Does experience with playing an instrument by ear help students’ aural skill development?
What did the researchers do?
Baker and Green examined 32 instrumental students (ages 10-14 years) taught by four teachers. Sixteen of the students experienced ear playing strategies, and the other 16 learned only from notation. Before the instruction period began, each student was given a test in which they were asked to listen to a recording of a short melody twice and then play it back on their instrument (without notation). Then, for a period of 7-10 weeks, half of the students experienced instruction that incorporated ear playing strategies. These included playing along with a recorded pop-funk bass riff by ear, playing a classical piece by ear, and choosing a piece in any style to learn by ear. After the instructional period, all students were tested again. Each student test performance recording was rated in terms of pitch accuracy, contour accuracy, rhythmic accuracy, tempo accuracy, and closure (stopping before or continuing until the end).
Analysis revealed that the students who had experienced instruction that included ear playing strategies achieved greater gains than students who had not.
What does this mean for my classroom?
Playing by ear is a skill that can be learned. Providing students experiences with playing instruments by ear will improve their ability to do so!
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:
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.