Why I Love the Great British Baking Show: A Quasi-Diversion from Music Education

I’ve been watching a lot of the Great British Baking Show lately, so much so that I’ve even been trying my hand at making some treats of my own for the first time (i.e., the pic of my proudest macaron below). It’s been fun to try and develop a new hobby in the blips of free time available this Fall semester. Beyond the potentially delicious outcomes, I can’t help but think about why I seem to like the show so much and why I so easily fell into a habit of what probably amounts to “binge watching” it.

One reason that seems fairly obvious to me is that watching the show and spending time on baking has been a nice respite from what amounts to “the daily news”. On the surface, the general emotional calm of the show is appealing when juxtaposed with the chaos of so much else happening in the world from moment to moment. Overall, I appreciate how the producers portray the humanity of the participants and the drama of the contest with what feels like a sense of sincerity. They do this without resorting to too much of the topsy-turvy camera work, canned conflict, yelling, and insane overhyping that is present in most other reality shows.

Also – for better or worse – I know that, personally, I can be persuaded to indulge in escapist behaviors (e.g., my love of all things sci-fi… books, TV, movies…), and watching TV certainly fits that bill. There are undoubtedly lots of great reasons for enjoying the show. After all, it’s a popular show and I’m definitely not the only one who has been transfixed by it. But, when I think about it for a bit, I believe there are probably some music education-related analogies “baked” in to my attraction to the show that might be interesting to consider. As a result, I wrote this post to try and extract some professional lessons that perhaps could be gained from the time I spent escaping with the Brits into their baking tent…

Why do they do it?

Considering the motivation of the folks who participate in this show is fascinating. The participants appear to do what they do for what in education we would probably consider to be “ideal” motivational reasons. Nearly every baker stresses the importance of two things (1) the intrinsic joy of their work and (2) how it benefits some broader community. They bake because they want to feed their family and friends nice things and because they find it satisfying and exciting to expand their skill and develop a “signature” style replete with personal choices for flavors and techniques. While they’ll usually express a desire to “win”, when they talk about winning or losing, they typically describe an appreciation for getting recognition that their work results in good food or a regret that they didn’t live up to a personal standard, respectively. Their motivational dispositions rarely if ever lead them to focus on comparative standards. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that the prize is a glass plate… …not money, some exotic trip, or a business deal, etc. Beyond that, the silly glass plate is eventually bestowed amidst a large family gathering where all the bakers from the whole season return and celebrate each other’s work. Ultimately, their motive seems to rest largely on personal development and being a contributor to their community of family, friends, and fellow bakers.

In my view, this seems to be a pretty ideal model for some of the ways a music educator could be energized to develop as a professional and do good work with their students and communities. 

How do they get along?

The collegiality expressed among the bakers is equally fascinating. In fact, there seems to be an inherent lesson apparent in the make-up of the participant pools themselves. The groups of bakers who are gathered for any particular season seem to be purposively designed to be quite diverse in regard to a number of compelling characteristics. At the risk of making too much of a TV show, I think it can be inspiring to see how their diversity appears in their work and – more importantly – the consistent expression of acknowledgment, appreciation, and respect they have for their differences. In regard to more mundane matters of week-to-week baking, the participants seem not to possess any real sense of a “cut-throat” competitive urge. While they all clearly want to do their best, there are almost no instances in which the bakers appear to be working in a “for me to win, you must lose” mindset. In contrast, most episodes show examples of how bakers help each other. It’s pretty common to see those who have finished their work helping the others who are in danger of running out of time for any given challenge. Ultimately, they are more often depicted celebrating their triumphs together and empathizing with each other when things don’t go well.

Again, this seems to be a great model for how teams of music educators could come together and work through kindness for the mutual benefit and gain of all.

Well, if you read all this – thanks for indulging with me in this escape. If you feel like sharing, I’d be curious to know your take on these simple metaphors. If you haven’t seen it, check out the show, I think it’s a pretty cool diversion.

Teaching Kids to Teach Themselves

DiBenedetto book coverI’m happy to share that a chapter I’ve been working on with some terrific colleagues has recently been published in the book Connecting Self-regulated Learning and Performance with Instruction Across High School Content Areas. The book is relatively unique in that it is devoted entirely to building bridges between learning theory and specific, actionable teaching ideas. Each chapter examines how applying self-regulated learning theory can enhance student engagement and achievement in a specific content area (i.e., English language arts, natural and physical sciences, social studies, mathematics, foreign language, art, music, health, and physical education). Moreover, each chapter is authored by a team that includes scholars and expert practitioners.This chapter is a special collaboration for me as it was an opportunity to work with three amazing music teachers and scholars – Gary McPherson, Amanda Herceg, and Kim Meider.

In straightforward terms, to be self-regulated is to be able to actively manage the motivational (goals, drive, emotions), cognitive (thoughts, reactions), and behavioral (tactics, strategies) aspects of your learning process.

Our chapter includes lesson plans and supplemental materials for middle school and high school instrumental music, followed by detailed descriptions of the purposes of the activities in each plan, and then a section on how the pedagogy reflects the basic elements of self-regulated learning theory. Herceg’s plan for middle school instrumental music is especially helpful for helping students who are just beginning to grasp what it means to be independent learners to develop skills related to error detection, learning strategy choice and application, and self-reflection. Mieder’s plan, aimed at more advanced high school musicians, is particularly useful for helping students become more aware of relatively covert, metacognitive elements of self-regulated learning such as approaching practice with intentionality, maintaining concentration, making good decision, and cultivating a positive motivational disposition.

Here is a full citation of our chapter, let me know if you like to read it:

Miksza, P., McPherson, G. E., Herceg, A. M., & Meider, K. (2018). Developing self-regulated musicians. In M. DiBenedetto (Ed.), Connecting self-regulated learning and performance with instruction across high school content areas (pp. 323-348). Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

Other writing:

There are many writings devoted to describing what self-regulated learning entails and how it is relevant to music education. I’ve listed some below if you’d like to read more into the topic.

Beginning learners:

Intermediate learners:

Advanced learners:

A general analysis of the theory and its relation to music learning:

  • McPherson, G. E., & Zimmerman, B. J. (2011). Self-regulation of musical learning: A social cognitive perspective on developing performance skills. In R. Colwell & P. Webster (Eds.), MENC handbook of research on music learning: Vol. 2. Applications (pp. 130–175). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Vince Guaraldi’s Music from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

A Festive Analysis

It’s the holiday season and catchy tunes are in the air! Vince Guaraldi’s score to A Charlie Brown Christmas stands out even among the many, many traditional favorites that appear on the radio these months.

Offered here is an analysis of the tracks from this album using the data provided by Spotify and the R package “spotifyR”. The variables that are involved in the analyses are labeled and described as follows (more info can be found by clicking here: Spotify Developer Page

  • “danceability”
    • How suitable the track is for dancing, based on tempo, rhythmic stability, beat strength, and regularity
  • “track popularity”
    • An accounting of how often the tracks are played (updated relatively often)
  • “tempo”
    • Estimated tempo in beats per minute (BPM)
  • “energy”
    • Perceptual measure of intensity and activity
  • “valence”
    • Degree of musical “positiveness” conveyed by a track

CBKableDataSummary

But Can You Dance To It?

The Peanuts kids dance a bit in the show, but what does spotify think about it?

CBdanceability

Are the Tunes You Can Dance To More Popular?

Do people listen to the songs that are easier to dance to more than they do those that are harder to dance to?

CBprediction

What are the Emotional Signatures of the Tunes?

How do these tunes match up with common indicators of musical affect, valence (e.g., the degree of positiveness or negativeness present) and arousal (e.g., the amount of energy present)?

CBcircumplex

My First Data Visualization Toy

I made a toy!

I made a fun little web app for visualizing some interesting things about sampling distributions and the standard error of a mean (pictured below). The app allows you to change parameters with the sliders on the left to see how sample size and standard deviation affect the standard error of a mean — and how sampling distributions of the mean approach normality as the number of samples drawn from a population increases.

You can play with it at this link (or click the picture): 

http://js-170-95.jetstream-cloud.org:3838/standard_error/

semAPP

I built this app in R

I’ve recently been enjoying learning about the possibilities that the free, open-source statistical computing and graphics language “R” offers. It’s an amazingly flexible platform for organizing, visualizing, and analyzing data. Working in R requires acquiring some fluency with basic programming language. However, there is an astounding amount of free learning resources available on the web in the form of websites, books, blogs, tutorials, etc. There are also great web-based courses (https://www.datacamp.com/) that often have free trials.

The program can be downloaded here:

https://www.r-project.org/

Many recommend also using R Studio, a platform to help organize workflow when using R. The free version of R-Studio is what I use, and I’m fairly sure it has all that most of the folks in music education would likely every need.

https://www.rstudio.com/

More to the point… …R Studio has an integrated web app builder called “shiny“. Shiny makes building data visualization tools and web-based dashboards for exploring data fairly straight-forward. The apps that are produced with shiny are built in roughly the same type of code that is used to run analyses and make plots in R in general.

https://www.rstudio.com/products/shiny/

Why R?

Music ed research folks may wonder why use R instead of say, SPSS, or another commercial statistical package? Well, that could probably be a rather lengthy discussion of pros and cons. However, here’s a short list of some simple things that R is nice for:

  • It’s free and open-source with an immense community of users and developers which keeps it well-documented and up-to-date, as well as relevant to the needs of contemporary analysts.
  • The R community is very helpful. You could google almost any kind of problem you may be having and would be likely to find a few forums where people offer solutions.
  • It’s modular such that there is a package or more than a few packages to do any kind of data wrangling or analyses or plotting you’d ever want to do. For example, there was a point when I would toggle back and forth between SPSS, Stata, and Lisrel depending on what sorts of analyses I was doing. Now I can do it all in R.
  • The graphing capabilities are very impressive. It’s fairly easy to get nice-looking, presentation and/or publication ready figures and you can customize any aspect of a graph.
  • Organizing the coding for analyses with code in scripts allows you to create a very clear reproducible record of all of the work you do to arrive at your results in any given project. This saves lots of time in the long run and is good scientific practice in general.

 

 

The IU JSOM Music and Mind Lab: A Year in Review

Last year included the first full academic year of Music and Mind Lab meetings and activities at the IU Jacobs School of Music. I thought I’d post a quick note about some of the fun and exciting things we were able to do together as we begin looking forward to another productive year.

IU - MusicAndMind-Banner.jpg

Some quick background (visit the MaML Website)

The lab was overseen last year by co-directors Pete MikszaFrank Diaz (Dept. of Music Education) and Daphne Tan (Dept. of Music Theory). Dr. Tan will be shifting to a role of “collaborator” this year as she transitions to a new position at the University of Toronto – she will be sorely missed! The student lab members include undergraduates and graduate students from a variety of disciplines and academic specializations: music education, music theory, musicology, music performance, cognitive science, psychological and brain sciences, and telecommunications. Our goal is to produce original research that will contribute to a general understanding of the role of music in the human condition.

Recent events

Guest speakers and presentations featured heavily in our activities this past year along with sessions devoted to faculty and students’ research interests. We were fortunate to have some truly brilliant people join us and share their research. Last year’s special topics and guests included the following:

  • Musical improvisation as a way of knowing
    • Andrew Goldman, Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University
  • Working as a lab in the cognitive humanities
    • Fritz Breithaupt, Professor of Germanic Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington
  • Rhythm and movement
    • Justin London, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Music, Cognitive Science, and the Humanities, Carleton College
  • Music, empathy, and cultural understanding
    • Eric Clarke, Heather Professor of Music; Professorial Fellow, Wadham College, University of Oxford, UK
  • Music, trauma, and the Polyvagal Theory
    • Jacek Kolack, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Kinsey Institute, Indiana University, Bloomington
  • The neuroscience of musical skill learning
    • Anna Kalinovsky, Assistant Research Scientist, Gill Center for Bimolecular Science, Indiana University, Bloomington
    • Grigory Kalinovsky, Professor of Music (Violin), Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington

Ongoing projects

Although just getting started, our lab group has been quite productive in generating projects with interdisciplinary connections throughout IU and completing research that has found its way into the world as conference presentations and journal articles. Our most recent project involves a collaboration between Drs. Tan, Diaz, and I on the topic of musical communication. We are investigating the nature of expressive vocal performance. Broadly speaking, we are studying the ways singers prepare and produce performances to be evocative of specific emotive intentions. We are also interested in how inducing a mindful state will impact their singing and, ultimately, how these performances will be received by listeners. We’ve collected a good deal of data and are excited about the potential for this project going forward.

How students are involved

Students can participate as investigators or contributors. Investigators typically come to the lab with some prior experience in empirical research and are expected to co-design, propose, and lead projects. Contributors primarily serve support roles. They are expected to participate in weekly meetings and discussions, and help to manage projects and collect data. Through their participation, contributors can gain the experience necessary to be investigators in future projects.

Coda

All in all, I’m happy to say the Music and Mind Lab provides an exciting intellectual space for those at Indiana University who are curious about intersections between their musical and scientific interests. I’m hopeful that this group will continue to grow and look forward to a productive ’17-’18 school year!

Take some time to learn about the Jacobs School of Music if you’re interested in joining us.

Music & Mind Emblem CROPPED

A SNAAP-Shot of the Career Landscape for Music Educators

I’m excited to report that a recent study I worked on with doctoral student, Lauren Hime, has been featured by the National Association for Music Education on their association blog. We investigated the employment status, job satisfaction, and financial status of music education program alumni using data from a nation-wide, multi-institutional survey of collegiate music program alumni conducted by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP).

The post highlights findings pertaining to (a) the time it takes to secure a position upon graduation, (b) job satisfaction, (c) whether music education alumni continue to perform while teaching, (d) the typical student loan debt incurred, and (e) reported salary ranges.

The blog post can be accessed at the link below:

A formal report of the research that is featured in the blog has been published in the journal, Arts Education Policy Review. The full report also includes data from alumni of music performance degrees and findings regarding all participants’ perceptions of their collegiate experience.

  • Miksza, P. & Hime, L. (2015). Undergraduate music program alumni’s career path, retrospective institutional satisfaction, and financial status. Arts Education Policy Review, 116, 176-188.

Lessons for Ensemble Directors from Lorne Michaels of SNL

Running a Show, Directing the Band, Choir, Orchestra, etc.

I recently felt a need to unplug from the world for a moment and was fortunate to have the luxury of time to go for a run and listen to a podcast.

I happened across an interview with Lorne Michaels about his career with Saturday Night Live and his thoughts on what it’s all been about. (It’s from a podcast with Marc Maron called WTF – a terrific show – see the link below.) What struck me was that almost every major theme that emerged in regard to his involvement and ability to be successful with the show – despite over 40 years of societal change – seemed to me to be relevant to being successful in music teaching in some direct way.

As I was listening, I couldn’t help but think that these issues are some of the very same things that come up in conversations I have regularly had with preservice, current, and former ensemble directors about how they do what they do.

If you’re also a fan of SNL and are curious as to what these might be, read on and enjoy a distraction from some of the other things going on in the world at the moment.

Here are some curious parallels…

  • He arrived in NYC on a bus from Canada having previously worked for/with luminaries in comedy – Lily Tomlin, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers, Dick Cavitt, Phyllis Diller, Jack Benny, those involved with Laugh In, etc. He was explicitly cognizant of the impact that these people have had on him as teachers and/or mentors.
    • Most successful people I know, music teachers or otherwise, can describe how they were lucky to have at least one important mentor and if they weren’t lucky enough to have one early in their development, they can explain how they went out to get one. For example, I can think of several good friends who have used their personal days as teachers to travel the country and visit with people who have grown the kinds of music programs they aspire to create.
  • When setting up the program he called upon his friends and mentors and got help from everyone he knew – asking the questions and seeking the advice of those who could show him the ropes and methods for how things get done.
    • One of the most inspiring instrumental music teachers I have had the pleasure to work with was notorious for the openness he applied to his program. There was a constantly revolving door to his band room with guests from all over with all kinds of backgrounds streaming in to work with his kids and show him new and alternative ideas for helping kids engage with music.
  • Lorne describes the importance of intensely focused, deliberate work for achieving success – for both the performers and the show in general. In this part of the conversation he defines success as a program that resonates with people.
    • Successful music teachers recognize the value in practice and the hard work dedicated to refinement that is essential for developing individual musicianship and for creating a musical experience that people will value and appreciate.
  • He explains that when the show is great – people can recognize it as something they feel they’ve always known and something they’ve always knew they liked but, when the show is not great – people can question whether it’s necessary at all.
    • When a musical program presents work that is sincere and refined – people can recognize it as something they’ve always known and something they always knew was valuable but, when a music program presents work that is insincere and poorly arranged – people can question whether it’s necessary in a school at all.
  • When asked about his motivation… he clearly discounts an emphasis on a perfect product and emphasizes process instead. He explains how he was driven by building the show each week, the thrill of live performance, and the elusive objective of doing the best you possibly can.
    • In my experience, this is a mindset that successful music teachers often bring to their work as they try to create an optimal motivational atmosphere for their students. They invest in the process of music learning with an eye towards the outcome but without obsessing about perfection. Accordingly, they typically express goals and outcomes in relation to students’ efforts and progress rather than a particular point of arrival.
  • Lorne has purposefully let the program evolve – although there are parallels, he asserts that it is not the same show as it was 40 years ago.
    • Despite what some might believe, successful ensemble directors do not let their programs stagnate. They choose to be informed by their students’ culture and grow their programs with an appreciation for adaptations that are necessary to continue to be relevant to their communities. Beyond that, they are willing and able to relate to their students as they are and recognize that kids and what they value changes with time.
  • He recognizes he is not, nor should be the center of power – he is a guide, someone who helps sift good and bad ideas, someone who helps people understand why they’re successful as well as why they’re not, and someone who sees their role as pulling others forward.
    • Most of the successful directors that I know inspire their students and work as much along side them as they do from out in front of them. They give feedback such that students know when they’re succeeding or when they’re not succeeding and why. They cultivate a spirit of collaboration and appreciation for students’ individual perspectives while maintaining focus on the collective objectives of the group.
  • Lorne recognizes that no amount of success will ever eliminate the facts that (a) he works for someone else and (b) that there are always others that have power over what he does – ultimately it’s not about him, it’s about the community the show plays to.
    • No music teacher works in isolation from their community. We are always beholden to the people we serve and no degree of musical success or accomplishment will ever change that.

Take a listen for yourself:

http://www.wtfpod.com/podcast/episodes/episode_653_-_lorne_michaels

Note: Obviously the work space of SNL is in many ways NOT a model of the kind of atmosphere that is appropriate for kids. In addition, many performers in the ensemble have gone on to personal success as well as personal ruin. The message in this post is not that SNL is a metaphor for music education, it is that some of the principles that have helped Lorne Michaels be a successful producer are those that underlie success in any endeavor that aims to connect artists, programming, and communities.

Motivation: Growth, self-beliefs, and attributions, oh my…

This week I had the pleasure of giving an invited talk for the IU student chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (IU SNATS). I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to work with extremely fine singers and committed vocal pedagogues on a regular basis in my courses and very much enjoyed speaking with the students of IU SNATS.

The talk I gave was on issues related to motivation for learning. I’ve attached a pdf of the powerpoint to this post via the image below. You’re welcome to download it to see the range of topics we discussed if you’re curious. The powerpoint also includes some basic texts and resources for reading about motivation in general and motivation in music learning more specifically. There is also a slide that includes links to some interesting web-resources for exploring these ideas further.

Miksza - Motivation presentation for IU SNATS - 2015

What was particularly enjoyable for me was that the talk gave me a chance to step back and think broadly about how several theoretical perspectives could be synthesized to address the components of music learning that are often heavily impacted by student motivation. The following set of reflective questions captures some of these components:

  • What drives you to choose to engage in learning in the first place?
  • What kinds of things contribute to the “degree” of energy you invest in this learning process?
  • What kinds of things contribute to the “degree” of quality and deliberateness you will apply to your learning process? In other words, the degree to which you’ll try to approach learning situations critically, thoughtfully, creatively, etc.
  • What will help you persist when you inevitably hit roadblocks and find yourself at a learning tableau or dipping into a negative attitude state?
  • What will stop you from giving up if learning gets tough?

I framed the main part of the discussion by describing how human needs for self-growth, flow, intrinsic satisfaction, and self-determination can lead people to seek out new experiences, work for mastery, and find personal meaning in their experiences. We also spent some time thinking about how social contexts created through teachers’ behaviors, studios/classrooms/rehearsal rooms, learning environments in general, etc. can serve to either support or thwart someone as they strive to satisfy these needs. The following points are a sample of what was addressed:

Contexts can be supportive or not…

  • Balancing the amount of structure/scaffolding provided and opportunities for independent work/decision making is important
  • Providing informational instruction (clues and ways to achieve objectives) vs. controlling rules (specific ways to do things) makes a difference
  • Giving opportunities to make choices vs. emphasizing interpersonal control in general is critical
  • Communicating evaluations as opportunities for improvement vs. as how something ‘should’ have been performed

We then moved through a cyclical set of motivational beliefs that have been shown to be related to learning in compelling ways. The powerpoint linked to this post includes summary points of some of the implications for pedagogy that each theoretical perspective suggests.

  • Mindset (Dweck)
    • Beliefs that abilities can be either fixed- or growth–oriented…
  • Self-efficacy (Bandura)
    • An individual’s beliefs in their own ability to produce an intended outcome on a specific task
  • Achievement goal orientations (Elliot)
    • The reasons why people aim to be competent and how they frame their own goals
  • Attributions (Weiner)
    • How the reasons people give for their successes and failures can impact their motivation and achievement in the future

We then ended the discussion by talking about some common motivational problems students experience and some general ideas for how to help them.

If a student’s needs are not met

  • The environment must feel like a safe place – physically and psychologically – this clearly has much larger ramifications for situations involving poverty, violent crime, discrimination, and/or harassment, etc.
  • Employ active approaches to help students develop positive feelings of competence and autonomy for the sake of esteem and self-determination
  • Employ active approaches to help students form productive relationships with each other
  • Provide preparation for students for how to interact with civility in a community
  • Employ active approaches to reducing the stressfulness of potentially competitive and high-stakes environment

If students are amotivated or lacking in apparent intrinsic motivation

  • Interventions can require altering the social context to help students integrate values of the environment to their own self
  • Make connections between activities and the students’ life goals and values
  • Make connections between activities and the values the students’ peer group recognize
  • Make connections to the values of the students’ significant others e.g., those they regard highly as role models
  • Provide opportunities for choice and for the student to feel in control of the environment
  • Give a secure foundation for building a sense of readiness – do not “throw into the fire”
  • Steer students away from performance-based goal orientations and towards mastery-oriented ideals (i.e., self-improvement)

If students demonstrate learned helplessness or self-handicapping

  • Vary goals according to individual students’ needs
  • Structure learning with an emphasis on short-term goals and develop them with the students
  • Provide frequent opportunity to acquire mastery and frequently document and display evidence of their growth (to them, not the class)
  • Teach students to avoid comparisons with others and encourage mastery goal orientations
  • Make it safe to ask for help by building it into the learning process as a required step
  • Do not over-assist and inadvertently communicate your belief in their lack of ability
  • Consider cooperative learning approaches

A SMiLE-ing experiment

I wanted to write a quick post to share my excitement about a new research group starting up at IU called: SMiLE: Science of Music in Learning and Experience.

The purpose of the group is to cultivate conversations about music research among students and faculty across departments in the school of music and across units on campus. So far, interest in the group has been expressed by grad students and faculty from… …Music (education, theory, conducting), Cognitive Science, Psychological and Brain Sciences, Telecommunications, Speech and Hearing, Informatics, Computer Science, Linguistics, and Second Language Studies. This image is a wordle of the groups’ collective interests from our first meeting.

Topics of interests

Our first two meetings were interdisciplinary, collegial, energetic, and overall – lots of fun. Many thanks to the colleagues and friends I spoke to who encouraged doing something like this and gave such great advice about how to do it. Many thanks too, to the wonderful colleagues and students taking time out of their busy days to join in the fun!

It’s sure to be a fun adventure and I’m excited for what the Spring may bring!

What if elementary general music programs were cut from the public schools?

This question was one of the prime motivations for a recent exploratory research study IU colleague and co-author Dr. Brent Gault and I conducted. Resources for elementary music programs as pertains to specialist faculty, time for instruction, and space and materials are perhaps especially vulnerable to cutbacks and fiscal instability. This is perhaps partly due to the relative lack of community visibility that elementary music programs enjoy in comparison to secondary school music programs.

We were curious as to what types of experiences might be left over for students should elementary music specialist-led programs be cut – and how those experiences might vary for students from different demographic segments of the nation?

ECLS wordle copy 

The background:

We analyzed publicly available data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) conducted by the National Department of Education, Institute for Education Sciences, and the National Center for Educational Statistics. The ECLS collected data about a nationally representative cohort of approximately 3.8 million kindergarten children (K class of 1999) as they progressed through elementary and middle school.

Regarding music, the ECLS collected information about the nature of the musical experiences the children received in their academic classroom setting as opposed to their music class-specific experiences. As such, the data allow for a rough estimate of the kinds and amounts of musical experiences students receive from their academic classroom teachers apart from those that may be delivered from an elementary music specialist.

Drawing from the data that were available, our analyses were conducted to determine:

  • The frequency and duration with which children received music instruction in their academic classroom setting
  • The frequency that music was used to teach math in the academic classroom setting
  • The percentage of children receiving formal/private music instruction outside of school
    • We also examined each these types of experiences according to student urbanicity (i.e., rural, suburban, urban location), socioeconomic status, and race.

Classroom teachers most frequently reported engaging children in some sort of music activity once or twice a week for 30 minutes or less. This excerpt serves as a summary of our most compelling findings regarding access to such classroom experiences:

Music instruction (in the academic classroom setting) appears to be… …less available for students of color from urban and rural settings and of lower socioeconomic status. In addition, access to privatized formal instruction seems readily available for those children who are arguably the least in need and significantly lacking for those with the greatest need.” (Miksza & Gault, Online First, 2014, p. 11)

We’re happy to report that the article is now available as an “online first” offering in the Journal of Research in Music Education.

Miksza, P., & Gault, B. (online first, 2014). Classroom music experiences of US elementary school children: An analysis of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study of 1998-99 (ECLS-K). Journal of Research in Music Education, 62, 4-17.