RTRL.53: Effects of Choral Performance Movement on Choral Sound (Grady & Gilliam, 2020)

Source:

Grady, M. L., & Gilliam, T. M. (2020). Effects of three common choral performance movement conditions on acoustic and perceptual measures of choral sound. Journal of Research in Music Education, 68(3), 286-304.

What did the researchers want to know?

How does singer movement affect choral sound and perceptions of choral sound?

What did the researchers do?

Grady and Gilliam audio-recorded a non-auditioned, mixed-voice university choir performing a 16-measure excerpt (Klebanow’s arrangement of “Erev Shel Shoshanim”) under three conditions: standing still, slight swaying (up to 2 inches in any direction), and full-body swaying (“natural swaying that could exceed 2 in. in any direction and include a shifting of weight between feet” (p. 290)). Two weeks later the singers were invited to participate as “singer-listeners,” which 19 of the 29 choir members agreed to do. In addition, the researchers invited  16 “expert listeners” with graduate degrees in music education or choral conducting and experience in choral teaching/conducting to participate. The singer-listeners and expert listeners were asked to rate the overall choral sound and expressiveness of each of the three audio recordings (heard in random order and blinded to condition) and to rank them in order of preference. In addition, the researchers acoustically analyzed the sound of each recording for timbre (“spectral energy”) and pitch.

What did the researchers find?

Acoustical analysis showed significant differences in spectral energy between all three conditions, with full-body swaying showing a the highest mean and no movement showing the lowest. Acoustical analysis also showed that the slight sway condition resulted in the smallest overall pitch deviation, with no movement resulting in the largest overall pitch deviation. 

In terms of singer-listeners’ perception of overall choral sound, the average rating was lowest for the no-movement performance and highest for the full-body swaying performance. Although the lowest average rating from expert listeners was also for the no-movement performance, expert listeners rated the slight-swaying performance as having the best choral sound. When rating expressiveness, expert listeners gave the highest average rating to the full-body swaying performance and lowest to the no-movement performance. Singer-listeners also gave the lowest average rating to the no-movement performance but the highest rating to the slight-swaying performance. However, the only statistically significant difference was between expert listeners’ ratings of overall choral sound for slight swaying versus no movement.

When asked to rank the three recordings in order of preference, singer-listeners most preferred the full-body-swaying performance while expert listeners preferred the slight-swaying recording. Both groups ranked the no-movement performance as least preferred.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Many music educators require their students to stand still while singing because they believe this makes the choir’s performance more visually appealing. However, the results of this study indicate that requiring students to stand still can be detrimental to their pitch, expressiveness and overall choral sound. The researchers also asked the singers to comment on their experiences in each of the three conditions, and the singers remarked “that the full-body swaying helped them feel ‘more free’ and ‘breathe easier’ and that ‘anxiety/tension was reduced’” while they “were ‘stiff’ and ‘tight’ during the no-movement condition, with a ‘tendency to hold and clutch’” (p. 299). Teachers might reconsider the requirement that students stand still while singing and experiment to see whether and what kinds of movement might have the best effect on singers’ sound and experience of singing.

Related Studies:

McCabe (2006) found benefits of movement for beginning instrumentalists.

RTRL.50: Effects of Movement, Tempo, and Gender on Children’s Steady Beat Accuracy (Rose, 2016)

Source:

Rose, P. (2016). Effects of movement, tempo, and gender on steady beat performance of kindergarten children. International Journal of Music Education, 34(1), 104-115.

How do movement type, gender, and tempo affect children’s steady beat accuracy?

What did the researcher do?

Rose studied 119 kindergarten students in two schools who were divided into two groups: one that was asked to pat their hands to the beat and one that was asked to step their feet in place to the beat. Each student was asked to move to the steady beat to a musical excerpt heard three times at different tempi (slow/quarter-note = 80 bpm, medium/quarter-note = 100 bpm, and fast/quarter-note = 120 bpm). The hand-patting students were asked to tap the beat with both hands simultaneously on a MIDI controller while the foot-stepping students were asked to step (alternating) on a piece of foam with a MIDI controller against it. The researcher then calculated how many of the 16 total beats each participant accurately moved to at each tempo and conducted a two-way mixed ANOVA with hand/foot grouping and gender as the between-subjects variables and tempo as the within-subjects variable.

The students were least accurate at the fast tempo and most accurate at the medium tempo, but these differences were not statistically significant. There was also no significant difference by gender. There was, however, a statistically significant difference by movement type: students who patted their hands to the beat were more accurate than students who stepped to the beat across all three tempi.

What does this mean for my classroom?

If music teachers wish to help students accurately move to the steady beat, they may find more initial success in asking students to pat with their hands rather than step with their feet. Rose noted that this seemed to be a result of a struggle with balance when standing on one foot at a time. However, it could also be that the alternating bilateral movement required of stepping with alternating feet was the reason for the decreased accuracy when compared to the parallel bilateral hand-patting. If teachers notice students are struggling to keep a steady beat with alternating movement, they might remediate to provide more experiences with parallel movement first or spend more time on parallel movement before progressing to alternating movement in the first place.

The effects of movement type and tempo should also be considered when formally assessing students’ steady beat accuracy. Teachers might experiment with various beat movement experiences and/or provide a variety of opportunities through which students can demonstrate their beat competency to ensure it is being measured validly and reliably.

RTRL.30: The Effect of Movement-based Instruction on Beginning Instrumentalists’ Rhythmic Sight-reading (McCabe, 2006)

Source:

McCabe, M. C. (2006). The effect of movement-based instruction on the beginning instrumentalist’s ability to sight-read rhythm patterns. Missouri Journal of Research in Music Education, 43, 24-38.

What did the researcher want to know?

Does movement-based instruction affect beginning instrumentalist’s rhythmic sight-reading ability?

What did the researcher do?

Study participants were 81 students in 6th-, 7th- or 8th-grade who were enrolled in a beginning instrumental music class which met 5 times a week for 40 minutes (four separate classes). All classes used the same method book and used a variety of rhythm syllables and vocalization techniques (Kodaly syllables, numerical syllables, sizzling, note names). However, the control group (two classes) was “not allowed to use bodily movements to mark the beat or to clap rhythm patterns” during rhythm instruction (p. 29), while the experimental group (two classes) moved to the beat of recordings, clapped rhythm patterns while tapping their foot or marching to the beat, played rhythms while tapping the beat, conducted the beat pattern while chanting rhythms, and “use[d] designated body movements to represent different beat values” (p. 30). Instruction lasted for 18 weeks, with 15 minutes of rhythmic instruction per class period. The Watkins-Farnum Scale, a standardized music achievement test, was used to measure each student’s rhythmic sight-reading ability, both before and after the 18-week instruction period.

What did the researcher find?

Watkins-Farnum rhythm sight-reading scores indicated that, although both groups scored similarly on the pre-test, the treatment group scored significantly higher than the control group on the post-test. Overall, the students who experienced movement-based instruction showed an average gain that was 229% greater than the average gain of students who were not allowed to move.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Moving to the rhythm and/or beat can help students develop a stronger sense of rhythm and become more proficient at rhythmic sight-reading. Some teachers may be hesitant to encourage or allow students to move because they may believe it is distracting to the audience. However, the findings of McCabe’s study suggest that requiring students to remain still actually hinders their rhythmic development. Engaging students in movement-based instruction can enhance their sense of rhythm and help them perform with a more consistent tempo. Findings also suggest that aural reinforcement of the beat (e.g., using a metronome, teacher tapping or clapping the beat for students) may not be as effective as FEELING the beat.

One helpful suggestion I have heard is to have students tap their heels to the beat (rather than the traditional practice of toe-tapping) because this larger movement engages more weight, thus helping students better feel the beat. This article provides many more ideas for incorporating movement in the instrumental classroom to facilitate beat competency: