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

Source:

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.

What did the researchers find?

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).

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

Source:

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.

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

Source:

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.

Role Stress in the Professional Life of the School Music Teacher (Scheib, 2003)

Source:

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.

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

Source:

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:

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.

Notes

  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.

 

Improvisational Practices in Elementary General Music Classrooms (Gruenhagen & Whitcomb, 2014)

Source:

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.

What did the researchers find?

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.

Who Enrolls in High School Music? (Elpus & Abril, 2019)

 

Source:

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.

What did the researchers find?

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?

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.

What did the researchers find?

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

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

Source:

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.

What did the researchers find?

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.

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

Source:

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.”

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

Source:

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.

What did the researchers find?

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:

Nurturing Safety for LGBTQ Students (Palkki & Caldwell, 2018)

Source:

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. 

What did the researchers find?

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).

 

Teachers’ Interpretations of Music Aptitude (Reynolds & Hyun, 2004)

Source:

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.

What did the researchers find?

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.

School Music Participation and Lifelong Arts Engagement (Elpus, 2018)

Source:

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.

Tonal & Metric Variety In Elementary General Music Textbooks (Lange, 2009)

Source:

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:

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

Source:

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/.

What did the researchers find?

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).

Successful Sight-singing Strategies (Killian & Henry, 2005)

Source:

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.

What did the researchers find?

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.

Adults’ Recognition of Young Children’s Musical Behaviors (Reese, 2013)

Source:

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:

Adults’ Anxiety Toward Singing (Abril, 2007)

Source:

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.

Intersections of Music Making and Teaching (Pellegrino, 2014)

Source:

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. 

Gender Representation in Early Childhood Songs (Dansereau, 2014)

Source:

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).

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

Source:

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/.

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

Source:

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.

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


Source:

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.

What did the researchers find?

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.

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

Source:

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.

References:

  • 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

“An Examination of Music Teacher Job Interview Questions” (Juchniewicz, 2016)

Source:

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).

“Teachers’ Beliefs Regarding Composition in Elementary General Music” (Shouldice, 2014)

Source:

Shouldice, H. N. (2014). Teachers’ beliefs regarding composition in elementary general music: Definitions, values, and impediments. Research Studies in Music Education, 36(2), 215-230.

What did the researcher want to know?

How do elementary music teachers define composition, what relationships exist between their beliefs about the importance of composition and their use of composition, why do they believe composing is valuable, and what prevents them from incorporating more composition in their classrooms?

What did the researcher do?

Shouldice surveyed 176 elementary general music teachers from across Michigan via an online questionnaire, which included items such as the following:

  • Please describe the characteristics of music composition. (e.g., What is composition? What does it entail?) 
  • Why do you feel composition is or isn’t important for elementary music students? 
  • What influences your decision to NOT incorporate composition in elementary general music? (OR what influences you to not incorporate composition more frequently?) 

What did the researcher find?

Definitions of Composition:

Many teachers agreed that composition involves creating, self-expression, and replication.  However, they differed in their beliefs about the complexity of composition and/or whether it requires notation.  While some teachers believed that composition involves the creation of a complete piece of music, others believed it could be as simple as creating a melody or an ostinato pattern.  Similarly, while some believed that composition by nature involves the notating of musical ideas, others believed it could be strictly aural/by ear.

Use and Importance/Value of Composition:

Teachers’ use of composition increased with grade level.


There was a positive correlation between teachers’ beliefs about the importance of composition and their use of composition.  Teachers who believed composition was more important were more likely to include it in their teaching and to do so more frequently than teachers who believed composition was less important.  Many teachers expressed beliefs that composition is valuable because it helps students develop, demonstrate, and apply their understanding of musical concepts and skills; develops creativity; allows self-expression; and lets students take ownership of their music-making.

Impediments to Composition:

When asked what keeps them from doing more composing with their students, many teachers mentioned time (amount of contact time with students and/or feeling that composition takes too long).  Another common struggle cited was logistics, including large class sizes and a lack of resources (e.g., instruments, technology).

What does this mean for my classroom?

Elementary music teachers who don’t believe composition is important may be less likely to provide their students with composing experiences.  Therefore, helping teachers see the value of composing may increase the likelihood they will teach it!  Click below to view a presentation slide deck for this study, which includes direct quotes from teachers who participated about why they believe composition is important:

Teachers’ conceptions of composition likely influence whether, when, and/or how they teach it.  Given that more teachers in this study incorporated composing into later grade levels than early grade levels, it might be because many believe composition must be complex and/or notated, whereas teachers who incorporate composing in early grade levels may be more likely to do so in simple, aural/ear-based ways.

Broadening teachers’ conceptions of composition may help alleviate perceived impediments.  How might elementary music teachers incorporate composing in ways that are simple, quick, don’t involve notation, and don’t require instruments/technology? 

Ideas for Aural Composition:

Composing a Melody for a Familiar Chant:
  1. Review a familiar chant, such as “Engine, Engine” while moving to big/little beats.
  2. Choose and establish tonality and sing several tonal patterns for the class to echo. Then invite students to improvise a tonal pattern that is different from yours. Repeat several times to “get the musical juices flowing.”
  3. Invite students to improvise tonal patterns to use in the song, practicing each phrase as it is created. (Tip: I find it helpful to notate/dictate students’ ideas on the board as they create them so that I can help them retain/replicate their melody.)
Sample class melody for the chant “Engine, Engine”
Composing a Melody for a Poem:
  1. Choose a simple poem (like “The Mule” below). Have the class try chanting the chosen poem in duple meter while moving to big/little beats. Then try chanting the poem in triple meter while moving to big/little beats. Invite the class to vote to choose meter.
  2. After deciding the meter, try chanting the poem while teacher accompanies with I/V chords in major tonality. Then try chanting while teacher accompanies with I/V chords in minor tonality. Invite the class to vote to choose tonality.
  3. Optional: Sing a few tonic/dominant tonal patterns in the chosen tonality for the class to echo. Then ask the class to sing back a few patterns that are different from yours. (I find that this step helps prepare the students to improvise melodically in the next step.)
  4. Invite the class to try improvising pitches for “Voice of the mule” as a group. Invite an individual student to share their idea, and have the class echo. Have class sing again and then add on a group improvisation for “bray.” Invite another individual student to share an idea, and have the class try echoing. Continue adding on new improvisations until you have an entire composed melody! (Tip: I find it helpful to notate/dictate students’ ideas on the board as they create them so that I can help them retain/replicate their melody.)

SAMPLE POEM:

“The Mule” by Douglas Florian

Voice of the mule: bray.

Hue of the mule: bay.

Fuel of the mule: hay.

Rule of the mule: stay.

Melody for “The Mule” composed by one 3rd grade class
Another version of “The Mule” composed by a second 3rd grade class

Shout-out to Jennifer Bailey, music teacher in the Farmington (MI) Public Schools, for this idea! Visit Jennifer’s website (www.singtokids.com) for more great teaching ideas.

Any children’s poem can work for this composition project, but Jennifer shared with me the poems of Douglas Florian, featured in books such as Beast Feast, Mammalabilia (which includes “The Mule”), and Insectlopedia After composing a few as a class, I would then let the students work in small groups to choose a poem and create a melody for it using the same process. I would give the students this checklist I created as a guide:

Once each group decided on their poem, I highlighted the text using two colors to indicate a harmonic progression. One color represented tonic and the other represented dominant. The groups would use the color-coding to play chords (on a Q-chord, iPad in Garage Band, etc.) when choosing their tonality and composing their melody. Here is an example of a color-coded poem:

Because this project took several days to complete, the groups would record their progress with an audio-recording device (e.g., small digital audio recorder, voice memos, etc.) at the end of each class and then listen to their recording at the beginning of the next class to get their melodies back in their heads. When the groups were done, they recorded a final version of their melody, which I uploaded to our music program website and also burned onto CDs for each student, titling the album “John Doe Elementary School’s Carnival of the Animals.” Here is a video of one group practicing their composition:

Third grade students working on their small group composition

Here is their finished audio recording:

Here is another group’s version of the same poem (Douglas Florian’s “The Tiger”):

Poem (“The Tiger”) by Douglas Florian, Melody by 3rd grade students

And here is one more final version of another poem (Douglas Florian’s “The Whale”):

Poem (“The Whale”) by Douglas Florian, Melody by 3rd grade students
Other Simple Composing Ideas?
  • Have students create a four-beat rhythm (chant on “bah” or play on an unpitched percussion instrument) to perform as a rhythmic ostinato to accompany a song/chant. (For more challenge/extension, have students add rhythm syllables to their ostinato and/or notate it.)
  • Combine a created rhythm with the bassline/chord roots to a familiar song to create a harmonic accompaniment. (For more on basslines/chord roots and teaching them, see this post.)
  • Create a variation of a familiar song by improvising a new tonal pattern to replace a repeated pattern in a song.

For many more ideas as well as how to help better prepare your elementary students for composing, see my 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.

“Investigating Adjudicator Bias in Concert Band Evaluations” (Springer & Bradley, 2018)

Source:

Springer, D. G., & Bradley, K. D. (2018). Investigating adjudicator bias in concert band evaluations: An applications of the Many-Facets Rasch Model. Musicae Scientiae, 22(3), 377-393.

What did the researchers want to know?

What is the potential influence of adjudicators on performance ratings at a live large ensemble festival?

What did the researchers do?

Springer and Bradley (2018) collected evaluation forms from a concert band festival in the Pacific Northwest U.S. Each of the 31 middle school/junior high school bands performed three pieces and were rated by three expert judges on a scale of 5 (superior) to 1 (poor). Judges were also allowed to award “half points,” and they rated each group on eight criteria: tone quality, intonation, rhythm, balance/blend, technique, interpretation/musicianship, articulation, an “other performance factors” (such as appearance, posture, and general conduct). The researchers analyzed the data through a complex process called the Many-Facets Rasch Model.

What did the researchers find?

The use of half-points resulted in less clear/precise measurement than if half-points had not been allowed. All but one of the performance criteria “did not effectively distinguish among the highest-performing ensembles or the lowest-performing ensembles” (p. 385), which could indicate a halo effect–when judgements of certain criteria positively or negatively influence judgements of other criteria. Examination of judge severity revealed that one judge was more severe in their ratings than the other two, though all three more heavily utilized the higher end of the rating scale, indicating “leniency or generosity error” (p. 386). Finally, numerous instances in which some bands were rated unexpectedly higher or lower by one judge than the other two suggests “evidence of bias” (p. 386).

What does this mean for my classroom?

Adjudication training and calibration—ensuring judges rate in similar manners—is critical. Adjudicator training for the band festival studied by Springer and Bradley involved only a 30-minute session in which the adjudicator instructions and evaluation form were discussed and adjudicators were allowed to ask questions. A more in-depth and ongoing adjudicator training process may help improve the validity and reliability of ratings given. For example, Springer and Bradley suggest that adjudicators might participate in an “anchoring technique”—a process in which judges rate sample recordings and then discuss the specific “aural qualities necessary for rating each performance criterion on the scales provided on the evaluation form” (p. 389).  Festival coordinators might also attempt to hire adjudicators from other geographic regions in order to reduce bias due to prior familiarity with bands or directors.

“Voice Change and Singing Experiences of Adolescent Females” (Sweet, 2018)

Source:

Sweet, B. (2018). Voice change and singing experiences of adolescent females. Journal of Research in Music Education, 66(2), 133-149.

What did the researcher want to know?

How does the adolescent female voice change influence young women’s use of their voice and their participation in singing in middle school, high school, and/or college?

What did the researcher do?

Sweet (2018) studied 17 female collegiate choral singers through one-on-one and focus group interviews.  She prompted the young women to reflect on their singing experiences since age 11, vocal challenges they have faced, and perceptions of how others interacted with them during their voice change experiences.

What did the researcher find?

Participants recalled experiencing numerous vocal challenges during adolescence, including vocal cracks, breaks, weakness, and unpredictability.  Additional challenges, such as laryngeal tension and lack of vocal flexibility, continued throughout adolescence.  Some participants noted that these changes extended into their 20s.

Participants’ recollections of their singing experiences since age 11 were more negative than positive. Emotions like frustration, fear, sadness, self-doubt, insecurity, and self-deprecation were prominent in their memories of singing during voice changes.  Sweet keenly noted that, as conveyed via participants’ tone of voice, facial expressions, and word emphasis, vocal challenges during adolescence were highly emotional experiences.

Teachers’ classification of adolescent female voices was a notable theme among the singers’ experiences.  “Participants who experienced a loss of strength or color in their higher range and had a stronger lower range mostly sang alto lines; participants who experienced a lack of phonation or lost power in lower notes were mostly assigned to higher vocal lines” (p. 142).  Rather than working with these singers through their difficulties, they felt their teachers had assigned them voice parts based on what was needed for the choir as a whole, at times even assigning them to sing vocal parts that were physically uncomfortable.  Additionally, “many participants felt that being assigned a particular voice part in middle school or early high school and rarely (or never) singing notes outside of that assigned voice part, sometimes for the entirety of their involvement in school choir, limited their vocal development and/or singing potential” (p. 142). 

What does this mean for my classroom?

Compared to the male voice change, the female adolescent voice change has received far less attention.  Choral teachers need to be aware of the unique challenges that voice change can pose for female students.  Teachers should be sensitive to the negative emotions adolescent female singers may experience as their voices change and help support students through these transitions.  Additionally, teachers might consider the ways in which the assigning of voice parts can benefit or hinder female singers and communicate and collaborate with them to determine flexible voice part assignment and enable a healthy and positive singing experience. 

Resources:

  • Thinking Outside the Voice Box: Adolescent Voice Change in Music Education, by Bridget Sweet
    • This upcoming book, scheduled for publication in October 2019 by Oxford University Press, encourages a holistic approach to working with adolescent changing voices and addresses female and male voices equally. According to Sweet, “the book is about understanding that voice change is tied up in so many aspects of adolescence and, to best teach/assist/support our students, we have to understand the bigger picture of this time of life, including psychological factors, emotional factors, many different facets of physiological growth, as well as the influence and impact of society’s perceptions of adolescence and voice change” (personal correspondence).
    • Update: Pre-order is available! Find on Amazon here.
  • Sweet’s 2016 Choral Journal article, “Choral Journal and the Adolescent Female Changing Voice:”
  • Sweet’s 2016 Choral Journal article, “Keeping the Glass Half Full: Teaching Adolescents with a Holistic Perspective”
  • The Female Voice, by Jean Abitbol
    • This brand new book features a variety of topics related to the female voice, including voice change during puberty, throughout the menstrual cycle, and as a result of hormonal birth control.

“Exploring Informal Music Learning in a Professional Development Community of Music Teachers” (Kastner, 2014)

Source:

Kastner, J. D. (2014). Exploring informal music learning in a professional development community of music teachers. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 202, 71-89.

What did the researcher want to know?

How do music teachers in a professional development community implement informal music learning in their classrooms, and how do their beliefs and practices evolve as a result?

What did the researcher do?

Kastner (2014) studied four elementary music teachers as they participated in a professional development community (PDC)—a group of teachers who work together to develop their teaching practice and grow their professional expertise.  This PDC focused on the topic of informal music learning, which “is the term commonly used to describe processes individuals use when learning music without teacher-directed, formal instruction” (p. 72) and typically involves vernacular music genres such as popular music.  The teachers met biweekly for six months to discuss readings about informal music learning, develop ways they could implement informal music learning in their classrooms, and share their experiences in trying those ideas.  In addition to studying the teachers’ interactions during these PDC meetings, Kastner also observed informal music learning activities in each teacher’s classroom.  These informal music learning activities included “music share days” that involved students performing music from outside of school during their music classes, playing popular melodies on recorder, and aurally creating and performing vocal or instrumental covers of popular songs in small groups.

What did the researcher find?

Among several themes, Kastner (2014) found that the teachers utilized a variety of pedagogical practices in implementing informal music learning in their classrooms.  The four teachers varied in the amount of control they gave their students during informal music learning activities, including in the selection of songs and the organization of students into small groups.  For example, when having students create “covers” of popular songs, some teachers chose specific selections for their students while others gave students complete freedom to choose their own songs.  The teachers also varied in the amount of scaffolding they provided during informal music learning activities.  While some teachers were completely “hands-off” in letting students work on informal music learning activities like arranging cover songs, other teachers found that students needed more guidance in order to be successful and provided this guidance by modeling examples, providing song lyrics, or “giving permission” for students to make their own choices (p. 82).

Kastner (2014) also discovered that the teachers in the PDC felt their implementation of informal music learning in their classrooms was extremely valuable.  First, these teachers found that informal music learning experiences enhanced student motivation; they observed that student engagement was quite high during informal music learning activities, even among students who “were typically reluctant to participate” in music class (p. 83).  Second, the teachers also valued the ways in which informal music learning helped develop their students’ musical independence; one participant noted that, as a result of their experiences with informal music learning, her students “can hear it [music], they can jam” (p. 83).

What does this mean for my classroom?

In addition to formal instruction, music teachers might consider incorporating informal music learning activities in their classrooms.  Potential benefits of providing students with opportunities to experience informal music learning include an increase in student motivation and development of students’ independent musicianship.  Music teachers can vary the amount of freedom and control they give their students in the selection of repertoire and the organization of students into small groups and can provide their students with different types and amounts of scaffolding in order to help them experience success with informal music learning activities.

Ideas for Trying Informal Music Learning:

From Kastner’s 2014 Orff Echo article “Learning to Let Go: Informal Music Learning in the Music Classroom”

Other Helpful Resources:

For more details on activities and reflections from the teachers who participated in this study, read Kastner’s full dissertation here.

For more information on getting started with informal music learning, visit Musical Futures here (requires free account setup).

For free resources for bringing popular music into the classroom, visit Little Kids Rock here.

To read more about informal music learning:


Note: Some text featured in this post was originally published in the following article:

Shouldice, H. N. (2016). Research to ‘real life’: Implications of recent research for elementary general music. Michigan Music Educator, 53(2), 23-26.

“Audiation-based Improvisation Techniques and Elementary Instrumental Students’ Music Achievement” (Azzara, 1993)

Source:

Azzara, C. D. (1993). Audiation-based improvisation techniques and elementary instrumental students’ music achievement. Journal of Research in Music Education, 41(4), 328-342.

What did the researcher want to know?

What effect does an improvisation curriculum have on instrumental students’ music achievement?

What did the researcher do?

Azzara (1993) studied 66 fifth grade students from two different schools who were in their second year of instrumental music study.  Students at each school were randomly assigned to either the control group or the treatment group.  Both groups received instruction using Jump Right In: The Instrumental Music Series, which utilizes a “sound before sight” learning process and includes tonal pattern and rhythm pattern instruction.  In addition, the treatment group also regularly engaged in improvisation activities, which included “(a) learning selected repertoire of songs by ear, (b) developing a vocabulary of tonal syllables and rhythm syllables, and (c) improvising with their voices and with their instruments tonic, dominant, and subdominant tonal patterns within the context of major tonality, and (d) improvising with their voices and with their instruments macrobeat, microbeat, division, elongation, and rest rhythm patterns within the context of duple meter” (p. 335).

What did the researcher find?

At the end of the 27-week period, Azzara (1993) recorded each student individually performing three etudes: one prepared without teacher assistance, one prepared with teacher assistance, and one sight-read.  Four judges rated each recording for tonal performance, rhythm performance, and expressive performance.  Statistical analysis of these ratings revealed that the students in the treatment group (who had experienced improvisation activities) had significantly higher composite etude performance scores than students who had not received instruction incorporating improvisation.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Having experiences with improvisation can help improve students’ performance achievement.  Just as speaking and conversing enhance the skills of reading and writing language, improvising music can enhance students’ music reading skills and performance of notated music. “When improvisation was included as a part of elementary instrumental music instruction, students were provided with opportunities to develop an increased understanding of harmonic progression through the mental practice and physical performance of tonal and rhythm patterns with purpose and meaning. Improvisation ability appears to transfer to a student’s clearer comprehension of the tonal, rhythmic, and expressive elements of music in an instrumental performance from notation” (p. 339).

Suggestions for Teaching Improvisation:

(From Azzara’s 1999 MEJ article “An Aural Approach to Improvisation”)

  • First and foremost, “use your ears. To develop improvisational skill, don’t rely on notation to remember music; rely on your ears” (p. 23).
  • Provide students with opportunities to listen to music (e.g., performed by the teacher, recorded music) in a wide variety of styles, tonalities (i.e., modes), and meters.
  • Develop a repertoire of simple tunes that students can sing and play by ear.
  • Teach students to sing and play basslines of simple tunes by ear.
  • Chant simple rhythm patterns for students to echo (chant/play) to develop their rhythmic “vocabulary” and sing simple tonal patterns for students to echo (sing/play) to develop their tonal “vocabulary.”

Examples of Rhythm Patterns and Tonal Patterns:

  • Learn tonal solfege and rhythm syllables by ear. These systems help students organize, comprehend, and read/write music.
  • “Improvise (1) rhythm patterns with and without rhythm syllables, (2) tonal patterns with and without tonal syllables, (3) rhythm patterns to familiar bass lines, and (4) rhythms on specific harmonic tones from particular harmonic progressions [e.g., to familiar tunes]. Improvise a melody by choosing notes that outline the harmonic functions of the progression (i.e., notes chosen from arpeggios) and perform them on each beat” (p. 23).
  • Play around with embellishing melodies, harmony parts, chord tones, and basslines.

Azzara’s 2011 TEDx Talk on Improvisation

Other Helpful Resources:

Developing Musicianship Through Improvisation

Jump Right In: The Instrumental Series

“Elementary Students’ Definitions and Self-Perceptions of Being a ‘Good Musician’” (Shouldice, 2014)

Source:

Shouldice, H. N. (2014). Elementary students’ definitions and self-perceptions of being a ‘good musician.’ Music Education Research, 16(3), 330-345.

What did the researcher want to know?

What do elementary students believe it means to be a “good musician” and to what extent do they perceive themselves to be “good musicians?” 

What did the researcher do?

Shouldice (2014) individually interviewed 347 students in grades one through four.  The students answered questions pertaining to the kinds of things a good musician can do, how one knows if a person is a good musician, and who can be a good musician. At the conclusion of each interview, each student was asked to choose the statement that best described him/herself (see scale in Figure 1) and explain why.

What did the researcher find?

While students across all grade levels most commonly described a “good musician” as someone who plays an instrument, practices, and/or sings well, other characteristics fluctuated across grade levels, suggesting that students’ perceptions of what it means to be a “good musician” may change over time in relation to their own experiences.  Statistical analysis showed that students in grade one perceived themselves as better musicians than did students in upper grade levels, indicating that elementary students’ perceptions of their own musical ability may diminish as they get older.

Qualitative analysis of the data revealed that some children’s ability self-perceptions were based on how they believed others perceived their abilities, such as a first-grade girl who knew she was a good musician “because my [music] teacher always picks me first” (p. 336), or were reached as a result of comparing themselves to others.  A number of students believed that innate musical talent is necessary in order for a person to be a “good musician;” their comments included the belief that “only some people are born with the talent” and “either you got it or you don’t” (p. 339).  Additionally, responses from some students implied the belief that skill in certain musical genres or modes of music making do not qualify one as a “good musician,” such as one second-grade boy’s statement that rappers and beat-boxers cannot be good musicians and that he himself was not a good musician despite describing himself as a “rapping pro.”

What does this mean for my classroom?

Elementary music teachers should be aware of the tendency for students’ musical ability self-perceptions to diminish over time and work to help students maintain positive musical identities as they get older.  Teachers also should be aware of the ways in which they might inadvertently communicate their own judgments of students’ musical abilities and/or beliefs about the value of certain musical genres or modes of musicking.  Additionally, teachers can encourage students to focus on effort and practice as determinants of musical ability rather than emphasizing innate musical talent.  

Note: Text featured in this post was originally published in the following article:

Shouldice, H. N. (2016). Research to ‘real life’: Implications of recent research for elementary general music. Michigan Music Educator, 53(2), 23-26.

“The Effects of Harmonic Accompaniment on the Tonal Improvisations of Students in First Through Sixth Grade” (Guilbault, 2009)

Source:

Guilbault, D. M. (2009). The effects of harmonic accompaniment on the tonal improvisations of students in first through sixth grade. Journal of Research in Music Education, 57(2), 81-91.

What did the researcher want to know?

How might experiencing root melody (bassline) accompaniment to songs affect elementary students’ tonal improvisations?

What did the researcher do?

Guilbault (2009) studied 419 of her own students in grades one through six for almost an entire school year.  These students were divided into two groups, with approximately half of the classes (the “treatment” group) experiencing “root melody” accompaniments during music instruction and the other half (the “control” group) experiencing only a cappella singing.  Similar to a bassline, “a root melody is the melodic line created by the fundamental pitches of the harmonic functions found in a song” (p. 84).  Pitches in a root melody can be played/sung and sustained once per chord change or repeated on each beat.  The students in the treatment group experienced root melodies with approximately 80% of the songs included in each class period and during improvisation activities.  These root melody accompaniments were either played on a pitched instrument (e.g., xylophone, piano), played by a voice recording, sung by the teacher/researcher as the students sang a song, sung by the students as the teacher/researcher sang a song, or sung by the student(s) as another student(s) sang a song.  The students in the control group experienced all the same songs and improvisation activities as the treatment group but without any accompaniment.

What did the researcher find?

At the end of the school year, Guilbault (2009) recorded each student vocally improvising an ending to an unfamiliar song without accompaniment. Three music educators judged the recordings, rating the degree to which each student improvised a melodic ending that used clearly implied harmonic changes and good harmonic rhythm. Statistical analysis of these ratings revealed that the students in the treatment group (who had experienced root melody accompaniments throughout the school year) were able to vocally improvise song endings that made more harmonic sense than students in the control group (who had not experienced root melody accompaniments).

What does this mean for my classroom?

Exposing students to harmonic progressions in familiar songs helps them develop better harmonic understanding, which in turn enables students to vocally improvise with a better sense of harmonic progression. If music teachers wish to help their students develop the ability to vocally improvise with a good sense of harmonic progression, they might consider providing students with many opportunities to experience root melody accompaniments to the songs they learn in music class. Teachers could do this by playing root melody accompaniments on an instrument, singing them while students sing a song, teaching students to sing root melody accompaniments while the teacher sings the song, or having students sing songs and root melody accompaniments in two groups or even as duets.

Examples of Tunes with Simple Chord Root Accompaniments:

Video of first grade students practicing singing a melody and bassline/chord root accompaniment in partners. (View video description on YouTube site for an overview of the teaching process used.)
Video of first grade students singing a duet with me: I sing melody; student sings chord roots in solo. (View video description on YouTube site for an overview of the teaching process used.)

Note: Some text featured in this post was originally published in the following article:

Shouldice, H. N. (2016). Research to ‘real life’: Implications of recent research for elementary general music. Michigan Music Educator, 53(2), 23-26.