Academic journal article Contributions to Music Education

Beginning Wind Instrument Instruction: A Comparison of Aural and Visual Approaches

Academic journal article Contributions to Music Education

Beginning Wind Instrument Instruction: A Comparison of Aural and Visual Approaches

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to assess the effectiveness of teaching beginning wind instrumentalists using a sound-before-sight (aural) approach, designed to foster the connections between eyes, ears, and fingers; and capitalize on students' musical intuitions. Participants received one hour of weekly instruction for 15 weeks. One group (n = 10) was taught with an aural/modeling emphasis (singing while fingering, playing-by-ear, call and response, playing from printed music), and one (n = 10) with a visual emphasis (playing from printed music). T-tests showed that the aural/modeling group scored higher on two posttests, the Watkins Farnum Performance Scale and a prepared piece, though not significantly. Aural/modeling participants without prior training scored the highest followed by visual participants with prior training. There was a significant (r = .668, p < .01) and positive relationship between posttest scores. Teaching with an aural/modeling emphasis does not hamper participants' music performance skills, and may aid them.

Learning to play a wind instrument is a daunting task. Students must learn to put an instrument together, care for the instrument, hold the instrument, sit up straight, breathe efficiently, form an embouchure, produce a sound, and decipher a symbol system to read music (Kohut, 1973; Wilkinson, 2000). Requiring students to read musical notation when first learning to play an instrument places a visual emphasis on musical performance and response instead of an aural emphasis. Students come to the first lesson with aural knowledge and musical intuitions instilled informally by enculturation and implicit learning throughout their lives. They have experienced music in many ways before the first formal lesson. It is possible that teaching with a visual emphasis does not incorporate those intuitions as efficiently as teaching with an aural/modeling emphasis. "Economy is . . . also a function of the sequence in which material is presented or the manner in which it is learned" (Bruner, 1966, p. 46). The purpose of this study was to assess the effectiveness of teaching beginning wind instrumentalists using a sound-before-sight (aural) approach, designed to foster the connections between eyes, ears, and fingers; and capitalize on students' musical intuitions.

Bruner (1966) identifies three types of knowledge representation: enactive, iconic, and symbolic. In music teaching, the enactive level involves physical interaction with sound. At the iconic level, students develop personalized representations of sounds. These representations could be aural images, or invented notation. At the symbolic level, students are able to use a symbol system (music notation) to demonstrate knowledge. It is at this level that intuitive knowledge combines with scholastic knowledge and demonstrates true understanding (Gardner, 1991). According to Bruner (1966), Mainwaring (1951), and Swanwick (1994), the three types of representation should be mastered in order and then used in conjunction. It is not the goal of education to reach the symbolic level and disregard the others. In fact, it is the interaction of the enactive, iconic, and symbolic representations that foster cognitive growth, as children work to coalesce intuition and knowledge gained to solve newly encountered problems.

Teaching with an aural emphasis follows Bruner's and Gardner's hierarchies of knowledge acquisition and representation. That is, students should first interact with sound physically using their instruments but without notation; then form internalized concepts of the sounds they are making; and then later use notation to help demonstrate understanding. This approach also aligns with the principles of education initially set forth by Heinrich Pestalozzi in the late 18th century, and adapted for music by Hans George Nageli in 1810 and later by Joseph Naef and Lowell Mason (Abeles, Hoffer, & Klotman, 1995).

Teaching with an aural emphasis is not the most common approach to beginning wind instrument instruction. …

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