RTRL.27: Who Enrolls in High School Music? (Elpus & Abril, 2019)

 

Source:

Elpus, K., & Abril, C. R. (2019). Who enrolls in high school music? A national profile of U.S. students, 2009-2013. Journal of Research in Music Education, 67(3), 323-338.

What did the researchers want to know?

What proportion of U.S. high school students enroll in ensemble and non-ensemble music courses, and what are the characteristics of students who enroll in ensemble music courses?

What did the researchers do?

Elpus and Abril utilized existing data on 25,210 high school students gathered via a nationally representative longitudinal study that followed students at 940 U.S. high schools. These data included demographic characteristics (e.g., sex, SES, race/ethnicity, prior academic achievement) as well as information from students’ high school transcripts, including whether they participated in a high school ensemble or non-ensemble music class. Elpus and Abril used bivariate and multivariate statistical analyses to identify demographic characteristics of music and nonmusic students and to investigate the unique impact of each characteristic.

What did the researchers find?

Of the students who graduated in 2013, 24% had enrolled in one or more music ensembles during at least one year of high school. Choir had the largest percentage of participation (13%), followed by band (11%) and orchestra (2%). In terms of non-ensemble courses, only 3% of students had enrolled in a guitar class, 3% in a piano class, and less than 1% in a music technology course.

The table below shows cross-tabulations for the entire sample, ensemble students, and each type of ensemble:

Characteristics of Music Ensemble Students and the Full Population
(Elpus & Abril, 2019)

Statistical analysis revealed that differences between instrumental and non-instrumental were statistically significant in every characteristic except birth-assigned assigned sex. In contrast, choir students did not differ significantly from non-choir students for any characteristic except for birth-assigned sex.

In order to investigate the unique impact of each demographic characteristic, Elpus and Abril used logistic regression, which is a statistical analysis that attempts to “control for” (i.e., remove the effects of) certain variables. These results showed that the probability of enrolling in an ensemble music class increases with SES as well as with prior academic achievement (as measured by a standardized algebra test). However, the latter was not true for Black/African American students, for whom “the likelihood of ensemble enrollment decreases as academic achievement increases” (p. 331).

It is also interesting to note that the effects of SES and prior academic achievement were not significant among choir students. When looking at each type of ensemble separately, SES only predicted enrollment among band vs. non-band students, while prior academic achievement only predicted enrollment among instrumental vs. non-instrumental students. With the exception of gender, choral students were more representative of the larger student population than band/orchestra students.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Elpus and Abril’s findings confirm that ensemble music courses are the most prevalent music offerings among U.S. high schools. We need to continue to think about how we might attract more students to participate in school music through non-ensemble courses. However, band and orchestra are disproportionately likely to enroll students of higher SES and higher prior academic achievement. Therefore, Elpus and Abril state, “the problem may not be in increasing the number of students in music courses (which is commonly heard in professional rhetoric) so much as ensuring that music courses are attracting a representative and wide cross-section of the general student population” (p. 334). As music educators, we can be aware of which types of students may tend to be less likely to enroll in ensemble music classes and actively work to recruit these students. 

Additionally, it is worth contemplating possible reasons why choir enrollment tends to be more reflective of the general population. Elpus and Abril suggest several possibilities:

  • The versatility of the singing voice and wide range of cultures and styles in choral music “might be more attractive to students from varying cultural backgrounds” (p. 335)
  • Choir may be “more readily available as an avenue of ensemble music-making for those high school students who, for any of a variety of reasons, did not begin to develop proficiency on a band or orchestra instrument in their earlier schooling” (p. 335).
  • “Choirs may require less time commitment and financial demands than band, which possibly makes them more attractive to students who have familial or work commitments and those of more limited financial means” (p. 335).

Based on these speculations, the following types of questions warrant reflection:

  • How might we increase the appeal and relevance of music course offerings to students from varying cultural backgrounds?
  • How might we provide avenues of entry into high school instrumental music classes for students who haven’t previously participated?
  • What time, financial, or other constraints may deter some students from participating in ensemble music classes? 
    • Are we being reasonable with the amount of time we expect from students outside of regular school hours?
      • Might our attendance and/or grading policies unfairly penalize students with work or family commitments?
      • Do we make the effort to truly listen to and take into consideration a student’s personal situation when they have a conflict?
    • What might be all the monetary costs—both obvious and hidden—to instrumental music participation (e.g., instrument rental/purchase, uniform fees, reeds and other supplies, private lessons)?
      • How realistic are these costs for students of lower SES? 
      • How might we help find ways to ease this financial burden and ensure that every student has the opportunity to participate and be successful in instrumental music?

RTRL.26: Singing Ability, Musical Self-concept, and Future Music Participation (Demorest, Kelley, & Pfordresher, 2017)

What did the researchers want to know?

What factors predict students’ decisions whether to participate in elective music classes?

What did the researchers do?

Demorest, Kelley, and Pfordresher surveyed 319 sixth-grade students (95% of the population) from five elementary schools that feed the same junior high in the Pacific Northwest. Students completed two questionnaires; one asked questions pertaining to their musical and family background, and the other measured their attitudes and beliefs about music participation, including their musical self-concept and perceived costs of participating in music. After students registered for their seventh-grade classes (since music study became elective in seventh grade in this school district), the researchers compared each student’s decision whether to continue participating in school music to their survey results.

The researchers conducted a second study in which they randomly sampled 55 of the 319 sixth graders to complete a singing assessment, in which students were asked to sing the song “Happy Birthday” as well as echo-sing various pitches, intervals, and patterns. Singing accuracy was compared to students’ decisions whether to participate in music and to their questionnaire responses.

What did the researchers find?

Students who elected to participate in a music class reported “significantly higher perceptions of musical self-concept than those who did not . . . ; were more likely to be influenced by peers in their participation choices . . . ; and believed more strongly that music is not a barrier to other activities” (p. 410). Further analysis revealed that musical self-concept, peer influence, and family musical engagement were the strongest predictors of students’ decisions whether to participate in music.

Statistical analysis showed no significant difference in singing accuracy between those who elected to participate in music and those who did not. Comparison to questionnaire responses revealed that “musical self-concept was the only unique predictor of singing accuracy” (p. 414).

What does this mean for my classroom?

Music teachers should be aware that musical self-concept is strongly related to students’ future musical participation and consider monitoring students’ musical self-concepts “to identify students who may be feeling less positive about their musicality. If caught early enough, perhaps teachers could provide opportunities for students to improve their self- perceptions of musicality. . . . If we as a profession are interested in expanding the number of children who choose to continue elective music instruction, we should continue to explore how singing skill and musical self-concept interact throughout a child’s early development and what experiences might encourage improvement in both attributes” (p. 417).

In Memoriam

Dr. Steven M. Demorest

August 24, 1959 – September 22, 2019

With gratitude for his many contributions to the music education profession

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.