Current Sociological Studies in Music Education

By Roberts, Brian A. | The Canadian Music Educator, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Current Sociological Studies in Music Education


Roberts, Brian A., The Canadian Music Educator


From time to time it is worth the effort to pass on some interesting highlights of what some scholars are doing in our discipline. This little contribution offers a quick look at two of the research reports delivered at the 5th International Symposium on the Sociology of Music Education held at Memorial University in St. John's in the summer of 2007 and subsequently published in 2008 in a book titled "Sociological Explorations".

José Benoît from the University of Ottawa offered a report on her study on why students enroll in specialized music programs. She points to previous studies that show, that while students are very involved with music in their lives, they still prefer their "own" music rather than school music. This theme has been common in sociological research since the early 1970's with the publication of Witkin's "Intelligence of Feeling". Benoît quotes sources who suggests that music plays an important role for the development of adolescent identity and self-image and that musical style with which they identity communicates values, attitudes and opinions to others and can be likened to a "badge of identity". Since Benoît is also interested in Francophone education she further points out that this sense of "belonging" may be even stronger for an adolescent living in a Francophone minority setting, a point well taken I think.

Benoît used both interviews and focus-group sessions to gather her qualitative data in a French language secondary school in eastern Ontario. Her results showed both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for students to continue in the music program with the greater emphasis on intrinsic reasons. Students offered comments such as "it was fun" or "I love music". Some students indicated that a day without music would be unimaginable.

It is interesting to note that studies that try to shed light on why students enter a university music program arrive at very similar conclusions. The largest motivating factor in those studies typically shows it to be a basic "love of music".

Benoît's students showed strong feelings of accomplishment and positive sensations when making music. Other indicated that they felt positive about the opportunity to express their feelings and "feel free" when making music. Benoît also concludes that students have needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness which they see as being met in further music study.

Extrinsic motivating factors identified focused on the pleasure and satisfaction in having their friends in the class - a result totally supported by Biddy's research on the importance of friendship to Canadian teenagers. Other extrinsic factors included parental encouragement or other musicians in their families. Positive feedback from other teachers in the school also played a role.

Benoît offers an excellent view into the lives of students and why they may choose to continue their musical studies in school. From an understanding of these motivating factors we can position ourselves to encourage other students to participate by pointing out in various ways how students' intrinsic and extrinsic needs can be met.

Another interesting study comes from Karen Snell from the University of Western Ontario. Snell investigated the "informal" learning strategies used by popular musicians and then looked at ways these strategies may be usefully incorporated into school music instruction.

It is interesting but hardly surprising given the background of the school music teacher that school music has been almost exclusively driven by classical art music traditions. Even in instances where "other" genres of music have been taught, our orientation to teaching strategies arise from our own experiences in learning Bach and Beethoven (or Hummel and Haydn if you are a trumpet player). …

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