Research Abstracts 2012

Formal Learning and Democracy: An Investigation of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra


Randall Allsup and Michael Albertson

Teachers College, Columbia University

For a decade, a new generation of music education researchers have studied youth and youth music for pedagogical inspiration. Lucy Green’s (2001)  seminal ethnography of popular musicians renewed interest in the hows and whys of informal learning.  Allsup (2002) found that popular musicians  working in so-called “garage bands” were models of community, even democracy. Woodford (2004), Westerlund (2006), and DeLorenzo (2012) have likewise  advanced a democratic theory of music education, often locating their work in and through popular cultures. To date, however, there has been little research on the place and purpose of democratic and community learning in highly formal, highly structured musical environments, possibly leaving educators and critics to wonder if there is an inherent contradiction between formal methods of rehearsal/ instruction and large, complexly structured art forms like the North American concert band or the European classical orchestra. It deserves asking if the large ensemble experience, embedded in the fabric of western conservatories and university schools of music, is antithetical to the processes familiar to popular musicians and informal learners.

This study presents preliminary findings from an investigation of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, a 40-year-old, member-driven, conductorless, professional orchestra that rehearses in New York City and performs worldwide. How does a conductorless orchestra choose repertoire and prepare for concerts?  What problems attend their organizational method, and how are they worked out in practice? What advantages are perceived? What do orchestra members disclose about the reasons they participate in this ensemble? From an analysis of research findings, a theory of formal music education and democracy will be interrogated, and its potential place and purpose in public schooling will be discussed.

Instrumental Music Education Majors’  Confidence in Teaching Singing

By H. Christian Bernhard

State University of New York at Fredonia

Educators and researchers advocate the use of singing as an instructional technique in K-12 instrumental music lessons and rehearsals (e.g., Bernhard, 2003; Feldman & Contzius, 2011; Hamann & Gillespie, 2004). These scholars contend that singing activities afford students unique means of representing aural and notational stimuli, and thus aid in the comprehension and performance of music. The first content standard of the National Standards for Music Education includes the statement that students studying music in kindergarten through grade 12 should have experiences “singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music” (MENC, 1994, p. 1), while Phillips and Doneski (2011) add that “singing is a means of making music in which everyone can participate” (p. 225).

Despite these recommendations, many instrumental music teachers feel inadequately prepared to teach singing (e.g., Bell, 2003; Brophy, 2002), and few include it in K-12 classrooms or rehearsals (e.g., Burton, 1986; Byo, 1999; Kretchmer, 1998; Wilson, 2003). The purpose of the current study is to survey undergraduate music education majors’ confidence in teaching singing, according to the NAfME K-12 Achievement Standards (MENC, 1994). Specific research questions are: 1) How confident are music education majors in implementing the 16 singing achievement standards for grades K-12? 2) How confident are they in their own singing ability? 3) How interested or motivated are they in learning more about how to teach singing?   4) Are there differences in confidence among music education majors by year in school? 5) Are there differences in confidence among music education majors by primary instrument area?

Subjects for the study will be approximately 300 undergraduate music education majors from a northeastern state university, who will be asked to anonymously complete a researcher-constructed survey based on Madura’s (2007) Survey of Confidence in Teaching Improvisation. Descriptive results will be computed for all surveyresponses, including means and standard deviations for K-4, 5-8, and 9-12 achievement standards, by levels of year in school (i.e., freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior) and primary instrument area (i.e., brass, percussion, piano, string, voice, and woodwind). Comparisons of confidence in teaching singing by year in school and primary instrument will be determined using a two-way multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA), with year in school (four levels) and primary instrument area (six levels) serving as independent variables, and achievement standard means for K-4, 5-8, and 9-12 serving as dependent variables. Implications for practice and further research will be suggested. 


Bell, C. L. (2003). Beginning the dialogue: Teachers respond to the National Standards in music. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 156, 31-42.

Bernhard, H. C. (2003). Singing in instrumental music education: Research and implications. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 22(1), 28-35.

Brophy, T. S. (2002). Toward improving music teacher education. Arts Education Policy Review, 104(2), 3-8.

Burton, J. B. (1986). A study to determine the extent to which vocalization is used as an instructional technique in selected public high school, public junior college, and state university band rehearsals: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississipi.(Doctoral dissertation, University of Southern Mississipi.) Dissertations Abstracts International,47, 2937. 

Byo, S. J. (1999). Classroom teachers’ and music specialists’ perceived ability to implement the national standards for music education. Journal of Research in Music Education, 47(2),111-123.

Feldman, E., & Contzius, A. (2011). Instrumental music education: Teaching with the musical  and practical in harmony. New York, NY: Routledge.

Hamann, D. L., & Gillespie, R. (2004). Strategies for teaching strings: Building a successful  string and orchestra program. New York, NY: Oxford.

Kretchmer, D. L. (1998). Phenomenological instructional techniques employed in beginning instrumental materials. (Master’s thesis, California State University). Masters AbstractsInternational, 37(5), 1297.

MENC: The National Association for Music Education. (1994). The school music program: A new vision. Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference.

Phillips, K. H., & Doneski, S. M. (2011). Research on elementary and secondary school singing. In R. Colwell & P. R. Webster (Eds.). MENC handbook of research on music learning Applications (pp. 176-232). New York: Oxford.

Wilson, C. C. (2003). The National Standards for Music Education: Awareness of, and attitudes toward, by secondary music educators in Missouri. Missouri Journal of Research in Music Education, 40, 16-33.

Characteristics of Successful High School Band Programs in Low and High SES Schools

By Ann M. Deisler

Hartwick College

The purpose of this study was to compare the characteristics that influence the success of high quality band programs in schools having a large proportion of economically disadvantaged students (LSES) and schools having a small proportion of economically disadvantaged students (HSES). Perceptions about the causes for success of the band program were examined, along with the relationship of perceptions among participants at schools having LSES and HSES status. Further examined were students’ value of the music program in their lives along with the teachers’ and principals’ perceptions of the value of the music program for the students. High school students (n=414), band directors (n=10), and principals (n=10), rated thirty-two questions about perceptions for success of the band program using a seven-point Likert-type rating scale, rank-ordered a check-list of perceptions of the success of the band program, and rated twelve statements about the value of participation in band using a seven-point Likert-type rating scale.

Results indicated participants perceived “band director’s high expectations” had the most influence on the success of the band program. Other characteristics within the top three highest mean scores and common to all three groups were, “band director’s knowledge,” and “tradition of success.” “Student private lessons” was perceived by all three groups to have very little influence on the success of the band program. Other characteristics within the lowest mean scores and common to the three groups were “successful fundraisers,” “adequate funding,” “quality feeder schools (middle schools),” and “other directors coming in to help.”

Students rated the statements “It has given me musical experiences” and “It has taught me musical skills,” to most reflect the value of band in their lives, while band directors perceived “It teaches them life skills,” as most reflective and principals perceived “It gives them a place to belong.” Students from both LSES and HSES schools perceived “It gives me a reason to come to come to school” as least reflecting the value of band in their lives. Overall, students from LSES schools perceived most of the statements to reflect the value of band in their lives to a greater extent than the students from the HSES schools.

Many participants wrote comments at the end of the survey that supported the findings from the other sections of the questionnaire and offered a more detailed explanation for the student, teacher and principal perceptions. 

Co-Constructing Curriculum in the High School Guitar Class: An investigation and Reflection on Democratic Learning in Music Education


The Crane School of Music, State University of New York

Democratic Education is an approach that partners students and teachers in an active pursuit of shared interests. Allowing students in public school to shift their role from receptor of knowledge to investigator is at once exciting and potentially life changing. Teachers that venture into co-curricular design of their classrooms, likewise, experience a shift in their teaching role as someone who transmits knowledge, and instead take on the roles of researcher, learner, and observer alongside their students who are embarking on a shared journey of learning.

This model of co-curricular design, along with informal learning practices inspired by the Musical Futures model (Green, 2008), formed the basis for the high school guitar class featured in this study. The purpose in doing this study was twofold.  First, to explore what democratic informal learning looks like when students have an equal hand in creating their course. Four questions guided this exploration:  1). How do people learn to make music? 2). What motivates learners? and 3).What strategies do students use to solve their own musical problems? and  4).What does the evidence suggest about the success of learning this way?  The second purpose for conducting this study was to engage in a teacher self-study in which I would be able to examine my own teaching, particularly in a co-curricular environment, with the aim of improving my teaching practice.

“High School Band is a Boy’s Thing”: Perceptions of Female Undergraduate Band-Track Music Education Majors

By Sarah H. Fischer

The Ohio State University

The purpose of this case study is to examine and document the perspectives and experiences of pre-service female music education majors at a large, Midwestern public university (n=5) who are concentrating their studies on teaching band.  The following targeted themes form the main inquiry of this study:

  • How is it that the participants have come to major in band-track music education?
  • What steps are the participants taking to ensure they are highly qualified to teach high school band?
  • In what ways do the participants perceive the teaching of high school band as a masculinized profession?

Each participant completed a forty-five minute semi-structured interview with the researcher; as needed, participants completed a follow-up interview to provide clarification and additional information.  Additionally, member checks were executed to check transcripts and the researcher’s codes for accuracy.

None of the participants had a female high school band teacher; just one participant knew of one personally.  Regardless, the majority of the women expressed that they most wished to teach band at the high school level.  When asked if they saw their gender as a potential obstacle in pursuing their career goals, the participants expressed the belief that being a woman would not hold them back.  They were confident that their abilities would surpass their gender, earning them quality jobs.  In contrast, a single outlier desired a middle school teaching job, a decision she reached during her undergraduate studies due to experiencing ostracizing from her male peers.

Aside from the targeted themes, other themes emerged throughout the interviews:

  • A hidden curriculum: All five women expressed frustration that they were unable to take certain classes and ensembles due to requirements by their studio teachers to participate in extra ensembles and workshops, even though the courses were not required for their degree.   
  • Advising: The majority of participants shared that they did not receive guidance in course selection, limiting their knowledge of what courses would best serve their career desires. 
  • Student teaching: Just one of the participants who desired a high school teaching job was provided with such a student teaching placement.

Further investigation in this area is needed to aid music teacher educators in best meeting the needs and career plans of their students. Extra consideration should be given to the mentoring of pre-service female band teachers by other women currently in the field.

Music at Home: A Portrait of Family Music-Making 

By Patricia Gingras

Eastman School of Music

Family musical life is the first musical environment a child encounters. The richness and depth of that experience, or lack thereof, affects a child’s musical aptitude, development, and future behavior. Family musical life has been regarded as increasingly important. An understanding about musical activity in the home aids music teachers with school-home skill connections; yet, the body of knowledge is sparse. The purpose of this study was to investigate music in family life as reported by parents and children. The guiding question for this research was: What forms of musical activity, interaction, and behavior were evidenced in the participant families? An additional component to this study was to determine how children describe and interpret family musical activities. 

Five families, each with a six-year old girl (child participant), participated in this study. Family demographic and musical activity data was collected from the parents in each family (parent participants) through a survey and an interview. As this study also sought to investigate family musical activity from the perspective of children, the child participants served as data collectors and interpreters. Each shared her family’s musical story through three focus group discussions and video recorded family musical events for one week. An individual interview with each child that included the opportunity for her to comment upon and explain the activities in her video recordings augments the data collection. Two forms of data were collected: (1) Reported data (parent surveys, interviews, children’s focus groups and video recordings) that reveal who participates in family musical activity, what the activity is, when the activity occurs, and its frequency; (2) Reflective data (children’s interviews and video recording commentary), provided context and meaning for the activities. Both data sets were coded and analyzed for themes and patterns from which emerged an in-depth portrait of the musical lives of five families. 

Music Education Topics Published in The Etude ca. 1910 – 1920: Progress?

By Keith Koster, Beverly Smoker, and Mary Carlson 

Nazareth College

The purpose of this study was threefold: first, to identify specific topics pertaining to music teaching and learning, school music, and music education that appeared in issues of The Etude between the years 1910 and 1920; second, to determine if issues related to music education from over 100 years ago are still relevant today; and third, has the music education research canon resolved concerns brought forth over 100 years ago? Established by Theodore Presser and published monthly between 1883 and 1958, The Etude was, at first, synonymous with music teaching and learning as it pertained specifically to the piano, voice, and violin. However, by the turn of the century, the magazine expanded its scope to include issues related to school music and music education among other areas. The research team identified articles that pertained to music education and completed a content analysis of those writings. Important musical anecdotes that chronicle the history of the music education profession were also identified. Because the field of research in music education came to the fore post-1950, the research team sought to determine whether or not contemporary findings in music education research might have resolved some or all of the questions brought forth from the past. Have the essential issues pertinent to music teaching and learning really changed that much? If so, how? Implications for further research are presented.

The Effect of Body Movement on Listeners’ Perceptions of Musicality  in Trombone Quartet Performance

By Jason M. Silveira

The purpose of this study was to determine what effect body movement would have on listeners’ perceptions of musicality during a professional chamber ensemble performance. Specifically, an audio/video recording of a trombone quartet performance was used for the music stimulus. Participants included undergraduate students (n = 57) and graduate students (n = 33); and music (n = 50) and non-music majors (n = 40) enrolled in two large comprehensive universities in the United States. Listeners were asked to rate three performances on the basis of perceived appropriateness of style and perceived ensemble expressivity using a 7-point Likert-type scale. The recording showed the trombone quartet performing the music stimulus under three visual conditions. While the video portion of the stimulus changed to reflect each of three movement conditions: (1) deadpan – no extraneous movement, (2) head/face movement only, and (3) full body movement, the audio portion of the stimulus remained the same.

Results indicated that body movement condition did significantly affect listeners’ ratings of perceived style and expressivity. Increased movement in performance corresponded to higher ratings for both perceptions of style and perceptions of expressivity, despite all conditions having the same audio portion. Differences were also found on the basis of major (although the effect size was small) and presentation order. Music majors consistently rated the performances lower than the non-music majors, perhaps suggesting a higher level of discrimination. Regarding presentation order, results revealed that when the full body movement condition was presented first, the magnitude of participants’ responses was attenuated as compared to other presentation orders. When presented last, the full body movement condition evidenced the highest participant ratings as compared to other presentation orders. Implications for music education, music performance assessments, and suggestions for future research are discussed. 

Building and Maintaining Instrumental Music Programs in Urban Settings: Challenges and Solutions

By Janice Smith 

Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College

The purpose of this research is to look for common themes in the experiences of young urban instrumental music teachers. The research questions are: 1) what challenges to instrumental music teachers with less than five years of teaching experience face; and 2) what solutions to these problems have they found. While some research exists on the problems of urban educators, very little has been focused on the unique issues faces by urban instrumental music teachers.

This study is excerpted from seven exploratory case studies of young urban music teachers.Four are high school teachers; three are middle school teachers. All are currently teaching instrumental music in a large urban metropolitan area.  All have built instrumental programs in their schools, usually after taking over a program that was not successful. Several started programs where none previously existed.

Data is collected via email reflections done as the occasion arises and through face to face interviews once each semester.  The interviews are transcribed and both the interviews and emails are coded for common themes. Only the views of the teachers themselves are included. The opinions of other stakeholders in urban education have not been sought. 

The primary challenges these teachers have encountered are: 1) scheduling, including the scheduling of students in the program; suggested solutions are to become involved in the scheduling process and to work toward solutions over time; 2) procurement of instruments; suggested solutions include grant writing;   3) maintaining and repairing instruments; suggested solutions include fees for the use of school instruments and learning instrument repair; 4) administrative and community performance expectations; suggested solutions include attempting to schedule all performances before the start of the school year (in the preceding spring, if possible) and finding polite ways to decline to perform when it is educationally unsound to do so;   and 5) fund-raising; suggested solutions include grant writing,  charging for concert admission, and charging a repair/ participation fee.  

This research is exploratory in nature and provides a basis for future studies. The findings should be approached with caution as they may not be applicable in other urban settings or for music ensemble settings other than those whose teachers are involved in this study. However, the emergence of common themes in the transcripts and emails is quite clear and suggests the necessity for further study. It is quite clear that some urban administrators seem unaware of the support systems needed to maintain an instrumental music program in terms of equipment, scheduling and budget. It is also clear that the teachers involved in this study do not view the students, their parents, cultural diversity or native language among the most serious challenges they face.  On the contrary, they are quite insistent that it is precisely those qualities that help them stay in urban teaching.

Creativity in Instrumental Music Education

By Alden H. Snell II

University of Delaware Department of Music

Creativity is valued in music education policy, yet instrumental music teachers commonly prioritize a performance model concerned primarily with accurately re-creating existing repertoire from notation. While some in the profession argue that performing existing music is, in and of itself, creative, a growing body of literature affirms that generative creativity is crucial to helping children learn. A lack of consensus between policy and practice suggests a need to define creativity more clearly, and to examine how creativity is currently implemented in instrumental music instruction.

With the intent to improve instrumental music education practice, the purpose of this study is to explore teacher perceptions and implementation of the National Standards for Music Education based on grade levels taught and years of teaching experience. Research questions guiding this study are: (1) What are instrumental music teachers’ perceptions of the National Standards? (2) Do differences in perceptions of instrumental music teachers exist based on (a) grade levels taught, and (b) years of teaching experience? If so, what are they? (3) How do instrumental music teachers define creativity in instrumental music instruction? (4) How do instrumental music teachers implement creativity in instrumental music instruction? Public school instrumental music (woodwind, brass, percussion) teachers in New York State have been invited to participate in a researcher-designed online survey. Demographic responses from the survey will allow for a variety of approaches to data analysis. Descriptive statistics will provide an overview of current practice. Ideally, an adequate rate of return will allow for inferential statistical analyses, specifically examining differences between grade levels taught and years of teaching experience. I will make comparisons between responses to suggested activities and their related National Standards. I will also compare data from this study to findings from existing literature.

What is the First Year Really Like? The Good, Bad, and Ugly 

By David Stringham and Alden Snell

James Madison University   University of Delaware

Most teachers find the first year of teaching challenging.  Researchers have identified a variety of concerns common among first year music teachers, including isolation and lack of preparation for music-context-specific job requirements.  Existing solutions to support first-year teachers’ needs include mentoring, professional development, and collaboration.

Mentoring is a common means of supporting new teachers.  Typical teacher and mentor interactions emphasize logistical issues over curricular ones.  Professional development experiences for music teachers are often neither music-specific nor sustained, and rarely catalyze substantive change.  Collaborative models offer one approach to facilitating improved music teacher professional development; continued implementation and research of such practices would benefit the profession.

Researchers have also identified a gap between recommendations in state and national music standards and teachers’ implementation of these recommendations.  We were interested in examining first-year teachers’ self-reported use of standards in their instruction, as well as experiences with mentoring, professional development, and collaboration.

To better understand (a) experiences of first-year music teachers who engage in reflective journaling and (b) whether themes in literature are consistent with experiences of first-year music teachers, we invited five first-year teachers to reflect on their teaching experiences in a secure e-journal.  We invited teachers to write about any topic, and asked them to reflect specifically on: (a) professional development they received; (b) mentoring they received; (c) collaboration with other music teachers in their school and surrounding schools; and (d) the role of state and/or national standards in their planning and teaching.

Invited participants were choral, general, and instrumental music teachers in several states along the east coast of the United States.  Three teachers actively participated in this project.  We interviewed each participant in December 2011, April 2012, and May 2012; these interviews allowed them opportunities to clarify and amplify journal content.

We treated each participant as an independent case study, and met weekly to (a) discuss themes and incidents that confirmed or disconfirmed findings in literature, and (b) offer comments and pose follow-up questions.  After analyzing each participant’s journal, we compared emerging themes across each journal, seeking as rich a perspective of first-year teaching as possible.

Initial data analysis reveals a variety of findings consistent with literature.  Self-reflective processes evident in these first-year teachers’ journals appear to be helping develop their reflective skills.  Participants are learning about themselves as teachers and learning from their teaching.

Reflections on Learning to Teach Music: Constructing a Personal Practical Theory Teaching

By Will Sutton

The Crane School of Music, State University of New York

This study highlights key events in learning to teach general music. Employing a content analysis of journals, logs, lesson plans and units, a personal teaching profile is presented about: (a) relationship of theory and experience, (b) the role past experiences play in teaching, (c) how theoretical knowledge, experience and reflection can be used to guide future thinking and practice.  Implications for continued learning are explored through several different theories of teacher development (Fuller, 1969; Furlong and Maynard, 1995; Frede, 2003; and Fessler, 1992 and Berliner, 1994). A personal practical theory of teaching is presented along with implications for continued professional growth.

Successful Inclusion of Special Needs Students  In the General Music Classroom 

By Jami L. Vandock

Houghton College, Greatbatch School of Music

The purpose of this study was to gather information about the current practices of general music education teachers in regard to planning for the inclusion of special needs students in their classrooms and to elucidate how undergraduate music education programs prepare music teachers to work with special needs students. A survey (N=22) was conducted to gather statistical information about music teachers’ involvement in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) drafting process, the resources they consulted to aid in planning for special needs students, and what (if any) required special needs coursework they encountered in their undergraduate education. The data were charted and compared to a previous study (Hahn 2010).The results of both studies pointed to a lack of music teacher input in the IEP, as well as a deficiency in music teachers’ training in their undergraduate education. This study reaffirmed the need for improvements in teacher training with regard to servicing special needs students and the necessity to implement practices that make music teachers involved in and aware of the IEP process.

Extrinsic Motivators Affecting Fourth-Grade Students’ Interest and Enrollment in an Instrumental Music Program

By Martina Vasil

West Virginia University

The purpose of this study was to discover fourth-grade students’ extrinsic motivators for joining and continuing in a school instrumental music program. Three research questions were investigated: (1) What extrinsic motivators have influenced fourth-grade students’ initial interest and continuing participation in an instrumental music program?  (2) What are the musical backgrounds of these students? (3) What musical activities (in or out of school) are they involved in at the time of this study? Elementary instrumental music students (N=6) were interviewed following Seidman’s (2006) three-interview series. Extrinsic motivators that influenced student decisions to join and continue in the instrumental music program were family, environment, social factors, and finances. Participants had varied musical backgrounds and their primary musical activity (in or out of school) at the time of the study was the instrumental music program. Study results indicate that participation in an instrumental music program may encourage students to become life-long musicians.

Music Education Peer Observation and Cross-Institutional Dialogue via Skype 

By Chad West and Matthew Clauhs

Ithaca College, Temple University

As part of the Music Education degree curriculum, Ithaca College students teach weekly private music lessons to students who are beginning instrumental music classes in school. Ithaca College Music Education faculty supervise these lessons and provide feedback and support to IC student teachers before and after each lesson. With the aim of enriching this experience for our students, we partnered with Temple University to broadcast some of these lessons for Temple music education students to view live via Skype, and then dialogue with IC students regarding what they saw. The point of this partnership was to facilitate conversation about music teaching between peers from different institutions. The researchers wondered (a) What were student perceptions of this process, (b) do the students feel that it is a helpful experience in preparing to become music educators, and (c) what are the differences, if any, between this type of intercollegiate dialogue and dialogue that would occur only between peers at the same institution.

Teaching Music in Later Life

By Dustin Woodard

Houghton College

Second-career teachers often believe that they are different from first-career teachers and that they have more to offer their school and their students. They feel that they have a better perspective on what it takes to succeed in the real world compared to someone who is in their early twenties and fresh out of college (Chambers, 2002). Second-career teachers’ have a lot of experience and expertise in one field, which can positively influence their students in their new career. Within the last few decades there has been a large amount research on second-career teachers, but unfortunately a small quantity of research collected about second- career music teachers. A research study was conducted to determine why a person with a successful, prestigious, and high paying job would change careers to teach music. Through interviews, participants explained what provoked them to switch careers, how they currently feel about their new occupational paths, and what they have to offer schools and students that traditional, or younger, teachers do not. Some participants found it rather easy to make a career switch, while others struggled until they got settled into their new lifestyle. No two stories were alike and while each situation is unique, none of the participants felt any regret in their decision and are now very happy with having a new career in music.