Research and Music Advocacy: Using Numbers to Support Our Cause

by Stephanie K.

We, as music educators, are very likely all familiar with the A-word: Advocacy. This familiarity might be the result of music cuts in our districts or just a personal knowledge of issues facing music education. Regardless, all music educators need to know how to advocate for their music programs, even when times are good. If we advocate for our music programs even when we do not necessarily have to, we are planting seeds of awareness that will be ready for harvest when and if they are needed. I feel both lucky and blessed to be a music educator whose job is not in jeopardy of being cut. I also feel privileged to say that music is (for the most part) valued in the community where I teach. Thus, I do not have to advocate for my music program on a daily basis, but I still can and I still do. Unfortunately, some music educators do have to advocate for their music programs on a daily basis. Well, here is something that might help.

On Saturday, November 5th, 2011, I sat in on a professional development workshop presented by Dr. Jennifer Mishra, Coordinator of Music Education, at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. She titled her workshop “Using Research to Advocate for Music Programs.” I found the presentation extremely interesting and useful, and I believe the information Dr. Mishra shared can benefit other music educators, as well. Her presentation basically all came down to the one idea that music educators need to use research when advocating for their music programs. Just saying that music belongs in schools and education is not enough. We need to be able to support that idea with facts and numbers. According to Dr. Mishra, we need to support our advocacy efforts with “research bites.” Well, what are research bites?

According to Dr. Mishra, a research bite is “a brief fact or finding from research presented in language easily understood by musicians, teachers, parents and administrators” (2011). They are meant “to be used when advocating for music programs” (Mishra, 2011). People who do not have our same [music] background need facts. They need to be convinced of the importance of music in education. When we advocate for the cause of music education in schools, “we need to be talking in a way that people understand in our society…Our society, whether we like it or not, is a very research and numbers-based society” (Mishra, 2011). Therefore, we find and use numbers that will help convince our audience of our cause. “We convince people of things in our society because we toss a number at them,” so, “we need to use those numbers in our favor. Numbers are persuasive” (Mishra, 2011).

The issue is rarely whether or not music educators are passionate about what they do. We are passionate about music. We believe music is important. We believe music belongs in schools. But, that is not enough. We have to support these “beliefs” with numbers and facts. As Dr. Mishra said, “to the passion, add the facts. We’ve got the passion…that’s no problem. But, we need to add some facts to be persuasive” (2011). Numbers can be fact. Numbers can be opinions. Either way, numbers can be convincing. “Numbers have power. It’s all about interpretation. Numbers can be interpreted in different ways. We give those numbers the power, and that means we can actually take it and turn it to our own advantage” (Mishra, 2011). Research bites give you a number and give you an argument in one or two sentences. We just have to find the research bite that fits our situation and speaks best to our audience. So, how do we make a convincing argument?

“Most of the time, when we are doing research, we want to be unbiased. But, for advocacy, we are looking for baised findings…findings that will work in our favor, that support our argument” (Mishra, 2011). We need to focus on research that supports music education, and there is plenty of it out there. However, we want and need to make sure that we have appropriate sources. Choose an argument and find the research to support it. Our argument and research is strong when cited with reputable scientists, researchers, and journals. “Respected sources convince.” (Mishra, 2011). We still make the decision of what to include or not include, but it is our responsibility to choose the research and the argument that speaks to our audience. We need to make the numbers real to our audience. “Make the numbers personal by replicating research findings with your own students. Put a face on the numbers” (Mishra, 2011). If you cannot find exactly what you are looking for in your research, do your own research with your own students. It will be even more real to your community.

“We obviously have to keep music in the minds of our administrators, our parents, our community because, especially in this kind of climate [financial climate], we sometimes have our programs riffed. Even in good times, we have our programs riffed” (Mishra, 2011). There is plenty of research out there. We just have to find it. And, actually, it is pretty easy to find research indicating that music supports other disciplines, but “don’t forget AFAS: Art For Art’s Sake” (Mishra, 2011). Music is fundamentally valuable. Sometimes it is enough just to remember that. Sometimes our argument needs more. When your argument needs more, use a research bite. I know that, personally, I am going to start including research bites in my newsletters, notes to parents, e-mails, and concert programs. You never know when you are going to need them, but you want your seeds of advocacy to be ready for harvest when they are needed. So, where can you find research bites that fit your cause and help you support your cause? Well, the below sites are great places to start.

Advocacy Resources: Collections of Research Bites

Mishra, J. (2011, November 5). Using Research to Advocate for Music Programs. IMEA District 6 Festival. Conducted from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL.


More Music Motivators

by Stacie MacBush

I am always looking for ways to motivate my students in music class. Sometimes it is getting my younger students to participate or my boys to sing. Jr. High students are a whole other animal. How do you motivate students who would rather be in PE or at recess? Here are my ideas and hopefully you can add to my list!

My younger students LOVE stickers. I know it sounds simple, but all of my Pre-K though 2nd grade students know they can EARN their stickers in music. They can earn them by participating, sitting criss cross, raising their hand, singing with me and doing movements. Students who earn them show their teachers when they are picked up. The teachers at my school like this system because it is an easy visual to see who was on task for the day. Many times we point out the students who DID earn their sticker and sometimes we talk about what a student can do next time to earn his or her sticker.

My third grade students knowing this system were upset because they didn’t earn their stickers SO they get a SUPER STAR sticker. Only one student per class can get this and I try to spread it out among the students. They ask me every class if I ever forget.

I DO more than just stickers. My younger students do not get a grade so small things like pencils and my prize bin are options for students who are doing an awesome job that day.

My beginner band students have an incentive chart. It is called “POPPIN’ PERFORMANCES” and students earn a popcorn sticker every time they pass a playing test. Once they get to 10 stickers they get to go to a popcorn and movie party with me. It is in my classroom and popcorn is inexpensive so everyone wins! They love this system and my beginners are better the past three years because of this motivator.

Here are some other ideas of how to motivate your students:
1. Bulletin boards showing progression
2. Put student name in newsletter or on school website
3. Positive note home to parent
4. Sit in teacher chair
5. Director for a day
6. DJ for a day (my older kids LOVE this)
7. High five!
8. Lunch with the teacher
9. Homework pass
10. Telling the student that you are proud of them!

There are tons of great ideas out there to motivate your students. Please add any ideas you might have to the list!

FACTS: The Grass is Green, Two Plus Two Equals Four, and Best of All — Boys in Fifth Grade Sing High!

  By: Patti Bjornson         

           Yesterday, I planned a quick vocal assessment with my fifth grade students.  A few boys in the classroom “rolled” their eyes with the anticipation of the task.  These boys usually have wonderful attitudes and participation toward all music activities, but I noticed over the last few weeks that they were struggling with wanting to sing lower than the girls.  I knew it was time to give my “famous speech!”  In short, I basically told the boys that physiologically their bodies were still designed to sing like a child and not like a man.  I stated, “It was a scientific fact just like the grass is green and two plus two equals four, a boy’s voice sings high.”  Furthermore, I swayed them that any person who teases a boy for singing like a girl is simply uneducated on this topic.  For the majority of my boys who have developed proper singing voices in the primary grades, this speech (along with some quick and simple vocal explorations of high tones) works, and they produce in my opinion one of the most beautiful sounds ever heard – young boys singing in their head voice.  A college student who observed this discussion in my fifth grade music class told me that he was going to quote me on Facebook.  He liked my comment.  This future music educator led me to reflect more about the topic of singing in tune with my students.  I am dedicated toward all my students successfully “singing alone and with others,” which is a National Standard in Music.  This blog entry will discuss effective strategies that I have employed toward this goal.

            First, as a music educator, we must understand the development of a young child’s voice.  Their range is different from ours.  Students in the primary grades have a small range and find difficulty singing low notes.  A note around f and g above middle C is a great place to start.  It is not until third through sixth grade that students can sing low notes below middle C and sing high notes above c’.  Music educators need to start with songs that have two to three pitches.  Songs with the Kodaly tones of sol, mi, and la are age appropriate and provide success.  Teachers should alter notes in songs when the range is not favorable for young voices.  Meanwhile, we can challenge our more developed singers to go higher and continue to develop their head voices.  The article, “Elementary School Children’s Vocal Range” by Sylvesta Wassum in the Journal of Research in Music Education provides two informative tables on the vocal ranges of students from the first through sixth grades.

            Second, music educators should teach and correct singing in the early grades.  Many students enter school with limited exposure to music.  Others have been silenced by their parents who haven’t wanted to hear them sing or been teased or laughed at by a sibling or classmate when the child has attempted to sing.  In other cases, a student may simply lack confidence or motivation to sing.  This could be combined with the need to develop breath support.  These situations can be overcome easily by providing a safe encouraging atmosphere in the music room.  Basic techniques with posture, breath control and vocal warm ups can assist these developing voices.  Several practical examples are included in the Janice Smith’s 2006 Music Educators Journal article titled “Every Child a Singer:  Techniques for Assisting Developing Singers.”  This article even walks through specialized situations such as auditory processing difficulties, hearing impairments, and other physical problems.  Smith ends her article with numerous remediation techniques for students who need more individualized attention to be a successful singer.  I recently found success with one of my first graders by not requiring him to match my pitch.  I made myself match his pitch.  This young boy now understands what it sounds like and feels like to match a pitch.  His range is still limited, but he is having success with a few tones.  His smile and confidence assures me we will continue on a wonderful musical journey this year.

            “Singing is the most basic musical expression…beyond that, singing—like all music—can be a source of joy, comfort, and emotional sensation.  Singing is the birthright of every child with a normal speaking voice” (Smith, 2006).  Music educators need to stay committed to the fact that all children can learn to sing.  I will continue to learn more about the development of children’s singing voices and good strategies to teach primary and intermediate voices.  By continued research, I can add more to my “famous speech” to future fifth grade boys.  I can tell them that they should sing like the “Bee Gees,” and I can play famous recordings of the Vienna Boys Choir.  Boys can be proud that their voices are preferred to women’s voices in some cathedral settings.  Their voices are unique, and they can take pride and use them wisely (Stene, 1969).


Stene, E.J., There are No Monotones,  Music Educators Journal, (Volume55, Pages 46-121)    

Smith, J., Every Child a Singer: Techniques for Assisting Developing Singers,  Music Educators Journal, (Volume 93, Pages 28-34)

Wassum, S., Elementary School Children’s Vocal Range,  Journal of Research in Music Education, (Volume 27, Pages214-226)

Using Games in the Music Classroom

by Stephanie K.

When we make learning fun, we get a better response from our students, and what better way to do so than by incorporating games into the lesson plan? I think we have all witnessed it firsthand; students become eager to participate the second you add a game to the learning mix. I have personally observed how just the use of the word “game” can get a positive and enthusiastic response from students. Games are exciting to children; thus, they can add excitement to the lesson. Games can change students’ entire attitude about learning. It is as though they no longer realize they are learning; they are just having fun. Yet, they are likely learning even more than they would have otherwise, and the bonus is that comprehension and retention are usually better, too.

 I am not promoting games for the sake of games. We need to make sure that we are getting the most out of the games we use in class. We need to use games that are more than just games for the sake of playing games and having fun. Those can be saved for the playground. We need games that actually help teach and reinforce the music concepts we want our music students to learn. We need “educational” games. In my almost three months of teaching general music, I have found a resource that provides such games.

The Music Zone and The Music Zone 2 by Cristi Cary Miller are wonderful additions to any general music curriculum. Each book includes music, lyrics, and a CD of original songs that help teach the basics of music. The musical concepts in each book are accompanied by a fun game or activity for reinforcement. I have already tried several of these games and activities with my 1st through 4th grade students and have seen tremendous improvement in their basic knowledge and understanding of the concepts and their retention of the material from week to week. I only see my general music students once a week for a thirty minute period, so every minute counts. When the students remember the material from the week before, it saves the time that would normally be spent re-teaching the previous week’s material. It also allows you to cover more material throughout the school year. I think we could all use more of that.

The best example I can give you of the books’ effectiveness is this personal story: I used the songs “Swingin’ Lines and Spaces (Music Staff)” (p. 41-42) and “Music Box ABC” (p. 22-23) and the suggested games that accompanied both songs at the beginning of the year with my third and fourth graders. The games were called the “Giant Staff Relay Game” (p. 43) and “Swat a Note” (p. 24), both from The Music Zone. Both songs and games were meant to help students learn and understand the treble clef line and space notes. After using the songs and, more importantly, the games for a couple weeks, I had my students take a note test. I was pleasantly surprised when 134 out of 166 students earned a 100% on their first attempt. That was almost 81% percent with a perfect score. This number even included the special education students that are mainstreamed into my music classes. To say the least, I was very happy with those results. So, it basically all comes down to this…

Children of all ages love to play games. When you add learning to the mix, it is a bonus. I would encourage all music teachers to use such “educational” games in the classroom. But, sometimes it is hard to find specific games or activities to supplement the music lesson you are teaching. Well, I believe these books are a good start. The books together cover most of the music topics and concepts you would want to cover with your 1st through 6th grade general music classes. So, the next time you are searching for an educational game to use in your music classroom or to supplement your lesson plan with, look no further. For only $29.99 each book, it is the solution you need and a resource too good to pass up.

Some of my students playing “Swat a Note” from page 24 in The Music Zone.

Miller, C. C. (2008).  The music zone. (p. 48). Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corporation.

Miller, C. C. (2010). The music zone 2. (p. 64). Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corporation.

Everything has rhythm. Everything dances. -Maya Angelou

This article written by, Amy Fatek

While rhythm is as basic as a simple heartbeat, teaching students how to use rhythmic notation and literacy is a challenge.  As a junior high band director I am constantly looking for ways to differentiate my instruction so that rhythm is understood and applicable by my students to different styles and genres of music.  I have determined that there are three steps to follow in helping our students find success in reading and applying rhythms.  We must know our students’ previous knowledge base and collaborate with colleagues to create a cohesive curriculum.  We must present a variety of different systems for practice and implement these practices in to our daily rehearsal routine.

Knowing our students means understanding what objectives they are familiar with and what things need reinforcing.  In the article, “Six Key Principals for Music Assessment”, the authors Connie Hale and Susan Green state, “Before teaching a skill or concept, a teacher needs to examine prerequisite knowledge needed for success”.  (Pg. 28)  Ideally a curriculum would be designed so that when the students are old enough to join band they have already worked on he fundamentals of music and have a solid foundation to start from. In creating a curriculum, it is very important that the band director communicates with the general music teacher.  This allows the general music teacher to share what objectives they have emphasized.   All to often we have tunnel vision in our own worlds, and do not see the big picture.  It is this big picture that should drive curriculum planning.  Teachers should look to their standards for guidance and then collaborate and develop a district vision of what the timeline for their students’ development should look like.

Teachers often present systems for counting rhythms that make sense to them.  It is understandable then, that students may not always see things the same way.  It is important that we introduce many different systems of counting.  A teacher might use one system while occasionally throwing in an example from another.  When students, “just don’t get it”, we have to try a different approach.  In the study, “The Effects of Learning Procedure, Tempo, and Performance Condition on Transfer of Rhythm Skills in Instrumental Music”, written by Michael A. Pierce, the study examined sixth, seventh and eighth grade band students ability to transfer previously learned rhythmic skills to a new piece.  This study used four different rhythmic learning strategies; clapping, counting, sizzling, and clapping and counting rhythm.  Pierce concluded that there was not a significant difference between systems.  Significance was found however, in the tempo variation between were the students originally learned the passage and the tempo they played during testing.  Tempo was the variable that led student to have a hard time transferring their knowledge.  I think this is an important thing for teachers to note.

Another method of teaching rhythm would be using words or syllables to describe rhythm. Bernadette Colley, the researcher who wrote the study, “A Comparison of Syllabic Methods for Improving Rhythm Literacy”, concluded that, “a syllabic system that differentiated between duple and triple subdivisions of the beat improved recognition skills to a greater degree than one that did not.  Furthermore, a system in which specific words were assigned to intact rhythm patterns improved performance and notation skills to a greater degree than did the two systems that used monosyllables”. (Pg. 221)  Here are the three treatments used with the experimental groups from Colley’s study:

From Colley’s study,  A Comparison of Syllabic Methods for Improving Rhythm Literacy. (Pg. 226)

It was discovered that:

“Subjects in the word group conceptualized the patterns as intact units because the words themselves were in tact units, regardless of their rhythmic connotation.  For example, it would have been unnatural to the children to pause between the syllables of the word Washington.  In contrast, Many Kodaly and Gordon subjects would hesitate between the individual syllables in TiTiTi or DuDaDi.  In addition, the accented first syllable of all the words or phrases gave word subjects a sense of a continuing metric accent.  Each measure could read like a sentence of sorts, which, like any sentence, had a rhythmic flow from one word to the next”.  (Pg.233)

I found this study to be very interesting.  I currently use more of a Kodaly approach.  Having seen this research, I am interested in learning more about the word method.  There are some very basic rhythms in which Ta and TiTi work well for my students, but for the more complex rhythms it definitely makes since to use multiple ways of building a “musical sentence”.

Finally, putting these ideas into a daily routine makes using these strategies second nature for students.  I do a rhythmic dictation or counting exercise everyday as a part of the warm-up.  By using multiple strategies as described within, more students should be able to make connections between notation and the sounds they should make.  By knowing our students needs and collaborating with colleagues we set students on a path of understanding and rhythmic literacy.  By using many different approaches to teaching rhythm we give students many different opportunities to have their “Ah-Ha Moment”.  Perfect and systematic practice makes perfect and by making these strategies a part of our daily practice and rehearsal routine we give our students the tools for success.


Colley, B.. (1985). A Comparison of Syllabic Methods for Improving Rhythm Literacy (Master’s Thesis).  Journal of Research in Music Education.  (Volume 4, Pages 221-235)

Hale, C.L., Green, S.K. (2009).  Six Key Principals for Music Assessment.  Journal of Music Education

Pierce, M.A., (1992),  The effects of Learning Procedure, Tempo, and Performance Condition on Transfer of Rhythm Skills in Instrumental Music.  (Volume 40, Pages 295-315)

Music, Movement and Memorization

Starring Jojo Holmby Stacie MacBush

Do your students need help memorizing text for a play or concert? Mine did. I teach kindergarten through eighth grade students. I get to see my students for general music one time a week for 45 minutes. That doesn’t leave much time for me to get them ready for plays, concerts, assemblies, reading music, and everything else that goes into a school music program.

I am not a huge fan of using music because it tends to looks sloppy and younger students look at the music more than the director. I wouldn’t mind my older students using their music because they are better at watching and holding the music in a uniformed matter.

The past two years I have been using movements to help student memorize the text. Students read through the text with me first. I have been using a new “fill-in-the-blank” method where I read and the students follow along. They say the missing word when I pause. This keeps everyone on task and on his or her toes, especially when I call on one specific student to say the missing word.

After we read the words we talk about the text and what the composer intended. I teach my younger students the text by echoing. I sing one phrase at a time then they echo back. After students are singing the correct pitches and rhythm they were forgetting the text from week to week.

I started adding movements to each phrase of music and that made a huge difference in my music programs. I am able to teach them the songs they need to know for our plays and concerts and I still have time to teach the other music concepts they need to know.

Adding movements to the music helped my students memorize the text. They are also better at watching me. I love this method! Please let me know if you have any other ideas to help students memorize their music.

Rehearse the Poetic Verse, Reinforce Skills in the Course

By Patti B.

             Music and poetry have similar elements such as cadence, meter, verse, rhythm, and repetition.  Children take great pleasure rhythmic language.   When music helps expose children to rhyme and repetition, then it is aiding students in skills necessary to learn to read.  I have always incorporated poetry into the general music setting.  This year, I have featured a seasonal poem with the entire school each new month.  I would like to share how I have used this poem to teach and review numerous elements of music as well as provide reading and spelling instruction and a sense of community in the school.

            First, I have used the poems to teach and reinforce rhythm.  After the students have mastered the recitation and movement of the poem, we can label the rhythms, note values, and even rests that the poem is using.  Furthermore, we have perfumed the poems with one or more ostinatos.  The older students are able to play the ostinato on an instrument while saying the rhythm in their head.  Younger students are still speaking the ostinatos aloud with body percussion or instruments.  We have also incorporated “student directors” to lead their small group.  The students are very motivated to be the leader.  The majority of the students are confident in their skills to be able to lead a group even when other groups are performing something different.  My classes have been more successful with performing multiple ostinatos than other attempts I have made with songs.  I believe assigning “directors” for each group has been a key component of this.  Hopefully, their success will transfer to more difficult songs with ostinatos and thick textures.  It is also amazing to hear the students critique their own performances of the poem with ostinatos.  They are harder on themselves than I am.

            Secondly, the monthly poems have allowed our classes to review other musical elements as well.  For example, we have performed the poems as a canon to continue to develop an understanding of how a round works.  We have also assigned dynamic and tempo markings to the poem to recall these symbols.  The students have gotten a “taste” of composing by assigning their own dynamic or tempo markings to the poems.  They carefully plan creative ways to make the text match the dynamics or tempo markings.  Antiphony has been introduced through these poems.  Identifying the meter of the poem is another beneficial activity.

            Finally, the poems have been an excellent way to continue to connect reading and spelling into the music room.  The poems assign a “catchy” rhythm to the spelling of the months.  The first graders are so proud to be able to spell a nine letter word-September!  They are eager to inform their classroom teachers of this accomplishment and present these big words on their spelling tests.  The rhyming and repetitious text is reinforcing their reading skills.  Moreover, the fact that every class in the school is learning the same poem allows the students to have shared experiences with all grade levels.  The poems could be recited at a school assembly or at other times to get their attention. 

The following articles and website can be beneficial to find out more on how to use poetry and music together.

 Towell, J.H. (1999). Motivating students through music and literature.  The Reading Teacher, 53(4), 284–287.

D’Agrosa, E. (2008).  Making music, reaching readers:  making powerful connections possible for young students.  General Music Today, 21(4), 6-10.

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