RTRL.67: Predictors of Music Teacher Well-being (Kang & Yoo, 2019)


Kang, S., & Yoo, H. (2019). Music teachers’ psychological needs and work engagement as predictors of their well-being. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 221, 58-71.

What did the researchers want to know?

What are the strongest predictors of music teachers’ well-being, and do these vary career stage?

What did the researchers do?

Kang and Yoo surveyed 330 music teachers in the southeastern United States. In addition to collecting demographic information, the survey included questions to measure teachers’ psychological needs, work engagement, and subjective well-being. Measurement of teachers’ psychological needs included 16 questions focusing on three subfactors: “autonomy (to experience oneself as the originator of one’s behavior), competence (to feel that one can master challenges), and relatedness (to feel a sense of meaningful connectedness within one’s social condition” (p. 62). The nine questions pertaining to work engagement focused on teachers’ energy level, vigor, mental resilience, and willingness to invest effort in their work. Finally, 40 questions asked teachers to rate their well-being in a variety of areas, including general happiness and other emotions, confidence in coping with future challenges, relationships, and health.

Kang and Yoo conducted a stepwise regression to ascertain the strongest predictor of well-being. To investigate whether predictors of well-being vary throughout career stages, Kang and Yoo conducted stepwise regressions for each of five different stages (0-5 years teaching, 6-10 years, 11-20 years, 21-30 years, 31+ years).

What did the researchers find?

The strongest predictor of participants’ well-being was their sense of competence in their work as music educators. While competence was still the strongest predictor of well-being for teachers with 11-30 years of experience, relatedness was the strongest predictor of well-being for teachers with 0-10 years and 31+ years of experience.

What does this mean for my classroom?

“Based on the results of this study, we can conclude that promoting music teachers’ psychological needs, especially competence and relatedness, will ensure higher levels of their well-being” (p. 66). It is especially important for newer teachers and those nearing retirement to feel connected to their colleagues and students. In general, feeling competent in their work is the strongest predictor of a music teacher’s well-being. Thus, music teacher preparation programs and school districts can help teachers’ well-being by assisting them in developing their competence to the greatest extent possible.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has continually posed new and unforeseeable circumstances in schools. From moving to virtual instruction to eliminating key areas of learning and skill development (e.g., avoiding singing due to concern over aerosols) to having their own classes canceled so they can substitute for grade-level teachers, music educators have experienced two years of constant threats to their sense of competence in their work. If you are exhausted and feeling like you are failing as a teacher, you are not alone! There is no way you could have been prepared for this. Just as new teachers go through a period characterized as “survival,” we are all doing the best we can in the circumstances we are facing. To help strengthen well-being among teachers and students alike, now may be the time for scaling back educational goals and focusing on building relationships to the best of our abilities. School administrators should also prioritize teachers’ well-being and provide them with opportunities to build autonomy, relatedness, and competence. “Continuous efforts should be made to understand teachers’ well-being and promote it on an individual and/or case-by-case basis” (p. 69).

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


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

What did the researcher want to know?

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

What did the researcher do?

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

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

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

What did the researcher find?

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

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

What does this mean for my classroom?

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

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

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


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

What did the researcher want to know?

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

What did the researcher do?

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

What did the researcher find?

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

What does this mean for my classroom?

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

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

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

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

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

RTRL.04: “Exploring Informal Music Learning in a Professional Development Community of Music Teachers” (Kastner, 2014)


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.