RTRL.69: Effects of Tonal Training on Ear-playing and Sight-reading in Beginning Instrumentalists (Bernhard, 2004)


Bernhard, H. C. (2004). The effects of tonal training on the melodic ear playing and sight reading achievement of beginning wind instrumentalists. Contributions to Music Education, 31(1), 91-107.

What did the researcher want to know?

Does tonal training have an effect on beginning wind instrumentalists’ melodic ear playing and sight reading achievement?

What did the researcher do?

Bernhard taught two groups of sixth-grade beginning band students, twice per week for 10 weeks. At the beginning of the study, students’ tonal aptitude was measure using a subtest of the Musical Aptitude Profile, a published music aptitude test. During the 10 weeks, both groups of students learned melodies from two traditional beginning band method books. The control group learned the melodies using traditional training (learning/identifying symbols in notation and associating them with instrumental fingerings or slide positions), and the experimental group learned the melodies using tonal training (using singing and solfege to develop tonal audiation). When learning each melody, the students in the control group (traditional training) engaged in the following:

  • visually identified pitch letter name of each note
  • visual identified fingering/slide position of each note
  • played the melody by sight/notation on their instruments.

When learning each melody, the students in the experimental group (tonal training) engaged in the following:

  • listened to the researcher/teacher sing the melody on “loo”
  • sang the melody on “loo”
  • listed to the researcher sing the melody with solfege
  • sang the melody with solfege
  • played the melody by ear on their instruments
  • played the melody by sight/notation.

At the end of the 10-week instruction period, Bernhard tested each student on their melodic ear playing and sight reading achievement using two established assessments (the Measurement of the Ability to Play by Ear and the Melodic Sight Reading Achievement Test). The ear-playing assessment required students to listen to and play four-beat ascending melodic patterns, and the sight-reading assessment required students to look at and play short melodic patterns. The audio-recorded performances were scored by two independent adjudicators. Bernhard used statistical analysis (multivariate analysis of covariance, or MANCOVA) to examine whether students’ ear-playing or sight-reading varied depending on the type of training received, as well as whether tonal aptitude had any effect.

What did the researcher find?

Students who learned using tonal training (singing/solfege) scored significantly  higher on the test of ear-playing than students who learned using traditional training (letter names). There was no significant difference between the two groups on the sight-reading test. Additionally, students with higher tonal aptitude performed significantly better on both the ear-playing and sight-reading tests than did students with lower aptitude.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Although some may consider the ability to play by ear a special “talent,” the results of this study suggest that anyone’s ability to play by ear can be strengthened through instruction that emphasizes tonal audiation. Instrumental teachers might consider incorporating singing and solfege into their lessons, as well as teaching students to play melodies by ear/rote.

It is possible that Bernhard did not find a significant difference in sight-reading ability due to either the short length of the study (10 weeks) or the type of tonal instruction (singing melodies). Azzara (1993) conducted a longer study (27 weeks) of beginning instrumentalists that also involved singing/chanting/playing tonal patterns and rhythm patterns with solfege/syllables as well as improvising, and he found that students’ performance of both prepared and sight-read etudes was significantly higher among students who experienced ear-based pattern instruction with syllables and improvisation compared to students who did not receive such instruction. In addition to singing/playing melodies by ear, instrumental teachers might consider incorporating tonal pattern and rhythm pattern instruction with syllables into their teaching as well as improvisation.

RTRL.64: Required Choral Repertoire in Performance Assessment Events (Kramer & Floyd, 2019)


Kramer, M. K., & Floyd, E. G. (2019). Required choral repertoire in state music education performance events. Contributions to Music Education, 44, 39-54.

What did the researchers want to know?

What types of literature are included in required choral repertoire lists, and do the lists reflect the National Core Arts Standards for ensembles?

What did the researchers do?

Kramer and Floyd acquired the required repertoire lists for seven states (Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin) within the North Central division of the National Association for Music Education. They analyzed the lists according to text type (sacred or secular), text language, historic time period, style (Western art music or Non-Western, including spirituals/gospel, world music, and folk music), accompanied or a cappella, and whether it was a stand-alone piece or part of a larger work.

What did the researchers find?

Of the total 2,714 pieces included on the seven lists, 75% were Western art music. The most commonly included time period within Western art music was late 20th century, while the most commonly included type of non-Western music was international folk. More details can be found in the tables below. The most frequently represented geographic areas among folk and world music were North American (5.7%), English/Irish/Scottish (3.8%), and South American/Latin American (2%).

Among the individual states, Iowa’s list had the highest percentage of Western art music (81.7%) while Wisconsin had the lowest (63.8%). The most frequent language was English, which ranged from 59% in Michigan to 72% in Ohio, and the second most frequent was Latin, ranging from 17% in Ohio to 24% in Indiana. 

What does this mean for my classroom?

The National Core Arts Standards stress that students should experience varied repertoire representing diverse cultures, styles, genres, and historic periods. However, if repertoire choice is dictated by required lists for state performance assessments, “it is likely that a choral singer will receive an unbalanced choral music education, focusing mostly on 20th Century and contemporary Western art music” (p. 49). “Choral music educators should be challenged to look at their state’s required repertoire list with open eyes, focusing on the unequal proportions of historic time periods and musical styles” (p. 49). Choral directors should also consider playing a role “in influencing the process of repertoire selection in their state” (p. 50) because, “if music educators believe it is important to balance singers[‘] exposure to music from various Western time periods and Non-Western music traditions[,] then balance should be reflected in the required repertoire lists” (p. 49).