Research Gallery NYSSMA 2010 Winter Conference Part Two

Music Instruction and the Reading Development of Middle School Students 

Juanita Huber, Hamburg Schools

American public education has experienced a gradual reduction or elimination of arts programs to accommodate increased instructional time in reading, mathematics, and the sciences. Other nations, while retaining music in the curriculum, have moved ahead of the United States in academic achievement. Considerable research suggests that individuals actively involved in the study of music over time have higher grades in school and on standardized tests. Studies examining the relationship between academic achievement and music performance also found specific differences in math and reading development that favored students engaged in music instruction. Since empirical research related to a specific academic discipline at middle school levels is limited, in comparison to elementary grades, this study examined the association active participation in musical activities has with reading development in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students.

Comparative analysis examined responses on a descriptive questionnaire from 267 students in grades 6, 7, and 8. The study compared duration of and participation in music instruction, types of musical instruments learned, and experience in musical ensembles to scores from the state English language arts assessment. Analysis of results included descriptive statistics and the use of the Pearson r correlation coefficient. Overall findings yielded a significant positive relationship between the study of music and reading development in middle school students. A comparison of test scores to music instruction lasting longer than two years, performance on a brass or woodwind instrument, and active participation in band and chorus reflected similar results.

Factors influencing community band members’ commitment  to lifelong music participation

Keith Kaiser, Ithaca College

The purpose of this study was to examine reasons why community band members continue to make music later in life. Active community band members (N=57) completed a survey designed to collect general demographic information and descriptive and quantitative data. Of the respondents, the highest percentage noted that they have played their instruments for between 50-61 years; 50% of the survey participants indicated they had taken an extended period away from playing their instrument before returning to active music making (some for as long as 21-30 years). Significantly, 49% responded that they have at least one family or friend participating in the community band, and over half of those band members replied that it is a major influence on their involvement in the ensemble. Specifically, the survey sought to gain insight both into their definition of excellence in a community band and into their greatest general influence, their K-12 school music experience, and their perceived benefits of music participation and how each these factors relates to their decision to continue their musical pursuits. Generally, the respondents most closely define excellence in a community band in relationship to traits of the conductor and to the literature performed. Variables most often cited as influencing the decision to continue active music making center around three areas: the quality of past and current musical experiences, the social and personal benefits, and the inherent emotional, expressive, and therapeutic value. The responses to the survey provide interesting and poignant information that could be beneficial to music professionals committed to designing curriculum and experiences that foster lifelong music participation.

Developing Teacher and Student Musicianship in the Instrumental Music Ensemble:  An In-Service Teacher’s Perspective

Alden H. Snell, II, University of Rochester

David A. Stringham, James Madison University

Philip J. Briatico, Elba Central School District;

Preparing ensembles for a concert is a necessary and important requirement for instrumental music educators.  Most prepare diligently to make rehearsals and performances a rich learning experience.  Nevertheless, previous research (Adderly, 1996; Abrahams, 2000; Louk, 2002) suggests that teachers are often unprepared and unsure of how to include musical behaviors (e.g., singing, improvisation, and composition) called for in national and state standards (e.g., Consortium of National Arts Education Associations, 1994; New York State Education Department, 1996) in their teaching.

Through informal research in our teaching settings, we have successfully implemented a model of instruction that prioritizes musical behaviors designed to improve individual musicianship in instrumental music ensembles.  More recently, we have developed teaching materials based on standard wind and percussion repertoire.  We invite all students to learn melodies, bass lines, and harmonies by ear; they also engage in improvisation before being introduced to notation.  Soon thereafter, students begin composition activities.  Comprehending these musical elements helps students better understand relationships between their parts and those of other performers, and also encourages emerging behaviors necessary for students to engage in meaningful improvisation and composition. 

In a previous study, six in-service instrumental music teachers met to review these teaching materials.  Participants agreed that engaging students in singing, movement, improvisation, and composition is important.  Some participants reported, however, that they lack musicianship required to implement these activities in their rehearsals on a regular basis.

Since these practices are not commonplace in instrumental music education, a focused study of one in-service teacher’s experiences with these materials might inform future practice. Using researcher-developed materials, a teacher is preparing one selection for a future concert.  This teacher is maintaining a journal to document experiences using these materials, reflecting on how teaching with this model affects teacher and student musicianship.

Initial findings suggest that: (1) Continued development of the teacher’s personal musicianship is important to improve instruction; (2) This teacher reported that high school, undergraduate, and graduate music instruction did not prioritize skills necessary to engage in all suggested activities; (3) The teacher is observing generally improved musicianship in the ensemble; and (4) There is potential to apply this model of instruction in all facets of the teacher’s instruction, including Concert Band, Jazz Ensemble, Pep Band, small group lessons, and solo festival preparation.

Relationships Among Music Aptitude, Grade Point Average, and Graduation at an American School of Music

David A. Stringham, James Madison University

Alden H. Snell II and Richard F. Grunow, University of Rochester;;

For many years, educators have been interested in using aptitude tests to predict student achievement.  Colleges and universities, for example, use the SAT as a tool to predict academic achievement; its effectiveness has been examined in a number of studies.  Similarly, music educators use aptitude tests to predict music achievement.  Much research has been devoted to the reliability and validity of music aptitude measures.  Several researchers have investigated the use of music aptitude tests in the college setting.

In the present study, we are examining existing data sources to study predictive validity of one common measure of music aptitude.  One researcher has administered the Advanced Measures of Music Audiation to incoming undergraduate students at a university school of music in the northeastern United States since 2003 (N = 938).  The researchers have also obtained individual student data from the institution’s registrar, including grade point average, major, primary instrument, and enrollment status.  Two of the researchers have conducted studies with segments of this sample.  Results from this research indicate predictive validity for certain outcomes, suggesting that further study of the full sample may yield findings relevant to the profession.

The following research questions guide this study: 1. How do descriptive statistics from these administrations of AMMA compare with others found in literature?  2. Do AMMA scores differ by (a) major, (b) instrument group, or (c) year? and 3. How well do scores on AMMA predict (a) first-semester grade point average, (b) cumulative grade point average, and (c) graduation from this institution?

Prior to proceeding with preliminary analysis, we examined split-halves reliability for AMMA; acceptable reliability for the composite test suggested it was a reliable instrument for this sample.  To answer the first research question, we calculated descriptive statistics of AMMA scores for both individual years and the total sample.  Compared with norms reported in the test manual, scores in these administrations had a higher mean and less variability.  To answer the second research question, we calculated descriptive statistics for AMMA by (a) major, (b) instrument group, and (c) year.  Differences were most noticeable by major; future analysis will examine whether these differences are significant, and what interaction(s) may clarify these relationships.  To answer the final research question, we planned to conduct regression analysis; however, initial examination of correlations between music aptitude and (a) first-semester GPA and (b) cumulative GPA revealed virtually no correlation.  Further, both GPA distributions were leptokurtic and negatively skewed.  These characteristics suggest that proceeding with linear regression is inappropriate.  To examine the extent to which AMMA predicts graduation, we conducted logistic regression; this analysis revealed that stabilized music aptitude, measured using AMMA, was not a significant predictor of graduation.

Based on these initial findings, we plan to further examine differences in AMMA scores by (a) major, (b) instrument group, and (c) year by testing for statistical significance and examining potential interactions.  We also plan to extend this research to other institutions to determine AMMA’s predictive validity in more heterogeneous settings.

Improvisation and Composition in a High School Instrumental Music Curriculum

David A. Stringham, James Madison University

Common practice instrumental music pedagogy prioritizes performance from music notation.  Certainly a worthy pursuit, such an exclusive objective often neglects other essential musical behaviors, such as singing, improvising, and composing.  Local, state, and national music education policymakers, as well as authorities in the profession, agree that these behaviors are important.  Nevertheless, singing, improvising, and composing are rarely included in instrumental music curricula.

With the intent of improving music teaching and learning in secondary instrumental music, the purpose of this mixed methods study was to describe music achievement and personal perspectives of high school students who learn to improvise and compose using a sequential music curriculum in a non-auditioned wind and percussion ensemble.  In this study, curriculum emphasized development of individual musicianship and emerging behaviors for improvisation and composition (i.e., singing, movement, and playing by ear to learn melodies, bass lines, tonal patterns, rhythm patterns, and voice leading).

Quantitative measures revealed relationships between music aptitude and music achievement.  Three judges rated student performances.  Overall, mean scores were highest for singing, followed by mean scores for playing and writing music.  Stabilized music aptitude scores were predictive of performance achievement, improvisation achievement, and composite music achievement; these aptitude scores were a relatively weak predictor of composition achievement.  Several statistically significant correlations emerged among musical tasks.  Analysis of variance revealed significant effects for gender and instrument type.

Student perspectives on improvisation and composition were examined in a focus group comprising eight students who participated in the research.  Students in this focus group found the sequential nature of this curriculum helpful, and reported success in learning to improvise and compose.  Students generally agreed that learning musical elements by ear was beneficial. Several participants indicated that the processes of improvising and composing are related.

Recorded class meetings and field notes were examined to describe teaching and learning to improvise and compose in this setting.  Based on this examination, it was evident that musicianship, understanding of music teaching and learning, interaction, making connections, and a positive learning environment are important when learning to improvise and compose.  Singing, moving, performing, improvising, composing, and analyzing were ongoing elements of the curriculum.

Quantitative and qualitative data presented in this study provide preliminary evidence to suggest that teaching improvisation and composition in a non-auditioned secondary wind and percussion ensemble is a practical, meaningful, and musical objective.