RTRL.57: Teacher Beliefs as Predictors of Student engagement and achievement in Math (Archambault, Janosz, & Chouinard, 2012)


Archambault, I., Janosz, M., & Chouinard, R. (2012). Teacher beliefs as predictors of adolescents’ cognitive engagement and achievement in mathematics. The Journal of Educational Research, 105, 319-328.

What did the researchers want to know?

How do teachers’ beliefs affect students’ cognitive engagement and achievement in math?

What did the researchers do?

Archambault, Janosz, and Chouinard studied 79 teachers and 2,364 of their students in Grades 7-11 at 33 schools in Québec. Teacher beliefs were measured using a questionnaire containing items pertaining to their expectancies about students’ ability to succeed in math, their sense of self-efficacy as a teacher. Students’ cognitive engagement was measured using a questionnaire that asked students to rate the amount of time and effort they were ready to invest in math-related activities, and students’ math achievement was gauged by asking them to report their average grade in math during the given school year. The teachers completed their questionnaire between January and March, and the students completed their questionnaire at the end of the previous school year and again at the end of the given school year.

What did the researchers find?

Hierarchical linear modeling revealed that teachers’ expectancies about students’ success and teachers’ sense of self-efficacy had a significant effect on their students’ math achievement at the end of the given school year. Specifically, teachers who expected more student success and who had a stronger sense of self-efficacy had students who showed greater math achievement. Furthermore, this did not vary between high- and low-achieving students. In general, all students showed increased achievement at the end of the school year regardless of their achievement the year before if they had a teacher who expected student success and who had a strong sense of self-efficacy. However, teacher beliefs were not significantly related to students’ self-reported engagement level.

What does this mean for my classroom?

According to the researchers, “the more teachers maintain high expectations and the more efficacious they feel in helping their students succeed, the more students’ achievement in- creased over the year” (p. 324). Although this study was focused on math classrooms, it is plausible that beliefs and self-efficacy among music teachers also can influence their students’ achievement in the music classroom. It is important that music teachers believe that all students can be successful at music and experience growth in musical knowledge and skills throughout the school year. Rather than buying into the traditional myth of musical “talent” that is innate in some but not in others, students will benefit from having a music teacher who believes in the musical potential of every child in their classroom, is confident that every student can succeed in music, and communicates this confidence to their students.

RTRL.56: Student Preferences for Music learning And Music Courses (Pendergast & Robinson, 2020)


Pendergast, S., & Robinson, N. R. (2020). Secondary students’ preferences for various learning conditions and music courses: A comparison of school music, out-of-school music, and nonmusical participants. Journal of Research in Music Education, 68(3), 264-285.

What did the researchers want to know?

In terms of music class, what are secondary students’ preferences for teacher role, group size, repertoire, and class options? Do these preferences differ by socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or whether students participate in school music, out-of-school music, or no music? Why do some students choose not to participate in music?

What did the researchers do?

Pendergast and Robinson surveyed 827 middle and high school students from one urban and one suburban school district who were chosen through stratified random sampling to ensure diversity. The survey included items regarding demographics (gender, ethnicity, free/reduced lunch status, participation in school music, participation in out-of-school music), their learning condition preferences  (group sizes, amount of independent learning, degree of input on repertoire selection), and their interest in various music courses (including piano/guitar, composition with technology, popular music group, large ensemble, history/theory, and world music group).

Overall, the least preferred teacher role was exclusively teacher-led instruction, with only 23.0% of students preferring this option. Teachers sometimes leading was preferred by 43.5%, and learning independently with teacher intervention only when necessary was preferred by 33.5%. Among in-school music participants, only 20.1% preferred exclusively teacher-led instruction. In terms of group size, only 13.3% of students preferred exclusively large group, with 35.9% preferring small groups and 50.8% preferring a mix of large and small groups. In terms of repertoire choice, most students (61.8%) preferred when the teacher and students choose music together, with 28.7% preferring that students select all the music and only 9.6% preferring when teachers select all the music.

All students—even those who participate in school music—expressed the most interest in piano/guitar class. While large ensemble received the second-most interest from in-school music participants, it was rated second-to-last by out-of-school music participants and nonparticipants. The second and third most interesting to those students were music composition class with technology and popular music group.

Pendergast and Robinson found a significant difference in repertoire choice preferences by ethnicity, with Latinx and Black students significantly more likely to prefer that students choose the repertoire. When comparing preferences by music participation group, Pendergast and Robinson found that out-of-school participants and nonparticipants were significantly more likely to prefer small group learning and students choosing the repertoire learned.

When responding to questions on why they were not enrolled in school music, 80.1% of nonparticipants said they were not interested, while 19.6% said they don’t have time and less than 5% said they couldn’t afford an instrument. Among out-of-school music participants, 35.4% said they had no interest, 37% said they did not have time, 9.1% said they couldn’t afford an instrument, and 20.1% indicated “Other.”

What does this mean for my classroom?

While teacher-led, large-group instruction may be the dominant mode in traditional school music classes, this kind of learning may actually be least preferred by students. Music teachers might consider providing opportunities for small group and/or student-led learning experiences. Since Pendergast and Robinson found that very few students prefer having the teacher select all their repertoire, teachers also might consider allowing students to have a voice in choosing the music they will perform. This may be especially critical for teachers who work with Latinx and Black students, as these students were significantly more likely to prefer choosing their own repertoire. Small group learning and student-chosen repertoire may be especially powerful in attracting more students, as they were significantly more preferred by out-of-school participants and nonparticipants.

In addition to adjusting how current music courses operate, that out-of-school participants and nonparticipants rated large ensemble as one of their least desired music class options suggests we should consider adding other types of courses to the curriculum. Doing so might draw in students who are not interested in traditional band, orchestra, and choir offerings but would be interested in other types of much learning. Since over 80% of nonparticipants said they did not enroll in school music because they simply were not interested, it is possible that these students would enroll in another type of music offering they found more compelling. Piano/guitar, music composition class with technology, and popular music group may be promising options, as these were most preferred by out-of-school participants and nonparticipants.

RTRL.55: Young Children’s Spontaneous Singing (Dean, 2020)

* This guest post was authored by Sarah Boyd, graduate student at Eastern Michigan University, Lead Teaching Artist for the Detroit Symphony, and director of Hummingbird Music Together. Click here and here to learn more about Ms. Boyd and her work.

Dean, B. (2020). Spontaneous singing in early childhood: An examination of young children’s singing at home. Research Studies in Music Education. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/1321103X20924139

What did the researcher want to know?

How do young children use spontaneous singing in their everyday lives?

What did the researcher do?

Due to technological advances, Dean was able to capture continuous audio recording of fifteen children, ages three and four years, at home in daily life.  In total, over 180 hours of audio footage were recorded from parents monitoring a small recording device that the child wore on their clothes. The mobile recording technology allowed the children to be recorded without disrupting daily routines. Data was collected without relying on adult observation. Most families recorded over 2-4 days, and the total time that each child was recorded ranged from 4 hours to 24 hours.  Once the recordings were collected, Dean manually located episodes of singing within the recordings and created audio-clips for analysis. Each clip was labeled according to the type of singing behavior, context, communication intent, and the function of the singing. The four types of singing behaviors identified after analysis of the clips were improvisatory singing, singing based on learned songs, humming, and chant. Dean then further analyzes the context of clips that included spontaneous singing.

What did the researcher find?

Spontaneous singing is the most common form of singing in young children. 

Data showed that all fifteen children improvised songs to some degree. On average, children spent almost 5% of their total recorded time (total time, not just musical clips) in spontaneous song. It was the most frequently recorded type of singing behavior and the type recorded for the longest total time. Dean points out that although previous major studies refer to chant as the main singing behavior in young children, this is not the case for these 3- and 4-year-olds at home. 

Children use music in ways that are meaningful to them and suit their needs. 

In addition to improvising songs, children rarely sang unaltered versions of conventional songs they knew. Children made use of spontaneous singing during self-directed play, especially when playing alone. After play, children used spontaneous song during stationary activities (bath, meals) or parent-directed activities like transitioning or waiting. Dean asserts these findings suggest that “singing may act as a substitute for physical activity, reflecting an active state of mind even when the body is relatively still” (p. 11). 

Children amend their singing behaviors based on their social context. 

Children sang songs they knew, or improvised songs with words that had meaning, when they were singing to communicate with others. The motivation behind their singing behaviors seemed to be to be understood and share common songs with their family or caregivers. In contrast, when children were alone, their spontaneous songs had less focus on language and meaning. These improvisations were highly exploratory, with more humming, nonsense words, and syllables. The focus appeared to be experimentation and altering songs for their own purposes – narrating their own play or experimenting vocally.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Early childhood educators – both music and classroom – need to develop and foster an environment where spontaneous song has a place in classroom life. Furthermore, the improvisational songs of children need to be recognized as a fundamental singing behavior that is valuable to their musical development. Notably, the study showed that the children who improvised the most had families who included a wide repertoire of song in their daily life. Children will benefit from having a large repertoire of songs in their listening and singing vocabularies, upon which they can draw from when in spontaneous song. Using a wide variety of tunes in your classroom – include a variety of tonalities and meters – can provide this repertoire for children.

Spontaneous song occurred most during free play but was also found in active and stationary contexts – which shows us that singing can be a part of any and all activity! Educators can model using their own spontaneous song while washing hands or cleaning up, making music a part of your daily classroom activities. Be aware of the “hum” of your classroom – if you hear a child’s song, validate it by singing something back to them, either an echo or your own musical idea. This shows that you value their music making. 

Finally, children are aware of what is accepted socially with music, and they quickly add words or sing conventional songs when interacting with adults. Allow children the freedom to sing without words, thus enabling them to focus on the music at hand. Just as 3- and 4-year-old children need to explore in order to teach themselves through play, the same is true with music. Children will flourish in a classroom that gives space for spontaneous song, as it is what comes most naturally to them. 

RTRL.54: Can Empathy Reduce Implicit Bias? (Whitford & Emerson, 2019)

Whitford, D. K., Emerson, A. M. (2019). Empathy intervention to reduce implicit bias in pre-service teachers. Psychological Reports, 122(2), 670-688.

What did the researchers want to know?

Can a brief intervention designed to solicit empathy for Black individuals reduce implicit bias among white preservice teachers?

What did the researchers do?

Whitford and Emerson randomly assigned 34 white preservice teachers to two groups, both of which completed the Race Implicit Association Test as a measure of their implicit bias at the beginning of the study. Next, each group was asked to read either the experimental or control group passage, type their thoughts and feelings for 10 minutes after reading, and then complete the Implicit Association Test again. Participants in the control group read an article about integrating technology into elementary science lessons and were asked to write about how this made them feel, what they liked about it, and how they might improve the lessons. Participants in the experimental group read descriptions of 10 personal experiences of explicit racism from Black student peers, and they were asked to imagine themselves in the Black students’ situations and write about how this made them feel, how they would have reacted, and how these experiences might be prevented.

Although the two groups did not differ on their Implicit Association Test scores before the intervention, there was a statistically significant difference between the groups’ post-intervention scores. Possible scores range from -2.0 to 2.0, with scores closer to zero indicating  less bias. While the control group mean only went from 0.53 to 0.47, the experimental group mean went from 0.57 to 0.18, indicating significantly less implicit bias after the intervention. 

What does this mean for my classroom?

Whitford and Emerson’s results suggest experiences soliciting empathy can be effective in reducing negative bias toward Black individuals. Specifically, White teachers who consider and empathize with Black students’ experiences with explicit racism may show less bias toward Black students, thereby reducing discriminatory discipline. Okonofua and Eberhardt found in this study that teachers responded more harshly to behavior infractions committed by students with Black-sounding names than with White-sounding names. However, according to Whitford and Emerson, “our results indicate that teacher training aimed at racial consciousness, and personal awareness of implicit bias holds promise for promoting empathy within the education workforce” (p. 680). Similarly, Okonofua, Paunesku, and Walton found in this study that teachers who take an empathic mindset punish students less severely and that their students have greater respect for them and are more motivated to behave well in the future. As Whitford and Emerson state, “School discipline inequality is one of the major contributors to the prison pipe-line for at-risk children and adolescents, but it does not have to be” (p. 682). Empathy interventions can be one effective strategy for turning the tide.

RTRL.53: Effects of Choral Performance Movement on Choral Sound (Grady & Gilliam, 2020)

Grady, M. L., & Gilliam, T. M. (2020). Effects of three common choral performance movement conditions on acoustic and perceptual measures of choral sound. Journal of Research in Music Education, 68(3), 286-304.

What did the researchers want to know?

How does singer movement affect choral sound and perceptions of choral sound?

What did the researchers do?

Grady and Gilliam audio-recorded a non-auditioned, mixed-voice university choir performing a 16-measure excerpt (Klebanow’s arrangement of “Erev Shel Shoshanim”) under three conditions: standing still, slight swaying (up to 2 inches in any direction), and full-body swaying (“natural swaying that could exceed 2 in. in any direction and include a shifting of weight between feet” (p. 290)). Two weeks later the singers were invited to participate as “singer-listeners,” which 19 of the 29 choir members agreed to do. In addition, the researchers invited  16 “expert listeners” with graduate degrees in music education or choral conducting and experience in choral teaching/conducting to participate. The singer-listeners and expert listeners were asked to rate the overall choral sound and expressiveness of each of the three audio recordings (heard in random order and blinded to condition) and to rank them in order of preference. In addition, the researchers acoustically analyzed the sound of each recording for timbre (“spectral energy”) and pitch.

Acoustical analysis showed significant differences in spectral energy between all three conditions, with full-body swaying showing a the highest mean and no movement showing the lowest. Acoustical analysis also showed that the slight sway condition resulted in the smallest overall pitch deviation, with no movement resulting in the largest overall pitch deviation. 

In terms of singer-listeners’ perception of overall choral sound, the average rating was lowest for the no-movement performance and highest for the full-body swaying performance. Although the lowest average rating from expert listeners was also for the no-movement performance, expert listeners rated the slight-swaying performance as having the best choral sound. When rating expressiveness, expert listeners gave the highest average rating to the full-body swaying performance and lowest to the no-movement performance. Singer-listeners also gave the lowest average rating to the no-movement performance but the highest rating to the slight-swaying performance. However, the only statistically significant difference was between expert listeners’ ratings of overall choral sound for slight swaying versus no movement.

When asked to rank the three recordings in order of preference, singer-listeners most preferred the full-body-swaying performance while expert listeners preferred the slight-swaying recording. Both groups ranked the no-movement performance as least preferred.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Many music educators require their students to stand still while singing because they believe this makes the choir’s performance more visually appealing. However, the results of this study indicate that requiring students to stand still can be detrimental to their pitch, expressiveness and overall choral sound. The researchers also asked the singers to comment on their experiences in each of the three conditions, and the singers remarked “that the full-body swaying helped them feel ‘more free’ and ‘breathe easier’ and that ‘anxiety/tension was reduced’” while they “were ‘stiff’ and ‘tight’ during the no-movement condition, with a ‘tendency to hold and clutch’” (p. 299). Teachers might reconsider the requirement that students stand still while singing and experiment to see whether and what kinds of movement might have the best effect on singers’ sound and experience of singing.

Related Studies:

McCabe (2006) found benefits of movement for beginning instrumentalists.

RTRL.52: Children’s Perceptions of Gender Stereotypes in Musical Instruments (Pickering & Repacholi, 2002)


Pickering, S., & Repacholi, B. (2002). Modifying children’s gender-typed musical instrument preferences: The effects of gender and age. Sex Roles, 45(9-10), 623-643.

What did the researchers want to know?

Do older students perceive stronger gender stereotypes among musical instruments than younger students? Can exposure to counter-stereotyped musicians affect students’ instrument preferences?

What did the researchers do?

Pickering and Repacholi conducted a study involving 156 kindergarten students and 158 fourth-grade students. They showed the students videos of high-school musicians playing one of eight instruments that had previously been identified as either feminine (flute, violin, clarinet, cello) or masculine (drum, saxophone, trumpet, trombone) by Australian adults. The musicians wore school uniforms and all played the same musical excerpt. Participants were divided into three groups: one who viewed videos that aligned with gender stereotypes (e.g., females playing “feminine” instruments and males playing “masculine” instruments), one who viewed “counter-stereotyped” musicians (e.g., males playing “feminine” instruments and females playing “masculine” instruments), and one who simply viewed a static image of the instrument (with no musician visible).

Pickering and Repacholi had each student view their assigned videos individually (in a room separate from their classroom) and then asked them which instrument they would most like to play.

What did the researchers find?

Students in the control group (who saw static images rather than musicians) were significantly more likely to select instruments consistent with gender stereotypes than those inconsistent with gender stereotypes. There were, however, no significant differences in stereotyping by gender or age.

When all three groups were compared, Pickering and Repacholi found that students in the control group and the gender-consistent group were equally likely to prefer gender-consistent instruments. However, students exposed to the counter-examples were significantly less likely to choose gender-consistent instruments. 

What does this mean for my classroom?

The issue of gender-stereotyping of instruments persists in music education. However, the results of this study suggest that exposing students to musicians who defy gender stereotypes can help them resist rather than perpetuate these stereotypes. When choosing audio/video or live examples for use in the music classroom, music educators should be conscious of who is represented and work to actively combat gender stereotypes. In addition to noticing the gender of instrumentalists featured in the music classroom, teachers should also pay attention to the gender of composers and conductors so that students see women represented in these roles. Music educators might also notice who is (or is not) represented in our professional materials, such as textbooks and journals. (This study found that women are much less likely to be represented as conductors in photographs published in the Music Educators Journal.) Similarly, teachers can notice the race/ethnicity of those who are represented. This noticing is the first step to taking action in ensuring that the representation in our classrooms is one that allows ALL students to see themselves represented in a diversity of musical roles.

RTRL.51: Research on Children’s Singing (Hedden, 2012)

Hedden, D. (2012). An overview of existing research about children’s singing and the implications of teaching children to sing. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 30(2), 52-62.

What research exists on children’s singing and what insight can it provide for music educators?

What did the researcher do?

In order to offer suggestions for helping children learn to sing, Hedden conducted a literature review of existing research studies pertaining to prepubescent children’s singing. This included studies of both internal factors (e.g., vocal range, pitch matching, sex differences) and external factors (e.g., solo versus group, use of accompaniment, use of text, vocal modeling).

In synthesizing the 50+ studies on children’s singing, Hedden identified many important themes. While I cannot present them all in this post, here are a few I find to be particularly valuable for teaching elementary general music:

✴ Young children can sing short patterns more accurately than whole songs.

Hedden summarized numerous studies that suggest young children may struggle with singing complete songs. Children in these studies were more able to accurately sing short patterns or individual pitches.

✴ Children benefit from whole group, small group, and solo singing experiences.

A number of researchers have studied whether children sing more accurately in solo or in large or small groups, to varying results. Ensuring that students experience both seems to be most beneficial.

✴ Children may benefit when singing is introduced on neutral syllables before text.

Though research findings have varied, there is some evidence to suggest that children may sing less accurately when learning songs with text. “There appears to be some merit in introducing singing on neutral syllables to offer one challenge at a time” (Hedden, 2012,  p. 58).

✴ Learning a song by rote or immersion may be more effective than phrase-by-phrase.

Children may have an easier time absorbing and retaining a new melody when they’re given numerous opportunities to listen in a focused way before being asked to sing. “As the child hears the song several times, [they] will gain familiarity with the pitch contour…. This process is akin to that of language acquisition, in that the young children hears certain words and phrases repeatedly before attempting to replicate them” (p. 58).

What does this mean for my classroom?

Because young children initially sing short patterns more accurately than whole songs, we can provide students with opportunities to echo short tonal patterns or chime in on short melodic patterns within a song. For example, you might model singing “Frog Song” and pretending to make your hand hop upward on the “ga-gung” pattern. Then you might invite students to chime in on that pattern whenever it occurs during the song.

Most music classes feature ample opportunities for students to sing as a whole group. To build musical independence, we can also add opportunities for students to sing in small groups and in solo. For example, once students are familiar with “Frog Song,” I add a frog finger puppet on the “ga-gung” pattern, inviting students to sing the rest of the song as I sing that pattern in solo while moving the frog puppet in an upward motion. Then I pass out three puppets to three individual students, who each sing one “ga-gung” in solo with the puppet while the rest of the class sings the rest of the song. Once students are familiar with the activity, it also provides an opportunity for singing assessment, using a rating scale such as the following:

  • 4 = Student sings the entire tonal pattern accurately.
  • 3 = Student sings the tonal pattern with slight intonation error. 
  • 2 = Student performs the pattern in singing voice but inaccurate pitches.
  • 1 = Student performs the pattern in speaking voice.

You could also have students echo short tonal patterns in solo, as shown in this video:

Kindergarten Students Echoing Tonal Patterns on Neutral Syllables

When teaching students a new melody, one approach is to use this process for teaching a song by rote, common among practitioners of Gordon’s Music Learning Theory: 

  1. Teacher models singing the song while students listen.
  2. Teacher models singing the resting tone (on “bum” or solfege) and invites students to audiate and sing the resting tone whenever they pause and gesture during the song.
  3. Teacher models moving to the microbeats (e.g., tapping, etc.) and invites students to move to the microbeats as they listen to the teacher sing the song.
  4. Teacher models moving to the macrobeats (e.g., swaying, etc.) and invites students to move to the macrobeats as they listen to the teacher sing the song.
  5. Teacher and students move to simultaneous macrobeat/microbeat while the teacher sings the song.
  6. Students close their eyes and sing the song silently in their heads, raising their hands when they are finished. (Teacher should be sure to give a starting signal/cue.)
  7. Students sing the song independently (without the teacher).

Songs can also be taught through immersion by engaging students in imaginative play as you expose them to the song. For example, you might…

  • Pretend to stir a different ingredient into a big pot of soup each time the teacher sings the song. Invite individual students to suggest ingredients to add!
  • Pretend to make a pizza, acting out a different step each time the teacher sings the song (stir, roll dough, poke dough, toss in the air, sway and sing or chant “tick-tock” to the beat while baking, slice to the beat, eat!)
  • Pretend it’s a snow day and do a different action each time the teacher sings the song (wake up/stretch, jump for joy, build a snowman, sledding, snow angels, snowball fight).
  • Pretend to bake cookies (stir, roll dough, use cookie cutters, “tick-tock”, frost, eat!), acting out a different step each time the teacher sings the song. Here is a video of this activity using a song in Lydian tonality sung on neutral syllables:
Informal Music Guidance: Kindergarten Students Absorbing a New Song

Playful activities like these allow students to hear and absorb the song a number of times so that by the time you ask them to sing it, they can already audiate it and are ready to sing.

Finally, since children may initially sing more accurately without text/lyrics, consider first teaching songs on a neutral syllable, such as “bum”, “loo”, “da”, or a combination of syllables.

RTRL.50: Effects of Movement, Tempo, and Gender on Children’s Steady Beat Accuracy (Rose, 2016)

Rose, P. (2016). Effects of movement, tempo, and gender on steady beat performance of kindergarten children. International Journal of Music Education, 34(1), 104-115.

How do movement type, gender, and tempo affect children’s steady beat accuracy?

What did the researcher do?

Rose studied 119 kindergarten students in two schools who were divided into two groups: one that was asked to pat their hands to the beat and one that was asked to step their feet in place to the beat. Each student was asked to move to the steady beat to a musical excerpt heard three times at different tempi (slow/quarter-note = 80 bpm, medium/quarter-note = 100 bpm, and fast/quarter-note = 120 bpm). The hand-patting students were asked to tap the beat with both hands simultaneously on a MIDI controller while the foot-stepping students were asked to step (alternating) on a piece of foam with a MIDI controller against it. The researcher then calculated how many of the 16 total beats each participant accurately moved to at each tempo and conducted a two-way mixed ANOVA with hand/foot grouping and gender as the between-subjects variables and tempo as the within-subjects variable.

The students were least accurate at the fast tempo and most accurate at the medium tempo, but these differences were not statistically significant. There was also no significant difference by gender. There was, however, a statistically significant difference by movement type: students who patted their hands to the beat were more accurate than students who stepped to the beat across all three tempi.

What does this mean for my classroom?

If music teachers wish to help students accurately move to the steady beat, they may find more initial success in asking students to pat with their hands rather than step with their feet. Rose noted that this seemed to be a result of a struggle with balance when standing on one foot at a time. However, it could also be that the alternating bilateral movement required of stepping with alternating feet was the reason for the decreased accuracy when compared to the parallel bilateral hand-patting. If teachers notice students are struggling to keep a steady beat with alternating movement, they might remediate to provide more experiences with parallel movement first or spend more time on parallel movement before progressing to alternating movement in the first place.

The effects of movement type and tempo should also be considered when formally assessing students’ steady beat accuracy. Teachers might experiment with various beat movement experiences and/or provide a variety of opportunities through which students can demonstrate their beat competency to ensure it is being measured validly and reliably.

RTRL.49: Memory for Culturally Unfamiliar Music (Morrison et al., 2013)

Morrison, S. J., Demorest, S. M., Campbell, P. S., Bartolome, S. J., & Roberts, J. C. (2013). Effects of intensive instruction on elementary students’ memory for culturally unfamiliar music. Journal of Research in Music Education, 60(4), 363-374.

What did the researchers want to know?

Does instruction improve memory for culturally unfamiliar music?

What did the researchers do?

Morrison and colleagues used a quasi-experimental design to study 110 students in six fifth-grade classes at two elementary schools. At the beginning of the study, all students completed a music memory test in which they heard examples of culturally familiar (Western) and culturally unfamiliar (Turkish) music. For each type of music, students listened to a longer excerpt (25-33 sec.) and then were asked to listen to 12 shorter excerpts (4-8 sec.) and answer whether or not they had heard each in the longer excerpt. 

Four classes were randomly assigned to experience 8 weeks of instruction in Turkish music. The unit consisted of “singing, moving, playing instruments, and listening, with an emphasis on music literacy and cultural context” (p. 367). This included lessons on Turkish culture and a culminating experience in which Turkish culture bearers demonstrated instruments, discussed musical traditions, and answered questions. Students in the two control classes experienced similar lessons but with English, East African, and Appalachian music instead of Turkish.

After the 8-week instructional unit, students completed the listening test again. Morrison et al. used a multivariate repeated-measures ANOVA to analyze differences in students’ pretest and posttest scores.

Results indicated that all participants’ scores for both Western and Turkish music improved from pretest to posttest. However, all students more accurately remembered Western music than Turkish music on both the pretest and posttest. Furthermore, students who experienced the 8-week instructional unit on Turkish music did not remember Turkish music more accurately than students who had not experienced the unit.

What does this mean for my classroom?

If we consider memory as an indicator of music comprehension, the results of this study would suggest that experiencing culturally unfamiliar music does not increase students’ comprehension of that music after 8 weeks. This has several implications:

  • Hannon and Trehub (2005) found that, while adults’ ability to discriminate between examples of Balkan music was unchanged after 1-2 weeks of listening, infants’ ability to do so improved after 2 weeks of exposure to Balkan music. Along with the findings of the Morrison et al. study, this suggests that exposure to a variety of musics should occur as early as possible in a child’s life. 
  • Eight weeks is a relatively short period of time, and students only received 30 minutes of instruction each week. It is possible that more extensive exposure could result in greater recognition/comprehension.
  • That students who experienced instruction in Turkish music did not show improved aural comprehension of Turkish music may have been a result of the nature of the instruction itself. Morrison et al. did not provide specific details as to how the instructional experiences were designed to help students comprehend Turkish music or whether there were certain musical aspects (e.g., meter, mode/tonality) that may have made the Turkish music more difficult for students to recognize. The researchers did state that the unit emphasized music literacy and cultural context, but it is unclear how these concepts would facilitate greater aural comprehension of culturally unfamiliar music. If the unit had focused on helping students audiate the tonal and rhythmic context (e.g., tonal center, beat levels) of the music and helping students develop an aural/oral vocabulary of tonal patterns and rhythm patterns inherent in Turkish music, it is possible students may have shown improved aural comprehension.

RTRL.48: Predictors of Music Class Enrollment in Urban Middle/High Schools (Kinney, 2019)


Kinney, D. W. (2019). Selected nonmusic predictors of urban students’ decisions to enroll and persist in middle school and high school music ensemble electives. Journal of Research in Music Education, 67(1), 23-44.

Who enrolls in urban middle school and high school music classes?

What did the researcher do?

Kinney obtained student demographic information from one large midwestern metropolis area. This district was comprised of mostly minority students (62% Black, 26% Caucasian, 9% Hispanic, 3% Asian, <1% Native American), and 78.5% of students were enrolled in free/reduced lunch programs. Since elective choices began in 6th grade in this district and state standardized tests were administered in 6th, 8th, and 10th grades, Kinney collected data for students in those three grades.

Kinney assembled a database that indicated whether each student in 6th, 8th, and 10th grade was enrolled in band, strings, or choir. This database also included the following information for each student:

  • reading achievement test score
  • math achievement test score
  • free/reduced lunch status (as an indicator of SES)
  • number of parents/guardians in the home
  • district mobility (whether the student had moved into the district in the past year),
  • school mobility (whether the student had transferred schools within the district in the past year)
  • ethnicity
  • sex

Kinney used these factors as variables in conducting a multinomial logistic regression to build a predictive model for initial 6th grade enrollment and 8th/10th grade enrollment/retention in band, orchestra, and choir.

Statistical analyses revealed the following student characteristics to be significant predictors of whether a student was more or less likely to enroll in elective music classes at each grade level:

What does this mean for my classroom?

Results suggest that students with higher math achievement are more likely to participate in instrumental music in urban schools. However, the fact that this was consistent across the span of grade levels suggests “that higher achieving students are attracted to instrumental programs from the outset and that systematic differences between this population and the general school population remain relatively stable over time” (p. 36). This provides evidence against the common argument that participation in music raises standardized tests scores and instead implies the difference lies in who chooses to participate in instrumental music in the first place.

Band teachers should be aware that student SES can predict whether a student participates in band. Teachers should be conscious of the fact that SES can be a limiting factor for student enrollment and find ways to make access to band class accessible to students who might struggle to afford an instrument or other supplies.

High school band programs typically involve various before- and after-school requirements (e.g., marching band, pep band), which may be why students from two-parent/guardian homes were more likely to participate in band in high school. It is possible that single-parent/guardian homes encounter more challenges in navigating these extra activities. For example, a single parent who works the night shift may not be able to transport their child to or from before- or after-school activities. High school band teachers should be aware of these challenges and work to mitigate them so that all students have equal opportunity to participate.

Finally, teachers should be aware of the ways in which enrollment trends may reflect racial and gendered “norms” of who participates in band, orchestra, or choir. Only band reflected a more balanced enrollment of males and females, while females were two to three times as likely as males to enroll in orchestra or choir. While race/ethnicity trends varied across grade levels and ensemble types, the data implies that white students tend to more consistently enroll in ensemble classes. Teachers can be mindful of these trends in their recruiting efforts, and all music educators can work to defy racial/ethnic and gender stereotypes in the repertoire they choose, the materials they use, and the musicians who are represented in their classrooms. “Through deliberate, conscientious efforts to reach students often underserved by music ensemble offerings, teachers will no doubt create a more democratic, equitable, and viable elective choice for all” (p. 41).

RTRL.47: Band Performance Ratings and Director Gender (Shouldice & Eastridge, 2020)

Shouldice, H. N., & Eastridge, J. L. (2020). A comparison of Virginia band performance assessments in relation to director gender. Journal of Research in Music Education, 68(2), 125-137.

What did the researchers want to know?

Given that existing research shows many women perceive gender-related discrimination in their jobs as secondary band teachers, is there a significant association between band festival ratings and director gender at the middle school or high school level?

What did the researchers do?

Shouldice and Eastridge accessed 6 years (2013-2018) of District Concert Assessment ratings sponsored by the Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Association (VBODA), which are publicly available on the VBODA website. Data included ensembles’ overall performance ratings and director names, which Shouldice and Eastridge used to code each ensemble performance according to the assumed gender (male/ female) of the director(s). If the first name of a director was ambiguous or gender-neutral (e.g., Robin, Jamie), they performed an internet search to ascertain gender (via pronouns, title, and/or photograph). Finally, Shouldice and Eastridge then conducted statistical analyses to ascertain the percentages of ensembles receiving each rating (by level and director gender) and whether there was a statistically significant relationship between director gender and overall performance rating.

At both the middle school and high school levels, male-directed ensembles were more likely to receive a I rating while female-directed ensembles more likely to receive a II rating. The table below shows the percentages of ensembles receiving each rating by director gender, and the bar chart shows the comparison of I and II ratings by gender and level.

Table 1. Percentages of Ensembles Receiving Each Rating, by Director Gender.*
Figure 1. Number/Comparison of I and II Ratings Included in Chi-Square Analyses.*

*Due to required assumptions of the Chi-Square test, multiple ensemble performances from the same director were randomly removed so that only one listing was included for each director, which is why 3,229 performances are reflected in Table 1 but only 730 in Figure 1.

What does this mean for my classroom?

We cannot definitively infer the cause behind the association between ensemble ratings and director gender discovered by Shouldice and Eastridge. However, it is worth reflecting on possible explanations for this finding. One explanation might be that societal norms expect and permit men to display the behaviors and characteristics that are associated with being a successful band director (such as assertiveness and competitiveness) whereas these traits may be less expected and/or acceptable in women. Another potential explanation could be that women are more likely to be hired for band teaching jobs in smaller and/or rural schools/districts, which may be more likely to earn lower ratings than ensembles from larger school districts. Finally, female-directed bands may receive lower ratings than male-directed bands as a result of gender bias, either explicit or implicit.

One possibility is that gender bias might influence judges to rate female-directed groups differently than male-directed groups. Given that previous research findings suggest larger ensembles or those performing more difficult classifications of music may tend to receive higher ratings than smaller ensembles or those performing easier music, it is also possible that gender bias may be an influence in the hiring practices that lead to greater numbers of men than women securing jobs in larger, more prestigious programs that are likely to perform more advanced repertoire.

The results of this study indicate that although improving, a gender imbalance still exists in the secondary band teaching profession. Discrimination in the hiring process may be one possible explanation for this persistent gender imbalance, as suggested by findings of existing research. It is critical that those involved in the hiring process examine their own biases and actively work toward more equitable hiring of men and women. It is also crucial to strive for more equitable representation of women in the field of secondary band teaching. Rather than reinforcing the common image of conductor as male, music educators and music teacher educators might actively work to provide students with images of women in these teaching roles.

Related Research Summarized by “Research to Real Life”:

Career Intentions and Experiences of Pre- and In-service Female Band Teachers (Fischer-Croneis, 2016)

Male and Female Photographic Representation in 50 Years of Music Educators Journal (Kruse, Giebelhausen, Shouldice, & Ramsey, 2015)

RTRL.46: Practice Habits of Middle School Band Students (Miksza, Prichard, & Sorbo, 2012)

* This guest post was authored by Dr. Lisa Martin, Assistant Professor of music education at Bowling Green State University. Click here to learn more about Dr. Martin and her work.
Dr. Lisa Martin, guest contributor

Miksza, P., Prichard, S., Sorbo, D. (2012). An observational study of intermediate band students’ self-regulated practice behavior. Journal of Research in Music Education, 60(3), 254-266.

What did the researchers want to know?

What characterizes the practice habits of middle school band students?

What did the researchers do?

A total of 30 middle school band students were video recorded as they practiced in a room by themselves for 20 minutes. The student participants were instructed to practice their band repertoire as if working on it at home. Miksza, Prichard, and Sorbo analyzed each video to determine (a) how students organized their practice with regard to time spent on given musical excerpts, (b) which musical objectives students prioritized (e.g., rhythmic accuracy, pitch accuracy), and (c) what strategies students employed to achieve various musical goals. The researchers also rated each practice session using a researcher-developed self-regulation scale to provide an overall picture of the extent to which students demonstrated self-regulated behaviors in their practice.

In terms of practice organization, students tended to practice longer segments of music (nine or more consecutive measures), and they were less inclined to focus on segments of four measures or less. Across the 20-minute practice session, students spent an average of 2 minutes 45 seconds on each segment. As the practice session progressed, students spent significantly less time on each segment. Overall, there was a high degree of variability in the frequency and duration of these practice segments. 

Students tended to focus primarily on pitch accuracy as their main objective, and less attention was paid to objectives such as dynamics or rhythmic accuracy. The most commonly employed practice strategies were repetition and varying the tempo. Around half the participants demonstrated irrelevant playing, and approximately one third clapped/tapped or wrote on their music during the practice session.  

With regard to the self-regulation ratings, the researcher-developed measurement yielded a possible score range of 12 to 60, with higher scores suggesting greater self-regulation. Participants had a mean score of 30.86 on this scale, and those with higher self-regulation ratings typically utilized a higher number of practice strategies during their session. Those students who employed more irrelevant playing in their practice session tended to have lower self-regulation ratings. 

What does this mean for my classroom?

When working with developing musicians, teachers should not assume students inherently know how to practice effectively. Younger students can struggle with establishing priorities during their practice, may find it difficult to identify specific challenges to address, and tend to employ a limited range of corrective strategies. Teachers can help students establish discrete goals for their practice and improve practice time efficiency by modeling practice strategies during class time. The range of self-regulation ratings and demonstrated practice behaviors in this study also suggest that differentiated approaches toward practice instruction could be useful. 

RTRL.45: The Power of Teacher Empathy (Okonofua, Paunesku, & Walton, 2016)

Okonofua, J. A., Paunesku, D., & Walton, G. M. (2016). Brief intervention cuts suspension rates in half. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(19), 5221-5226.

What did the researchers want to know?

Does an empathic mindset related to student misbehavior result in more positive outcomes than a punitive mindset?

What did the researchers do?

Okonofua, Paunesku, and Walton conducted three experiments. In Experiment 1, they randomly assigned 39 teachers to either an empathic- or punitive-mindset condition. Each teacher was asked to read a short article in which they were reminded either “that ‘good teacher-student relationships are critical for students to learn self-control’ (empathic mindset) or that ‘punishment is critical for teachers to take control of the classroom’ (punitive mindset)” (p. 5221). Then they read three minor misbehavior records, described how they would discipline each student, and rated the extent to which they considered each student a “troublemaker.”

In Experiment 2, the researchers asked 302 college students to “imagine themselves as middle-school students who had disrupted class by repeatedly walking around to throw away trash” (p. 5222). Each student then read a description for how their imaginary teacher (“Mrs. Smith”) responded—either by giving them detention and sending them to the principal (punitive) or by asking them about their behavior and moving the trashcan closer to their desk (empathic). After this, the students rated how much respect they would have for Mrs. Smith and their motivation to behave well in the future.

Experiment 3 was a longitudinal study in which the researchers “tested whether encouraging an empathic mindset about discipline would reduce student suspension rates over an academic year” (p. 5222). Thirty-one teachers at five diverse middle schools in California participated in this study. These teachers participated in two online modules, the purpose of which they were told was “to review common but sometimes neglected wisdom about teaching and to collect their perspectives as experienced teachers on how to best handle difficult interactions with students” (p. 5223). After consenting to participate, each teacher was randomly assigned to either the empathic mindset condition or the control condition. Modules in the control condition focused on using technology to promote learning. For the empathic-condition, the first module focused on “non-pejorative reasons why students sometimes misbehave in class and how positive relationships with teachers can facilitate students’ growth” (p. 5223). The materials encouraged teachers to “understand and value students’ experiences and negative feelings that can cause misbehavior” and reminded them that “a teacher who makes … students feel hear, valued, and respected shows them that school is fair and they can grow and succeed there” (p. 5223). This included stories from students and opportunities for teachers to reflect on how they could incorporate the ideas into their teaching. Two months later, teachers completed the second module, which in the empathic condition focused on reminding them that “students’ feelings about and behavior in school can and do improve when teachers successfully convey the care and respect students crave” (p. 5223). At this time, students were also asked to complete a survey assessing the school climate, specifically focusing on perceived respect from teachers and other school adults. At the end of the school year, the researchers collected students’ suspension rates from each school.

The results of Experiment 1 showed the teachers with an empathic mindset chose to punish students less severely and were less likely to label students as troublemakers than the teachers with a punitive mindset. 

In Experiment 2, students whose teacher responded with empathy reported having greater respect for the teacher and being more motivated to behave well in the future than students whose teacher responded punitively. Furthermore, the greater the respect the student reported having for the teacher, the more motivated they were to behave well in the future.

Experiment 3 results showed that students whose teachers received the empathic-mindset intervention were half as likely to be suspended as students of the control teachers, even when statistically controlled for race, gender, and prior-year suspensions. In addition, students with a history of prior suspension whose teachers received the empathic-mindset condition reported feeling more respected by their teachers than did those who were students of the control teachers.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Students whose teachers take a punitive approach to discipline may feel less respected and less inclined to behave well in class. However, students will likely feel more cared for and respected if we try to have empathy for them, to understand the reasons behind their misbehavior, and to assume positive (or at least neutral) intentions. Doing so can help build a positive, caring relationship with the student, which may lead them to want to do better in the future.

Some ideas from teachers who participated in this study include the following:

“When asked how they ‘would like … to improve your relationships with your students?’ teachers powerfully echoed the intervention themes: For example,

  • ‘[I] greet every student at the door with a smile every day no matter what has occurred the day before’;
  • ‘[I] answer their questions thoughtfully and respectfully no matter what their academic history with me has been’; and
  • ‘I NEVER hold grudges. I try to remember that they are all the son or daughter of someone who loves them more than anything in the world. They are the light of someone’s life!’” (p. 5223)

Further Reading:

This research was featured in the New York Times.

This article provides further insight into teaching with empathy.

This article has ideas for helping students learn empathy.

Dr. Okonofua also co-authored this research study on race and perceptions of student misbehavior.

RTRL.44: Using a Trauma-informed Approach to Supporting Students (Rosenbaum-Nordoft, 2018)

Rosenbaum-Nordoft, C. (2018). Building teacher capacity for trauma-informed practice in the inclusive elementary school classroom. Early Childhood Education, 45(1), 3-12.

What did the researcher want to know?

How can teachers support students who have experienced trauma?

What did the researcher do?

Rosenbaum-Nordoft conducted a review of research studies and other literature pertaining to childhood trauma. She synthesizes these findings in her article and provides suggestions to equip teachers to more effectively support students in elementary school classrooms.

What did the researcher find?

Rosenbaum-Nordoft first gives an overview of the roots and effects of complex trauma. Trauma is rooted in the body’s fear response, which is “the brain’s natural reaction to perceived or actual threats” (p. 4). When the brain is alerted to possible danger, it suspends logical thought and prepares the body to protect itself through one of three responses: fight, flight, or freeze. “A fight, flight, or freeze response can lead to a rapid reactivity to a perceived threat, including self-protective behaviors such as agression, withdrawal [e.g., running away], or freezing [e.g., becoming non-responsive]” (p. 5). Repeatedly experiencing this fear response over time can lead to chronically elevated levels of stress hormones, hindered brain development, mental health concerns like anxiety or depression, poor impulse control, and impaired ability to concentrate and learn. “Children in a state of fear retrieve information from the world differently than children who feel calm” (Perry, as cited in Rosenbaum-Nordoft, 2018, p. 5). Therefore, it is important for teachers to acknowledge the long-term implications of complex trauma on physical and mental health and  use a “trauma-informed lens” in the classroom.

“A trauma-informed approach to supporting students … expands the lens through which educators view educational success so that it includes both academic achievement and mental health” (p. 6). Teachers should be on the lookout for signs of trauma in students and take this into consideration when responding to student behaviors. For example, rather than seeing a student as “‘bad,’ unmotivated or hostile” (p. 6) and asking “What is wrong with this student?”, a teacher might shift their thinking to instead ask “What is the function of that behavior?” Asking the latter question can help the teacher identify triggers for the behavior, which can then be prevented or mitigated. Rosenbaum-Nordoft provides several examples of how behavior can be analyzed in this way using functional behavioral analysis.

Finally, the author stresses the importance of relationships in supporting students who have experienced trauma. For example, she cites a study in which the researchers “found that having a trusted adult in the school was associated with greater academic gains” and “that teachers who take the time to listen and communicate an attitude of acceptance, accessibility, warmth and knowledge supported the trust in the relationship” (p. 6). Taking the time to get to know students and build a positive relationship will help them feel safer in school, thus enabling them to learn more effectively.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Life has changed drastically over the past five months throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, it is likely that many of our students are experiencing trauma. In order to help our students through this difficult time, we must first attend to connecting with them and making them feel seen, valued, and safe. Building relationships should be our main priority as we move forward with our students.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network provides a number of helpful resources, including “Trauma-Informed School Strategies during COVID-19.” Visit their website here.

RTRL.43: Race and Perceptions of Student Misbehavior (Okonofua & Eberhardt, 2015)

Okonofua, J. A., & Eberhardt, J. L. (2015). Two strikes: Race and the disciplining of young students. Psychological Science, 26(5), 617-624.

What did the researchers want to know?

Does race influence teachers’ perceptions of student misbehavior?

What did the researchers do?

Okonofua and Eberhardt conducted two related studies.

Study #1:

The researchers recruited 57 K-12 teachers (38 white, 2 black, 1 Asian, 16 of unknown race) from various school districts across the United States. They showed each teacher a school record for a middle school student who had misbehaved twice, asking them to imagine they were the student’s teacher. The student was assigned either a stereotypically Black name (Darnell or Deshawn) or a stereotypically White name (Greg or Jake). After reading about each of the student’s two behavior infractions (one for insubordination and one for class disturbance), the teacher was asked to answer the following questions on a scale ranging from 1, not at all, to 7, extremely:

  • How severe was the student’s misbehavior?
  • To what extent is the student hindering you from maintaining order in your class?
  • How irritated do you feel by the student?
  • How severely should the student be disciplined?

The order of the two infractions (class disturbance/insubordination) varied randomly across participants to mitigate order effect. After reading and responding to both infractions, the teacher was asked to rate the likelihood they would say the student is a troublemaker. Finally, they asked how likely it was that the student was Black and what they suspected was the study’s hypothesis. (These final questions were used to identify any participants who may have been manipulating their responses based on their assumptions about the study’s hypothesis.) 

Study #2:

The first study was replicated with 204 more K-12 teachers (166 White, 17 Black, 10 Asian, 6 Latino, 2 other, 3 unknown) with an addition: After teachers rated the likelihood they would say the student was a troublemaker, they were also prompted to rate the extent to which they felt the student’s behaviors indicated a pattern and the likelihood they would imagine suspending the student at some point.

Study #1:

Although teachers’ ratings of infraction severity, hindrance, and irritation did not vary by race in reaction to the first infraction, there was a statistically significant difference by race for the second infraction, with teachers rating students with stereotypically Black names more harshly than students with stereotypically White names. Similarly, teachers felt the students with stereotypically Black names should be disciplined more severely after the second infraction than students with stereotypically White names. “Thus, after only two strikes, racial disparities in discipline emerge” (p. 620). Furthermore, “the more likely teachers were to think the student was Black … the more likely they were to label the student a troublemaker” (p. 620).

Study #2:

Again, teachers’ ratings after the second infraction revealed perceptions that the misbehavior was more severe, more irritating, and more of a hindrance and warranted more severe discipline when the student had a stereotypically Black name. In addition, “the more likely the teachers were to think the student was Black, the more likely they were to label the student a troublemaker” (p. 621) and “the more likely they were to imagine themselves suspending that student in the future” (p. 622).

What does this mean for my classroom?

Though many studies and statistics show Black students are disciplined at higher rates and/or with greater severity, most only show a correlation. However, the findings of this study show a direct causal relationship between race and perceptions of misbehavior. According to Okonofua and Eberhardt, “what we have shown here is that racial disparities in discipline can occur even when Black and White students behave in the same manner. We have shown experimentally, for the first time, that teacher responses can contribute to racial disparities in discipline” (p. 622).

Since teaching is a helping profession, it can be assumed most teachers choose their career out of a desire to help others and make a difference. Like the teachers who participated in this study, though, none of us are immune to implicit bias. All educators must work to heighten awareness of their own implicit biases to help ensure all students are treated fairly and have equal opportunities for success.


This document has lots of helpful information and links to free resources: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1PrAq4iBNb4nVIcTsLcNlW8zjaQXBLkWayL8EaPlh0bc/mobilebasic

If you want to become more race-conscious, here are some great books:

In memory of George Floyd and far too many others.

RTRL.42: Music Booster Groups and Funding Inequality (Elpus & Grisé, 2019)

Elpus, K., & Grisé, A. (2019). Music booster groups: Alleviating or exacerbating funding inequality in American public school music education. Journal of Research in Music Education, 67(1), 6-22. 

What did the researchers want to know?

What were key financial and demographic characteristics of U.S. music booster groups in 2015, and how does the amount raised by booster groups relate to household income in the community served?

What did the researchers do?

Elpus and Grisé assembled a dataset from publicly available information. This included IRS nonprofit tax return data from 2015. After going extensive lengths to find and record financial information for 5,575 music booster groups from across the U.S., Elpus and Grisé gathered 2015 U.S. Census data pertaining to the annual household income for the city in which each booster group resided and added this to the database. Finally, they calculated a variety of statistics and conducted statistical analyses to answer their research questions.

The states containing the most booster groups were Texas (n = 846), California (n = 594), and Ohio (n = 431). The state with the fewest was Wyoming (n = 1). Elpus and Grisé identified four groups that earned over $1 million in revenue, all of which were in Texas or California. Close examination showed that the group with the second highest revenue “was responsible for raising funds to provide annual salary and benefits for multiple music teachers in the district’s elementary and middle schools, which would not have had music ensembles in the absence of private fundraising. Many of these funds were raised by mandatory contributions from the families of students enrolled in music education” (p. 16).

To examine the relationship between booster group fundraising and household income, Elpus and Grisé looked at whether each booster group filed a Form 990-N (annual income up to $50,000), a Form 990-EZ (annual income between $50,001 and $199,999), or a full Form 990 (annual income of $200,000 or more). They then recorded the median household income within each booster group’s ZIP code to calculate whether the three filing groups differed in average median household income. ANOVA results showed significant differences between the average median household incomes for all three groups. In other words, music booster groups that raised more funds were more likely to reside in communities with higher median household incomes. Further analysis (fixed effects regression model) revealed that, for every additional $1,000 in local median household income, a Form 990-EZ-filing group raises an additional $305 in revenue while a full Form 990-filing group raises an additional $1,637 in revenue.

What does this mean for my classroom?

While it may be make us feel good to believe that music booster groups provide funding for under-resourced music programs, the reality is that booster groups generating more revenue serve schools in wealthier communities, and community wealth tends to also be correlated with public school funding. Thus, not only do booster groups not level the playing field for under-funded music programs, they actually exacerbate funding inequality.

RTRL.41: Connections Between Teacher Beliefs About Musical Ability, Teaching Practice, and Classroom Culture (Shouldice, 2019)

Shouldice, H. N. (2019). ‘Everybody has something’: One teacher’s beliefs about musical ability and their connection to teaching practice and classroom culture. Research Studies in Music Education, 41(2), 189-205.

What did the researcher want to know?

How does one elementary music teacher’s beliefs about musical ability…

  • manifest in her actions and decision-making in the classroom?
  • manifest in her interactions with students and the classroom culture she creates?
  • relate to her beliefs about the purpose of music education?

What did the researcher do?

In contrast to the belief that musical talent is “innate” and possessed by only some, Shouldice studied one elementary music teacher (“Deena”) who believes that all students have musical potential. She observed in Deena’s classroom twice weekly (each for one entire school day) during a two-month period. Data consisted of field notes from observations, regular semi-structured interviews with Deena, teacher journal entries, and various teaching artifacts (e.g., classroom website, written correspondence to parents). These data were analyzed to identify the ways in which Deena’s actions in the classroom, interactions with students, and beliefs about the purpose of music education seemed to connect to her beliefs about musical ability.

What did the researcher find?

Shouldice identified three main themes:

I. Enabling Success for All

Deena believes “everybody has something” in terms of musical potential but that students’ current level of musical ability is affected by factors like varying prior musical experiences, effort, and musical self-esteem. For this reason, Deena attempts to communicate to her students that, just as in other subjects, “everybody is at different places,” normalizing differences among students’ abilities and sending a message that all can be successful with varying amounts of effort and time.

Because Deena believes students are all in “different places”, what qualifies as musical “success” looks different for each child, and thus they each need something different from her in order to be successful. She enables individualized opportunities for success in two main ways: (1) by providing all students with differentiated learning experiences at varying levels of difficulty according to their needs, and (2) by helping each student tap into their musical strengths through incorporating a variety of activities.

II. Power of the Learning Environment

In order to nurture each child’s musical potential, Deena creates a positive learning environment with three salient characteristics:

  1. It is safe.
    • Students feel free to explore and make mistakes without fear of failure or pressure to be perfect.
  2. It is supportive.
    • Students’ musical confidence is built by focusing on what they CAN do rather than what they can’t. In addition, the teacher communicates to students a persistent belief that they all will succeed eventually, and the students encourage and celebrate one another.
  3. It is empowering. 
    • Enabling students to feel musically empowered helps develop their musical identities, thus increasing their motivation to continue engaging with music.

III. Encouraging Lifelong Musical Engagement

“Because Deena believes that all of her students have musical potential, she sees it as her duty to ensure that each and every one of them develops musical skills and understanding and, in doing so, hopes to achieve her ultimate goal of enabling all students to continue on to a lifetime of participation and engagement with music” (p. 198). In order to achieve this goal, Deena works to help her students develop musical independence[ Ways she does this—here or in applications?] (so they can continue to make music on their own) and have positive musical experiences (so they want to continue to make music in the future).

What does this mean for my classroom?

A music teacher’s conscious or unconscious beliefs have an inevitable impact on what goes on in their classroom, whether the teacher is aware of it or not. A teacher who believes all students can be successful in music may be more likely to persist in helping all students achieve, while a teacher who believes in innate talent may be more likely to give up on students they don’t perceive as being “talented.” It is worth reflecting on one’s own beliefs about musical ability and the ways these beliefs might be manifesting in one’s classroom.

Rather than expecting all students to achieve at the same level at all times, the teacher might work to make sure each student is appropriately challenged and can feel successful. Specific strategies include the following:

  • Varying the difficulty levels of activities within a class period, including a mix of challenging and more basic activities, and varying the kids of activities so that each student can feel successful with something.
  • Providing multiple parts of varying difficulty within an activity and giving students an opportunity to choose the part that is appropriately challenging for them. (Just be sure to communicate to students that all parts are important, and it’s not bad if a student chooses an easy part.)
  • Differentiating instruction by adapting content difficulty for each student within an activity. For example, if you are having students engage in tonal/melodic pattern echo-singing, you might differentiate instruction so that each student echoes a pattern that is appropriately challenging for them. I described one such example in my dissertation (on which this article was based), in which Deena would sing a short tonal pattern with solfege for each student to echo in solo. I describe on page 95, “For Mari, a girl who struggled with using her singing voice, Deena sang a simple descending tonic pattern. For Gordon, a boy who had consistently been using his singing voice to accurately echo tonic and dominant patterns, Deena sang a subdominant pattern comprised of leaps. After hearing Priya accurately echo a tonic pattern on her first turn, Deena later returned to her for a second turn in which she gave her a more difficult subdominant pattern.”

Although many teachers like to stress the importance of perfection in music, this can have the detrimental effect of leading students to be afraid of making mistakes, causing them to be less likely to take risks or to keep trying when they are unsuccessful for fear of embarrassment. Instead, music teachers can work to establish a classroom culture in which it is safe (and expected!) to make mistakes so that they will persist through challenges. In addition, empowering students to feel like musicians can help them persist.

Finally, we might equip students to continue engaging with music beyond our classroom by helping them develop musical independence. Some ways to do this include the following:

  • Don’t always sing/play with your students or conduct for them, so they can’t use you as a crutch.
  • Use small group activities to encourage students to take greater responsibility for and ownership of their music-making and learning.
  • Find ways of eliciting individual student response in your classroom, such as prompting students to sing/play short patterns in solo. Start this as early as possible and incorporate as frequently as possible so that students come to see individual response as a “normal” part of music class.

For more examples, see the entire dissertation on which this article was based.

RTRL.40: Rhythmic Perception in Babies vs. Adults (Hannon & Trehub, 2005)

Hannon, E. E., & Trehub, S. E. (2005). Tuning in to musical rhythms: Infants learn more readily than adults. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102(35), 12639-12643.

What did the researchers want to know?

Given that existing research suggests infants gradually lose the ability to discriminate speech sounds in unfamiliar languages, do we also lose the ability to discriminate rhythmic sounds in unfamiliar meters?

What did the researchers do?

Hannon and Trehub conducted three related experiments using Balkan folk music in isochronous and non-isochronous meters. Isochronous meter is one in which the beats are evenly spaced (e.g., 2/4, 3/4, 6/8), and non-isochronous meter is one in which the beats are not evenly spaced (e.g., 5/8, 7/8).

In experiment #1, they studied 52 infants (11-12 months old) with no prior exposure to Balkan folk music using two isochronous (even meter) melodies and two non-isochronous melodies (uneven meter) melodies. Each melody was accompanied by “a drum pattern that subdivided each measure into either a long-short-short or a short-short-long sequence of temporal intervals” (p. 12640), as shown below in Figure 1. Each test stimulus either preserved or disrupted the original meter.

Rhythmic patterns used by Hannon & Trehub

Each infant was randomly assigned to be familiarized with either the even-meter excerpts or the uneven-meter excerpts. The infant was seated on their parent’s lap in front of two monitors, one of which would flash a red light and then show random documentary video footage while a melody was heard. “Infants were first presented with 2 min of the familiarization stimulus, consisting of four 30-s repetitions [of either the even- or uneven-meter excerpts] alternating between monitors” (p. 12640). Then the test stimuli were played six times each, “with the structure-preserving and structure-disrupting test stimuli alternating between monitors” (p. 12640). Each test ended when the infant looked away for 2 sec or when 60 sec had passed. An observer recorded the total time each infant spent looking at the monitor and not looking at the monitor for each test stimulus.

In experiment #2, parents of 26 infants (11-12 months old) with no previous exposure to Balkan music were given CDs of uneven-meter music from Macedonia, Bulgaria, or Bosnia and asked to play it for their baby twice daily for two weeks. After two weeks, each infant was tested using the same procedures as experiment #1.

In experiment #3, Hannon and Trehub studied 40 adults with no previous exposure to Balkan music. They used the same stimuli as the infants in experiments #1 and #2 and asked the adults to rate each variation according to how similar it was to the familiarization stimulus. Each adult was tested at the beginning and end of the experiment. In the interim, half of the adults were given the CD of uneven-meter music and asked to listen to it twice daily for 1 or 2 weeks.

Results of experiment #1 showed that, for even meter, infants spent significantly more time looking at the monitor while hearing the structure-disrupting stimuli than during the structure-preserving stimuli. This indicates that they were able to perceive the structure-disrupting stimulus as novel/unexpected and thus remained interested longer, suggesting the babies were able to differentiate between the stimuli in even meter. However, looking times did not vary between structure-disrupting and structure-preserving variations in the non-even meter, suggesting that the babies were not able to perceive the differences in non-even meter variations.

Results of experiment #2 showed infants spent significantly more time looking at the monitor while hearing the structure-disrupting stimuli than during the structure-preserving variation for both meters, suggesting that the infants who had been exposed to recordings of music in an uneven meter for two weeks were able to distinguish between the stimuli in a non-isochronous meter.

Results of experiment #3 showed the adults were able to more accurately recognize music in even meters than in uneven meters. In fact, “in the [even] condition, adults tended to rate the structure-disrupting variations as more similar to the original stimulus than the structure-preserving variations” (p. 12642), suggesting that they “assimilated the original [uneven] rhythms into a Western, or isochronous, metrical framework” (p. 12643). While the adults who had listened to recordings of uneven/non-isochronous music performed slightly better on the second test, there was no statistically significant difference from those who had not listened.

“In short, adults failed to attain native-like performance after exposure to foreign musical structures, in contrast with 12-month-old infants, whose postexposure performance in the foreign musical context was equivalent to their preexposure performance in the familiar musical context” (p. 12643).

What does this mean for my classroom?

Results of this study suggest that we lose our ability to accurately perceive unfamiliar meters as we get older. Thus, it is important that infants and young children be exposed to music in a wide variety of meters, both even and uneven, as early as possible. By doing so, we will help preserve their ability to accurately perceive and make sense of rhythms in both even and uneven meters, facilitating greater understanding of music in the future.

Music teachers should be aware that older students may struggle to accurately perceive rhythms in meters beyond duple and triple. If students will be expected to perform repertoire in uneven meters (e.g., 7/8, 5/8), the music teacher should provide extensive opportunities for students to be exposed to music in such meters well in advance of being asked to perform them. 

In addition to passive listening to less familiar meters, students might also be encouraged to move their bodies as they are listening. In his book Learning Sequences in Music, Gordon (2012) suggested that moving with continuous fluid movement—in a smooth and uninterrupted manner—can help us feel the space between the beats and thus prepare us to move to the beat. The music teacher might sing or play a recording of a melody in an uneven meter and ask students to move their torsos and/or various body parts in large, fluid circles as they listen. Other imagery to prompt students to move with flow includes pretending to stir a large pot of soup or pretending to smoothly paint the space around them with a paintbrush. Once students can move in a continuous fluid manner while listening to uneven-metered music, model pulsing or flicking your fingers to the big beats. 

Here are some examples of music in uneven meters:


RTRL.39: Accommodating Transgender Singers (Aguirre, 2018)

Aguirre, R. (2018). Finding the trans voice: A review of the literature on accommodating transgender singers. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 37(1), 36-41.

What did the researcher want to know?

What guidance can existing research provide to help music educators better meet the needs of transgender singers?

What did the researcher do?

Aguirre conducted a literature review of existing research studies pertaining to the transgender singing experience or that provide suggestions for working with transgender singers.

What did the researcher find?

Aguirre first presents definitions of relevant terminology:

  • sex = designation (male or female) assigned at birth
  • gender = social construct that encompasses both gender identify and gender expression and exists on a spectrum (not only male/female but also nonbinary, etc.)
  • transgender = describing one whose birth-assigned sex does not align with their gender identify, gender expression, or both. Note: “The proper term to use when discussing this population is transgender, not the past tense verb ending in -ed, as using the verb form of this word implies that something has happened to this person” (p. 37).
    • male-to-female transgender (MtF or trans-female/woman) = someone whose birth-assigned sex was male but identifies as female
    • female-to-male transgender (FtM or trans-male/man) = someone whose birth-assigned sex was female but identifies as male
    • (**NOTE: Some feel that the the terms MtF/FtM are inappropriate because they suggest that something “happened” to the person. Instead, we might use the terms AFAB (assigned female at birth) or AMAB (assigned male at birth).

Aguirre’s review of the literature found the following:

  1. Many educators feel unprepared to work with the LGBTQ community.
  2. While some studies show that many transgender students report having more positive experiences in their music classes compared to the rest of school, other studies show that some music teachers are not comfortable using gender-neutral language in their classrooms.
  3. The choral classroom may be a more likely source of obstacles for transgender students than other music classrooms. This is due to gendered voice parts, gendered ensemble types, gendered rehearsal language, and/or gendered concert attire that are prevalent among many choral music education programs.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Music educators should be sensitive to the unique needs of all students but especially of their transgender students. Existing research shows that transgender students notice and appreciate their teachers’ efforts to provide a more inclusive environment. Here are some ways that music teachers can make their classrooms a more inclusive environment for their trans students:

  • Avoid gendered language when addressing students. Instead of “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen”, try using a gender-neutral term, such as “students”, “musicians”, or “everyone.” Specifically in the choral classroom, try referring to students by voice part rather than sex (e.g., “sopranos and altos” rather than “ladies/girls”).
  • Be sure to address students by their correct pronouns (e.g., they/them, she/her, he/him). At the beginning of each semester, you might ask students to complete an information/background form, in which you ask them to indicate their preferred pronouns. After reviewing these, prepare for class by devoting conscious attention to practicing the correct pronouns of any students you find yourself misgendering. Practicing the proper pronouns outside of class will help you use them more comfortably and automatically in class. It is also acceptable to avoid pronouns altogether and use a student’s preferred first name. This article provides some helpful tips for using gender-neutral pronouns.
  • Teach your students that “voice part, like sexuality, is independent of gender identity or gender expression…. Tenors and basses do not have to be males, while sopranos and altos do not have to be females” (p. 39). Note that this is not an entirely new concept, as some cisgender females with low voices may sing tenor or cisgender males with high voices may sing alto/countertenor.) (NOTE: Cisgender refers to someone whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth.)
  • If you currently have gendered ensemble names, consider renaming these to be gender-neutral. For example, “men’s choir” could become “tenor/bass choir”; “women’s choir” could become “treble choir”. 
  • Choose gender-neutral concert attire or allow students to choose the option in which they will feel most comfortable. 
  • Be aware of specific needs of trans men versus trans women. Some female trans students (AMAB) may be able to sing in their falsetto if their preference is to sing the also or soprano part. Provide such students with this option as well as guidance in doing so. Male trans students (AFAB) who are starting testosterone may experience voice change similar to adolescent cisgender males and need the same sensitivity and guidance from their teacher.
  • Rewrite vocal parts for specific students when needed.



RTRL.38: Participatory Music-making and Adults’ Musical Identities (Woody, Fraser, Nannen, & Yukevich, 2019)

Woody, R. H., Fraser, A., Nannen, B., Yukevich, P. (2019). Musical identities of older adults are not easily changed: An exploratory study. Music Education Research, 21(3), 315-330.

What did the researchers want to know?

Does engaging in informal, participatory music-making affect adults’ perceptions of their own musicality and their likelihood of engaging in particular musical activities in the future?

What did the researchers do?

Woody, Fraser, Nannen, Yukevich engaged a group of 35-40 individuals in a participatory music-making session at a summer camp/retreat for adults. Unlike presentational music-making, in which there is a clear distinction between performers and audience-members, participatory music groups include everyone present as a participant who is expected to contribute to the music-making (Turino, 2008).

Before the session, 31 adults completed a questionnaire, which included items prompting them to rate their own musicality, how likely they would be to engage in various musical activities, the degree to which musical skills are a result of experience and/or innate talent, and the degree to which various musical skills are something anyone or only a musician can do. Two of the researchers then engaged the participants in the hour-long participatory music-making session, which involved using ukulele and various percussion instruments to play/sing the song “Hey Jude” and focused on enjoyment rather than correctness. Immediately after the session, participants were asked to complete the same items rating their own musicality, likelihood to engage in various musical activities, and beliefs about talent, as well as two additional open-ended questions about the experience. Based on the participants’ open-ended responses, the researchers categorized participants as lower, moderate, or higher self-efficacy regarding the participatory music-making experience.

The participants who had formally studied an instrument considered themselves more musical than those who had not, but they were no more likely to engage in various musical activities overall. (There were no differences between those who had sung in a school choir and those who had not.) Those who had formally studied an instrument were more likely to have lower self-efficacy for the participatory music-making experience, while those who had not formally studied an instrument were more likely to have moderate or high self-efficacy for the participatory music-making.

In comparing the pre- and post-test responses, the researchers only found increased likelihood of engaging in one musical activity—playing a musical instrument informally with family or friends. Those who were categorized as having moderate or high self-efficacy for the experience showed gains in their self-ratings of musicality, while those who were categorized as having low self-efficacy for the experience showed a decrease in their self-ratings of musicality.

What does this mean for my classroom?

“Our results may provide some useful insights for those of us in the music education profession who wish to encourage greater music-making among people. Rather than trying to convince people that they are in fact musical as a precursor to them behaving more musically, perhaps they just need to be engaged in music activities with the assurance that ‘being musical’ is not needed. As they enjoy the artistic, social, and individual rewards of that activity, that behaviour will naturally be reinforced.” (p. 326)

The fact that the musical activity rated as most attainable for the general population was “playing a fretted instrument (e.g. guitar, ukulele, banjo)” and the overall self-reported likelihood of “playing a musical instrument informally with family or friends” increased suggests that informal experiences with playing these instruments may be effective means for helping more people engage with music. According to the authors, participatory music-making “can help encourage a society that better values lifelong musicianship for everyone” (p. 327).


For more on distinctions between participatory music and presentational music-making, see this chapter from Thomas Turino’s (2008) book Music as Social Life.

RTRL.37: Ear Playing and Aural Development in Instrumental Music (Baker & Green, 2013)

Baker, D., & Green, L. (2013). Ear playing and aural development in the instrumental lesson: Results from a ‘case-control’ experiment. Research Studies in Music Education, 35(2), 141-159.

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.


RTRL.36: Music Teacher Mentoring: Then and Now (Conway, 2015)

Conway, C. (2015). Beginning music teacher mentor practices: Reflections on the past and suggestions for the future. Journal of Music Teacher Education, 24(2), 88-102.

What did the researcher want to know?

How has new music teacher mentoring changed (or not) in the preceding 10+ years?

What did the researcher do?

Conway conducted a follow-up with 13 teachers who had participated in her previous study when they were in their first year of full-time music teaching (during 1999-2000). Each participant read Conway’s original research report as well as interview transcripts and their email logs, journals, and questionnaire responses from the original study. They then reported their reactions to these documents via email and participated in an individual interview with Conway, in which they discussed their current views regarding mentoring of beginning music teachers.

What did the researcher find?

In examining the new data from this study, Conway identified several themes. Now that the participants have experience teaching and mentoring, they expressed that mentoring is a valuable professional development experience for the mentor as well as the mentee. Another theme was that participants had mixed feelings about who should serve as mentors, particularly retired teachers; while some felt that retired teachers have much to offer as mentors, others expressed a feeling that new teachers may perceive retired teachers as out-of-touch. A third theme was that new teachers must be proactive in seeking out answers and take responsibility for their own learning and growth.

There were several areas of consistency between the original study (published in 2003) and new data collected in 2010. These included a lack of consistency in new teacher mentoring programs, a delay in mentees pursuing curricular questions until after an initial “survival” phase, and the need for music-specific support. Time for the mentor to observe in the mentee’s classroom also continues to be vital.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Districts/administrators still may need to be convinced of the value of mentoring for new teachers, and if a mentor teacher is not provided, new teachers must seek out their own mentors. New music teachers might also consider forming relationships with different types of mentors, including music-specific and building-/district-specific (but not music) mentors. In order to maximize their ability to provide context-specific assistance, mentors should find a way to observe in the mentee’s classroom. If in-person visits are not possible due to time or distance restrictions, video-conferencing software (e.g., Skype) or sharing of digital video footage provides new opportunities for mentors to directly observe their mentees and offer targeted support.

RTRL.35: Predicting Music Achievement From Sources of Self-Efficacy (Zelenak, 2019)

Zelenak, M. S. (2019). Predicting music achievement from the sources of self-efficacy: An exploratory study. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 222, 63-77.

What did the researcher want to know?

To what extent do various sources of self-efficacy predict music achievement, and how does this relationship vary by ensemble setting, school level, student sex, or years of enrollment in secondary school ensembles?

What did the researcher do?

Zelenak studied 73 band and orchestra students who were auditioning for elite “all-county” ensembles. Self-efficacy was measured via the Music Performance Self-Efficacy Scale (MPSES), which students completed before their auditions. The MPSES, which Zelenak designed and used in two previous research studies, contains 24 items that measure the four sources of self-efficacy:

  • Enactive Mastery Experience: previous experiences of success or failure in an activity
  • Vicarious Experience: using others’ accomplishments to understand one’s own capabilities
  • Verbal/Social Persuasion: others’ expressed opinions of one’s capability
  • Physiological/Affective States: degree and quality of arousal brought on by the task

Music achievement was evaluated using judges’ scores of students’ auditions, which consisted of a prepared exercise, scales, and sight-reading.

What did the researcher find?

Analysis revealed enactive mastery experience to have the strongest relationship to overall self-efficacy. However, verbal/social persuasion was the strongest positive predictor of achievement, followed by enactive mastery experience.

In comparing the relationship between self-efficacy and achievement among various groups of students, Zelenak found a modest significant correlation between these factors among string participants but no significant differences by ensemble type (band/strings), school level (high school/middle school), or sex (female/male). Similarly, Zelenak found no correlation between self-efficacy and years of enrollment in instrumental ensembles.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Zelenak’s finding that verbal/social persuasion was more strongly correlated with achievement than was enactive mastery experience suggests that “musicians may use feedback, critiques, and comments received from others to appraise their ability to complete the performance successfully rather than reflecting on past performance experiences” (p. 72). Therefore, music educators should be aware of the power of their feedback to affect students’ musical self-efficacy and future music achievement.

The kinds of feedback we give students also matters. Zelenak references educational psychology literature that suggests teachers “[emphasize] the ways in which students have done well, [provide] students with reasons to believe that they can be successful in the future, [be] specific when telling students how they can improve their classroom performance, and [communicate] that improvement is likely” (p. 72).

RTRL.34: Relationships Between Tonal Aptitude, Singing Achievement, and Grade Level Among Elementary Students (Hornbach & Taggart, 2005)

Hornbach, C. M., & Taggart, C. C. (2005). The relationship between developmental tonal aptitude and singing achievement among kindergarten, first-, second-, and third-grade students. Journal of Research in Music Education, 53(4), 322-331.

What did the researchers want to know?

What is the relationship between developmental tonal music aptitude and singing achievement among elementary students?

What did the researchers do?

Hornbach and Taggart studied tonal aptitude and singing achievement among 162 students in kindergarten, first, second, and third grade at two elementary schools in Michigan. Tonal music aptitude was measured using the Primary Measures of Music Audiation (PMMA), a published developmental music aptitude test, which was administered by the general music teachers at the two schools. Singing achievement was measured by asking each individual student to sing a familiar song (“Bow Belinda”); performances were audio-recorded and later assessed by Hornbach, Taggart, and an independent judge using the rating scale shown below.

Analysis showed that mean singing achievement scores tended to increase from kindergarten through second grade and then drop between second and third grades. Mean tonal aptitude scores also increased across grade levels, with one school showing a drop between second and third grades. There were no significant correlations found between singing achievement and developmental tonal aptitude scores at any grade level. While tonal aptitude scores did not differ significantly between the two schools, students from School 2 demonstrated significantly higher singing achievement than students from School 1.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Singing achievement and tonal music aptitude seem to be separate from one another. Therefore, a teacher should not assume that a child who demonstrates low singing achievement has low tonal potential nor that a child who demonstrates high singing achievement necessarily has more “talent” than students with lower singing achievement. The fact that students at one school scored significantly higher in singing achievement that students at the other school (despite there being no significant difference in aptitude scores) suggests “that if singing is taught, students’ singing achievement may improve” (p. 328).

Music educators should also be conscious that a student’s lack of success in demonstrating singing skill may be due to choice rather than inability. The drop in singing achievement from second to third grade among students at both schools “may be the result of issues relating to social rather than musical development” (p. 328). Due to increasing social awareness and/or self-consciousness, third-grade students may have chosen not to use their singing voices, even if they were capable. “Teachers and parents may need to find ways to encourage the valuing of singing voice use by children in the upper grade levels in elementary school, as it may be that peer pressure results in less singing achievement in older children” (p. 328).

RTRL.33: Human Resource Professionals’ Perceptions of Music Teacher Candidate Performance on Applicant Prescreening Measures (Shaw, 2019)

Shaw, R. D. (2019). Human resource professionals’ perceptions of music teacher candidate performance on prescreening interview instruments. Journal of Music Teacher Education, 29(1), 100-114.

What did the researcher want to know?

How do HR professionals perceive music teacher job candidates’ performance on interview prescreening instruments? 

What did the researcher do?

Shaw’s study participants were human resource professionals from five different school districts in one metropolitan area in the Midwestern U.S. Of these five districts, three were using the Applitrack TeacherFit instrument, one was using the Ventures StyleProfile, and one was using Gallup’s TeacherInsight. Except for the district that used the Gallup’s TeacherInsight, the other four districts also screened top candidates before selecting interviewees by administering the HUMANeX Ventures instrument over the phone or in person; this tool is aimed to gauge candidates’ teaching-related characteristics in the themes of drive and values, work style, relationships, influences, and thought processes. Shaw conducted multiple interviews with each HR professional, all of whom were former principals and/or teachers (though none had taught music).

What did the researcher find?

In general, most participants observed that candidates applying for elementary teaching jobs typically performed better than secondary candidates on the prescreening measures, particularly in terms of empathy and relationship building. However, they perceived music teachers to be lacking in these areas regardless of whether applying for elementary or secondary music teaching jobs. Most of the participants expressed “the feeling that music candidates viewed themselves as directors of large programs” rather than focusing on individual student growth. One participant explained, “They’re after excellence, molding a group of kids in a unified way to perform” (p. 107). This HR professional “felt that music teachers he had interviewed thought only about ‘getting a superior rating at contest,’ and were modeling their approach on an ‘old-school’ drill sergeant style teaching more common in the past” (p. 107). 

What does this mean for my classroom?

Music educators should reflect on the extent to which they prioritize large-group performance and program goals over focus on individual students. Being a music teacher is hard! It is easy to get so caught up in doing things the way they’ve always been done that we lose sight of other possible ways of looking at things. Hearing HR professionals’ perspectives that many music teachers “are in it for the wrong reasons,” namely because “they like the performance” (p. 107), might prompt us to step back and ask ourselves some important questions, such as the following:

  • To what extent do I relate to my students as individuals?
  • When a student is struggling, do I try to respond with empathy? Or am I angry because that student’s behavior is detrimental to the group? Why do I feel this way?
  • What is more important to me as a music educator: group performance or individual student experiences? Why?
  • As a music teacher, what am I even there for? What is my larger purpose?

We may not have immediate answers, but reflecting on questions like these can help us remain thoughtful about who we are as educators.

RTRL.32: The Association Between Music Aptitude of Elementary Students and Their Biological Parents (Guerrini, 2005)

Guerrini, S. C. (2005). An investigation of the association between the music aptitude of elementary students and their biological parents. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 24(1), 27-33.

What did the researcher want to know?

Is there an association between the music aptitude of children and the music aptitude of their biological parents?

What did the researcher do?

Guerrini compared the music aptitude test scores of 88 elementary school students to those of their biological parents. To measure the children’s music aptitude, their elementary music teacher administered the Primary Measures of Music Audiation (PMMA) or the Intermediate Measures of Music Audiation (IMMA) during the students’ regular music class time. Both PMMA and IMMA are published music aptitude tests for children developed by Edwin E. Gordon. To measure the parents’ music aptitude, Guerrini administered the Advanced Measures of Music Audiation (AMMA) to any parent who volunteered to participate. The AMMA is a published music aptitude test for adolescents and adults, also developed by Gordon. Scoring of all tests resulted in measurements of tonal aptitude and rhythm aptitude, as well as a composite music aptitude scores, for each child and parent. Guerrini then completed statistical analyses to compare children’s music aptitude scores to those of their biological parents.

What did the researcher find?

Guerrini found no significant association between children’s music aptitude test scores and those of their biological parents. Tonal, rhythm, and composite scores were categorized into low, medium, and high aptitude groupings for both children and parents, and there were no significant relationships between these categorizations. For example, parents with high tonal aptitude were no more likely to have children with high tonal aptitude than were parents with medium or low tonal aptitude, and a child with low tonal aptitude was equally likely to have a parent with high or low tonal aptitude.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Many persons assume that musical ability is inherited from one’s parents. However, Guerrini’s results do not support this assumption. Those who believe musical ability is inherited tend to conflate music aptitude and music achievement. While music aptitude is one’s potential to achieve musically, music achievement is one’s observable musical ability at a given point in time. In order for one’s music aptitude to manifest as music achievement, it must be nurtured in a rich and supportive musical environment. It is probable that parents who demonstrate high music achievement are likely to provide the type of supportive musical environment that will nurture their children’s music aptitude. This may result in higher levels of observable music achievement among their children than children who lack a rich musical environment at home, making it appear that music is “in their blood.” However, in terms of the “nature versus nurture” debate, “the results of [Guerrini’s] study seem to point to the nurture theory” (p. 31).

For an overview of Gordon’s theory of music aptitude and the published music aptitude tests he developed, click to read his monographs entitled Music Aptitude and Related Tests: An Introduction and Continuing Studies in Music Aptitudes.

RTRL.31: Role Stress in the Professional Life of the School Music Teacher (Scheib, 2003)

Scheib, J. W. (2003). Role stress in the professional life of the school music teacher: A collective case study. Journal of Research in Music Education, 51(2), 124-136.

What did the researcher want to know?

How and to what extent do music teachers experience role stress?

What did the researcher do?

Scheib conducted a collective case study of all four of the music teachers at one midwestern US high school. He observed them over the course of six months, interviewed each teacher twice, and collected a variety of documents, such as their job descriptions and concert programs. Scheib analyzed the data in relation to six previously-identified stressors from existing research on occupational stress:

  • Role ambiguity: when it’s not entirely clear what your job is.
  • Role conflict: when different people’s expectations of you contradict each other.
  • Role overload: when you have so much to do that you can’t do any of it well.
  • Underutilization of skills: when you have skills that you don’t get to use.
  • Resource inadequacy: when you don’t have what you need to do your job.
  • Nonparticipation: when you don’t have a say over what your job is.

What did the researcher find?

The four teachers didn’t experience a lot of role ambiguity or non-participation. Since these teachers each had several years of experience, they knew what their roles in the program were and had plenty of say over what they did.

The teachers experienced role conflict in several ways. One of the most important was that the roles of parent and spouse sometimes conflicted with their music teaching roles. There were conflicts within the music teacher role, too, as there are many different and competing roles that music teachers fill. Building a strong performance program and helping students become well-rounded musicians can feel like contradictory goals, but both seem important. There are also many administrative responsibilities that might conflict with other roles.

Underutilization of skills is sometimes called “role underload,” and it might seem like a person couldn’t have role overload and role underload at the same time. However, these teachers experienced both. The sheer number of different and often conflicting responsibilities led to role overload; these teachers just had too much to do. The underload came from having to do things that weren’t music-related and seemed like they should be done by someone else. Fund-raising, preparing spaces for rehearsal and performance, and managing schedules were some of the causes of role underload. One of the teachers felt like his role overload caused underutilization of skills; he didn’t have time to plan well, so couldn’t use his musical skills as effectively as he would like.

Surprisingly, the teachers in this study felt like they had adequate resources in the traditional sense. Scheib wrote that “they realize and accept the limitations of funding that comes with working in a publicly financed system” (p. 133). Instead, these teachers’ resource inadequacy came in the form of staff and students. They had big ideas about how their programs could grow but not always enough teachers in the department or students in the classes to make it work. Class scheduling was one of the main problems for getting students in classes.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Music teacher stress comes from many different places. Using the theory of role dynamics, music teachers can understand their stress in terms of some of the stressors studied here. Once you start to understand where your stress is coming from, you might be able to do something about it!

Scheib had some good advice in his article; here are a few helpful thoughts:

  1. “The subjects report that they themselves are to blame for any tension or stress they endure, since they are the sole determiners of the expectations and roles of their position” (p. 135). If you are stressed about something, then think about why you’re doing it. Is it the best thing for your students? Does someone important expect it of you? Maybe it’s stressful ultimately because it doesn’t need to be done, or at least not the way you’re trying to do it.
  2. “Often, stress comes from the incongruence of the teacher’s expectations and beliefs versus what the system allows… Teachers need to understand that each music program is, to some extent, confined by the system that surrounds it” (p. 135). Every school has different students, teachers, schedules, budgets and other resources. Trying to push beyond what’s possible is not a sign of dedication and strength; it’s a stressor that could hurt your program in the long run. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push at all, it just means to be smart about what, how, and who you push.
  3. “Communication is the best weapon in the battle of incompatible role expectations” (p. 135). If different people expect different things from you, get them in the same room and talk it out. You’re only one person and there are only so many hours in the day, so you have to figure out how to prioritize some things and let others go.

* This guest post was authored by Seth A. Taft, PhD Candidate in music education at the University of Colorado Boulder.

RTRL.30: The Effect of Movement-based Instruction on Beginning Instrumentalists’ Rhythmic Sight-reading (McCabe, 2006)

McCabe, M. C. (2006). The effect of movement-based instruction on the beginning instrumentalist’s ability to sight-read rhythm patterns. Missouri Journal of Research in Music Education, 43, 24-38.

What did the researcher want to know?

Does movement-based instruction affect beginning instrumentalist’s rhythmic sight-reading ability?

What did the researcher do?

Study participants were 81 students in 6th-, 7th- or 8th-grade who were enrolled in a beginning instrumental music class which met 5 times a week for 40 minutes (four separate classes). All classes used the same method book and used a variety of rhythm syllables and vocalization techniques (Kodaly syllables, numerical syllables, sizzling, note names). However, the control group (two classes) was “not allowed to use bodily movements to mark the beat or to clap rhythm patterns” during rhythm instruction (p. 29), while the experimental group (two classes) moved to the beat of recordings, clapped rhythm patterns while tapping their foot or marching to the beat, played rhythms while tapping the beat, conducted the beat pattern while chanting rhythms, and “use[d] designated body movements to represent different beat values” (p. 30). Instruction lasted for 18 weeks, with 15 minutes of rhythmic instruction per class period. The Watkins-Farnum Scale, a standardized music achievement test, was used to measure each student’s rhythmic sight-reading ability, both before and after the 18-week instruction period.

What did the researcher find?

Watkins-Farnum rhythm sight-reading scores indicated that, although both groups scored similarly on the pre-test, the treatment group scored significantly higher than the control group on the post-test. Overall, the students who experienced movement-based instruction showed an average gain that was 229% greater than the average gain of students who were not allowed to move.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Moving to the rhythm and/or beat can help students develop a stronger sense of rhythm and become more proficient at rhythmic sight-reading. Some teachers may be hesitant to encourage or allow students to move because they may believe it is distracting to the audience. However, the findings of McCabe’s study suggest that requiring students to remain still actually hinders their rhythmic development. Engaging students in movement-based instruction can enhance their sense of rhythm and help them perform with a more consistent tempo. Findings also suggest that aural reinforcement of the beat (e.g., using a metronome, teacher tapping or clapping the beat for students) may not be as effective as FEELING the beat.

One helpful suggestion I have heard is to have students tap their heels to the beat (rather than the traditional practice of toe-tapping) because this larger movement engages more weight, thus helping students better feel the beat. This article provides many more ideas for incorporating movement in the instrumental classroom to facilitate beat competency:

RTRL.29: If I Can Be an Athlete, Anyone Can Be a Musician!

An Argument for “Everyday Musicality”

“Come on, athletes!” shouts Murph, the trainer leading class at Title Boxing. My gloves pound the bag. Sweat drips down my forehead as my muscles work. “Let’s do this, athletes! Give it everything you’ve got!” I respond by punching harder, never doubting my power. I am an athlete.

Until my mid-30s, “athlete” was never a label I would’ve applied to myself. Growing up, I was always the fat kid. When tasked with running a mile around the block in high school P.E. class, I hitched a ride in a passing classmate’s car just to avoid the ordeal. (In case you’re wondering, yes, I did get caught—and detention.) Running and all other forms of exercise were not something I saw as “for me,” and any time I couldn’t avoid being subjected to these activities, I felt embarrassed and ashamed of my ineptitude. I thought it was the result of something lacking inside of me. I was fat, so sports were just not my “thing.” Once I was no longer required to participate in physical education in school, I rarely engaged in exercise, and when I did, it was usually to punish myself for being overweight. Exercise was a torture that I couldn’t wait to escape.

Fast-forward to 2013, when a bathroom renovation left me without a shower for several weeks.  I discovered a Groupon for a local gym that only offered group fitness classes. In order to use their shower, I would need to first show up for a 45-minute kickboxing or boot-camp class. After a while, I could see and feel muscles I didn’t even know I had, and I was actually enjoying it! Six years and two gyms later, I’m still working out because it makes me feel strong, healthy, and powerful. Am I going to the Olympics? No. Will anyone pay me to participate in a sport? No. Am I an athlete? Yes. Even when I can’t quite keep up with a certain combination, I still keep trying. It doesn’t matter what someone else thinks of me or how I compare to other people or the fact that I will never box at a professional level. I do it because I enjoy it! I may not be a professional athlete, but I’m an athlete nonetheless. Just ask Murph…

Murph and me after class at Title Boxing

As a music teacher, my experiences in Murph’s boxing classes got me thinking about students’ experiences in school music classes. So often music educators (whether they know it or not) send the message that music is for some people and not others. This can be implied via one’s teaching philosophy, such as when a teacher says their goal is to help students become intelligent audience-members and consumers of music (implying that only some can become music makers). The message that music is not “for them” may be communicated implicitly to students—such as when they are not accepted into particular school performing groups—while for others, the message is communicated explicitly, such as being told by a music teacher not to sing or simply not being called on for singing.1 Even the notable music education scholar Edwin E. Gordon was labeled by his elementary school music teacher as one of the “blackbirds”—students who were instructed to sit in the back of the classroom and listen to the “bluebirds” sing and were told to move their lips but not actually sing during performances.2 With the exception of Gordon, the end result is usually the same, whether the judgement is explicit or implicit: most individuals who believe they have been deemed “unmusical” tend to give up on music and cease music-making for the rest of their lives.

Sadly, I witness this firsthand in my university teaching on a regular basis. I teach a required music course for undergraduate (non-music) education majors, and every semester I encounter students who believe they are not musical, can’t sing, or are “tone-deaf.” Many of them feel the same dread toward singing that I used to feel toward exercise!

Despite what many people think, music is not an innate talent that resides in some people but not in others. Like language, music is a human activity, and every person is born with the potential to make music. Just as we are all hardwired to be responsive to language and eventually think and become fluent in our native language, every infant is born with the capacity to respond to music and eventually think in musical sound and become fluent in their native music. Ethnomusicologists have studied a number of cultures around the world in which there is no concept of musical ability as an “innate talent.”3 Instead, people in these cultures believe every individual has the potential to become a competent music-maker—and virtually everyone does!

In addition to dispelling the myth that music is an innate talent, we need to develop another concept of what it means to be “a musician.”  In a recent research study of the musical ability beliefs and musical self-concepts of fourth-grade students,4 I found that they were hesitant to call themselves “musicians” because they made mistakes or were not “the best”—in other words, because they believed they were not good enough to be professionals. These students seemed to be oblivious to the idea of being an amateur musician, that making music for yourself as a part of your daily life can be incredibly fulfilling and enjoyable and that ANYONE can do it!

Instead of perpetuating the idea that only those who perform for an audience are worthy of making music, we need to develop an additional definition of what it means to be “a musician” based on what ethnomusicologist John Blacking referred to as “average musical ability”:

If average linguistic ability is taken to refer to the fact that almost every member of every known human society is able to communicate with [others] in at least one language, average musical ability should refer to a similarly universal ability to communicate in music.5

In this conception of musical ability, you do not have to be a highly-skilled performer to be considered musically competent and to engage in making music as a valuable and meaningful part of your daily life.

We experience the idea of “average linguistic ability” every single day: Virtually everyone learns to speak competently and express themselves through their native language, regardless of whether public speaking will be a part of their career, because we just assume that everyone will. As I learned in Murph’s boxing class, everyone can be an athlete, in that we all can develop “average athletic ability.” Everyone can move their body, build muscle, and get fit. Similarly, musical potential does indeed lie in every human being, but in order to realize it, we must foster an appreciation for the musicality of which everyone is capable. 

Maybe you don’t sing or play well enough that people would pay to listen to you. Maybe you’re not going to become the next Beyoncé. But every single human being can learn to sing or play an instrument. We can all be “musicians” if we recognize that, while a career in music may not happen for everyone, we can all develop everyday musical competence. And this “everyday musicality” is enough.

Heather Shouldice is an Associate Professor of Music Education at Eastern Michigan University.


  1. Carlos R. Abril, “I Have a Voice But I Just Can’t Sing: A Narrative Investigation of Singing and Social Anxiety,” Music Education Research 9, no. 1 (2007): 1-15; Eve Ruddock, “Sort of in Your Blood: Inherent Musicality Survives Cultural Judgement,” Research Studies in Music Education 34, no. 2 (2012): 207-221; Nicola Swain and Sally Bodkin-Allen, “Can’t Sing? Won’t Sing? Aotearoa/New Zealand ‘Tone-deaf’ Early Childhood Teachers’ Musical Beliefs,” British Journal of Music Education 31, no, 3: 245-263; Colleen Whidden, “Hearing the Voice of Non-singers: Culture, Context, and Connection,” in Issues of Identity in Music Education: Narratives and Practices, ed. Linda K. Thompson and Mark Robin Campbell (Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2010), 65-90.
  2. Edwin E. Gordon, Discovering Music from the Inside Out (Chicago, IL: GIA Publications, 2014).
  3. John Blacking, “Towards a Theory of Musical Competence,” in Man: Anthropological Essays Presented to O. F. Raum, ed. E. J. Jager (Cape Town, South Africa: C. Struik, 1971), 19-34; Lisa Huisman Koops, “‘Denuy jangal seen bopp’ (They Teach Themselves): Children’s Music Learning in The Gambia,” Journal of Research in Music Education, 58, no. 1 (2010): 20-36; Kedmon Mapana, “The Musical Enculturation and Education of Wagogo Children,” British Journal of Music Education, 28, no. 3 (2011): 339-351; Joan Russell, “A ‘Place’ for Every Voice: The Role of Culture in the Development of Singing Expertise,” Journal of Aesthetic Education 31, no. 4 (1997): 95-109; Thomas Turino, ” The Coherence of Social Style and Musical Creation Among the Aymara in Southern Peru,” Ethnomusicology 33, no. 1 (1989): 1-30.
  4. Heather Nelson Shouldice, “An Investigation of Musical Ability Beliefs and Self-Perceptions Among Fourth-Grade Students” (research poster presentation, 7th International Conference on Music Learning Theory, Chicago, IL, July 31, 2019).
  5. John Blacking, “Towards a Theory of Musical Competence,” in Man: Anthropological Essays Presented to O. F. Raum, ed. E. J. Jager (Cape Town, South Africa: C. Struik, 1971), 22.


RTRL.28: Improvisational Practices in Elementary General Music Classrooms (Gruenhagen & Whitcomb, 2014)

Gruenhagen, L. M., & Whitcomb, R. (2014). Improvisational practices in elementary general music classrooms. Journal of Research in Music Education, 61(4), 379—395.

What did the researchers want to know?

To what extent and how is improvisation being taught in elementary general music, and how do teachers perceive the quality of students’ improvisations?

What did the researchers do?

Gruenhagen and Whitcomb surveyed 145 elementary general music teachers in the U.S. (who were members of the National Association for Music Education). Participants completed an online questionnaire in which they answered items related to their training in improvisation, the amount of instructional time devoted to improvisation, and the kinds of improvisation activities they include in their classroom.

When asked to approximate the percentage of instructional time spent on improvisation, most respondents (58%) indicated that improvisation accounted for 0% to 10% of their instructional time, while only 16% indicated that improvisation accounted for more than. 20% of their instructional time.

When prompted to indicate which types of improvisational activities they include, call-and-response/question-and-answer singing was the most common (97%), followed by improvising on unhitched percussion instruments (96%), and improvising on pitched percussion instruments (94%). The table below provides more examples of improvisation activities, along with the number/percentage of teachers who stated using each.

Percentage of Teachers Reporting Implementation of Improvisational Activities
(Gruenhagen & Whitcomb, 2014)

When asked to describe specific types of improvisation activities, teachers described a plethora of ideas. Gruenhagen and Whitcomb’s summary of the most common improvisational activities reported by grade level can be found here, and additional ideas can be found in the full article.

Finally, participants were asked to reflect on their students’ achievement with improvisation, and Gruenhagen and Whitcomb’s analysis identified three broad themes:

  1. Process, Practice, and Experience: Many participants felt that the improvisational process was more important than the product and believed that judgments of student improvisation should vary depending on the student’s developmental skill level. In addition, the student improvisations were affected positively by “allowing numerous opportunities for students to explore and internalize fundamental skills, such as phrase length and steady beat,” prior to improvisation (p. 389).
  2. Sequencing, Scaffolding, and Modeling: Many teachers believed appropriate sequencing was important in preparing students to improvise and that providing structure, parameters, and a step-by-step process gives students the support necessary to be successful with improvising.
  3. Collaboration, Reflection, and Creation: Improvisation activities were described by many as a collaborative and reflective process, and the more opportunities students are given to create and improvise, the more complex and creative their improvisations become.

What does this mean for my classroom?

There are many ways in which elementary students can engage in improvisation, and the more opportunities students are given to improvise, the better improvisers they will become! Clear and thoughtful planning in regards to sequencing, structure, parameters, and process for improvisational activities can help students experience more success with improvising.

A previous study by Guilbault (2009) found that experiencing bassline/chord root accompaniments can help students become better vocal improvisers. To read a summary of this study and see examples, view this post.

A previous study by Azzara (1993) found that experiencing improvisation also helps students become better at reading music notation. To read a summary of this study, view this post.

For more tips on teaching vocal improvisation and composition in elementary general music, see the following book chapter: Shouldice, H. N. (2018). Audiation-based improvisation and composition in elementary general music. In S. Burton & A. Reynolds (Eds.), Engaging musical practices: A sourcebook for elementary general music (pp. 113-134). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

RTRL.27: Who Enrolls in High School Music? (Elpus & Abril, 2019)


Elpus, K., & Abril, C. R. (2019). Who enrolls in high school music? A national profile of U.S. students, 2009-2013. Journal of Research in Music Education, 67(3), 323-338.

What did the researchers want to know?

What proportion of U.S. high school students enroll in ensemble and non-ensemble music courses, and what are the characteristics of students who enroll in ensemble music courses?

What did the researchers do?

Elpus and Abril utilized existing data on 25,210 high school students gathered via a nationally representative longitudinal study that followed students at 940 U.S. high schools. These data included demographic characteristics (e.g., sex, SES, race/ethnicity, prior academic achievement) as well as information from students’ high school transcripts, including whether they participated in a high school ensemble or non-ensemble music class. Elpus and Abril used bivariate and multivariate statistical analyses to identify demographic characteristics of music and nonmusic students and to investigate the unique impact of each characteristic.

Of the students who graduated in 2013, 24% had enrolled in one or more music ensembles during at least one year of high school. Choir had the largest percentage of participation (13%), followed by band (11%) and orchestra (2%). In terms of non-ensemble courses, only 3% of students had enrolled in a guitar class, 3% in a piano class, and less than 1% in a music technology course.

The table below shows cross-tabulations for the entire sample, ensemble students, and each type of ensemble:

Characteristics of Music Ensemble Students and the Full Population
(Elpus & Abril, 2019)

Statistical analysis revealed that differences between instrumental and non-instrumental were statistically significant in every characteristic except birth-assigned assigned sex. In contrast, choir students did not differ significantly from non-choir students for any characteristic except for birth-assigned sex.

In order to investigate the unique impact of each demographic characteristic, Elpus and Abril used logistic regression, which is a statistical analysis that attempts to “control for” (i.e., remove the effects of) certain variables. These results showed that the probability of enrolling in an ensemble music class increases with SES as well as with prior academic achievement (as measured by a standardized algebra test). However, the latter was not true for Black/African American students, for whom “the likelihood of ensemble enrollment decreases as academic achievement increases” (p. 331).

It is also interesting to note that the effects of SES and prior academic achievement were not significant among choir students. When looking at each type of ensemble separately, SES only predicted enrollment among band vs. non-band students, while prior academic achievement only predicted enrollment among instrumental vs. non-instrumental students. With the exception of gender, choral students were more representative of the larger student population than band/orchestra students.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Elpus and Abril’s findings confirm that ensemble music courses are the most prevalent music offerings among U.S. high schools. We need to continue to think about how we might attract more students to participate in school music through non-ensemble courses. However, band and orchestra are disproportionately likely to enroll students of higher SES and higher prior academic achievement. Therefore, Elpus and Abril state, “the problem may not be in increasing the number of students in music courses (which is commonly heard in professional rhetoric) so much as ensuring that music courses are attracting a representative and wide cross-section of the general student population” (p. 334). As music educators, we can be aware of which types of students may tend to be less likely to enroll in ensemble music classes and actively work to recruit these students. 

Additionally, it is worth contemplating possible reasons why choir enrollment tends to be more reflective of the general population. Elpus and Abril suggest several possibilities:

  • The versatility of the singing voice and wide range of cultures and styles in choral music “might be more attractive to students from varying cultural backgrounds” (p. 335)
  • Choir may be “more readily available as an avenue of ensemble music-making for those high school students who, for any of a variety of reasons, did not begin to develop proficiency on a band or orchestra instrument in their earlier schooling” (p. 335).
  • “Choirs may require less time commitment and financial demands than band, which possibly makes them more attractive to students who have familial or work commitments and those of more limited financial means” (p. 335).

Based on these speculations, the following types of questions warrant reflection:

  • How might we increase the appeal and relevance of music course offerings to students from varying cultural backgrounds?
  • How might we provide avenues of entry into high school instrumental music classes for students who haven’t previously participated?
  • What time, financial, or other constraints may deter some students from participating in ensemble music classes? 
    • Are we being reasonable with the amount of time we expect from students outside of regular school hours?
      • Might our attendance and/or grading policies unfairly penalize students with work or family commitments?
      • Do we make the effort to truly listen to and take into consideration a student’s personal situation when they have a conflict?
    • What might be all the monetary costs—both obvious and hidden—to instrumental music participation (e.g., instrument rental/purchase, uniform fees, reeds and other supplies, private lessons)?
      • How realistic are these costs for students of lower SES? 
      • How might we help find ways to ease this financial burden and ensure that every student has the opportunity to participate and be successful in instrumental music?

RTRL.26: Singing Ability, Musical Self-concept, and Future Music Participation (Demorest, Kelley, & Pfordresher, 2017)

What did the researchers want to know?

What factors predict students’ decisions whether to participate in elective music classes?

What did the researchers do?

Demorest, Kelley, and Pfordresher surveyed 319 sixth-grade students (95% of the population) from five elementary schools that feed the same junior high in the Pacific Northwest. Students completed two questionnaires; one asked questions pertaining to their musical and family background, and the other measured their attitudes and beliefs about music participation, including their musical self-concept and perceived costs of participating in music. After students registered for their seventh-grade classes (since music study became elective in seventh grade in this school district), the researchers compared each student’s decision whether to continue participating in school music to their survey results.

The researchers conducted a second study in which they randomly sampled 55 of the 319 sixth graders to complete a singing assessment, in which students were asked to sing the song “Happy Birthday” as well as echo-sing various pitches, intervals, and patterns. Singing accuracy was compared to students’ decisions whether to participate in music and to their questionnaire responses.

Students who elected to participate in a music class reported “significantly higher perceptions of musical self-concept than those who did not . . . ; were more likely to be influenced by peers in their participation choices . . . ; and believed more strongly that music is not a barrier to other activities” (p. 410). Further analysis revealed that musical self-concept, peer influence, and family musical engagement were the strongest predictors of students’ decisions whether to participate in music.

Statistical analysis showed no significant difference in singing accuracy between those who elected to participate in music and those who did not. Comparison to questionnaire responses revealed that “musical self-concept was the only unique predictor of singing accuracy” (p. 414).

What does this mean for my classroom?

Music teachers should be aware that musical self-concept is strongly related to students’ future musical participation and consider monitoring students’ musical self-concepts “to identify students who may be feeling less positive about their musicality. If caught early enough, perhaps teachers could provide opportunities for students to improve their self- perceptions of musicality. . . . If we as a profession are interested in expanding the number of children who choose to continue elective music instruction, we should continue to explore how singing skill and musical self-concept interact throughout a child’s early development and what experiences might encourage improvement in both attributes” (p. 417).

In Memoriam

Dr. Steven M. Demorest

August 24, 1959 – September 22, 2019

With gratitude for his many contributions to the music education profession

RTRL.25: The Influence of Beginning Instructional Grade on String Student Enrollment, Retention, and Performance (Hartley & Porter, 2009)

Hartley, L. A., & Porter, A. M. (2009). The influence of beginning instructional grade on string student enrollment, retention, and music performance. Journal of Research in Music Education, 56(4), 370-384.

What did the researchers want to know?

Does the starting grade level of beginning string instruction affect initial enrollment, retention, or ensemble performance by the seventh-grade year?

What did the researchers do?

Hartley and Porter surveyed 166 elementary, middle, and junior high school string teachers in Ohio about their initial enrollment, retention at the end of the first year of instruction, and retention at the beginning of the seventh-grade year. To gauge performance achievement, Hartley and Porter visited and recorded 22 middle school orchestras (that were primarily made up of seventh-grade students), 36% of which started in fourth grade and 32% started in fifth grade and sixth grade respectively. Three string specialists (who were not told the starting grade level of the ensembles) rated each performance using the state-approved form for large-group adjudicated events.

Just over half (50.3%) of all schools enrolled 20% or less of students in the starting grade level, 37.6% enrolled 20% to 40%, and only 12.1% enrolled 40% or more. When comparing the percentages of the student body who enrolled in beginning strings according to starting grade level, Hartley and Porter found no statistically significant differences in initial enrollment.

In terms of retention at the end of the first year of instruction, 23% of teachers reported retaining 50-65% of students, 19.6% retained 65-80% of students, 36.5% retained 80-95% of students, and 22.6% retained 95-100% of students. There was a significant difference in relation to starting grade level: schools with later starting grade levels were more likely to retain 80% or more of their students at the end of the first year of instruction, as shown in the table below.






In terms of retention at the beginning of the seventh-grade year, 12.8% of teachers reported retaining 30% or less of students who initially enrolled, 27.6% retained 60% of students, 40.4% retained 90% of students, and 19.2% retained 95-100% of students. There was a significant difference in relation to starting grade level: schools with later starting grade levels were more likely to retain 60% or more of their students at the end of the first year of instruction, as shown in the table above.

When comparing the overall ensemble performance ratings, there were no statistically significant differences between groups that began instruction in fourth grade, fifth grade, or sixth grade.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Some teachers may worry whether starting instrumental music at a later grade level could have negative effects in comparison to starting at an earlier grade level. However, delaying the start of instrumental music until sixth grade likely will not hurt initial enrollment or performance achievement in later grades and may actually help increase retention.

Additionally, Hartley and Porter found that schools with a fourth-grade start level were more likely to have fewer meetings per week than sixth-grade beginners, and schools with more class meetings per week were more likely to have a higher retention rate at the end of the first year. If given the choice between starting instruction in an earlier grade level but with fewer class meetings per week or starting in a later grade level but with more frequent class meetings, the latter may be preferable.

RTRL.24: Developing a Culturally Responsive Mind-Set in Elementary General Music (Kelly-McHale, 2019)

Kelly-McHale, J. (2019). Research-to-resource: Developing a culturally responsive mind-set in elementary general music. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 37(2), 11-14.

What did the researcher want to know?

What practical steps can elementary general music teachers take toward developing a culturally responsive mind-set?

What did the researcher do?

In order to make practical suggestions for elementary general music teachers, Kelly-McHale synthesized a variety of research studies and other sources pertaining to culturally responsive pedagogy, the purpose of which is “to improve the achievement of students of color and those who have been marginalized due to culture” (p. 11).

What did the researcher find?

“Culturally responsive music educators seek to develop a mind-set that enables them to understand, appreciate, and incorporate the experiences and the music of the students within their classroom, their community, and the world we live in” (p. 11). Teachers can work toward developing this culturally responsive mind-set by focusing on two areas: context and content. Here are some of Kelly-McHale’s specific suggestions:

Context/Classroom Environment

  • Greeting and Learning: Connect with each individual student by saying hello as they enter, making eye contact, and working to learn their name. This sounds simple, but “when a teacher mispronounces or arbitrarily changes a child’s name, the child begins to develop a disjuncture between school and home” (p. 12).
  • Know Your Biases: Develop awareness of habits that may portray unintended favoritism, such as teaching more to one part of the class or calling on boys more than girls.
  • Listening to Your Students: Try to get to know your students by truly listening to them, particularly during casual conversations in the hallway or as students enter the classroom. Kelly-McHale also suggests setting aside a few minutes of “sharing space” in each of your classes, during which students are invited to share something about themselves.
  • Representation: Include images in your classroom that look like the students you teach and others in the local community as well as national community. Incorporate music that is representative of students’ backgrounds and music that is composed or performed by people who represent other backgrounds as well—not just during a specific month but throughout the whole year.

Content/Classroom Materials

  • Representation: Rather than making assumptions about what music your students will connect with, “the students in the seats should be where you start when choosing music” (p. 13). Some ways we might learn about the musical lives of our students outside of school include surveying them about the music they listen to or how they engage with music at home or by surveying their parents about what music they enjoy at home or even asking them to share in person. 
  • Contextualizing Repertoire: Engage students in discussion about the music you make and listen to in class, “situating the music within the greater societal context” (p. 14).
  • Recognizing Your Music Bias: Respect students’ musical tastes and values. “Just because we are the experts due to our degrees and experience does not mean that we are the arbiters of quality when it comes to music” (p. 14). 

What does this mean for my classroom?

“The development of [a culturally responsive] mind-set begins with an exploration of teaching context in terms of who the students are and what communities they represent; this knowledge should then inform the content that is used in the music classroom” (p. 11).

Note: Online access to Update: Applications of Research in Music Education is included with NAfME membership. In addition to research studies and literature reviews, this journal has recently added new “Research-to-Resource” articles, designed to provide teachers with practical suggestions supported by research. NAfME members can access these and other articles by logging into the NAfME website and clicking “News and Publications” under “For Teachers.”

RTRL.23: Facilitating Music Learning for Students with Special Needs (Gerrity, Hourigan, & Horton, 2013)

Gerrity, K. W., Hourigan, R. M., & Horton, P. W. (2013). Conditions that facilitate music learning among students with special needs: A mixed-methods inquiry. Journal of Research in Music Education, 61(2), 144-159.

What did the researchers want to know?

What conditions facilitate the learning of music among students with special needs?

What did the researchers do?

Gerrity, Hourigan, and Horton conducted a mixed-methods study of 16 children (ages 7-14 years) with special needs. Of the 16 students, 11 had autism, two had Down syndrome, two had cognitive delays, and one had cerebral palsy. The students participated in an integrated arts experience, which met for 10 Saturday afternoons and included instruction in music, theatre, and dance. For the quantitative part of the study, the researchers conducted a 20-item assessment of each student’s individual skills and knowledge of pitch and rhythm at both the beginning and end of the 10-week class. For the qualitative part of the study, the students, their parents, and six preservice educators (who served as mentors in the program) were interviewed to identify conditions that facilitated the students’ learning.

According to the quantitative analysis, “the musical ability of the students was poor at the start of the experimental period” (p. 152), but there was a statistically significant improvement between the pretest and posttest. Overall, students demonstrated significant increases in rhythm, pitch, and tonal memory at the end of the 10-week period.

Qualitative analysis revealed that both the students and their parents perceived tangible musical accomplishments as a result of participating in the class. The student mentors identified three main strategies that led to increased engagement and learning: 

  1. Repetition. “Repetition not only helped the students acquire specific skills and knowledge, but it also allowed the students to better understand the sequence of instruction” (pp. 153-154).
  2. Student Choice.  “Many of the students had limited experience with instruments and other music equipment” (p. 154), so having the opportunity to explore at their own pace and choose their own instruments was important.
  3. Increased Response Time. Students were more likely to show their understanding of a concept or skill when given a long opportunity to respond.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Students with special needs are capable of building musical knowledge and skills and deserve the opportunity to do so! To better facilitate music learning for students with special needs, teachers can incorporate the strategies identified in Gerrity, Hourigan, and Horton’s study:

  • Provide repeated opportunities for students to experience, experiment with, and practice musical skills.
  • Allow students to explore, move at their own pace, and choose instruments and other materials that appeal to them.
  • Don’t be afraid of silence! Providing more “wait time” for students to respond gives them more freedom and opportunity to do so. One of the mentors in the study explained the benefits of this increased response time: “We modeled something and there would be kind of like 10 seconds of just cold silence. Then, suddenly, it would just come out. You never really knew when it was going to come out” (p. 154).

Gerrity, Hourigan, and Horton also identified environmental conditions that facilitated student success: having clear directions and expectations, using a behavior plan, and providing a positive, encouraging environment. NAfME members can read the full article by logging in here.

Other Resources:

RTRL.22: Nurturing Safety for LGBTQ Students (Palkki & Caldwell, 2018)

Palkki, J., & Caldwell, P. (2018). “We are often invisible”: A survey on safe space for LGBTQ students in secondary school choral programs. Research Studies in Music Education, 40(1), 28-49.

What did the researchers want to know?

What is the nature of the role secondary choral programs play in creating safe space for LGBTQ students?

What did the researchers do?

Palkki and Caldwell surveyed 1,123 collegiate choral students from the U.S. and Canada who identified as members of the LGBTQ population. The survey included a variety of Likert-type items as well as open-ended questions pertaining to participants’ experiences as LGBTQ singers in middle school and high school choirs. 

Quantitative data analysis indicated that high school choral programs were more strongly perceived as safe spaces for LGBTQ students than middle school programs, and respondents reported feeling safer expressing their LGBTQ identities in their high school choral programs. Through qualitative analysis of open-ended responses, Palkki and Caldwell found that “the overwhelming message … was that the singers wanted choral conductor-teachers to acknowledge and/or discuss LGBTQ issues in the choral music classroom…. Participants believed that if choral educators did not discuss [matters of gender identity and sexuality] in a culture and schools that are heteronormative and cisgender-centric, that they were not open and accepting” (p. 35). Without specifically addressing LGBTQ issues, general “no-bullying/zero-tolerance” policies were not effective in helping students feel safe and supported by the teacher. Numerous respondents indicated that directors’ failure to confront homophobic slurs hindered students’ sense of safety. Conversely, having teachers “come out” as allies for LGBTQ students is extremely encouraging. Inclusion of LGBTQ topics in the curriculum, such as LGBTQ composers/lyricists, can be “symbolic and influential” (p. 37). Additionally, “LGBTQ students may feel excluded from experiences and conversations in which they do not see themselves represented” (p. 38), such as exclusively heteronormative language or lyrics. 

What does this mean for my classroom?

Unless we make it explicitly clear to our students that our classroom is a safe space for LGBTQ individuals, they are likely to assume it’s not. Here are some suggestions based on Palkki and Caldwell’s findings:

  • Display a “safe space” sticker or sign in your classroom or on your office door, such as this printable one from GLSEN. One of Palkki and Caldwell’s respondents commented, “It might sound silly, but the ‘safe space’ sticker makes all the difference in the world. Even if you don’t talk about it to that teacher, knowing they won’t tolerate any negativity about that makes a world of emotional difference” (p. 37). 
  • Be sensitive and thoughtful when choosing music, consciously considering the feelings and experiences of your queer and gender non-conforming students. As described by one of Palkki and Caldwell’s respondents, “heteronormativity in songs is very troubling. And the way that traditional worship songs and outdated homophobia are linked together made singing worship songs very uncomfortable for me” (p. 38). 
  • Rethink gendered language. For example, one of Palkki and Caldwell’s respondents noted, “A trope that has become standard choral parlance of referring to TB voices as ‘men’ and SA voices as ‘women’ is EXTREMELY CISSEXIST IN NATURE [capitalization in original] and [makes] me as a transperson singing in a choir feel very awkward and uncomfortable” (p. 40). Instead of referring to singers as men/women, they could be referred to by their voice parts (e.g., treble voices, sopranos and altos, etc.).
  • Choose concert attire that will allow all students to be comfortable. Avoid traditional “gendered” performance uniforms, instead opting for concert black or providing several uniform options from which students can choose. In the words of one of Palkki and Caldwell’s respondents, “forcing everyone with a vagina to wear a dress is bullshit” (p. 40).
  • Include LGBTQ topics in your classroom. One of Palkki and Caldwell’s respondents suggested, “When a piece by a queer composer is done, or if the text is written by someone queer, mention it. Show queer youth that, yes, this beautiful work was written by someone who is queer. Allow their dreams to be as infinite and indestructible as non-queer kids” (p. 38).


RTRL.21: Teachers’ Interpretations of Music Aptitude (Reynolds & Hyun, 2004)

Reynolds, A. M., & Hyun, K. (2004). Understanding music aptitude: Teachers’ interpretations. Research Studies in Music Education, 23, 18-31.

What did the researchers want to know?

How do teachers understand the concept of music aptitude and estimate their students’ musical potential? How do these estimations compare to results of a standardized music aptitude test?

What did the researchers do?

Reynolds and Hyun’s study involved five general music teachers in the U.S. and five classroom teachers with music concentrations in South Korea who had never previously administered a standardized music aptitude test to their students. Both groups of teachers were asked to estimate their students’ music aptitudes (tonal and rhythm) and to describe their process and experience in doing so. Then the teachers administered Intermediate Measures of Music Audiation (IMMA), a standardized test of elementary-age children’s music aptitude that includes tonal and rhythm subtests. Finally, each teacher completed an interview with one of the researchers.

Teachers based their judgements of students’ music aptitudes on observable factors, such as ability to sing in tune or move to a steady beat. Their estimations also featured identification of the students they perceived as having the highest and lowest tonal/rhythm aptitudes in the class.

Without being asked to, all ten of the teachers compared their initial estimations of students’ music aptitudes to the IMMA results and were “surprised, shocked, and confused” by discrepancies between the two (p. 23). For example, one teacher in South Korea said, “I am shocked that a student who cannot even sing one note scores high on the test” (p. 23). Similarly, one American teacher puzzled, “If you have high tonal aptitude, how could you not know how to use a singing voice?” and was stumped that another student who “sings beautifully” and “likes to improvise” did not score high in comparison with the other students (p. 24). Teachers also admitted to allowing non-musical behaviors, such as participation or general academic achievement, influence their estimations of students’ music aptitude. “A student with a bad attitude I estimated low; I was surprised when the student scored high,” one South Korean teacher reflected (p. 24).

Ultimately, the teachers came to realize that their assumptions about music aptitude were based on students’ prior achievement in class, which does not necessarily reveal their true potential. As one American teacher reflected, “Estimates show who is achieving well, even if they didn’t do well on the test. [Pause.] Don’t give up on them just because they scored low, because they can still achieve” (p. 26).

What does this mean for my classroom?

Students’ demonstrated musical achievement may not reflect their true potential. Rather than relying on our observations and subjective assumptions, a published test of music aptitude can more accurately and objectively measure each student’s musical potential, which can be helpful in identifying students who may be under-achieving.

The differentiation between music achievement and music aptitude was described extensively by Edwin E. Gordon. In his theorizing about music aptitude, Gordon posited that every individual has some level of music aptitude and thus can learn to make music with some level of success. By determining each student’s approximate level of music aptitude in various musical dimensions, the teacher can adapt instruction so that each student is appropriately challenged and thus can experience musical success and continued growth.

For an overview of Gordon’s theory of music aptitude and the published music aptitude tests he developed, click to read his monographs entitled Music Aptitude and Related Tests: An Introduction and Continuing Studies in Music Aptitudes.

RTRL.20: School Music Participation and Lifelong Arts Engagement (Elpus, 2018)

Elpus, K. (2018). Music education promotes lifelong engagement with the arts. Psychology of Music, 46(2), 155-173.

What did the researcher want to know?

Does participation in school-based music education affect the likelihood that students will engage in music performance or attend musical events as adults?

What did the researcher do?

Elpus analyzed data from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. To examine musical creation/performance, he looked at respondents’ answers to items that asked whether they had played a musical instrument or performed/practiced any singing (alone or with others) in the previous 12 months. To examine music patronage, he examined respondents’ answers to items that asked whether they had attended live performance of classical music/opera or live jazz in the previous 12 months.

Elpus analyzed this data in relation to whether respondents participated in school music education (performance and/or appreciation). Elpus treated the study as quasi-experimental, using observable covariates to adjust for selection bias. In other words, he took into consideration the respondents’ answers to the following:

  • race/ethnicity
  • gender
  • education level
  • parent’s education level
  • household income (above or below $50,000)
  • region of the U.S. in which they lived

What did the researcher find?

According to descriptive statistics, 28% of respondents had participated in school-based music education. In the year prior to the survey, only 13% had attended live classical music/opera, 13% had played an instrument, and 10% had sung.

Those who had participated in school-based music education (performance or appreciation) were two to three times more likely to to play an instrument or sing as adults. Interestingly, there was no significant relationship between household income and musical creation/performance (after controlling for other variables). However, Elpus found that those with higher levels of education and those whose parents had attained higher levels of education were more likely to play an instrument, which corresponds with existing notions “that children of higher socioeconomic status (SES) parents are more likely to pursue instrumental music education, with parental education serving … as a blunt proxy for respondents’ family SES in childhood” (p. 165).

Those who participated in school-based music performance classes were 35% more likely to have attended classical music or opera performance than those who hadn’t participated in performance classes, while those who had taken music appreciation classes were 93% more likely to attend these events than those who hadn’t taken music appreciation classes. The likelihood that respondents had attended classical music/opera events increased significantly with education level; those holding bachelor’s degrees were over five times more likely to attend these performances than those with no high school diploma.

Compared to White respondents, African American adults were significantly less likely to report that they played an instrument or had attended classical music/opera but were 244% more likely to have attended live jazz.

What does this mean for my classroom?

If one of our aims as music educators is to foster in our students a lifelong connection with the arts, Elpus’s findings can reassure us that this goal is indeed being achieved for many. Furthermore, if we wish to increase lifelong engagement with the arts, we must be sure that all students have access to high-quality music education. 

However, the topics examined in this study focused on Euro-centric art music, with popular/vernacular forms of music largely ignored. We must continue to examine the kinds of musical experiences we offer in schools, who may or may not choose to participate in the courses offered, and how we might broaden our concept of school music to engage and better serve more students.

RTRL.19: Tonal & Metric Variety In Elementary General Music Textbooks (Lange, 2009)

Lange, D. M. (2009). An examination of the tonalities and meters in 21st-century elementary music textbooks. The GIML Audea, 14(2), 7-10.

What did the researcher want to know?

What tonalities (i.e., modes) and meters are prevalent in commonly-used elementary music textbooks?

What did the researcher do?

Lange examined two major textbook series: Making Music (2006) published by Silver Burdett and Spotlight on Music (2006) published by McGraw-Hill. For each series, she compiled a list of every song that appeared at each grade level (1-5) along with the tonality and meter of each song.

What did the researcher find?

The majority of songs featured in these common elementary music textbooks were in major tonality.  As shown in Tables 1-2, the percentage of songs in major tonality ranged from 57% to 87%. The next most common tonality was pentatonic (3-31%), followed by minor (3-16%). There were few to no songs in other tonalities, such as Dorian or Mixolydian.

The majority of songs featured in common elementary music textbooks were in duple meter. As shown in Tables 3-4, the percentage of songs in duple meter ranged from 80% to 94%. The next most common meter was triple (6-18%). Few to no songs were in uneven meters (such as 5/8 or 7/8) or were multi-metric.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Exposing children to songs in a variety of tonalities and meters enriches their musical vocabularies. However, if music teachers wish to include a variety of tonalities/meters in their classrooms, they will need to look outside of the most commonly-used elementary general music textbook series. Below are some resources for songs/chants in a wide variety of tonalities and meters:

If you are unfamiliar with the term “tonalities,” you can find more information and examples here:

RTRL.18: Male and Female Photographic Representation in 50 years of Music Educators Journal (Kruse, Giebelhausen, Shouldice, & Ramsey, 2015)

Kruse, A. J., Giebelhausen, R., Shouldice, H. N., & Ramsey, A. L. (2015). Male and female photographic representation in 50 years of Music Educators Journal. Journal of Research in Music Education, 62(4), 485-500.

What did the researchers want to know?

What was the gender makeup of photographs depicting adults in implied positions of authority in Music Educators Journal (MEJ) during the years 1962-2011?

What did the researchers do?

Between the four of them, Kruse, Giebelhausen, Shouldice, and Ramsey examined each photograph in every issue of MEJ during the 50-year time period and tallied the number of photographs depicting adults in three categories: (1) conductors/directors, (2) teachers/presenters, and (3) named persons (e.g., head shots, posed group photos). More specifically, the researchers calculated the percentage of photographs showing adult men and adult women in each role. 

Note: Because gender could not be ascertained in terms of each individual’s identity, the researchers had to assume gender based on clothing, hairstyle, and/or name. Gender was indeterminate in 0.53% of the total 7,288 photographs depicting adults in the three categories. For more specific details regarding data collection and analysis procedures for this study, see the full article, which is available for free to NAfME members by logging in at https://nafme.org/my-classroom/journals-magazines/.

Of the 7,288 total photographs featured in issues of MEJ during the years 1962-2011, 71.4% featured men in positions of implied authority while only 28.1% featured women. Although female representation increased over time, the percentage of photographs depicting women only exceeded 40% in 9 of the 50 years.

Of the 871 photographs of conductors, 79% were male. While the percentage of female conductors pictured has gradually increased, women still made up only 30.1% of conductors pictured during the years 2002-2011, and there was not a single female conductor depicted in MEJ in 2001. Of the 4,813 photographs of named persons, 80% were male, with photographs of named persons in the most recent 10 years (2002-2011) being 69% male. In contrast, women made up 56% of the 1,608 photographs of teachers/presenters over the 50 years. 

What does this mean for my classroom?

“Visual images play a powerful role in the construction of one’s identity…. When a woman opens her professional journal and views photographs that predominantly portray males rather than females in these positions of implied authority, it may hinder her ability to imagine herself as a potential holder of these positions. Thus, a lack of equitable visual representation of females can be detrimental to women’s identity development and navigation as music educators” (p. 493).

“Music educators can be more sensitive to the representations they are encountering as well as those they are presenting in their classrooms. Teachers might consciously consider the images they view in journals and the impact that representation in these images might have on their perceptions of gender roles for both adults and students in the field of music education. In doing so, teachers can develop their awareness of issues of representation and stereotyping and apply this critical awareness to the images they are using in their own classrooms” (pp. 497-498).

RTRL.17: Successful Sight-singing Strategies (Killian & Henry, 2005)

Killian, J. N., & Henry, M. L. (2005). A comparison of successful and unsuccessful strategies in individual sight-singing preparation and performance. Journal of Research in Music Education, 53(1), 51-65.

What did the researchers want to know?

What observable strategies or characteristics are associated with high-, medium-, or low-accuracy among high school sight-singers?

What did the researchers do?

Participants were 198 singers in two high school choir camps designed to help prepare students for Texas all-state choir competition. Killian and Henry recorded each participant sight-singing two melodies—one in which they were given 30 seconds to prepare and one in which there was no preparation time. Each student’s performances were audio-recorded and later scored for accuracy, which Killian and Henry used to classify them into high-, medium-, and low-accuracy groups. The researchers also viewed videos of each student’s preparation and compiled a list of observed behaviors, which included the following:

  1. pitch strategies (tonicizing, using Curwen hand signs, using solfege or numbers)
  2. rhythm strategies (keeping a beat in the body)
  3. overall strategies (tempo, starting over, isolating trouble spots)

Participants also completed a survey to provide demographic information, such as age, voice part, and sight-singing practice habits.

Strategies associated with higher sight-singing accuracy for either condition included tonicizing (vocally establishing the key), physically keeping the beat, and using hand signs. Students who performed with more accuracy were also more likely to state that they practice sight-singing individually and/or that their director tests sight-singing individually.

Note: Killian and Henry’s complete findings, including the effect of preparation time and other demographic differences associated with sight-singing accuracy, can be accessed in the full article, which is available for free to NAfME members at https://nafme.org/my-classroom/journals-magazines/.

What does this mean for my classroom?

If we wish to improve our students’ sight-singing abilities, modeling and practicing strategies such as tonicizing (establishing the key), physically keeping the beat, and using hand signs may help. For example, tonicizing before any type of singing will strengthen students’ audiation and recognition of where the tonal center is, thus helping them sing with a more accurate sense of pitch. This could be done by arpeggiating the tonic chord or singing a quick “tune-up” in the appropriate key.

Tune-up/Sequence of Tones in D Major

If sight-singing is an important skill we wish our students to have, we should also consider encouraging them to practice sight-singing on their own and holding them accountable through individual sight-singing tests.

RTRL.16: Adults’ Recognition of Young Children’s Musical Behaviors (Reese, 2013)

Reese, J. A. (2013). Adult identification of music behaviors demonstrated by young children. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 198, 51-67.

What did the researcher want to know?

Do adults’ backgrounds affect their recognition of young children’s musical behaviors?

What did the researcher do?

Participants were 24 child development teachers (not music specialists), 24 early childhood music teachers, and 24 professional musicians (not early childhood music specialists). Reese showed each participant a video of adults interacting musically with young children (ages 5-15 months) and asked them to indicate every time they saw or heard a child demonstrating a behavior that made musical sense or that seemed intentionally musical. Such behaviors may have included looking responses, vocalizations, and movement.

What did the researcher find?

The early childhood music teachers identified significantly more music behaviors than did the child development teachers and the professional musicians. However, the professional musicians did not identify significantly more music behaviors than did the child development teachers. Furthermore, while all three groups tended to agree in recognizing beat-related movements as musical behaviors, vocalizations were less likely to be identified as musical behaviors by the professional musicians and child development teachers. Reese’s findings suggest it is not just musical expertise that enables a person to recognize young children’s musical behaviors but a greater awareness and understanding of how children develop musically and what “counts” as a musical response.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Young children’s language development is facilitated when adults interact with them in ways that recognize and extend their emerging language behaviors. Similarly, young children’s musical development is facilitated when adults interact with them in ways that recognize and extend their emerging musical behaviors. The more adept a person (such as a music teacher or parent/guardian) is at understanding and recognizing musical behaviors in young children, the more opportunities for musical interactions they will recognize and pursue, thus facilitating the child’s further musical development.

Similar to language babble, young children also exhibit “music babble,” in which they make musical sounds or movements that do not yet seem “correct” (e.g., in tune and in rhythm). However, this music babble is a sign that the child is responding to, exploring, and experimenting with music, which are necessary precursors to making music in a more traditionally recognizable way. Music teachers and parents/guardians should be alert for music babble and other musical behaviors and responses in young children and respond to them in ways that extend the music-making and thus further the child’s musical development.

Some examples of tonal babble (from my daughter!):

Example of tonal babble/vocalization in a 4-month-old
Example of tonal babble/vocalization in a 4-month-old
Example of tonal babble/vocalization in a 7-month-old

For more information on music babble and guiding musical development in young children:

RTRL.15: Adults’ Anxiety Toward Singing (Abril, 2007)

Abril, C. R. (2007). I have a voice but I just can’t sing: A narrative investigation of singing and social anxiety. Music Education Research, 9(1), 1-15.

What did the researcher want to know?

What is the nature of adults’ anxiety toward music/singing, and what do they feel is the root of this anxiety?

What did the researcher do?

Abril conducted a narrative inquiry to examine singing anxiety among three adults who expressed fear of singing and claimed they lack musical ability. These young women (who were enrolled in a university music methods course for non-music majors taught by the researcher) participated in multiple interviews and kept journals to reflect on their experiences with music/singing.

What did the researcher find?

These adults believed that success in music, specifically singing, is the result of a natural “gift” or “talent.” According to one participant, “the ability to make music is something that comes to you when you are really young … you just have it or you don’t. It’s not like other subjects in school because those you can work at and get better” (p. 8). Because they felt they lacked “musical talent,” they believed they were incapable of singing.

All three participants recalled negative musical experiences from their childhood, in which they received the implicit message from their music teachers that they were not musical. One participant began to feel she lacked musical ability when she tried out for the school choir in fifth grade but didn’t make the cut, saying, “It really hurt my self-esteem regarding my musical ability” (p. 8). Another participant described a similar experience of not being accepted into the school choir in sixth grade. She shared, “I was devastated! I quit singing after that because I figured. . . my music teacher was the expert! That really shattered my musical self-image. Since then I’ve felt pretty incapable” (p. 6). The third participant recalled an instance during childhood in which her music teacher was upset because someone was singing “wrong notes.” Worried that it was her, she stopped singing and soon after quit the choir. This participant said, “It was that bad experience that has stifled me. Since then I haven’t developed or grown in music. I don’t think teachers realize the great impact they have” (p. 10).

What does this mean for my classroom?

A teacher’s words and actions have tremendous power. Music educators should be aware that many students may attribute success in music to innate talent, and the perception of a lack of talent can be damaging to one’s musical self-concept and motivation to engage in music-making. Rather than perpetuate the myth of musical ability as the result of innate talent, we can emphasize the importance of effort and practice and work to communicate the powerful message that anyone can become a competent music maker and enjoy making music in their daily lives.

RTRL.14: Intersections of Music Making and Teaching (Pellegrino, 2014)

Pellegrino, K. (2014). Examining the intersections of music making and teaching for four string teachers. Journal of Research in Music Education, 62(2), 128-147.

What did the researcher want to know?

How do teachers’ past and present music-making relate to their current teaching?

What did the researcher do?

Pellegrino used a phenomenological case study design to examine the lived experiences of four full-time public school strings teachers. Data included background surveys, multiple interviews with each teacher, videos of the teachers making music in their classrooms, and a focus group interview that included music making. 

What did the researcher find?

NOTE: For the sake of brevity, I will focus on two of Pellegrino’s findings in this post. Members of the National Association for Music Education can find and read the full article by logging in with their email address and password at https://nafme.org/nafme-research/journal-research-music-education/.

Teachers’ past experiences with music-making influenced their current beliefs about students. Specifically, they believed that what they found interesting or rewarding about music-making would apply to their students as well. For example, one teacher assumed that “the classical musician’s ‘mentality’” would attract his students because it had attracted him. A different teacher enjoyed practicing and worked to instill that value in her students. Another teacher found the recognition received from playing well to be rewarding and assumed his students would want the same.

Teachers’ current music-making nurtured their artistic selves and kept them feeling revitalized as music teachers, and they felt it enabled them to inspire their students as well. Continuing to make music also helped teachers maintain their playing skills so they could model for students, allowed them to reflect on and solve pedagogical issues, and provided an opportunity to remember what it is like to be a music learner, which facilitated compassion toward their students.

What does this mean for my classroom?

There are many benefits for teachers to engage in their own music-making, both inside and outside the classroom. By continuing to make music, you can maintain an ability to model and teach skills, and remembering what it feels like to learn (and struggle!) can enable you to better relate to your students. Just as important, making music can help you stay inspired, fulfilled, and excited about music.

However, teachers should be aware of the tendency to assume that what they find interesting or valuable about music-making will also be the same for their students. Teachers should remain conscious that their students may have different experiences and thus may be motivated in different ways. 

RTRL.13: Gender Representation in Early Childhood Songs (Dansereau, 2014)

Dansereau, D. R. (2014). Considering gender: Representation in early childhood songs and implications for practice. Perspectives: Journal of the Early Childhood Music & Movement Association, 9(3), 10-13. 

What did the researcher want to know?

What gender representation exists in early childhood music curricular song material?

What did the researcher do?

Dansereau examined a sample of commonly used early childhood music education curricular materials, such as those created by Kindermusik, Music Together, and Feierabend. She analyzed songs, chants, and poems in which the lyrics referred to a human or animal character, calculating whether each was male-dominant, female-dominant, represented both genders equally, or was gender-neutral. Of the 953 songs analyzed, 299 featured lyrics that were either male- or female-dominant.

What did the researcher find?

Significantly more male characters were represented in early childhood music materials than female characters. Of the 299 songs, chants, and poems examined by Dansereau that were either male- or female-dominant, 65.2% featured male characters and 34.8% featured female characters.

What does this mean for my classroom?

If there tends to be an underrepresentation of female characters in the songs included in popular early childhood music materials as Dansereau’s findings suggest, “children are likely hearing, singing, and learning songs that favor males” in early childhood music settings (p. 12). Underrepresentation of female characters in children’s literature and media has been deemed problematic because it can limit children’s developing identities and send a message that females are less valued. It stands to reason that gender representation in children’s songs may have similar effects. Teachers who wish to provide balanced gender representation in their classrooms will need to make concerted efforts when choosing the songs they will teach their students. “Altering song texts in order to achieve balance or presenting equal numbers of male- and female-dominant songs to children are two strategies for addressing this inequality” (p. 12).

RTRL.12: The Effect of Instrumental Music Participation and Socioeconomic Status on State Proficiency Test Performance (Fitzpatrick, 2006)

Fitzpatrick, K. R. (2006). The effect of instrumental music participation and socioeconomic status on Ohio fourth-, sixth-, and ninth-grade proficiency test performance. Journal of Research in Music Education, 54(1), 73-84.

What did the researcher want to know?

How do the standardized test scores of instrumental music students compare to those of noninstrumental students, and what influence does socioeconomic status (SES) have? 

What did the researcher do?

Fitzpatrick collected existing standardized test scores for 15,431 high school students in the Columbus (OH) Public School District, 915 of whom participated in band, orchestra, or jazz ensemble. She used eligibility for free or reduced lunch as an indicator of SES and separated students into the following four groups:

  • Instrumental music students receiving free/reduced lunch
  • Instrumental music students paying full price
  • Noninstrumental students receiving free/reduced lunch
  • Noninstrumental students paying full price

Fitzpatrick then used a retrospective design to compare the four groups’ existing scores on the Ohio Proficiency Test (in citizenship, math, science, and reading) from ninth, sixth, and fourth grades.

What did the researcher find?

Full-price students outscored free/reduced-lunch students in the majority of the sub-tests Fitzpatrick examined. When analyzed separately according to SES, “students who would eventually become high school instrumental music students outperformed noninstrumental students of like socioeconomic status in every subject and at every grade level” (p. 78). However, these differences in test scores existed even before students started instrumental music. The string and band programs in the Columbus Public Schools began in the fourth and fifth grades respectively, but students who would go on to participate in instrumental music in high school were already outperforming their classmates in fourth grade — before experiencing much or any instrumental music instruction.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Many persons argue that participation in school music makes students “smarter” by raising their standardized test scores. However, Fitzpatrick’s finding that differences in test scores existed before instrumental music study began suggests that music participation did not actually cause higher scores. Therefore, music educators should be cautious about using this claim to justify the importance of their programs.

Given the fact that those students who chose to participate in instrumental music in high school were already scoring higher than their noninstrumental classmates even before beginning instrumental music instruction, there could be several other possible explanations:

  1. Instrumental music classes attracted students with higher test scores to begin with. 
  2. Students with higher test scores were the ones who persisted in instrumental music until high school.

Because Fitzpatrick did not have data on how many students may have initially participated in instrumental music but chose to quit before high school, we don’t know which of these two explanations is more accurate. Still, each possible explanation leads to further questions worth considering:

  1. Why might instrumental music classes attract certain kinds of students and not others?
  2. Why might students with lower test scores choose to quit instrumental music? Might there be anything about the way we traditionally teach instrumental music or structure our classes that allows some students to experience more success than others?

***Note: Earlier this month, the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) announced that NAfME members now have FREE online access to all digital issues of the Journal of Research in Music Education. To read Fitzpatrick’s full article and others from the past 60 years, simply log in with your email address and password at https://nafme.org/nafme-research/journal-research-music-education/.

RTRL.11: “The Effect of Vocal Modeling on Pitch-Matching Accuracy of Elementary Schoolchildren” (Green, 1990)

Green, G. A. (1990). The effect of vocal modeling on pitch-matching accuracy of elementary schoolchildren. Journal of Research in Music Education, 38(3), 225-231.

What did the researcher want to know?

Does children’s pitch-matching accuracy vary depending on whether the vocal model is female, male, or a child?

What did the researcher do?

Green tested the pitch-matching ability of 282 children in grades 1 through 6. Each individual student was prompted to echo a recording of the tonal pattern sol-mi (G-E above middle C) on a neutral syllable (“la”) on three separate occasions: once in response to a female vocal model, once in response to a male vocal model, and once in response to a child vocal model. Three judges then used a tuner to evaluate the accuracy of each pitch as correct, sharp, or flat.

What did the researcher find?

The child vocal model prompted the highest number of correct responses, and the male vocal model prompted the lowest number of correct responses.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Children may more easily match pitch when the timbre of the vocal model is similar to their own voice. Similarly, some children may struggle with matching pitch in response to an adult male voice due to the octave transfer. If an individual student is struggling to accurately sing pitches modeled by the teacher, consider asking a strong singer to repeat the prompt and then have the struggling student echo their classmate.

RTRL.10: “Testing the Beneficial Effects of Singing in a Choir on Mood and Stress” (Linnemann, Schnersch, & Nater, 2017)

Linnemann, A., Schnersch, A., & Nater, U. M. (2017). Testing the beneficial effects of singing in a choir on mood and stress in a longitudinal study: The role of social contacts. Musicae Scientiae, 21(2), 195-212. 

What did the researchers want to know?

Can singing in a choir enhance mood and reduce stress? If so, do these effects increase over time, and/or are they associated with social contacts within the choir?

What did the researchers do?

Linnemann, Schnersch, and Nater studied 44 singers in an amateur university choir that rehearsed one evening per week for the duration of a semester. The participants completed a mood assessment questionnaire before and after each rehearsal, in which they rated their stress on a scale of 1-100 and rated their mood on six visual scales pertaining to three dimensions: calmness (agitated — calm; relaxed — tense), valence (unwell — well; content — discontent), and energetic arousal (tired — awake; full of energy — without energy). To explore connections between mood/stress and social contacts, participants were also asked to create a “social network map” (in which they indicated the number of their close friends, friends, and acquaintances who were also in the choir) and to rate their perceived social support within the choir. The researchers used a complex analysis called hierarchical linear modeling to compare each participant’s pre- and post-rehearsal scores as well as change throughout the semester.

There were statistically significant differences in participants’ calmness and valence before and after choir rehearsals. On average, participants felt more calm and relaxed after choir rehearsals, as well as more content and well. There was also a statistically significant difference in pre- and post-rehearsal subjective stress levels, with participants generally reporting less stress after choir rehearsals than before.

There was no statistically significant increase in feelings of calmness and valence over time. However, participants did report feeling more energetic after choir as time went on, yet they reported feeling less awake (possibly due to the 10pm rehearsal ending time). Further examination of fluctuations over time indicates that participants actually experienced an increase in stress, discontent, and feeling unwell after rehearsals immediately preceding the first performance.

Number or type of social connections in the choir was not significantly related to changes in mood or stress.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Results of this study suggest that singing in a choir can have positive effects on mood and stress level, and these benefits may not be due simply to social connections with other choir members, as previous researchers have suggested. Music teachers should be aware of these benefits, share these benefits with others (e.g., students, parents, administrators), and encourage students to participate in singing. However, teachers should be mindful that rehearsals leading up to a performance can lead to increased stress and negative feelings among choir members and be sensitive to this when preparing for a performance.

RTRL.09: “Career Intentions and Experiences of Pre- and In-Service Female Band Teachers” (Fischer-Croneis, 2016)

Fischer-Croneis, S. H. (2016). Career intentions and experiences of pre- and in-service female band teachers. Journal of Research in Music Education, 64(2), 179-201.

What did the researcher want to know?

What are women’s experiences in realizing their professional goals as band teachers?

What did the researcher do?

Fischer-Croneis conducted a multiple case study of nine women in the midwestern U.S. who were teaching band or finishing their undergraduate preparation to become band teachers. The inservice teachers’ years of experience ranged from 4 to 34, and they were teaching either middle school or a combination of middle and high school. Fischer-Croneis individually interviewed each participant, using open-ended questions to elicit discussion regarding their experiences as female band teachers in two main areas of focus: 1) Gaining entry into the profession, and 2) Navigating the profession.

What did the researcher find?

In terms of gaining entry into the band-teaching profession, several participants described experiences in which they had been given interview-related advice based on their gender, were asked interview questions they felt a man would not have been asked, or believed they had not been offered high school band teaching jobs due to their gender. Others sensed “the potential for unspoken bias,” including one young woman who felt that a hiring committee might question whether she would “do this job to the full extent” due to the assumption that “she’s in a prime baby-making age” (p. 187).

In navigating the profession, some of the participants felt pressure to adopt a more “masculine professional persona” in order to be accepted in the “band world” (p. 188). While they did feel that it was becoming easier to identify female band teachers at the national level, such as Mallory Thompson at Northwestern University, many participants were unable to name a female band teacher they knew at the local level. Only one of the three preservice teachers was able to name a female high school band teacher.

Though they felt things were improving, all of the in-service teachers confirmed the perception of a “Good Ol’ Boys’ Club” in the band world, which they most notably felt at places like state conferences or the Midwest Clinic. Other experiences shared by participants included being mistaken for the assistant band director (because the male assistant was assumed to be the head director), challenges in networking “with those in power—perceived by many of the participants to be typically men,” and a feeling of a “double standard” in that “the assertive behavior [a woman] must embody to be a successful band teacher [does] not match social conventions for women” (p. 192).

What does this mean for my classroom?

Women continue to be a minority in the band teaching profession, and many female teachers experience persistent feelings of exclusion in the band world. Female band teachers in a similar study by Coen-Mishlan (2015) even felt they were treated differently at adjudicated events and questioned whether their bands were judged more critically. Music teachers and music teacher educators should remain aware of the underrepresentation of women in the band teaching profession and the resultant lack of role models for female band teachers. We can look for instances in which gender stereotypes may be reinforced. For example, an examination of the photographs featured in issues of Music Educators Journal from the years 1962-2011 revealed that 79% of the photographs depicting conductors showed men in this role, and there were no photographs of female conductors in any issue of MEJ during 2001 (Kruse, Giebelhausen, Shouldice, & Ramsey, 2015). Media that music teachers use in their classrooms may also reinforce similar stereotypes, which we can look for and avoid. 

In addition to avoiding the perpetuation of gender stereotypes, we can actively work to combat them by exposing students to examples and images of female band directors. Individuals serving on hiring committees should be conscious of the possibility of bias against female band teachers, particularly when filling high school band teaching positions, and male band teachers can consciously work to help women feel included and valued in the profession.


  • Coen-Mishlan, K. (2015). Gender discrimination in the band world: A case study of three female band directors. Excellence in Performing Arts Research, 2, Article 1. https://doi.org/10.21038/epar.2014.0104
  • Kruse, A. J., Giebelhausen, R., Shouldice, H. N., & Ramsey, A. L. (2015). Male and female photographic representation in 50 years of Music Educators Journal. Journal of Research in Music Education, 62(4), 485-500. https://doi.org/10.1177/ 0022429414555910

RTRL.08: “An Examination of Music Teacher Job Interview Questions” (Juchniewicz, 2016)

Juchniewicz, J. (2016). An examination of music teacher job interview questions. Journal of Music Teacher Education, 26(1), 56-58.

What did the researcher want to know?

What do principals think are the most important questions to ask when interviewing prospective music teachers? Does a principal’s school level, setting, or years of experience affect which interview questions they believe are more important?

What did the researcher do?

Juchniewicz surveyed 405 principals in North Carolina via an online questionnaire. Respondents were asked to rate the importance of 27 given interview questions and were provided an opportunity to list any additional questions they believed were important.

What did the researcher find?

The top three interview questions rated as most important by principals overall were:

  • “How will you connect with your students?”
  • “Tell me what I’ll see happening in your classroom.”
  • “How would you make sure students are successful in music?” 

This table shows the rankings and mean ratings of the top 20 most important interview questions (p. 62):


Principals rated each question on a 5-point scale
(1 = “not important at all” to 5 = “very important”).

Perceived importance of questions did not vary significantly by principals’ school level (elementary, middle school, or high school), setting (urban, suburban, or rural), or years of experience (5 or more years or less than 5 years). Among the free responses provided, “integrating other subjects into the music classroom” and “team player/colleague” emerged as common themes.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Regardless of whether you are applying for a music teaching job in an elementary, middle, or high school or in an urban, suburban, or rural area, certain questions are likely to be asked in the interview.  “Music teacher candidates should pay particular attention and be prepared to respond to several of the interview questions … rated as very important by principals of the present study” (Juchniewicz, 2016, p. 66).