RTRL.63: Elementary Music Performance Preparation and Teacher Stress (Potter, 2021)


Potter, J. (2021). Elementary general music performances and teachers’ perceptions of stress. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 40(1), 36-44.

What did the researcher want to know?

What are elementary general music teachers’ perceptions of performance preparation and how do they perceive its impacts on their stress level?

What did the researcher do?

Potter conducted a multiple case study of three mid-career elementary general music teachers. She interviewed each participant two times over the course of two months. (Interviews took place over Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) Potter analyzed the interview transcripts through qualitative coding to identify themes in response to the research questions.

What did the researcher find?

Potter identified three themes in response to the research questions.

  1. Theme 1: Time Management
    • All three participants considered time management to be critical in performance preparation. They stressed the importance of planning performances well in advance, which included giving students enough time to learn the material. For example, one mentioned that she began preparing her students for a mid-February performance before Thanksgiving break. Balancing curriculum instructional time with performance preparation was a concern for all three participants. One participant said, “I feel like programs can take a little bit away from the curriculum that you’re trying to teach because they take so much time to put together and to get done to a level that you want to perform in front of people” (p. 40).
  2. Theme 2: Control
    • Participants expressed “concern about the degree of control they had over certain aspects of their students’ performances” (p. 40). For two of the three participants, performances were part of a supplemental contract, which dictated the number of performances required in a given school year. While all three felt they had control over selecting repertoire,  they did not all have control over factors such as equipment and venues. For example, one participant was required to perform at the middle school due to lack of space at her elementary school, which was a source of stress. In addition, “all participants discussed how their stress levels spiked the night of the performance, perhaps due to an overall lack of control in student, audience, or parent/guardian behavior” (p. 41).
  3. Theme 3: Isolation
    • All three of the participants felt there was “a general lack of understanding, from people outside the general music program, of undertaking so many extra responsibilities in facilitating these performances” (p. 41). One participant explained, “Nobody understands what I’m actually doing. Because they [teachers, administrators, parents] always see the product. They don’t see the process” (p. 41).

What does this mean for my classroom?

Performances can be a significant source of stress for elementary general music educators and may cause them to sacrifice time spent on student learning and accomplishing curricular goals. Elementary music teachers might consider shifting to in-class performances or “informances,” in which students demonstrate classroom activities and show what they are learning in a smaller setting rather than simply putting on a large show. This can help parents and administrators see the depth and breadth of the curriculum by focusing more on the process of learning than the final product of a performance.

For more information on “informances”…

Leave a Reply