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).

Role Stress in the Professional Life of the School Music Teacher (Scheib, 2003)

Source:

Scheib, J. W. (2003). Role stress in the professional life of the school music teacher: A collective case study. Journal of Research in Music Education, 51(2), 124-136.

What did the researcher want to know?

How and to what extent do music teachers experience role stress?

What did the researcher do?

Scheib conducted a collective case study of all four of the music teachers at one midwestern US high school. He observed them over the course of six months, interviewed each teacher twice, and collected a variety of documents, such as their job descriptions and concert programs. Scheib analyzed the data in relation to six previously-identified stressors from existing research on occupational stress:

  • Role ambiguity: when it’s not entirely clear what your job is.
  • Role conflict: when different people’s expectations of you contradict each other.
  • Role overload: when you have so much to do that you can’t do any of it well.
  • Underutilization of skills: when you have skills that you don’t get to use.
  • Resource inadequacy: when you don’t have what you need to do your job.
  • Nonparticipation: when you don’t have a say over what your job is.

What did the researcher find?

The four teachers didn’t experience a lot of role ambiguity or non-participation. Since these teachers each had several years of experience, they knew what their roles in the program were and had plenty of say over what they did.

The teachers experienced role conflict in several ways. One of the most important was that the roles of parent and spouse sometimes conflicted with their music teaching roles. There were conflicts within the music teacher role, too, as there are many different and competing roles that music teachers fill. Building a strong performance program and helping students become well-rounded musicians can feel like contradictory goals, but both seem important. There are also many administrative responsibilities that might conflict with other roles.

Underutilization of skills is sometimes called “role underload,” and it might seem like a person couldn’t have role overload and role underload at the same time. However, these teachers experienced both. The sheer number of different and often conflicting responsibilities led to role overload; these teachers just had too much to do. The underload came from having to do things that weren’t music-related and seemed like they should be done by someone else. Fund-raising, preparing spaces for rehearsal and performance, and managing schedules were some of the causes of role underload. One of the teachers felt like his role overload caused underutilization of skills; he didn’t have time to plan well, so couldn’t use his musical skills as effectively as he would like.

Surprisingly, the teachers in this study felt like they had adequate resources in the traditional sense. Scheib wrote that “they realize and accept the limitations of funding that comes with working in a publicly financed system” (p. 133). Instead, these teachers’ resource inadequacy came in the form of staff and students. They had big ideas about how their programs could grow but not always enough teachers in the department or students in the classes to make it work. Class scheduling was one of the main problems for getting students in classes.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Music teacher stress comes from many different places. Using the theory of role dynamics, music teachers can understand their stress in terms of some of the stressors studied here. Once you start to understand where your stress is coming from, you might be able to do something about it!

Scheib had some good advice in his article; here are a few helpful thoughts:

  1. “The subjects report that they themselves are to blame for any tension or stress they endure, since they are the sole determiners of the expectations and roles of their position” (p. 135). If you are stressed about something, then think about why you’re doing it. Is it the best thing for your students? Does someone important expect it of you? Maybe it’s stressful ultimately because it doesn’t need to be done, or at least not the way you’re trying to do it.
  2. “Often, stress comes from the incongruence of the teacher’s expectations and beliefs versus what the system allows… Teachers need to understand that each music program is, to some extent, confined by the system that surrounds it” (p. 135). Every school has different students, teachers, schedules, budgets and other resources. Trying to push beyond what’s possible is not a sign of dedication and strength; it’s a stressor that could hurt your program in the long run. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push at all, it just means to be smart about what, how, and who you push.
  3. “Communication is the best weapon in the battle of incompatible role expectations” (p. 135). If different people expect different things from you, get them in the same room and talk it out. You’re only one person and there are only so many hours in the day, so you have to figure out how to prioritize some things and let others go.

* This guest post was authored by Seth A. Taft, PhD Candidate in music education at the University of Colorado Boulder.

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.

Who Enrolls in High School Music? (Elpus & Abril, 2019)

 

Source:

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?

Singing Ability, Musical Self-concept, and Future Music Participation (Demorest, Kelley, & Pfordresher, 2017)

What did the researchers want to know?

What factors predict students’ decisions whether to participate in elective music classes?

What did the researchers do?

Demorest, Kelley, and Pfordresher surveyed 319 sixth-grade students (95% of the population) from five elementary schools that feed the same junior high in the Pacific Northwest. Students completed two questionnaires; one asked questions pertaining to their musical and family background, and the other measured their attitudes and beliefs about music participation, including their musical self-concept and perceived costs of participating in music. After students registered for their seventh-grade classes (since music study became elective in seventh grade in this school district), the researchers compared each student’s decision whether to continue participating in school music to their survey results.

The researchers conducted a second study in which they randomly sampled 55 of the 319 sixth graders to complete a singing assessment, in which students were asked to sing the song “Happy Birthday” as well as echo-sing various pitches, intervals, and patterns. Singing accuracy was compared to students’ decisions whether to participate in music and to their questionnaire responses.

What did the researchers find?

Students who elected to participate in a music class reported “significantly higher perceptions of musical self-concept than those who did not . . . ; were more likely to be influenced by peers in their participation choices . . . ; and believed more strongly that music is not a barrier to other activities” (p. 410). Further analysis revealed that musical self-concept, peer influence, and family musical engagement were the strongest predictors of students’ decisions whether to participate in music.

Statistical analysis showed no significant difference in singing accuracy between those who elected to participate in music and those who did not. Comparison to questionnaire responses revealed that “musical self-concept was the only unique predictor of singing accuracy” (p. 414).

What does this mean for my classroom?

Music teachers should be aware that musical self-concept is strongly related to students’ future musical participation and consider monitoring students’ musical self-concepts “to identify students who may be feeling less positive about their musicality. If caught early enough, perhaps teachers could provide opportunities for students to improve their self- perceptions of musicality. . . . If we as a profession are interested in expanding the number of children who choose to continue elective music instruction, we should continue to explore how singing skill and musical self-concept interact throughout a child’s early development and what experiences might encourage improvement in both attributes” (p. 417).

In Memoriam

Dr. Steven M. Demorest

August 24, 1959 – September 22, 2019

With gratitude for his many contributions to the music education profession

The Influence of Beginning Instructional Grade on String Student Enrollment, Retention, and Performance (Hartley & Porter, 2009)

Source:

Hartley, L. A., & Porter, A. M. (2009). The influence of beginning instructional grade on string student enrollment, retention, and music performance. Journal of Research in Music Education, 56(4), 370-384.

What did the researchers want to know?

Does the starting grade level of beginning string instruction affect initial enrollment, retention, or ensemble performance by the seventh-grade year?

What did the researchers do?

Hartley and Porter surveyed 166 elementary, middle, and junior high school string teachers in Ohio about their initial enrollment, retention at the end of the first year of instruction, and retention at the beginning of the seventh-grade year. To gauge performance achievement, Hartley and Porter visited and recorded 22 middle school orchestras (that were primarily made up of seventh-grade students), 36% of which started in fourth grade and 32% started in fifth grade and sixth grade respectively. Three string specialists (who were not told the starting grade level of the ensembles) rated each performance using the state-approved form for large-group adjudicated events.

What did the researchers find?

Just over half (50.3%) of all schools enrolled 20% or less of students in the starting grade level, 37.6% enrolled 20% to 40%, and only 12.1% enrolled 40% or more. When comparing the percentages of the student body who enrolled in beginning strings according to starting grade level, Hartley and Porter found no statistically significant differences in initial enrollment.

In terms of retention at the end of the first year of instruction, 23% of teachers reported retaining 50-65% of students, 19.6% retained 65-80% of students, 36.5% retained 80-95% of students, and 22.6% retained 95-100% of students. There was a significant difference in relation to starting grade level: schools with later starting grade levels were more likely to retain 80% or more of their students at the end of the first year of instruction, as shown in the table below.

 

 

 

 

 

In terms of retention at the beginning of the seventh-grade year, 12.8% of teachers reported retaining 30% or less of students who initially enrolled, 27.6% retained 60% of students, 40.4% retained 90% of students, and 19.2% retained 95-100% of students. There was a significant difference in relation to starting grade level: schools with later starting grade levels were more likely to retain 60% or more of their students at the end of the first year of instruction, as shown in the table above.

When comparing the overall ensemble performance ratings, there were no statistically significant differences between groups that began instruction in fourth grade, fifth grade, or sixth grade.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Some teachers may worry whether starting instrumental music at a later grade level could have negative effects in comparison to starting at an earlier grade level. However, delaying the start of instrumental music until sixth grade likely will not hurt initial enrollment or performance achievement in later grades and may actually help increase retention.

Additionally, Hartley and Porter found that schools with a fourth-grade start level were more likely to have fewer meetings per week than sixth-grade beginners, and schools with more class meetings per week were more likely to have a higher retention rate at the end of the first year. If given the choice between starting instruction in an earlier grade level but with fewer class meetings per week or starting in a later grade level but with more frequent class meetings, the latter may be preferable.

Facilitating Music Learning for Students with Special Needs (Gerrity, Hourigan, & Horton, 2013)

Source:

Gerrity, K. W., Hourigan, R. M., & Horton, P. W. (2013). Conditions that facilitate music learning among students with special needs: A mixed-methods inquiry. Journal of Research in Music Education, 61(2), 144-159.

What did the researchers want to know?

What conditions facilitate the learning of music among students with special needs?

What did the researchers do?

Gerrity, Hourigan, and Horton conducted a mixed-methods study of 16 children (ages 7-14 years) with special needs. Of the 16 students, 11 had autism, two had Down syndrome, two had cognitive delays, and one had cerebral palsy. The students participated in an integrated arts experience, which met for 10 Saturday afternoons and included instruction in music, theatre, and dance. For the quantitative part of the study, the researchers conducted a 20-item assessment of each student’s individual skills and knowledge of pitch and rhythm at both the beginning and end of the 10-week class. For the qualitative part of the study, the students, their parents, and six preservice educators (who served as mentors in the program) were interviewed to identify conditions that facilitated the students’ learning.

What did the researchers find?

According to the quantitative analysis, “the musical ability of the students was poor at the start of the experimental period” (p. 152), but there was a statistically significant improvement between the pretest and posttest. Overall, students demonstrated significant increases in rhythm, pitch, and tonal memory at the end of the 10-week period.

Qualitative analysis revealed that both the students and their parents perceived tangible musical accomplishments as a result of participating in the class. The student mentors identified three main strategies that led to increased engagement and learning: 

  1. Repetition. “Repetition not only helped the students acquire specific skills and knowledge, but it also allowed the students to better understand the sequence of instruction” (pp. 153-154).
  2. Student Choice.  “Many of the students had limited experience with instruments and other music equipment” (p. 154), so having the opportunity to explore at their own pace and choose their own instruments was important.
  3. Increased Response Time. Students were more likely to show their understanding of a concept or skill when given a long opportunity to respond.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Students with special needs are capable of building musical knowledge and skills and deserve the opportunity to do so! To better facilitate music learning for students with special needs, teachers can incorporate the strategies identified in Gerrity, Hourigan, and Horton’s study:

  • Provide repeated opportunities for students to experience, experiment with, and practice musical skills.
  • Allow students to explore, move at their own pace, and choose instruments and other materials that appeal to them.
  • Don’t be afraid of silence! Providing more “wait time” for students to respond gives them more freedom and opportunity to do so. One of the mentors in the study explained the benefits of this increased response time: “We modeled something and there would be kind of like 10 seconds of just cold silence. Then, suddenly, it would just come out. You never really knew when it was going to come out” (p. 154).

Gerrity, Hourigan, and Horton also identified environmental conditions that facilitated student success: having clear directions and expectations, using a behavior plan, and providing a positive, encouraging environment. NAfME members can read the full article by logging in here.

Other Resources:

Male and Female Photographic Representation in 50 years of Music Educators Journal (Kruse, Giebelhausen, Shouldice, & Ramsey, 2015)

Source:

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.

What did the researchers want to know?

What was the gender makeup of photographs depicting adults in implied positions of authority in Music Educators Journal (MEJ) during the years 1962-2011?

What did the researchers do?

Between the four of them, Kruse, Giebelhausen, Shouldice, and Ramsey examined each photograph in every issue of MEJ during the 50-year time period and tallied the number of photographs depicting adults in three categories: (1) conductors/directors, (2) teachers/presenters, and (3) named persons (e.g., head shots, posed group photos). More specifically, the researchers calculated the percentage of photographs showing adult men and adult women in each role. 

Note: Because gender could not be ascertained in terms of each individual’s identity, the researchers had to assume gender based on clothing, hairstyle, and/or name. Gender was indeterminate in 0.53% of the total 7,288 photographs depicting adults in the three categories. For more specific details regarding data collection and analysis procedures for this study, see the full article, which is available for free to NAfME members by logging in at https://nafme.org/my-classroom/journals-magazines/.

What did the researchers find?

Of the 7,288 total photographs featured in issues of MEJ during the years 1962-2011, 71.4% featured men in positions of implied authority while only 28.1% featured women. Although female representation increased over time, the percentage of photographs depicting women only exceeded 40% in 9 of the 50 years.

Of the 871 photographs of conductors, 79% were male. While the percentage of female conductors pictured has gradually increased, women still made up only 30.1% of conductors pictured during the years 2002-2011, and there was not a single female conductor depicted in MEJ in 2001. Of the 4,813 photographs of named persons, 80% were male, with photographs of named persons in the most recent 10 years (2002-2011) being 69% male. In contrast, women made up 56% of the 1,608 photographs of teachers/presenters over the 50 years. 

What does this mean for my classroom?

“Visual images play a powerful role in the construction of one’s identity…. When a woman opens her professional journal and views photographs that predominantly portray males rather than females in these positions of implied authority, it may hinder her ability to imagine herself as a potential holder of these positions. Thus, a lack of equitable visual representation of females can be detrimental to women’s identity development and navigation as music educators” (p. 493).

“Music educators can be more sensitive to the representations they are encountering as well as those they are presenting in their classrooms. Teachers might consciously consider the images they view in journals and the impact that representation in these images might have on their perceptions of gender roles for both adults and students in the field of music education. In doing so, teachers can develop their awareness of issues of representation and stereotyping and apply this critical awareness to the images they are using in their own classrooms” (pp. 497-498).

Successful Sight-singing Strategies (Killian & Henry, 2005)

Source:

Killian, J. N., & Henry, M. L. (2005). A comparison of successful and unsuccessful strategies in individual sight-singing preparation and performance. Journal of Research in Music Education, 53(1), 51-65.

What did the researchers want to know?

What observable strategies or characteristics are associated with high-, medium-, or low-accuracy among high school sight-singers?

What did the researchers do?

Participants were 198 singers in two high school choir camps designed to help prepare students for Texas all-state choir competition. Killian and Henry recorded each participant sight-singing two melodies—one in which they were given 30 seconds to prepare and one in which there was no preparation time. Each student’s performances were audio-recorded and later scored for accuracy, which Killian and Henry used to classify them into high-, medium-, and low-accuracy groups. The researchers also viewed videos of each student’s preparation and compiled a list of observed behaviors, which included the following:

  1. pitch strategies (tonicizing, using Curwen hand signs, using solfege or numbers)
  2. rhythm strategies (keeping a beat in the body)
  3. overall strategies (tempo, starting over, isolating trouble spots)

Participants also completed a survey to provide demographic information, such as age, voice part, and sight-singing practice habits.

What did the researchers find?

Strategies associated with higher sight-singing accuracy for either condition included tonicizing (vocally establishing the key), physically keeping the beat, and using hand signs. Students who performed with more accuracy were also more likely to state that they practice sight-singing individually and/or that their director tests sight-singing individually.

Note: Killian and Henry’s complete findings, including the effect of preparation time and other demographic differences associated with sight-singing accuracy, can be accessed in the full article, which is available for free to NAfME members at https://nafme.org/my-classroom/journals-magazines/.

What does this mean for my classroom?

If we wish to improve our students’ sight-singing abilities, modeling and practicing strategies such as tonicizing (establishing the key), physically keeping the beat, and using hand signs may help. For example, tonicizing before any type of singing will strengthen students’ audiation and recognition of where the tonal center is, thus helping them sing with a more accurate sense of pitch. This could be done by arpeggiating the tonic chord or singing a quick “tune-up” in the appropriate key.

Tune-up/Sequence of Tones in D Major

If sight-singing is an important skill we wish our students to have, we should also consider encouraging them to practice sight-singing on their own and holding them accountable through individual sight-singing tests.

Intersections of Music Making and Teaching (Pellegrino, 2014)

Source:

Pellegrino, K. (2014). Examining the intersections of music making and teaching for four string teachers. Journal of Research in Music Education, 62(2), 128-147.

What did the researcher want to know?

How do teachers’ past and present music-making relate to their current teaching?

What did the researcher do?

Pellegrino used a phenomenological case study design to examine the lived experiences of four full-time public school strings teachers. Data included background surveys, multiple interviews with each teacher, videos of the teachers making music in their classrooms, and a focus group interview that included music making. 

What did the researcher find?

NOTE: For the sake of brevity, I will focus on two of Pellegrino’s findings in this post. Members of the National Association for Music Education can find and read the full article by logging in with their email address and password at https://nafme.org/nafme-research/journal-research-music-education/.

Teachers’ past experiences with music-making influenced their current beliefs about students. Specifically, they believed that what they found interesting or rewarding about music-making would apply to their students as well. For example, one teacher assumed that “the classical musician’s ‘mentality’” would attract his students because it had attracted him. A different teacher enjoyed practicing and worked to instill that value in her students. Another teacher found the recognition received from playing well to be rewarding and assumed his students would want the same.

Teachers’ current music-making nurtured their artistic selves and kept them feeling revitalized as music teachers, and they felt it enabled them to inspire their students as well. Continuing to make music also helped teachers maintain their playing skills so they could model for students, allowed them to reflect on and solve pedagogical issues, and provided an opportunity to remember what it is like to be a music learner, which facilitated compassion toward their students.

What does this mean for my classroom?

There are many benefits for teachers to engage in their own music-making, both inside and outside the classroom. By continuing to make music, you can maintain an ability to model and teach skills, and remembering what it feels like to learn (and struggle!) can enable you to better relate to your students. Just as important, making music can help you stay inspired, fulfilled, and excited about music.

However, teachers should be aware of the tendency to assume that what they find interesting or valuable about music-making will also be the same for their students. Teachers should remain conscious that their students may have different experiences and thus may be motivated in different ways. 

The Effect of Instrumental Music Participation and Socioeconomic Status on State Proficiency Test Performance (Fitzpatrick, 2006)

Source:

Fitzpatrick, K. R. (2006). The effect of instrumental music participation and socioeconomic status on Ohio fourth-, sixth-, and ninth-grade proficiency test performance. Journal of Research in Music Education, 54(1), 73-84.

What did the researcher want to know?

How do the standardized test scores of instrumental music students compare to those of noninstrumental students, and what influence does socioeconomic status (SES) have? 

What did the researcher do?

Fitzpatrick collected existing standardized test scores for 15,431 high school students in the Columbus (OH) Public School District, 915 of whom participated in band, orchestra, or jazz ensemble. She used eligibility for free or reduced lunch as an indicator of SES and separated students into the following four groups:

  • Instrumental music students receiving free/reduced lunch
  • Instrumental music students paying full price
  • Noninstrumental students receiving free/reduced lunch
  • Noninstrumental students paying full price

Fitzpatrick then used a retrospective design to compare the four groups’ existing scores on the Ohio Proficiency Test (in citizenship, math, science, and reading) from ninth, sixth, and fourth grades.

What did the researcher find?

Full-price students outscored free/reduced-lunch students in the majority of the sub-tests Fitzpatrick examined. When analyzed separately according to SES, “students who would eventually become high school instrumental music students outperformed noninstrumental students of like socioeconomic status in every subject and at every grade level” (p. 78). However, these differences in test scores existed even before students started instrumental music. The string and band programs in the Columbus Public Schools began in the fourth and fifth grades respectively, but students who would go on to participate in instrumental music in high school were already outperforming their classmates in fourth grade — before experiencing much or any instrumental music instruction.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Many persons argue that participation in school music makes students “smarter” by raising their standardized test scores. However, Fitzpatrick’s finding that differences in test scores existed before instrumental music study began suggests that music participation did not actually cause higher scores. Therefore, music educators should be cautious about using this claim to justify the importance of their programs.

Given the fact that those students who chose to participate in instrumental music in high school were already scoring higher than their noninstrumental classmates even before beginning instrumental music instruction, there could be several other possible explanations:

  1. Instrumental music classes attracted students with higher test scores to begin with. 
  2. Students with higher test scores were the ones who persisted in instrumental music until high school.

Because Fitzpatrick did not have data on how many students may have initially participated in instrumental music but chose to quit before high school, we don’t know which of these two explanations is more accurate. Still, each possible explanation leads to further questions worth considering:

  1. Why might instrumental music classes attract certain kinds of students and not others?
  2. Why might students with lower test scores choose to quit instrumental music? Might there be anything about the way we traditionally teach instrumental music or structure our classes that allows some students to experience more success than others?

***Note: Earlier this month, the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) announced that NAfME members now have FREE online access to all digital issues of the Journal of Research in Music Education. To read Fitzpatrick’s full article and others from the past 60 years, simply log in with your email address and password at https://nafme.org/nafme-research/journal-research-music-education/.

“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.

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

Source:

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.

References:

  • 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

“Voice Change and Singing Experiences of Adolescent Females” (Sweet, 2018)

Source:

Sweet, B. (2018). Voice change and singing experiences of adolescent females. Journal of Research in Music Education, 66(2), 133-149.

What did the researcher want to know?

How does the adolescent female voice change influence young women’s use of their voice and their participation in singing in middle school, high school, and/or college?

What did the researcher do?

Sweet (2018) studied 17 female collegiate choral singers through one-on-one and focus group interviews.  She prompted the young women to reflect on their singing experiences since age 11, vocal challenges they have faced, and perceptions of how others interacted with them during their voice change experiences.

What did the researcher find?

Participants recalled experiencing numerous vocal challenges during adolescence, including vocal cracks, breaks, weakness, and unpredictability.  Additional challenges, such as laryngeal tension and lack of vocal flexibility, continued throughout adolescence.  Some participants noted that these changes extended into their 20s.

Participants’ recollections of their singing experiences since age 11 were more negative than positive. Emotions like frustration, fear, sadness, self-doubt, insecurity, and self-deprecation were prominent in their memories of singing during voice changes.  Sweet keenly noted that, as conveyed via participants’ tone of voice, facial expressions, and word emphasis, vocal challenges during adolescence were highly emotional experiences.

Teachers’ classification of adolescent female voices was a notable theme among the singers’ experiences.  “Participants who experienced a loss of strength or color in their higher range and had a stronger lower range mostly sang alto lines; participants who experienced a lack of phonation or lost power in lower notes were mostly assigned to higher vocal lines” (p. 142).  Rather than working with these singers through their difficulties, they felt their teachers had assigned them voice parts based on what was needed for the choir as a whole, at times even assigning them to sing vocal parts that were physically uncomfortable.  Additionally, “many participants felt that being assigned a particular voice part in middle school or early high school and rarely (or never) singing notes outside of that assigned voice part, sometimes for the entirety of their involvement in school choir, limited their vocal development and/or singing potential” (p. 142). 

What does this mean for my classroom?

Compared to the male voice change, the female adolescent voice change has received far less attention.  Choral teachers need to be aware of the unique challenges that voice change can pose for female students.  Teachers should be sensitive to the negative emotions adolescent female singers may experience as their voices change and help support students through these transitions.  Additionally, teachers might consider the ways in which the assigning of voice parts can benefit or hinder female singers and communicate and collaborate with them to determine flexible voice part assignment and enable a healthy and positive singing experience. 

Resources:

  • Thinking Outside the Voice Box: Adolescent Voice Change in Music Education, by Bridget Sweet
    • This upcoming book, scheduled for publication in October 2019 by Oxford University Press, encourages a holistic approach to working with adolescent changing voices and addresses female and male voices equally. According to Sweet, “the book is about understanding that voice change is tied up in so many aspects of adolescence and, to best teach/assist/support our students, we have to understand the bigger picture of this time of life, including psychological factors, emotional factors, many different facets of physiological growth, as well as the influence and impact of society’s perceptions of adolescence and voice change” (personal correspondence).
    • Update: Pre-order is available! Find on Amazon here.
  • Sweet’s 2016 Choral Journal article, “Choral Journal and the Adolescent Female Changing Voice:”
  • Sweet’s 2016 Choral Journal article, “Keeping the Glass Half Full: Teaching Adolescents with a Holistic Perspective”
  • The Female Voice, by Jean Abitbol
    • This brand new book features a variety of topics related to the female voice, including voice change during puberty, throughout the menstrual cycle, and as a result of hormonal birth control.

“Audiation-based Improvisation Techniques and Elementary Instrumental Students’ Music Achievement” (Azzara, 1993)

Source:

Azzara, C. D. (1993). Audiation-based improvisation techniques and elementary instrumental students’ music achievement. Journal of Research in Music Education, 41(4), 328-342.

What did the researcher want to know?

What effect does an improvisation curriculum have on instrumental students’ music achievement?

What did the researcher do?

Azzara (1993) studied 66 fifth grade students from two different schools who were in their second year of instrumental music study.  Students at each school were randomly assigned to either the control group or the treatment group.  Both groups received instruction using Jump Right In: The Instrumental Music Series, which utilizes a “sound before sight” learning process and includes tonal pattern and rhythm pattern instruction.  In addition, the treatment group also regularly engaged in improvisation activities, which included “(a) learning selected repertoire of songs by ear, (b) developing a vocabulary of tonal syllables and rhythm syllables, and (c) improvising with their voices and with their instruments tonic, dominant, and subdominant tonal patterns within the context of major tonality, and (d) improvising with their voices and with their instruments macrobeat, microbeat, division, elongation, and rest rhythm patterns within the context of duple meter” (p. 335).

What did the researcher find?

At the end of the 27-week period, Azzara (1993) recorded each student individually performing three etudes: one prepared without teacher assistance, one prepared with teacher assistance, and one sight-read.  Four judges rated each recording for tonal performance, rhythm performance, and expressive performance.  Statistical analysis of these ratings revealed that the students in the treatment group (who had experienced improvisation activities) had significantly higher composite etude performance scores than students who had not received instruction incorporating improvisation.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Having experiences with improvisation can help improve students’ performance achievement.  Just as speaking and conversing enhance the skills of reading and writing language, improvising music can enhance students’ music reading skills and performance of notated music. “When improvisation was included as a part of elementary instrumental music instruction, students were provided with opportunities to develop an increased understanding of harmonic progression through the mental practice and physical performance of tonal and rhythm patterns with purpose and meaning. Improvisation ability appears to transfer to a student’s clearer comprehension of the tonal, rhythmic, and expressive elements of music in an instrumental performance from notation” (p. 339).

Suggestions for Teaching Improvisation:

(From Azzara’s 1999 MEJ article “An Aural Approach to Improvisation”)

  • First and foremost, “use your ears. To develop improvisational skill, don’t rely on notation to remember music; rely on your ears” (p. 23).
  • Provide students with opportunities to listen to music (e.g., performed by the teacher, recorded music) in a wide variety of styles, tonalities (i.e., modes), and meters.
  • Develop a repertoire of simple tunes that students can sing and play by ear.
  • Teach students to sing and play basslines of simple tunes by ear.
  • Chant simple rhythm patterns for students to echo (chant/play) to develop their rhythmic “vocabulary” and sing simple tonal patterns for students to echo (sing/play) to develop their tonal “vocabulary.”

Examples of Rhythm Patterns and Tonal Patterns:

  • Learn tonal solfege and rhythm syllables by ear. These systems help students organize, comprehend, and read/write music.
  • “Improvise (1) rhythm patterns with and without rhythm syllables, (2) tonal patterns with and without tonal syllables, (3) rhythm patterns to familiar bass lines, and (4) rhythms on specific harmonic tones from particular harmonic progressions [e.g., to familiar tunes]. Improvise a melody by choosing notes that outline the harmonic functions of the progression (i.e., notes chosen from arpeggios) and perform them on each beat” (p. 23).
  • Play around with embellishing melodies, harmony parts, chord tones, and basslines.

Azzara’s 2011 TEDx Talk on Improvisation

Other Helpful Resources:

Developing Musicianship Through Improvisation

Jump Right In: The Instrumental Series

“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.