What did the researchers want to know?
Does experience with playing an instrument by ear help students’ aural skill development?
What did the researchers do?
Baker and Green examined 32 instrumental students (ages 10-14 years) taught by four teachers. Sixteen of the students experienced ear playing strategies, and the other 16 learned only from notation. Before the instruction period began, each student was given a test in which they were asked to listen to a recording of a short melody twice and then play it back on their instrument (without notation). Then, for a period of 7-10 weeks, half of the students experienced instruction that incorporated ear playing strategies. These included playing along with a recorded pop-funk bass riff by ear, playing a classical piece by ear, and choosing a piece in any style to learn by ear. After the instructional period, all students were tested again. Each student test performance recording was rated in terms of pitch accuracy, contour accuracy, rhythmic accuracy, tempo accuracy, and closure (stopping before or continuing until the end).
Analysis revealed that the students who had experienced instruction that included ear playing strategies achieved greater gains than students who had not.
What does this mean for my classroom?
Playing by ear is a skill that can be learned. Providing students experiences with playing instruments by ear will improve their ability to do so!
For more information on helping students develop their ear playing skills, see the book Hear, Listen, Play! How to Free Your Students’ Aural, Improvisation, and Performance Skills by Lucy Green.
For more information on informal music learning, see this post, which summarizes a study by Dr. Julie Derges Kastner and includes ideas for application and links to resources.