RTRL.51: Research on Children’s Singing (Hedden, 2012)

Source:

Pickering, S., & Repacholi, B. (2002). Modifying children’s gender-typed musical instrument preferences: The effects of gender and age. Sex Roles, 45(9-10), 623-643.

Hedden, D. (2012). An overview of existing research about children’s singing and the implications of teaching children to sing. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 30(2), 52-62.

What did the researcher want to know?

What research exists on children’s singing and what insight can it provide for music educators?

What did the researcher do?

In order to offer suggestions for helping children learn to sing, Hedden conducted a literature review of existing research studies pertaining to prepubescent children’s singing. This included studies of both internal factors (e.g., vocal range, pitch matching, sex differences) and external factors (e.g., solo versus group, use of accompaniment, use of text, vocal modeling).

What did the researcher find?

In synthesizing the 50+ studies on children’s singing, Hedden identified many important themes. While I cannot present them all in this post, here are a few I find to be particularly valuable for teaching elementary general music:

✴ Young children can sing short patterns more accurately than whole songs.

Hedden summarized numerous studies that suggest young children may struggle with singing complete songs. Children in these studies were more able to accurately sing short patterns or individual pitches.

✴ Children benefit from whole group, small group, and solo singing experiences.

A number of researchers have studied whether children sing more accurately in solo or in large or small groups, to varying results. Ensuring that students experience both seems to be most beneficial.

✴ Children may benefit when singing is introduced on neutral syllables before text.

Though research findings have varied, there is some evidence to suggest that children may sing less accurately when learning songs with text. “There appears to be some merit in introducing singing on neutral syllables to offer one challenge at a time” (Hedden, 2012,  p. 58).

✴ Learning a song by rote or immersion may be more effective than phrase-by-phrase.

Children may have an easier time absorbing and retaining a new melody when they’re given numerous opportunities to listen in a focused way before being asked to sing. “As the child hears the song several times, [they] will gain familiarity with the pitch contour…. This process is akin to that of language acquisition, in that the young children hears certain words and phrases repeatedly before attempting to replicate them” (p. 58).

What does this mean for my classroom?

The issue of gender-stereotyping of instruments persists in music education. However, the results of this study suggest that exposing students to musicians who defy gender stereotypes can help them resist rather than perpetuate these stereotypes. When choosing audio/video or live examples for use in the music classroom, music educators should be conscious of who is represented and work to actively combat gender stereotypes. In addition to noticing the gender of instrumentalists featured in the music classroom, teachers should also pay attention to the gender of composers and conductors so that students see women represented in these roles. Music educators might also notice who is (or is not) represented in our professional materials, such as textbooks and journals. (For example, this study shows that women have been much less likely to be represented as conductors in photographs published in the Music Educators Journal.) Similarly, teachers can notice the race/ethnicity of those who are represented. This noticing is the first step to taking action in ensuring that the representation in our classrooms is one that allows ALL students to see themselves represented in a diversity of musical roles.

Because young children initially sing short patterns more accurately than whole songs, we can provide students with opportunities to echo short tonal patterns or chime in on short melodic patterns within a song. For example, you might model singing “Frog Song” and pretending to make your hand hop upward on the “ga-gung” pattern. Then you might invite students to chime in on that pattern whenever it occurs during the song.

Most music classes feature ample opportunities for students to sing as a whole group. To build musical independence, we can also add opportunities for students to sing in small groups and in solo. For example, once students are familiar with “Frog Song,” I add a frog finger puppet on the “ga-gung” pattern, inviting students to sing the rest of the song as I sing that pattern in solo while moving the frog puppet in an upward motion. Then I pass out three puppets to three individual students, who each sing one “ga-gung” in solo with the puppet while the rest of the class sings the rest of the song. Once students are familiar with the activity, it also provides an opportunity for singing assessment, using a rating scale such as the following:

  • 4 = Student sings the entire tonal pattern accurately.
  • 3 = Student sings the tonal pattern with slight intonation error. 
  • 2 = Student performs the pattern in singing voice but inaccurate pitches.
  • 1 = Student performs the pattern in speaking voice.

You could also have students echo short tonal patterns in solo, as shown in this video:

Kindergarten Students Echoing Tonal Patterns on Neutral Syllables

When teaching students a new melody, one approach is to use this process for teaching a song by rote, common among practitioners of Gordon’s Music Learning Theory: 

  1. Teacher models singing the song while students listen.
  2. Teacher models singing the resting tone (on “bum” or solfege) and invites students to audiate and sing the resting tone whenever they pause and gesture during the song.
  3. Teacher models moving to the microbeats (e.g., tapping, etc.) and invites students to move to the microbeats as they listen to the teacher sing the song.
  4. Teacher models moving to the macrobeats (e.g., swaying, etc.) and invites students to move to the macrobeats as they listen to the teacher sing the song.
  5. Teacher and students move to simultaneous macrobeat/microbeat while the teacher sings the song.
  6. Students close their eyes and sing the song silently in their heads, raising their hands when they are finished. (Teacher should be sure to give a starting signal/cue.)
  7. Students sing the song independently (without the teacher).

Songs can also be taught through immersion by engaging students in imaginative play as you expose them to the song. For example, you might…

  • Pretend to stir a different ingredient into a big pot of soup each time the teacher sings the song. Invite individual students to suggest ingredients to add!
  • Pretend to make a pizza, acting out a different step each time the teacher sings the song (stir, roll dough, poke dough, toss in the air, sway and sing or chant “tick-tock” to the beat while baking, slice to the beat, eat!)
  • Pretend it’s a snow day and do a different action each time the teacher sings the song (wake up/stretch, jump for joy, build a snowman, sledding, snow angels, snowball fight).
  • Pretend to bake cookies (stir, roll dough, use cookie cutters, “tick-tock”, frost, eat!), acting out a different step each time the teacher sings the song. Here is a video of this activity using a song in Lydian tonality sung on neutral syllables:
Informal Music Guidance: Kindergarten Students Absorbing a New Song

Playful activities like these allow students to hear and absorb the song a number of times so that by the time you ask them to sing it, they can already audiate it and are ready to sing.

Finally, since children may initially sing more accurately without text/lyrics, consider first teaching songs on a neutral syllable, such as “bum”, “loo”, “da”, or a combination of syllables.

RTRL.39: Accommodating Transgender Singers (Aguirre, 2018)

Source:

Pickering, S., & Repacholi, B. (2002). Modifying children’s gender-typed musical instrument preferences: The effects of gender and age. Sex Roles, 45(9-10), 623-643.

Aguirre, R. (2018). Finding the trans voice: A review of the literature on accommodating transgender singers. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 37(1), 36-41.

What did the researcher want to know?

What guidance can existing research provide to help music educators better meet the needs of transgender singers?

What did the researcher do?

Aguirre conducted a literature review of existing research studies pertaining to the transgender singing experience or that provide suggestions for working with transgender singers.

What did the researcher find?

Aguirre first presents definitions of relevant terminology:

  • sex = designation (male or female) assigned at birth
  • gender = social construct that encompasses both gender identify and gender expression and exists on a spectrum (not only male/female but also nonbinary, etc.)
  • transgender = describing one whose birth-assigned sex does not align with their gender identify, gender expression, or both. Note: “The proper term to use when discussing this population is transgender, not the past tense verb ending in -ed, as using the verb form of this word implies that something has happened to this person” (p. 37).
    • male-to-female transgender (MtF or trans-female/woman) = someone whose birth-assigned sex was male but identifies as female
    • female-to-male transgender (FtM or trans-male/man) = someone whose birth-assigned sex was female but identifies as male
    • (**NOTE: Some feel that the the terms MtF/FtM are inappropriate because they suggest that something “happened” to the person. Instead, we might use the terms AFAB (assigned female at birth) or AMAB (assigned male at birth).

Aguirre’s review of the literature found the following:

  1. Many educators feel unprepared to work with the LGBTQ community.
  2. While some studies show that many transgender students report having more positive experiences in their music classes compared to the rest of school, other studies show that some music teachers are not comfortable using gender-neutral language in their classrooms.
  3. The choral classroom may be a more likely source of obstacles for transgender students than other music classrooms. This is due to gendered voice parts, gendered ensemble types, gendered rehearsal language, and/or gendered concert attire that are prevalent among many choral music education programs.

What does this mean for my classroom?

The issue of gender-stereotyping of instruments persists in music education. However, the results of this study suggest that exposing students to musicians who defy gender stereotypes can help them resist rather than perpetuate these stereotypes. When choosing audio/video or live examples for use in the music classroom, music educators should be conscious of who is represented and work to actively combat gender stereotypes. In addition to noticing the gender of instrumentalists featured in the music classroom, teachers should also pay attention to the gender of composers and conductors so that students see women represented in these roles. Music educators might also notice who is (or is not) represented in our professional materials, such as textbooks and journals. (For example, this study shows that women have been much less likely to be represented as conductors in photographs published in the Music Educators Journal.) Similarly, teachers can notice the race/ethnicity of those who are represented. This noticing is the first step to taking action in ensuring that the representation in our classrooms is one that allows ALL students to see themselves represented in a diversity of musical roles.

Music educators should be sensitive to the unique needs of all students but especially of their transgender students. Existing research shows that transgender students notice and appreciate their teachers’ efforts to provide a more inclusive environment. Here are some ways that music teachers can make their classrooms a more inclusive environment for their trans students:

  • Avoid gendered language when addressing students. Instead of “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen”, try using a gender-neutral term, such as “students”, “musicians”, or “everyone.” Specifically in the choral classroom, try referring to students by voice part rather than sex (e.g., “sopranos and altos” rather than “ladies/girls”).
  • Be sure to address students by their correct pronouns (e.g., they/them, she/her, he/him). At the beginning of each semester, you might ask students to complete an information/background form, in which you ask them to indicate their preferred pronouns. After reviewing these, prepare for class by devoting conscious attention to practicing the correct pronouns of any students you find yourself misgendering. Practicing the proper pronouns outside of class will help you use them more comfortably and automatically in class. It is also acceptable to avoid pronouns altogether and use a student’s preferred first name. This article provides some helpful tips for using gender-neutral pronouns.
  • Teach your students that “voice part, like sexuality, is independent of gender identity or gender expression…. Tenors and basses do not have to be males, while sopranos and altos do not have to be females” (p. 39). Note that this is not an entirely new concept, as some cisgender females with low voices may sing tenor or cisgender males with high voices may sing alto/countertenor.) (NOTE: Cisgender refers to someone whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth.)
  • If you currently have gendered ensemble names, consider renaming these to be gender-neutral. For example, “men’s choir” could become “tenor/bass choir”; “women’s choir” could become “treble choir”. 
  • Choose gender-neutral concert attire or allow students to choose the option in which they will feel most comfortable. 
  • Be aware of specific needs of trans men versus trans women. Some female trans students (AMAB) may be able to sing in their falsetto if their preference is to sing the also or soprano part. Provide such students with this option as well as guidance in doing so. Male trans students (AFAB) who are starting testosterone may experience voice change similar to adolescent cisgender males and need the same sensitivity and guidance from their teacher.
  • Rewrite vocal parts for specific students when needed.

Resources:

 

RTRL.32: The Association Between Music Aptitude of Elementary Students and Their Biological Parents (Guerrini, 2005)

Source:

Pickering, S., & Repacholi, B. (2002). Modifying children’s gender-typed musical instrument preferences: The effects of gender and age. Sex Roles, 45(9-10), 623-643.

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?

The issue of gender-stereotyping of instruments persists in music education. However, the results of this study suggest that exposing students to musicians who defy gender stereotypes can help them resist rather than perpetuate these stereotypes. When choosing audio/video or live examples for use in the music classroom, music educators should be conscious of who is represented and work to actively combat gender stereotypes. In addition to noticing the gender of instrumentalists featured in the music classroom, teachers should also pay attention to the gender of composers and conductors so that students see women represented in these roles. Music educators might also notice who is (or is not) represented in our professional materials, such as textbooks and journals. (For example, this study shows that women have been much less likely to be represented as conductors in photographs published in the Music Educators Journal.) Similarly, teachers can notice the race/ethnicity of those who are represented. This noticing is the first step to taking action in ensuring that the representation in our classrooms is one that allows ALL students to see themselves represented in a diversity of musical roles.

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.