Music Education Research

March 14, 2010

When to Begin Instrumental Music Instruction

Filed under: Band — Rick Dammers @ 2:44 pm

Hartley, L.A., &  Porter, A. M. (2009). The influence of beginning instructional grade on string student enrollment, retention, and music performance. Journal of Research in Music Education, (54)4, 370-384.

Linda Hartley and Ann Porter examined how the starting grade level (fourth, fifth, or sixth) in string programs in Ohio affected recruitment, retention, and performance. Recruitment and retention were addressed through a survey of string teachers in Ohio.  Thirty-one percent (172 teachers) responded to questions about starting grade and enrollment. The responses indicated that starting grade level made no difference in recruitment, and that retention improved for programs with a later start.

In order to examine the effect upon performance, the authors visited and recorded 22 middle school orchestras (at a median seventh grade level) toward the end of the school year.  The recordings were then evaluated by three judges utilizing a festival-style rating system. The starting grade level did not have a statistically significant impact upon the judges ratings. In other words, orchestras that began in instruction in sixth grade performed as well as those that began in fourth or fifth grade.

This study raises interesting questions, particularly for music teachers in my part of the world (New Jersey) where instrumental instruction typically follows an early grade, pull-out lesson approach with less frequent class meetings.  While the impact of frequency is not addressed directly in this study, one wonders if students would be better served by waiting to begin instruction when more frequent (optimally daily) instruction is possible.  Another aspect that needs to be explored is the trade-off between less-frequent small group instruction vs.  daily large group instruction.

Anecdotally, my sense is that we are not getting our ‘bang for our buck’ from the pull-out lesson approach.  This study is helpful in illustrating that alternative approaches to beginning instruction may be equivalent at worst, and an improvement at best.


December 31, 2009

Musical Study and Style Preferences

Filed under: Band, Popular Music — Rick Dammers @ 9:35 pm

Ginocchio J. (2009). The effects of different amounts and types of music training on music style preference. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, (182) 7-17.

Adding to an extensive body of research on musical preference, Ginocchio examines the effect of length and kind of music study on student preferences.  One hundred-seventy six collegiate music appreciation students were surveyed on their history of studying music, and were asked to rate their level of preference for 20 short musical excerpts representing 12 different styles of music, covering popular and non-popular styles Generally speaking, more years of music study correlated with higher levels of appreciation of non-popular (jazz and classical) styles.

Interestingly, there were differences in preference levels between types of musical study (band, choir or piano).  Generally speaking, band students displayed increased levels of preference for non-popular music (including vocal classical music) while choir and piano students did not. Since the students who studied music are, to some extent, a self-selecting population, this study can not prove these courses as the cause of increasing student appreciation of jazz and classical music – it can only  demonstrate a correlation. (In other words, it is possible that the students who choose and stay in band are pre-disposed to like non-popular styles of music, resulting in the higher correlation).  Still, it is interesting to consider the broader outcomes of our performance classes, including the effect of band and choir upon later music listening habits.

Hopefully, all music instruction deepens students’ musical experiences and broadens their access to multiple musical styles.  It is my hope that technology-based music classes may be particularly effective in meeting this objective. As these classes become increasingly common, their effect upon students’ musical style preferences should be examined, as well as further studies on the effect of performance-based classes.

July 14, 2009

Gender and Instrument Choice

Filed under: Band — Tags: , — Rick Dammers @ 9:50 am

Abeles, H. (2009). Are musical instrument gender associations changing? Journal of Research in Music Education, 57(2), 127-139.

This study collected two sets of data on gender and instruments, and compared it with the data from two previous studies over the past 30 years. The first set of data was on which instruments college students (n=180) viewed as being male or female. The classifications are not surprising (female-flute, violin, clarinet ; male-drums, trombone, trumpet ) The range of scores (indicating the strengths of the gender-instrument association) was lower than 30 years ago, but similar to data from 15 years ago. The second set of data was collected on what instruments middle school students are playing (n=2001). Again, the results demonstrate distinct differences in instrument choice by gender, and that little has changed in these choices over the past 30 years.

For music teachers, it is important to create an environment in which students feel free to choose the instrument they are interested in playing, regardless of gender roles. Freedom of individual choice is the central issue. The lack of change indicated by this study may indicate that this freedom is not being fully realized.

This is only one aspect of gender in music education. I’m also interested in the role of gender in whether students choose to participate in performance ensembles in middle and high school. Of course, in the relatively new area of technology-based music classes, we are aware of serious gender gap (with males being much more likely to participate). Strategies need to be developed to close that gap before stereotypes become as entrenched and intractable as they appear to be with regard to  instrument choice.

Ables’ literature review and discussion are  thorough. For anyone who wants to explore this issue further, his article is a great starting place. It is nice to see an area of research in music education that is being broadly explored and where data can be addressed longitudinally.

May 31, 2009

Five years is a long time in the Big Ten……

Filed under: Band — Rick Dammers @ 5:30 pm

Powell, S. R. (2009). Recent programing trends of Big Ten university wind ensembles. Journal of Band Research, 44 (2), (1-12).

Powell’s study is of interest for band folks, offering a glimpse of current university level programing.  Powell examined the repertoire of each of the premiere ensembles at each Big Ten school from 2002-2006.

What piece was performed most often?  It was a four way tie between Colonial Song (Grainger), Lincolnshire Posy (Grainger), Hammersmith (Holst), and O Magnum Mysterium  (Lauridsen/Reynolds).  

The most frequently performed composers?  1. Grainger (no surprise), 2. Ticheli, 3. Bernstein and 4.Holst.

 While the tops of these lists are fairly straight ahead and traditional, 50 new works were also premiered, indicating that the band repertoire is continuing to expand.  However, as Powell notes, while new works are being written, few of these works are receiving enough repeat performances to join the core cannon of band works.

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