RTRL.63: Elementary Music Performance Preparation and Teacher Stress (Potter, 2021)

Source:

Potter, J. (2021). Elementary general music performances and teachers’ perceptions of stress. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 40(1), 36-44.

What did the researcher want to know?

What are elementary general music teachers’ perceptions of performance preparation and how do they perceive its impacts on their stress level?

What did the researcher do?

Potter conducted a multiple case study of three mid-career elementary general music teachers. She interviewed each participant two times over the course of two months. (Interviews took place over Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) Potter analyzed the interview transcripts through qualitative coding to identify themes in response to the research questions.

What did the researcher find?

Potter identified three themes in response to the research questions.

  1. Theme 1: Time Management
    • All three participants considered time management to be critical in performance preparation. They stressed the importance of planning performances well in advance, which included giving students enough time to learn the material. For example, one mentioned that she began preparing her students for a mid-February performance before Thanksgiving break. Balancing curriculum instructional time with performance preparation was a concern for all three participants. One participant said, “I feel like programs can take a little bit away from the curriculum that you’re trying to teach because they take so much time to put together and to get done to a level that you want to perform in front of people” (p. 40).
  2. Theme 2: Control
    • Participants expressed “concern about the degree of control they had over certain aspects of their students’ performances” (p. 40). For two of the three participants, performances were part of a supplemental contract, which dictated the number of performances required in a given school year. While all three felt they had control over selecting repertoire,  they did not all have control over factors such as equipment and venues. For example, one participant was required to perform at the middle school due to lack of space at her elementary school, which was a source of stress. In addition, “all participants discussed how their stress levels spiked the night of the performance, perhaps due to an overall lack of control in student, audience, or parent/guardian behavior” (p. 41).
  3. Theme 3: Isolation
    • All three of the participants felt there was “a general lack of understanding, from people outside the general music program, of undertaking so many extra responsibilities in facilitating these performances” (p. 41). One participant explained, “Nobody understands what I’m actually doing. Because they [teachers, administrators, parents] always see the product. They don’t see the process” (p. 41).

What does this mean for my classroom?

Performances can be a significant source of stress for elementary general music educators and may cause them to sacrifice time spent on student learning and accomplishing curricular goals. Elementary music teachers might consider shifting to in-class performances or “informances,” in which students demonstrate classroom activities and show what they are learning in a smaller setting rather than simply putting on a large show. This can help parents and administrators see the depth and breadth of the curriculum by focusing more on the process of learning than the final product of a performance.

For more information on “informances”…

RTRL.61: Student and Teacher Perceptions of an Independent Choral Music Learning Project (Haning, 2021)

Source:

Potter, J. (2021). Elementary general music performances and teachers’ perceptions of stress. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 40(1), 36-44.

What did the researcher want to know?

Haning, M. (2021). “I didn’t know I could do that!”: Student and teacher perceptions of an independent choral music learning project. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 39(2), 15-24.

What did the researcher want to know?

What are student and teacher perceptions of a collaborative, student-directed approach to learning in an ensemble setting, and what are the challenges or barriers to implementing such an approach?

What did the researcher do?

Haning conducted a case study of 29 students and himself in his own high school choral classroom. He allowed the students to choose a piece to perform for their final concert and to spend time independently preparing the piece over a 2-month period. Whenever the students worked on the piece, Haning did not provide direct instruction and instead observed the students. After the performance, students completed a reflection form, and then Haning chose six students (two from each voice part) who had taken on a “visible leadership role . . . , who had previously expressed strong opinions about the project, or who [he] otherwise thought would be able to provide important context” (p. 18) to participate in interviews about their experiences. Handing coded the interview transcripts to identify categories and themes.

What did the researcher find?

Haning identified four main themes:

  1. Collaboration and Connection: Students enjoyed working collaboratively and building connections among group members. One commented “that being able to share their opinions more frequently made them feel that ‘we got to be our own directors’” (p. 19). Another commented that “because of the independent structure of this project, ‘we’re actually having to listen to each other’” (p. 19).
  2. Growth and Learning: The ownership that students took in the project led to substantial growth and learning. Haning reflected, “from a teacher’s perspective, I was very pleased to see that the students were able to apply the skills and techniques that I had been teaching throughout the year” (p. 19).
  3. Accomplishment: Both the students and Haning noted the sense of accomplishment and pride students found in the project. “Many students seemed taken aback that they were able to succeed at learning the piece on their own, and they grew noticeably more confident in their own abilities as the project continued” (p. 20).
  4. Conflict: The primary challenge of the project was navigating conflict among the students, which most often stemmed from lack of participation/effort, competition between students, and struggles with giving and receiving constructive criticism.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Teacher-led learning experiences have long been a key component of school music classes, particularly in ensemble settings, but independent student learning experiences can provide unique benefits. In addition to teacher-led experiences, music educators should consider including opportunities for student-led learning. In doing so, teachers should anticipate student conflict and/or off-task behavior but keep in mind that this will not necessarily detract from the overall positive experience.

RTRL.60: Confronting and Overcoming Music Teacher Burnout (Hanson, 2021)

Source:

Potter, J. (2021). Elementary general music performances and teachers’ perceptions of stress. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 40(1), 36-44.

What did the researcher want to know?

Hanson, J. (2021). Research-to-resource: Confronting and overcoming music teacher burnout. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education. https://doi.org/10.1177/87551233211019999

What did the researcher want to know?

How can we equip music teachers and other educational stakeholders with research-informed definitions, warning signs, and potential remedies for burnout!?

What did the researcher do?

In order to offer suggestions for identifying and remedying music teacher burnout, Hanson conducted a literature review of existing research studies pertaining to teacher burnout.

What did the researcher find?

Burnout is defined as “a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with other people in some capacity” (Maslach, as cited in Hanson, p. 2). Research shows that the most common sources leading to music teacher burnout are low administrative support and poor working conditions, as well as challenges specific to music teachers (e.g, classroom management, large class sizes, feeling “unprepared for their teaching assignment”). Hanson cites five categories of symptoms of music teacher burnout, according to Sandene (1995): 

  1. Physical symptoms
    • fatigue, sleep disorders, weight fluctuation, high blood pressure, headaches, etc.
  2. Intellectual symptoms
    • lack of focus, procrastination, impaired decision making, lowered productivity, apathy, etc.
  3. Social symptoms
    • irritability, feeling isolated, withdrawing from relationships, lacking adequate family time, etc.
  4. Psychological/emotional symptoms
    • anxiety, depression, hopelessness, low self-esteem, coping behaviors such as excessive drinking or eating, etc.
  5. Spiritual symptoms
    • detachment from religious practices or mindfulness habits, changes to one’s values system, etc.

Synthesis of the existing research suggests that “macro-level remedies” can be implemented in response burnout related to working conditions. These include the following:

  • Address issues of time constraints, resource inadequacy, and gaps in preparation. Possible solutions include providing targeted mentoring, course-load adjustments, and altered expectations for performing, traveling, and participating in contests/festival.
  • Provide more support and agency to teachers. Encourage teachers to set and maintain boundaries and help create a culture of open communication and shared decision making.
  • Address burnout prevention in teacher preparation programs and inservice professional development.

While these are not within an individual teacher’s control, teachers can introduce these ideas to administrative decision makers and begin a conversation about burnout.

Existing research suggests that music teachers can try stress-reduction approaches like the following:

  • Practice efficient time management. Set limits on the number of hours of daily work and stick to them. Get comfortable saying “no” to extra tasks.
  • “Seek clarity from supervisors on roles, responsibilities, and the boundaries governing what should and should not be included in teaching duties” (p. 4). If tasks extend beyond teaching, seek additional help, such as parent volunteers.
  • Prioritize health and wellness. Work on healthy sleep, eating, and movement habits. Spend time on a hobby and/or establish a mindfulness/meditation practice.
  • “Remember your ‘why’…. Keep students and the joy of learning in the foreground” (p. 4). However, if work becomes unbearable with no improvement on the horizon, prioritize your well-being by considering job changes: taking a leave of absence, going part-time, or applying for positions in different schools or districts” (p. 4).

What does this mean for my classroom?

We are going through a very stressful time! Teachers should be aware of the symptoms of burnout and consider whether they might be experiencing (or on the road to) burnout. While it is not within the control of individual teachers to make macro-level changes, music teachers can begin a conversation with their administrators regarding burnout and can proactively take steps to reduce stress.

RTRL.58: Orchestral Performances at the Midwest Clinic (Zabanal, 2021)

Source:

Zabanal, J. R. A. (2021). An examination of orchestras and repertoire performed at the Midwest Clinic from 1990 through 2019. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 39(3), 29-38.

What did the researcher want to know?

What types of ensembles, repertoire, and composers/arrangers have been represented at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in the previous 30 years?

What did the researcher do?

Zabanal accessed programs from the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic from 1990 through 2019 and conducted a content analysis. To analyze the ensembles invited to perform, he recorded the performance year, school/organization name, ensemble name, and geographic origin (state/country) as well as level (elementary, middle school, high school, multilevel, collegiate, or professional). To analyze the repertoire performed, Zabanal recorded the title of each piece along with the composer and/or arranger and instrumentation (i.e., full orchestra or string orchestra). He also coded each composer/arranger according to their assumed gender (male/female).

What did the researcher find?

Of the 261 total orchestras that performed at the Midwest Clinic from 1990 through 2019, 58% were string orchestras and 39% were full orchestras. High school ensembles were most common, making up 63% of orchestra performances. The state with the most representation in orchestra performances was Texas (n = 73), followed by Georgia (n = 25), Illinois (n = 23), Nevada (n = 14), Michigan (n = 12), and Missouri (n = 11).

Of the 624 full orchestra pieces performed that listed at least one composer, only 24 (3.69%) were composed by women. Of the 305 individual composers whose full orchestra pieces were performed, only 17 (5.57%) were female. Of the 1,524 string orchestra pieces performed that listed at least one composer, 140 (9.19%) were composed by women. Of the 574 individual composers whose string orchestra pieces were performed, 46 (8.01%) were female. Similarly, women accounted for 6.48% of arrangers of full orchestra pieces performed and 11.02% of arrangers of string orchestra pieces.

Zabanal also reported statistics pertaining to the most performed composers/arrangers and most performed pieces.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Female composers are still underrepresented in the field of orchestral music and string music education. This imbalance was more pronounced among full orchestra performances at the Midwest Clinic, which more often featured repertoire by male composers “who were European and deceased” (p. 34). Orchestra teachers should seek out more works composed/arranged by women and provide more representation of female composers in their classrooms. 

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

Source:

Potter, J. (2021). Elementary general music performances and teachers’ perceptions of stress. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 40(1), 36-44.

What did the researcher want to know?

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 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).

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?

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:

Potter, J. (2021). Elementary general music performances and teachers’ perceptions of stress. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 40(1), 36-44.

What did the researcher want to know?

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?

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:

Potter, J. (2021). Elementary general music performances and teachers’ perceptions of stress. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 40(1), 36-44.

What did the researcher want to know?

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?

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.