Many ideas from the discourse of 21st-century learning are already present in much secondary school music teaching in New Zealand and have been for some time. The adoption of these ideas has resulted in many positive changes in students’ experiences of music at secondary school. On the other hand, there have been some unintended consequences which are potentially less positive. The changes in music education therefore may be instructive for educators in a range of subject contexts in negotiating the tensions between different understandings of knowledge and pedagogy in the shift towards 21st-century learning. A case is made for finding a balance between music education’s practical application and conceptual knowledge. There is a risk that in the drive for relevance, the subject has become less able to provide the grounding and conceptual depth necessary for access to the discipline’s generative concepts.