Schatt, M. D. (2022). Passing the baton: Building student autonomy and democracy in the large ensemble setting. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 40(3), 49-59.
What did the researcher want to know?
What are the experiences of high school band students in a student-led large ensemble?
What did the researcher do?
Schatt found a band teacher at a suburban Midwestern high school who was willing to give up at least 15 minutes of class time for 10 class periods for student-led rehearsal and performance. Schatt observed and recorded the 62 students working on the piece during the 10 rehearsals. Data consisted of a pre- and post-test questionnaire, researcher field notes, class observation transcripts, and transcripts of follow-up interviews with five students.
What did the researcher find?
Pretest questionnaire data indicated that students felt the director was very important for maintaining order in the rehearsal and ensuring success in the concert and showed less agreement that students have a voice in rehearsal and that they will be heard by peers.
Analysis of student interview data showed that students initially felt skeptical about their ability to learn the piece independently but ended up feeling positive about the experience. One student shared their feelings of success while another commented that “it was ‘impressive that we could do that’” (p. 53). A number of students mentioned that the student-led experience caused them to listen more carefully. One said, “I learned a lot about myself and to not rely on the conductor so much . . . just got to open those ears,” and another said “I had to start really listening around me and picked up on some stuff” (p. 54) Analysis of the rehearsal transcripts showed that students focused most on interpretation, rhythm, and ensemble balance and that positive comments towards peers occurred five times more often than negative comments.
Posttest questionnaire data indicated a statistically significant decrease in students’ beliefs about the importance of the conductor to rehearsing, to the success of a performance, and to maintaining order in rehearsal and a statistically significant increase in beliefs that students can determine issues on their own, can offer suggestions for improvement, and will be heard by their classmates.
What does this mean for my classroom?
Providing ensembles students with opportunities for student-led rehearsal can have many benefits. Students may become less dependent on the conductor and may develop more musical independence, including improved listening skills and better attention to balance and interpretation. In addition, performing student-led repertoire on a concert can provide students with a sense of pride and fulfillment (“I noticed how we all tapped our feet to clap for ourselves after we finished,” p. 54) and can also appear impressive to audience members (“My parents were super pumped and surprised . . . they got scared when [the director] walked away when we started,” p. 54).