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

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


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

What did the researchers want to know?

What characterizes the practice habits of middle school band students?

What did the researchers do?

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

What did the researchers find?

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

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

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

What does this mean for my classroom?

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

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



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

What did the researchers want to know?

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

What did the researchers do?

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

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?

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


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

What did the researcher want to know?

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

What did the researcher do?

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

What did the researcher find?

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

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

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

What does this mean for my classroom?

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

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


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