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

Source:

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

What did the researcher want to know?

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

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

What did the researcher do?

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

What did the researcher find?

Shouldice identified three main themes:

I. Enabling Success for All

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

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

II. Power of the Learning Environment

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

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

III. Encouraging Lifelong Musical Engagement

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

What does this mean for my classroom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RTRL.34: 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).

RTRL.28: 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.

RTRL.24: 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.”

RTRL.19: 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:

RTRL.11: “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.

RTRL.07: “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.

RTRL.04: “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.

RTRL.02: “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.

RTRL.01:“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.