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Teachers in primary schools - factors that affect the quality of music education

Dr. Mirko Slosar

 

Faculty of Education Ljubljana

Paper presented at the European Conference for Educational Research, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia September 17th to 20th 1998

1. Music and Music education

The music was never as wide-spread as it is nowadays. The music environment in which we live is unfortunately often full with disreputable music. On this level the reception of the music is passive with hardly and emotional and rational involvement.

In a sense of a psychological phenomena we can compare music with speech, because they both function as a means of communication. The music tries to be expressive and at the same time understandable. Music is much less concrete form of communication as compared to speech and yet it can be more powerful than speech. In order to conceive music, understand its "speech" and be able to comprehend it and recreate it, one should be thought music in the same way as maternal language throughout the time of general education. Research and pedagogical praxis are showing that music in schools (primary and secondary) is often in an unequal position as compared to other subjects. Yet the basic principles of music and the listening habits can be taught and music abilities and skills can be developed to a certain level in any pupil.

Music education not only direct the music development but also shapes the aesthetic criterions and values and the inner emotional world of pupils. It is important in developing the intellectual abilities and higher mental cognitive functions. It has been proven that music positively affects the successfulness of pupils in schools. The results of a more recent research on the links between pupil's psychophysical development and music are stressing the importance of music education on emotional, physical and cognitive development of a child (the collaboration between the right and the left hemisphere) including the development of personal identity. Music affects pupils by triggering many emotional processes that influence and intensify their involvement in all subjects. With music we relax pupils and remove stressful situations. Music can also be a means of integrating pupils with special needs into regular schools. In short: by using music we can create positive, working environment in the class.

Educational targets of music education in the first part of elementary school are based on the values of music culture. This values are emerging in a characteristic trinity of music work, its performance and perception. Therefore, the general music education contains three basic educational areas: performance, creativity and listening.

 

2. Factors that affect the quality of music teachers in primary schools

Praxis and research are showing that there are important individual differences between music teachers as far as the quality of music teaching is concerned. To music pedagogy methodologists it is important to know which factors influence the ability to successfully teach music. We are also interested in which musical properties teachers differ most and what influenced this differences.

We have done a research (1995) on a sample of 245 primary school teachers with different levels of higher education. We have investigated the individual differences between the teachers in the elaboration of many musical properties. We have also investigated the factors that affect and produce these differences.

The following properties were investigated:

  1. Musical properties:
  1. the level of music abilities: rhythmic, melodic and harmonic musical ear
  2. the level of music skills: vocal technique and the ability to play various instruments
  3. music creativity on the creative and reproductive fields
  4. practical musical knowledge
  5. inclination to teach music

 

  1. Factors that affect the level of musical properties:
  1. family environment
  2. continuity of music education (music school, choir) during general education
  3. dance
  4. level of higher education attained

In this context we are basically interested in the factors affect the quality of music education in primary schools.

    1. Music abilities

The level of basic music abilities (melodic, rhythmic and harmonic music ear) has great impact on the ability of a given teacher to teach music. On the basis of tests teachers were grouped into four groups according to the level of development of their basic music abilities: very developed, developed, badly developed, undeveloped:

Table 1.: Grouping of teachers based on their basic music abilities

 

Music abilites:

N

Very developed(%)

Developed (%)

Badly developed(%)

Undeveloped (%)

Melodic

245

46,12

29,39

17,96

6,53

Rhythmic

245

54,08

32,04

13,06

0,82

Harmonic

245

29,80

20,82

30,60

18,78

 

It can be deduced from the table that nearly a quarter of teachers have less-developed or undeveloped melodic music ear. Melodic music ear depends on higher neural centres and psychic processes which allow the synthetic perception as well as analytical perception. Analytical perception includes the splitting of colour and frequency relations between tones and the perception of tonal functions within a given key. When approaching pupils we try to develop melodic music ear in a sense of creation, reproduction and analytic perception of music. This is necessary for understanding and recognition of music. We cannot expect that teachers with undeveloped music ear will be successful in teaching music.

The results of tests show that there is a greater homogeneity in the level of development of rhythmic music ear as compared to melodic music ear. It seems that rhythmic music ear is a more general feature which is linked to other subjects such as gym, dance, writing, reading and similar. Only 14% of teachers have badly developed and undeveloped rhythmic abilities. The ability to feel and follow a given music rhythm, measure and tempo is basic for music reproduction, production and recognition.

The results also show that nearly every second teacher has badly developed harmonic music ear. In praxis this means that they are unable to follow a given melody with tonal functions of tonic, dominant and sub-dominant and therefore they are unable to introduce pupils into a typical folk polyphony and the values of traditional folk music.

From the researched factors that could affect the development of music abilities, the active musical family environment had a greatest impact. Teachers that lived in a family with positive attitude towards music received the greatest score on the tests of basic music abilities. Slightly worse average results were attained by the group that attended the music school. As compared to music school, singing in a choir had a smaller but still a non-negligible impact on the development of music abilities. There is very weak correlation between dancing and the development of music abilities. This cohere as there is no direct link between dancing and music. Results has also shown that there is no connection between music skills and the level of higher education attained, even if the time spent on music in the 4-year syllabus for teachers is twice that of the 3-year. This confirms the scientific studies that show that basic music abilities are developed in the early stages of child development. Therefore we cannot expect a great rise of the level of music abilities during the time of higher education. We have also established that learning music cannot assure the music abilities. Learning music can only develop the existing abilities to a (genetically) given level.

The modern music education is based on three basic educational areas: music performance, listening and creativity. A teacher with undeveloped music abilities cannot successfully perform lessons in any of these areas. This includes listening music, because developed music abilities are necessary for analytic perception of music. A certain level of analysis is necessary for perception and understanding of musical content.

2.2 Music skills

An important field of music education is music performance. Singing and performing on a simple instruments is the elementary music activity concerning music skills. It introduces kids to new ways of expressing themselves using music. Apart from this, teacher should be familiar with basic playing on piano. This should familiarize him with other similar instruments with keys.

Test of music skills included: ability to play piano, ability to play simple instruments and vocal technique. Skills were marked using four level scale. The mark "developed skill" correspond to teacher's ability to confidently use music skills. On the other hand the lower two marks denote badly developed or non-developed music skills. A teacher belonging to one of these two groups is unable to use music skills and is therefore unable to confidently teach music education.

Table 2.: Grouping of teachers based on their basic music skills

 

Music skills:

N

Very developed (%)

Developed (%)

Badly developed (%)

Undeveloped (%)

Ability to play piano

245

12,65

13,88

26,12

47,35

Simple instruments

245

33,47

33,06

27,35

6,12

Vocal technique

245

12,65

34,69

46,12

6,53

 

We see that only an approximately quarter of primary school teachers is able to play piano sufficiently well to be able to accompany pupils singing. The ability to play piano allow teachers to learn themselves new songs. If a given teacher is unable to learn a new song from the score, then he /she is unable to creatively lead the music education.

Playing simple (children) instruments is an important part of music education in the lower classes of primary school. It allows the entire class playing which directs pupils into individual performing within the group and into new chords and more colourful sounds. In music education we play on our "own instruments" (hands, legs) or on improvised instruments made by pupils or on the Orff instruments. Some teaches include traditional folk instruments into their lessons. This is educationally important for proper recognition and valuing of folk culture. Usage of instruments makes music education more interesting. Usage of instruments is also a strong means of motivation and learning. Playing in group has an important effect, not only on pupil's musical development, but also on pupil's intellectual, physical, emotional and social development.

The results have shown that one third of teachers is not able to play simple instruments to the level in which they could use all advantages of them when giving lessons.

Singing is an elementary form of music expression and is necessary ingredient of music education. A teacher needs a healthy and trained voice, which allows him not only singing but also a proper speech and successful teaching. The importance of this factor for education cannot be overstressed. Especially in lower classes of elementary school, pupils are mimicking their teachers in every aspect. By doing this they often tend to gain speech defects and improper way of singing, which are the results of teacher having a non-trained voice and not being aware of hers / his pronunciation. On of the goals of music education is to stimulate children to sing and gain a proper singing technique. It is very unfortunate that more than a half of teachers do not posses a vocal technique necessary to achieve the above goals. We have noticed that the development of singing technique is very often neglected amongst teachers.

The development of music skills in the lower years of primary school require a solid and confident demonstration, because pupils at this stage gain knowledge by imitation. Because of the importance of music reproduction we try to attain as much automation in singing and performing as possible. A continuous and active exercises, repetition and instantaneous feedback are necessary. Therefore it is essential that teacher is carefully checking the correctness of pupil's vocal technique. In this way the outer control of pupil's voice soon becomes an internal self-control of vocal reproduction. Development of music skills is long process that requires a continuous checking throughout every lesson.

As expected, the ability to play piano was heavily influenced by the fact that some teachers attended music school. Musical family climate has given indirect positive influence to the development of the ability to play simple instruments and to the vocal technique. Indeed, teachers who live in a musically positive family environment received the highest scores. We presume that this is because teachers were actively involved in music activities proposed by their parents.

Ability to perform music gives pupil an opportunity to actively join different music activities which enrich a wider cultural environment.

2.3. Music creativity

Creativity in the context of music education does not mean that we teach a pupil how to be creative. Hence we cannot discuss music creativity in the same sense as we discuss the development of certain music ability (for example). However we can discuss the creative way of work or creative method of teaching. We can direct a pupil to a form of creative work whose achievements are basic musical knowledge and the interest for art.

Forms and methods of teaching music must be engineered so that pupils creative potential is maximally used up at all stages of learning process. The creative potential should be directed towards developing music abilities, skills and knowledge. Therefore a teacher must be familiar with the procedures of musical creativity.

In music tests performed on teachers we were marking their ability in rhythmic and melodic creativity and the ability to perform aesthetically.

Table 3.: Grouping of teachers based on their music creativity

 

Music creativity

N

Very developed (%)

Developed (%)

Badly developed (%)

Undeveloped (%)

Rhythmic production

245

27,35

33,88

30,61

8,16

Melodic production

245

33,88

21,22

33,47

11,43

Performance - interpretation

245

29,39

37,96

27,75

4,90

 

The table shows that approximately 60 % of teacher is musically creative. We can expect them to employ creative methods and forms of teaching. The breakdown of the results shows that interpretative performance is where teachers perform the best. This is prosperous, because interpretation is an important ingredient of music performance. As expected the results of melodic creativity are the worst. This is due to the fact that melodic creativity is closely related to the melodic musical ear.

Music creativity is approximately equally correlated with all factors included in this research. Results show the strongest link with musical school and the weakest link with singing in choir. However, the links with factors examined in this research are not statistically important.

2.4 Music knowledge

Music knowledge is basically concerned with cognitive area of music. We have performed tests on the fields of knowledge which are necessary for achieving the targets of music education. This includes the ability to sing directly from the score (solfeggio) the understanding of music score and the theoretical knowledge which should help teacher form a tonal harmonic accompaniment.

Table 4.: Grouping of teachers based on their music creativity

 

Musical knowledge:

N

Very developed (%)

Developed (%)

Badly developed (%)

Undeveloped (%)

Solfeggio

245

13,87

20,82

36,33

28,98

Reading score

245

3,27

18,27

42,04

36,33

Theoretical knowledge

245

42,86

12,24

14,69

30,21

 

It can be seen from the table that teachers receives the worst results in these tests. We are surprised to know that teachers are very poor at reading a musical score. This knowledge is important, because it allow teacher to perform an unknown piece of music according with requirements and proposals of the author. It seems that teacher are not reading scores carefully and that they are not performing new pieces which are regularly published in the relevant literature. This could mean, that they do not put new ideas and concepts into lessons of music education.

Singing directly from the score gives trouble to most teachers. This skill requires developed melodic and rhythmic musical ear, the ability to analytically percept score in the context of intervals, rhythm, etc. This can be achieved only by means of long and continuous practice which was not given to teachers during the time of their study.

The best average results in this group were achieved in the tests of theoretical knowledge.

Musical knowledge is closely linked to music school and the level of higher education attained. However there is no link between musical knowledge and singing in a choir or dancing.

From the data presented above we can conclude that a distinct proportion of teacher do not have the proper knowledge and dispositions which are required for a quality music lessons. The general music education in primary schools is all what most of the teachers get. Secondary schools in Slovenia unfortunately do not provide an obligatory music education. The differences in quality of music teaching are mostly the result of an unequal qualifications of teachers in music. Consequently there are large differences in the attitude towards music and music education and the willing to teach music. Other researches have also shown that the development of music abilities is heavily dependent on early music education, environment and personal properties of an individual.

For realization of the targets of music education it is necessary that teachers are confident in all educational areas of music education: performance (instrumental and vocal), listening and perception and music creativity. Teachers should use the appropriate methods in which pupils develop their music abilities, skills, knowledge, concepts and rules throughout music experience and creative activities. Only such treatment of syllabus allows understanding and useful, lasting knowledge. For such treatment teacher must have developed music abilities, skills and must be musically creative and literate. Moreover they should have necessary theoretical knowledge. These requirements form a basis for a quality music education.

This document was added to the Education-line database 05 November 1998