Relationships Between Tonal Aptitude, Singing Achievement, and Grade Level Among Elementary Students (Hornbach & Taggart, 2005)


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).

The Association Between Music Aptitude of Elementary Students and Their Biological Parents (Guerrini, 2005)


Guerrini, S. C. (2005). An investigation of the association between the music aptitude of elementary students and their biological parents. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 24(1), 27-33.

What did the researcher want to know?

Is there an association between the music aptitude of children and the music aptitude of their biological parents?

What did the researcher do?

Guerrini compared the music aptitude test scores of 88 elementary school students to those of their biological parents. To measure the children’s music aptitude, their elementary music teacher administered the Primary Measures of Music Audiation (PMMA) or the Intermediate Measures of Music Audiation (IMMA) during the students’ regular music class time. Both PMMA and IMMA are published music aptitude tests for children developed by Edwin E. Gordon. To measure the parents’ music aptitude, Guerrini administered the Advanced Measures of Music Audiation (AMMA) to any parent who volunteered to participate. The AMMA is a published music aptitude test for adolescents and adults, also developed by Gordon. Scoring of all tests resulted in measurements of tonal aptitude and rhythm aptitude, as well as a composite music aptitude scores, for each child and parent. Guerrini then completed statistical analyses to compare children’s music aptitude scores to those of their biological parents.

What did the researcher find?

Guerrini found no significant association between children’s music aptitude test scores and those of their biological parents. Tonal, rhythm, and composite scores were categorized into low, medium, and high aptitude groupings for both children and parents, and there were no significant relationships between these categorizations. For example, parents with high tonal aptitude were no more likely to have children with high tonal aptitude than were parents with medium or low tonal aptitude, and a child with low tonal aptitude was equally likely to have a parent with high or low tonal aptitude.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Many persons assume that musical ability is inherited from one’s parents. However, Guerrini’s results do not support this assumption. Those who believe musical ability is inherited tend to conflate music aptitude and music achievement. While music aptitude is one’s potential to achieve musically, music achievement is one’s observable musical ability at a given point in time. In order for one’s music aptitude to manifest as music achievement, it must be nurtured in a rich and supportive musical environment. It is probable that parents who demonstrate high music achievement are likely to provide the type of supportive musical environment that will nurture their children’s music aptitude. This may result in higher levels of observable music achievement among their children than children who lack a rich musical environment at home, making it appear that music is “in their blood.” However, in terms of the “nature versus nurture” debate, “the results of [Guerrini’s] study seem to point to the nurture theory” (p. 31).

For an overview of Gordon’s theory of music aptitude and the published music aptitude tests he developed, click to read his monographs entitled Music Aptitude and Related Tests: An Introduction and Continuing Studies in Music Aptitudes.