RTRL.68: Effects of Melodic Familiarity on Children’s Piano Performance Accuracy (Goins Frewen, 2010)

Source:

Goins Frewen, K. (2010). Effects of familiarity with a melody prior to instruction on children’s piano performance accuracy. Journal of Research in Music Education, 57(4), 320-333.

What did the researcher want to know?

Does familiarity with a melody affect children’s learning to play the melody on the piano? 

What did the researcher do?

Elementary music classes at one school from kindergarten to fourth grade were divided into two groups: “familiar” and “unfamiliar.” All students in the study had no previous instrumental instruction. Children in the familiar group listened to a new melody as they entered and exited music class over the course of two weeks, hearing the melody more than 100 times during this period. Next, the familiar group received 25 minutes of instruction by rote from the researcher, who taught them how to play the melody on the piano. The rote methods used to teach the melody included modeling one measure at a time and singing finger numbers as the melody was played. Children in the unfamiliar group went straight to the step of learning the piece in 25 minutes by rote instruction from the researcher. Both groups were tested for pitch sequence accuracy immediately following their instruction session.

What did the researcher find?

A significant effect was found between familiarity and pitch sequence accuracy (more than one pitch correct in a row). Children in the familiar group scored significantly higher at all grade levels, both pre and post-test, than the unfamiliar group. Researchers state the aural familiarity allows students to have a “knowledge of a target response, allowing them to detect errors” (p. 329).  This greater ability to detect errors also bolstered students’ patience and attention to learn the piece. Video observation “suggested that students who were familiar with the melody were more willing to keep practicing, even when the music became more challenging” (p. 329).  Finally, a significant effect was found for accuracy in older students compared to younger students.  

What does this mean for my classroom?

Aural modeling is recognized as an effective and vital instructional technique, yet, building familiarity with a new melody is rarely included in the piano lesson. So often the habit of the piano teacher is to turn the page of the method book and dive into having the student count, recite, and play the new piece. This research serves as reminder that piano students—and surely all music students—benefit from familiarity with a melody. It is important to note that even though all students received the same 25 minutes of rote instruction (using a slow tempo, one measure at a time, and singing finger numbers), students unfamiliar with the melody had significantly more pitch sequence errors than students in the familiar group.  hen you picture the traditional piano lesson, many involve the exact same steps the researcher used when introducing a new piece. Students start off into unfamiliar music territory armed with a slow tempo and finger numbers as their support system. Perhaps these approaches could be replaced with active listening to learn the “whole” of the melody, before trying the “parts.” Remember Goins Frewen’s findings suggest that students are motivated to keep practicing, even through challenging parts, if they are familiar with the music. This is a win for both student and teacher! Including preparatory steps to familiarize students with their music isn’t a “crutch” to learning, it is a crucial part of the learning process.

Familiarity can easily be built into a piano lesson by playing an upcoming piece (live or recorded) as a student arrives or as they pack up to go. Recordings of the piece can be listened to ahead of time during home practice.  Planning ahead for repertoire so students are able to listen first is crucial in this process.  While it may seem like an extra step, it will be time well spent, as Frewen’s findings suggest. Music Moves for Piano, a piano series by Marilyn Lowe, includes a “Song to Sing” for each lesson. The student learns these songs by ear, using their pattern vocabulary. The same songs become performance pieces later in the series, facilitated by the melodic familiarity established by singing the song first.  Allowing piano students to work up to their full potential by including familiarity with a melody is a crucial part of the learning process.  

* This guest post was authored by Sarah Boyd, graduate student at Eastern Michigan University, Lead Teaching Artist for the Detroit Symphony, and director of Hummingbird Music Together. Click here and here to learn more about Ms. Boyd and her work.

RTRL.38: 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.

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:

RTRL.20: School Music Participation and Lifelong Arts Engagement (Elpus, 2018)

Source:

Elpus, K. (2018). Music education promotes lifelong engagement with the arts. Psychology of Music, 46(2), 155-173.

What did the researcher want to know?

Does participation in school-based music education affect the likelihood that students will engage in music performance or attend musical events as adults?

What did the researcher do?

Elpus analyzed data from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. To examine musical creation/performance, he looked at respondents’ answers to items that asked whether they had played a musical instrument or performed/practiced any singing (alone or with others) in the previous 12 months. To examine music patronage, he examined respondents’ answers to items that asked whether they had attended live performance of classical music/opera or live jazz in the previous 12 months.

Elpus analyzed this data in relation to whether respondents participated in school music education (performance and/or appreciation). Elpus treated the study as quasi-experimental, using observable covariates to adjust for selection bias. In other words, he took into consideration the respondents’ answers to the following:

  • race/ethnicity
  • gender
  • education level
  • parent’s education level
  • household income (above or below $50,000)
  • region of the U.S. in which they lived

What did the researcher find?

According to descriptive statistics, 28% of respondents had participated in school-based music education. In the year prior to the survey, only 13% had attended live classical music/opera, 13% had played an instrument, and 10% had sung.

Those who had participated in school-based music education (performance or appreciation) were two to three times more likely to to play an instrument or sing as adults. Interestingly, there was no significant relationship between household income and musical creation/performance (after controlling for other variables). However, Elpus found that those with higher levels of education and those whose parents had attained higher levels of education were more likely to play an instrument, which corresponds with existing notions “that children of higher socioeconomic status (SES) parents are more likely to pursue instrumental music education, with parental education serving … as a blunt proxy for respondents’ family SES in childhood” (p. 165).

Those who participated in school-based music performance classes were 35% more likely to have attended classical music or opera performance than those who hadn’t participated in performance classes, while those who had taken music appreciation classes were 93% more likely to attend these events than those who hadn’t taken music appreciation classes. The likelihood that respondents had attended classical music/opera events increased significantly with education level; those holding bachelor’s degrees were over five times more likely to attend these performances than those with no high school diploma.

Compared to White respondents, African American adults were significantly less likely to report that they played an instrument or had attended classical music/opera but were 244% more likely to have attended live jazz.

What does this mean for my classroom?

If one of our aims as music educators is to foster in our students a lifelong connection with the arts, Elpus’s findings can reassure us that this goal is indeed being achieved for many. Furthermore, if we wish to increase lifelong engagement with the arts, we must be sure that all students have access to high-quality music education. 

However, the topics examined in this study focused on Euro-centric art music, with popular/vernacular forms of music largely ignored. We must continue to examine the kinds of musical experiences we offer in schools, who may or may not choose to participate in the courses offered, and how we might broaden our concept of school music to engage and better serve more students.

RTRL.01:“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.