Participatory Music-making and Adults’ Musical Identities (Woody, Fraser, Nannen, & Yukevich, 2019)

Source:

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).

Resources:

For more on distinctions between participatory music and presentational music-making, see this chapter from Thomas Turino’s (2008) book Music as Social Life.

Adults’ Anxiety Toward Singing (Abril, 2007)

Source:

Abril, C. R. (2007). I have a voice but I just can’t sing: A narrative investigation of singing and social anxiety. Music Education Research, 9(1), 1-15.

What did the researcher want to know?

What is the nature of adults’ anxiety toward music/singing, and what do they feel is the root of this anxiety?

What did the researcher do?

Abril conducted a narrative inquiry to examine singing anxiety among three adults who expressed fear of singing and claimed they lack musical ability. These young women (who were enrolled in a university music methods course for non-music majors taught by the researcher) participated in multiple interviews and kept journals to reflect on their experiences with music/singing.

What did the researcher find?

These adults believed that success in music, specifically singing, is the result of a natural “gift” or “talent.” According to one participant, “the ability to make music is something that comes to you when you are really young … you just have it or you don’t. It’s not like other subjects in school because those you can work at and get better” (p. 8). Because they felt they lacked “musical talent,” they believed they were incapable of singing.

All three participants recalled negative musical experiences from their childhood, in which they received the implicit message from their music teachers that they were not musical. One participant began to feel she lacked musical ability when she tried out for the school choir in fifth grade but didn’t make the cut, saying, “It really hurt my self-esteem regarding my musical ability” (p. 8). Another participant described a similar experience of not being accepted into the school choir in sixth grade. She shared, “I was devastated! I quit singing after that because I figured. . . my music teacher was the expert! That really shattered my musical self-image. Since then I’ve felt pretty incapable” (p. 6). The third participant recalled an instance during childhood in which her music teacher was upset because someone was singing “wrong notes.” Worried that it was her, she stopped singing and soon after quit the choir. This participant said, “It was that bad experience that has stifled me. Since then I haven’t developed or grown in music. I don’t think teachers realize the great impact they have” (p. 10).

What does this mean for my classroom?

A teacher’s words and actions have tremendous power. Music educators should be aware that many students may attribute success in music to innate talent, and the perception of a lack of talent can be damaging to one’s musical self-concept and motivation to engage in music-making. Rather than perpetuate the myth of musical ability as the result of innate talent, we can emphasize the importance of effort and practice and work to communicate the powerful message that anyone can become a competent music maker and enjoy making music in their daily lives.

“Elementary Students’ Definitions and Self-Perceptions of Being a ‘Good Musician’” (Shouldice, 2014)

Source:

Shouldice, H. N. (2014). Elementary students’ definitions and self-perceptions of being a ‘good musician.’ Music Education Research, 16(3), 330-345.

What did the researcher want to know?

What do elementary students believe it means to be a “good musician” and to what extent do they perceive themselves to be “good musicians?” 

What did the researcher do?

Shouldice (2014) individually interviewed 347 students in grades one through four.  The students answered questions pertaining to the kinds of things a good musician can do, how one knows if a person is a good musician, and who can be a good musician. At the conclusion of each interview, each student was asked to choose the statement that best described him/herself (see scale in Figure 1) and explain why.

What did the researcher find?

While students across all grade levels most commonly described a “good musician” as someone who plays an instrument, practices, and/or sings well, other characteristics fluctuated across grade levels, suggesting that students’ perceptions of what it means to be a “good musician” may change over time in relation to their own experiences.  Statistical analysis showed that students in grade one perceived themselves as better musicians than did students in upper grade levels, indicating that elementary students’ perceptions of their own musical ability may diminish as they get older.

Qualitative analysis of the data revealed that some children’s ability self-perceptions were based on how they believed others perceived their abilities, such as a first-grade girl who knew she was a good musician “because my [music] teacher always picks me first” (p. 336), or were reached as a result of comparing themselves to others.  A number of students believed that innate musical talent is necessary in order for a person to be a “good musician;” their comments included the belief that “only some people are born with the talent” and “either you got it or you don’t” (p. 339).  Additionally, responses from some students implied the belief that skill in certain musical genres or modes of music making do not qualify one as a “good musician,” such as one second-grade boy’s statement that rappers and beat-boxers cannot be good musicians and that he himself was not a good musician despite describing himself as a “rapping pro.”

What does this mean for my classroom?

Elementary music teachers should be aware of the tendency for students’ musical ability self-perceptions to diminish over time and work to help students maintain positive musical identities as they get older.  Teachers also should be aware of the ways in which they might inadvertently communicate their own judgments of students’ musical abilities and/or beliefs about the value of certain musical genres or modes of musicking.  Additionally, teachers can encourage students to focus on effort and practice as determinants of musical ability rather than emphasizing innate musical talent.  

Note: 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.