RTRL.38: Participatory Music-making and Adults’ Musical Identities (Woody, Fraser, Nannen, & Yukevich, 2019)
Woody, R. H., Fraser, A., Nannen, B., Yukevich, P. (2019). Musical identities of older adults are not easily changed: An exploratory study. Music Education Research, 21(3), 315-330.
What did the researchers want to know?
Does engaging in informal, participatory music-making affect adults’ perceptions of their own musicality and their likelihood of engaging in particular musical activities in the future?
What did the researchers do?
Woody, Fraser, Nannen, Yukevich engaged a group of 35-40 individuals in a participatory music-making session at a summer camp/retreat for adults. Unlike presentational music-making, in which there is a clear distinction between performers and audience-members, participatory music groups include everyone present as a participant who is expected to contribute to the music-making (Turino, 2008).
Before the session, 31 adults completed a questionnaire, which included items prompting them to rate their own musicality, how likely they would be to engage in various musical activities, the degree to which musical skills are a result of experience and/or innate talent, and the degree to which various musical skills are something anyone or only a musician can do. Two of the researchers then engaged the participants in the hour-long participatory music-making session, which involved using ukulele and various percussion instruments to play/sing the song “Hey Jude” and focused on enjoyment rather than correctness. Immediately after the session, participants were asked to complete the same items rating their own musicality, likelihood to engage in various musical activities, and beliefs about talent, as well as two additional open-ended questions about the experience. Based on the participants’ open-ended responses, the researchers categorized participants as lower, moderate, or higher self-efficacy regarding the participatory music-making experience.
What did the researchers find?
The participants who had formally studied an instrument considered themselves more musical than those who had not, but they were no more likely to engage in various musical activities overall. (There were no differences between those who had sung in a school choir and those who had not.) Those who had formally studied an instrument were more likely to have lower self-efficacy for the participatory music-making experience, while those who had not formally studied an instrument were more likely to have moderate or high self-efficacy for the participatory music-making.
In comparing the pre- and post-test responses, the researchers only found increased likelihood of engaging in one musical activity—playing a musical instrument informally with family or friends. Those who were categorized as having moderate or high self-efficacy for the experience showed gains in their self-ratings of musicality, while those who were categorized as having low self-efficacy for the experience showed a decrease in their self-ratings of musicality.
What does this mean for my classroom?
“Our results may provide some useful insights for those of us in the music education profession who wish to encourage greater music-making among people. Rather than trying to convince people that they are in fact musical as a precursor to them behaving more musically, perhaps they just need to be engaged in music activities with the assurance that ‘being musical’ is not needed. As they enjoy the artistic, social, and individual rewards of that activity, that behaviour will naturally be reinforced.” (p. 326)
The fact that the musical activity rated as most attainable for the general population was “playing a fretted instrument (e.g. guitar, ukulele, banjo)” and the overall self-reported likelihood of “playing a musical instrument informally with family or friends” increased suggests that informal experiences with playing these instruments may be effective means for helping more people engage with music. According to the authors, participatory music-making “can help encourage a society that better values lifelong musicianship for everyone” (p. 327).
For more on distinctions between participatory music and presentational music-making, see this chapter from Thomas Turino’s (2008) book Music as Social Life.