored with Professor Art Markman, University of Texas), and The Habits of Musicianship (co-authored with Professor Jim Byo of Louisiana State University). Generously, Professor Duke has provided educators with the ability to download The Habits of Musicianship free of charge. The method book focuses on “high quality tone production and musical expression” at the beginner level. Professor Duke believes that providing students with a “complete musical education” from the start creates more well-rounded musicians and also encourages more students to remain enrolled in band. Educators wanting to learn more about the method may also attend the Habits of Musicianship Workshop hosted at the University of Texas in the summertime.

Currently, Professor Duke is working on another volume of his book Intelligent Music Teaching: Essays on the Core Principles of Effective Instruction and enjoys spending quality time with his family.


Book Suggestions from Dr. Duke:  

“Thinking, Fast and Slow” Daniel Kahneman

Purchase Here


“Angle of Repose” Wallace Stegner

Purchase Here




Interview on July 19, 2017.


“Robert Duke.” College of Fine Arts. Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music. The University

          of Texas at Austin. N.d. Web. 9 August, 2017. <http://music.utexas.edu/about/people/duke-



Center for Music Learning. Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music. University of Texas at

          Austin. <https://cml.music.utexas.edu>


“Two Guys on Your Head.” Mcinroy, Rebecca. KUT, 90.5 Austin’s NPR Station. Moody

          College of Communication, University of Texas at Austin. 28, July 2017. Web. 11

          August, 2017. <http://kut.org/term/two-guys-your-head.>


Duke, R. A., & Stammen, D. (2011). Scribe 4 (for observation and assessment). Austin, TX:

          Learning & Behavior Resources. <https://cml.music.utexas.edu/online-resources/scribe-



“The Habits of Musicianship: A Radical Approach to Beginning Band.” Duke, Robert A. Byo,

          James L. Center for Music Learning. Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music. The University

          of Texas at Austin. N.d. Web. 10 August, 2017.