Research Gallery Abstracts 2010 Part One

Research Abstracts from the NYSSMA Winter Conference 

by Janice Smith

Saturday was Research Day at the NYSSMA Winter Conference. The research presentations included the Research Gallery in the Riverside Lobby of the Convention Center. For further information about the studies, the findings or the citations for the references, you can contact the researchers at the email addressees I have included.

Rehearsal Techniques Used To Build Choral Tone by Four Expert Collegiate Choral Conductors Across Settings

Sandra Babb, Queens College

Rehearsals of four outstanding choral conductors were examined to isolate techniques used and time spent in developing choral tone. Participants included four collegiate choral conductors who have been identified as experts in the field of choral music as evidenced by national and international acclaim. Video data were collected over the course of two semesters in three distinct settings: a state level honor choir, a collegiate choir, and a community choir. Two hours of unscripted rehearsals in each setting were recorded, and video footage was edited into five-minute rehearsal segments. Observed rehearsal behaviors were coded into three categories of tone building technique: verbal, nonverbal and vocal model. Video data were analyzed using SCRIBE observation software (Duke & Stammen, 2007) and time spent in each technique was recorded. Additional analysis garnered frequencies of verbal and vocal model types, i.e., technical or figurative language and exemplar or non-exemplar models.

Findings indicated significant differences in time spent developing tone between settings as well as between verbal and vocal model types. While Conductors B and C had no statistical differences between time spent in each setting, Conductor A had significant differences between all combinations of settings, and Conductor D had significant differences between the honor choir and community choir settings, as well as between the honor choir and the collegiate choir settings. Significant differences were also found between verbal types for Conductors B and C in the collegiate choir setting, and Conductor D in the community choir setting. No significant differences between vocal model types were found in Conductor A in the collegiate choir or Conductor D in the community choir. However, all other cases yielded significantly more exemplar vocal models. Recommendations for further research were made and implications for practicing choral music educators and teacher certification programs were discussed.

Chunking v. Immersion Learning

Allyce Barron, Ithaca College

Research of music instruction techniques can provide educators with scientifically-based evidence to create efficient and successful classrooms.  Although a variety of teaching methods are employed throughout a music lesson, the predominant approach usually involves variants of a chunking method.  For younger students, breaking the music into manageable pieces has proven effective, but recent research suggests that the chunking method prevents children from making broader connections and comprehending the musical work as a whole.  In contrast, the immersion method allows students to solve problems independently and to draw conclusions about their learning experience.  Surprisingly, prior research in this area has focused almost exclusively on the vocal music classroom (Persellin & Bateman 2009).  Studying the effectiveness of these teaching strategies in instrumental music lessons can provide further insight about the effectiveness of chunking versus immersion strategies. 

The chunking and immersion teaching strategies were tested in a pilot study to discover their effects on student learning and long-term retention rates in instrumental music lessons.  Students experienced both the chunking and immersion methods by learning a new song with each teaching strategy.  Students were assessed on their performances according to a rubric developed for this study.  Each of their scores was compared to their baseline score, allowing all students to serve as their own control within the experiment. 

The experiment results suggest that immersion learning produces a more accurate student performance.  This finding coincides with the results reported in the Barnes (1999) and Klinger (1998) experiments in vocal music classrooms (Persellin & Bateman 2009).  However, a larger sample size would need to be studied to ascertain that immersion is truly more effective than chunking in instrumental music lessons.  It is possible that a larger student population would achieve a statistically significant outcome in favor of immersion learning. 

This pilot study was designed to advocate for further research in instrumental music lessons, particularly testing the effectiveness of teaching strategies such as chunking and immersion learning.  Even though this preliminary experiment does not provide a definitive answer to the chunking versus immersion question, it undeniably demonstrates students’ abilities to achieve levels of success far beyond what they thought possible when placed in a challenging and engaging learning environment.

The Creative Music Strategy: A Seven Step Curricular Model 

Cindy Bell and Nathalie Robinson, Hofstra University

The Creative Music Strategy is a dynamic and flexible seven step model for guiding general music students through the musical concepts of improvisation and composition, followed by critical reflection.  These are musical behaviors that cultivate the development of our students’ deeper conceptual understandings and musical independence by thinking creatively, critically, and analytically, all while engaged as active music makers.

The foundation for the Creative Music Strategy is substantiated by recent research, 25 years of field experience and successful practice.  As an innovative curricular model for planning a general music lesson, the creative music strategy employs constructivist guidelines for engaging students in the substance and methods for making music.  The creative music strategy incorporates the vital teaching tools of creative problem solving, development of higher order thinking skills, the establishment of context and critical thinking skills, the analytical process, and reflection and assessment via vigorous dialogue

Sharing Perspectives and Sharing Passion: An Orchestral Musician, a Pre-Service Music Educator, and an Urban Public School Music Teacher Reflect on their Partnership

Rhoda Bernard, The Boston Conservatory

While major American symphony orchestras have offered various forms of educational programming for young people for decades (Campbell and Dibble, 1997; Myers and Brooks, 2002), they have only recently developed collaborations and educational projects with public school music educators (Abeles, 2004). In a city in the northeastern U.S., an orchestra has forged a partnership with a public school district and a graduate music teacher education program. This unique assemblage of players makes it possible for musicians, music educators, pre-service music educators, and elementary school students to experience and explore music education from multiple perspectives as they join forces.           

This study is a qualitative investigation of one project from this partnership that took place during the 2008-2009 school year. The purpose of the research was to examine the perspectives of all of the participants in the collaboration in order to develop a more nuanced understanding of the project and the partnership, including strengths, challenges, and lessons learned.

Researchers conducted semi-structured interviews with the participants, observed class sessions and planning meetings, and examined student work. Data were analyzed using a multi-stage grounded theory approach: open coding, axial coding, selective coding/theory development, memo composition, and member checks were employed (Strauss and Corbin, 1998).

Several themes emerged from the data, including:

Themes about the Project:

  • The community of practice (Wenger, 1998) that the participants created through their collaboration
  • The ways that the partners valued and appreciated each others’ unique roles in and contributions to the project
  • The challenges of scheduling and logistics throughout the project

Themes about the Partnership:

  • The importance of consistency of personnel and procedures in sustaining the partnership
  • The critical role of ongoing reflection in the partnership

As increasing numbers of music education partnerships are designed and more collaborative projects are developed, the lessons learned from this study can provide valuable information for arts organizations, public school music educators, and music teacher educators. Examining the perspectives of the various players in this music education partnership can help us to gain insights into some of the ways that the parties involved in music education partnerships understand the contributions that they make to, as well as the benefits that they receive from, their joint efforts.

Two Stages of the Instrument Selection Process

Evelina Brady, Buffalo NY

As instrumental teachers, we should be aware of the many different strategies that are use to  place a student on a particular instrument. By documenting the many different strategies, the strategies can be used as a resource to other music educators when trying to place a student on an instrument. Knowing that are two stages of the instrument selection process, the two stages can be use in relationship with each other and not as separate entities.

Initially, my research was to be used to compile a literature review documenting different strategies that music educators used to select instruments for their students. Seven articles were chosen, all containing information about how band directors select instruments for their students.

As a result of the aforementioned literature review, a common thread was discovered that connected all the articles together. I have come to the conclusion that there are two stages of the instrument selection process. The first stage is called the “Pre-selection Process” and the second stage the “Selection Process.” The “Pre-selection Process” is the process that leads student and teacher up to the point of instrument selection, it is the process when formal education about instruments occurs. In this stage there are many strategies that music educators use, such as Physical Manipulation of Instruments and Nonphysical Contact with Instruments. The “Selection Process” is the process by which a teacher uses information from a student to make an instrument selection just prior to the student’s enrollment in the instrumental program. This last stage is also made up of many strategies, such as Published Tests, Teacher Designed Tests, Teacher Investigation, Student’s Own Preference, and Teacher’s Instrumentation Needs. These strategies can then be broken down further.

Implications of these findings, that there are two stages of the instrument selection process, could be used as strategies to help recruit and retain instrumental students, thus insuring a healthy instrumental music program. A music educator can observe their own program and analyze whether or not there is anything lacking in either stage, and then have some strategies that can be implemented into the stages that may help fix what is lacking.

Musical Environments for Young Children: A Challenge for the Music Education Profession 

Elisabeth Etopio, University at Buffalo

The purpose of this study was to explore the early musical experiences of preschool children and the extent to which musical environments established by teachers and parents were  associated with children’s development of tonal skills and rhythm skills. Fifteen teachers and  their students (n=134) participated in this study. All sites were accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Children enrolled in these centers did not benefit from music instruction offered by music specialists, rather all music experiences were provided by early childhood teachers.

Several measures were used to examine the key variables in this study. A questionnaire was developed to elicit information regarding the intensity and variety of musical experiences teachers provided, as well as teachers’ musical background. Teachers’ musicianship was assessed with the Preschool Teacher Musicianship (PTM) Rubric. To determine children’s tonal skill and rhythm skill, an on-demand music performance event, Test of Early Audiation Achievement (T-EAA) was administered to each child. Both PTM and T-EAA were developed for an earlier project supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Lastly, parents of the children completed the Home Musical Environment Scale (HOMES) as an indicator of their home musical environment.

Descriptive statistics were employed to describe characteristics of preschool and home musical environments. Hierarchical Linear Modeling (HLM) then was used to examine relationships among predictors in the preschool and home musical environments and children’s tonal skills and rhythm skills. Teachers’ tonal composite (their musicianship and use of appropriate tonal strategies) was the strongest predictor of children’s tonal skill. With rhythm, the relationship between music intensity and rhythm skill was not the same for male and female students. Boys achieved more in environments with low music intensity, while girls achieved more in environments with high music intensity. Female students also demonstrated greater tonal skill than males (?10= 8.19, t = 2.94, p < .05, .52?). There were no significant findings in the analysis of the home musical environment, suggesting that the relationship between home musical environment and music outcomes was consistent, regardless of salient features in the preschool musical environment.

Conclusions drawn from the study confirm that the quality of musical experience for the young child remains a serious challenge. Early childhood professionals and music education professionals must work in concert to improve the musicianship skill of the early childhood specialist so that young children can realize their full music potential.

The Effect of a Systematic, Research-Based Music Intervention on Preschoolers’ Music Skills and Emergent Literacy

Maria Runfola, University at Buffalo

Elisabeth Etopio, University at Buffalo

The purpose of this two-year study, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), was to examine the impact of “musically trained” early childhood specialists on the music achievement and emergent literacy achievement of preschool students. The specific questions were: (1) What are the effects of a music curriculum, delivered by early childhood specialists with musical training, on preschool children’s music achievement? (2) What are the effects of a music curriculum, delivered by early childhood specialists with musical training, on preschool children’s emergent literacy?

The sample, obtained through use of a recruitment letter mailed to preschool teachers in the Buffalo-Niagara Metropolitan area, consisted of 18 teachers who met the criteria for the project. They were assigned randomly to one of two groups: experimental (n=9) or control (n=9). Several factors contributed to attrition resulting in a final sample of 11 preschool teachers (experimental n=7; control n = 4) and their respective students.

Following a year of intensive staff development training in musicianship skill and pedagogical strategies for guiding young children’s music development, the teachers implemented the curriculum in the second year and several measures were used to collect data relative to student music and literacy outcomes. Analyses included the non-parametric Mann-Whitney U-test and multivariate techniques of MANCOVA and Multiple Regression. It was concluded that regular implementation of appropriate musical experiences, guided by classroom specialists, nurtures students’ tonal pattern achievement and may be beneficial to tonal development generally. When controlling for age and prior knowledge, the music intervention significantly increased children’s oral vocabulary and grammatic understanding and was especially effective for children who began with lower literacy skills.

Middle School Improvisation: An Action Research Study

Mark Filsinger, University of the Arts

Improvisation is an integral component of music teaching and learning. Related to reading and writing music with understanding, improvisation can provide the necessary context for developing continuous and transferable musicianship skills (Azzara, 1993;Dobbins, 1980; McPherson, 1997).

The purpose of this study was to examine a curriculum for learning to improvise. In the study, the researcher taught a small ensemble comprised of nine secondary school instrumentalists from Monroe County. Participants attended a weekly 90-minute rehearsal for 10-weeks in the fall semester where they learned three songs: “Mary Ann” (in C, Bb, Eb, and F major), “Joshua” (in D minor), and “Down by the Riverside” (in F major). Instruction consisted of learning “by-ear” the song’s 1) melody and harmonic progression, 2) related tonal and rhythmic content, and 3) related professional solos from a recording. In each session, students were guided to create their own improvised solos based on the repertoire, content, and example solos being studied.

Each session was video recorded, and student solos were transcribed and analyzed by the researcher. While solos varied in tonal sophistication from student to student (most likely attributed to prior improvisation experience), several important themes appear throughout their solos. All students were able to a) sing and play in an appropriate style, b) outline important chord tones, c) balance rhythmic unity and variety d) develop ideas on small and large scales, e) use appropriate phrasing, and f) demonstrate principles of common voice leading.

Further, toward the end of instruction the researcher observed students transferring and applying knowledge from familiar to unfamiliar songs and keys with increasing ease. The researcher also observed that – though solos were improvised and different each time – students began to develop a personal and recognizable style and vocabulary. In addition, students were able to function as a small jazz group independent of a teacher, and interact musically with one another.

Results from this study indicate that secondary school students can learn to successfully improvise if music teachers prioritize improvisation in instruction. Further research should include an investigation of appropriate repertoire and improvisation criteria for students of all ages.