Choosing an Instrument? The Educational Impact of an Early Music Concert at the Middle School [1]

Escolhendo um instrumento? O impacto pedagógico de um concerto de música antiga na escola secundária [1]

Carugno, G.

UNIPR - Performing Arts Studies at the University of Parma / Conservatory of Salerno

Retirado de:

ABSTRACT: This paper aims at providing an overview of preteens’ choices and preferences for historical musical instruments, analyzing if they change after listening the musical instruments live played by professional musicians. In particular, this paper takes into account the results of a pilot study conducted with a class of 11-year-old students, enrolled in an Italian middle school. All the students attended general music lessons on Renaissance and Baroque music, but only some of them were also instrumental students. 
After the lessons, they participated in a live concert of early music, held at school by professional musicians, who played historical instruments’ copies (a lute, a bass viol, a transverse flute and a harpsichord) and gave the students the opportunity to observe them closely. The results of the research show the relevant impact of a live music performance on the students’ choices for lesser known musical instruments from the past, evidencing the existence of a connection between the preferred historical instruments and the “modern” instruments played by the students at school.  

KEYWORDS: early music; music education; musical instrument preferences

RESUMO: Este artigo tem como objetivo fornecer uma visão geral das escolhas e preferências dos pré-adolescentes para instrumentos musicais históricos, analisando se eles mudam depois de ouvir os instrumentos musicais ao vivo tocados por músicos profissionais. Em particular, este trabalho leva em consideração os resultados de um estudo piloto conduzido com uma turma de estudantes de 11 anos de idade, matriculados em uma escola intermediária italiana. Todos os alunos participaram de aulas de música em geral sobre música renascentista e barroca, mas apenas alguns deles também eram estudantes instrumentais.
Após as aulas, eles participaram de um concerto ao vivo de música antiga, realizado na escola por músicos profissionais, que tocavam cópias de instrumentos históricos (alaúde, baixo, flauta transversal e cravo) e davam aos alunos a oportunidade de observar eles de perto. Os resultados da pesquisa mostram o impacto relevante de uma performance de música ao vivo nas escolhas dos alunos por instrumentos musicais menos conhecidos do passado, evidenciando a existência de uma conexão entre os instrumentos históricos preferidos e os instrumentos “modernos” jogados pelos estudantes em escola.

PALAVRAS-CHAVE: música antiga; Educação musical; preferências de instrumentos musicais

1. Introduction

This paper explores early music education practices in the Italian middle school, with the aim to find a good way to stimulate preteens’ interest in playing an historical musical instrument. In Italy, historical instruments are not taught at a secondary education level, but only at the Conservatory of music.  
After school legislation reforms (the last one come into force in 2015), in Italy music was considered part of the “core subjects” of high schools that offered specific curricula. These schools, called “Musical orientated junior high school” or “Musical high school”, mainly offer to their students courses of “modern” musical instruments. Students can decide the instrument they would like to learn (piano, guitar, violin, flute, cello, ecc.) and they have also the opportunity to attend chamber music, music history and music theory classes.  However, instrumental music courses are not opened to all the students, but only to those who have passed a specific musical aptitude test. At the same time, the high school music curriculum does not include specific topics related to early music, such as the evolution of musical instruments, the performance practices and the historic and artistic context of the Renaissance and Baroque era. So, historical musical instruments are not sufficiently valued at school and, consequently, they are not well known by the students. 
This is an indirect effect of the fact that music teachers are not always trained to teach some elements of early music or simply to explain the characteristics of historical musical instruments. In fact, until recent times, teachers were prepared only to teach the performance practice of the specific music instrument they played, or alternatively music theory classes, since music history – the area which is more related to early music – was not considered a separate subject of the high school music curriculum. After the establishment of ad hoc Musical high schools, by means of the Italian President of Republic Decree n. 89/2010 (concerned the new regulation of high schools, and also known as “Minister Gelmini school reform”), music history started to be taught for at least three hours a week, beside other theoretical subjects (music technology, harmony and composition, music analysis, etc.), by teachers who are both musicians and musicologists. 
This “revolutionary” change influenced also the junior highs school teachers’ inclination towards music history, even if this latter was not included in the curriculum as a different subject (differently from what happened at the Musical high school) and it is still part of the general “Music education class” gave twice a week in each classroom. The middle schools teachers’ become more open to re-consider the relevance of providing historical information during their music lessons, and consequently start to point more attention to the way of teaching music history, since the “traditional method” – still spread in some areas of knowledge (history, math, literature, etc.) and based on proposing to the students the content of the lessons through a frontal approach – seems to be not appropriate for music, that should be experienced, listened and, only then, understood. In other words, the sound comes before the building of a historical awareness of music. Though, the school curricula disregard the methodological aspects related to the music history teaching (Maule, 2007), so the teachers are sometimes left without guidance. Some of them are specifically trained as music educators, attending special courses at the Conservatory also in music history pedagogy, but others are lacking groundwork in this area of specialization.  
This is even more evident when they have to transmit contents, such as the ones regarding Renaissance and Baroque music, that require an interaction with historical musical sources: musical manuscripts, portraits of composers, and especially historical musical instruments. Teachers are called not only to motivate the students in studying these contents, but they are also largely responsible of providing them opportunities to appreciate musical repertoires and instruments of the past that, otherwise, would remain unfamiliar to most part of them. These goals could be reached by adopting a teaching style open at involving the students in practical activities – e.g., the creation of historical soundtracks or the visit of a museum of musical instruments (many examples can be found in Galli, 2001) – , and primarily by offering to the students concrete occasions to enter in contact with historical musical instruments, to give them the chance to better orientate their musical preferences and discover “new” – but also “old”, even if still in use nowadays – instruments that maybe they would like to play. 


2. Literature Review

Musical instrument preferences were examined in many studies (Eros, 2008), which focused on gender differences and other factors that may affect the students’ choices, including the timbre (Bernier & Stafford, 1972; Kelly, 1997) and the perceived difficulty of the instrument, its size and physical characteristics (LeBlanc, 1982) and the parental and peer influences (Chen & Howard, 2004). Since the Seventies, music education research in the field of musical instrument preferences has suggested the existence of some gender stereotypes which biased the students’ decisions (Abeles, 2009; Wych, 2012). This association increases with the age of the students (Tarnowski, 1993), especially for those who played in a school band (Wrape, Dittloff & Callahan, 2014), and it is often linked with an historical and/or cultural prejudice on the distinction between masculine and feminine musical instruments (Abeles & Porter, 1978; Bruce & Kemp, 1993; Conway, 2000; Cramer, Million & Perreault, 2002; Green, 1997; Griswold & Chroback, 1981; Hargreaves, 1982; Holt, 1991; Walker, 2004). Furthermore, researchers considered other important variables which may influence the students’ choices. In preadolescence, preferences are mainly affected by the degree of difficulty of the instruments: as it was confirmed by O’Neill & Boulton (1996), the majority of teens ages 11 to 12 would not choose musical instruments which are commonly considered “difficult to play”. The same study concluded that also the physical properties of the instrument may play a role in the choices of the students.  Other investigations noticed that the timbre or “sound” of the instrument may acquire statistical significance as a factor determining musical instrument choices (Delzell & Leppla, 1992; Kuhlman, 2005).  The correlation between this sound and the students’ preferences was studied in different ways, by using recordings and pictures of the instruments (MacLeod, 2009) or the so-called “Instrument Timbre Preference Test”, created by Edwin Gordon (Gordon 1984; Gordon, 1986; Gordon, 1989; Gordon, 1991; Schmidt & Lewis, 1988; Rideout, 1988) and based on synthesized tones which represent the timbre of the instruments. For instance, the study conducted by Fortney, Boyle, & De Carbo (1993) in the middle school demonstrated that most of the students choose a musical instrument by considering primarily how it sounds. Notwithstanding the relevance of these results, the mentioned researches examined boys’ and girls’ preferences for learning to play only “modern” musical instruments and, substantially, orchestral and band instruments.  No research has been carried out on historical musical instruments, which are not very popular or common in schools; thus, the students have little possibility to know about them and to become interested in learning to play one of these instruments.  Therefore, in some cases musical instrument choices were investigated by utilizing pictures of the musical instruments or recorded sounds of them, without taking into account the impact that a live performance could have on the preferences of the students, in terms of opportunity: a) to hear the timbre of each instrument better; b) to view the instrument and to see how it is played closely; c) to observe the physical properties of the instrument. 


3. Metodology


3.1. Studied population  

This research was conducted as a pilot study involving a class of 11-year-old students (25 in total) enrolled in an Italian middle school. Ten students were enrolled in the Musical orientated section and they learned to play some instruments at school: guitar (four students), piano (five students), cello (one student). The other students were enrolled in the Ordinary section and they learned to play only the recorder during the music education classes.   


3.2. Steps of the research

The study was carried out in two different phases. In the first one, the students acquired some knowledge about historical musical instruments over two months of lessons given by the music teacher in the classroom. As registered in the teacher logbook, the lessons were focused on different topics: organology, characteristics and evolution of historical musical instruments and musical iconography.  
Each historical musical instrument was introduced by the teacher to the students through different methods: a) by giving information about it and reading the music textbook; b) by organizing listening activities to let the students hear and recognize the sound of the instrument; c) by showing Renaissance and Baroque pictures which represented the instrument.  After a month from the end of the lessons, an early music concert was held at school by professional musicians, who played historical instruments’ copies (a lute, a bass viol, a transverse flute and a harpsichord). Before the live performance, the musicians showed the characteristics of their musical instruments and gave the students the possibility to observe them closely.  


3.3. Data collection  

The data was collected through two questionnaires, answered by the students at two different moments, before and after the concert. The questions asked were the same in both questionnaires and were answered, in average, in about 10 minutes.  In each questionnaire, students were asked: a) to specify the name of the instrument they were learning to play at school;  b) to express their level of interest in learning to play an historical musical instrument using a Likert scale from 1 (low) to 3 (high);  c) to indicate the name of the historical instrument they would have liked to play by choosing between lute, harpsichord, bass viol and transverse flute;  d) to explain the reasons of their preference for the chosen historical instrument: “it is easy to play” or “it has a nice sound” or, lastly, “I like its physical and external characteristics”. 


4. Results

The following tables show the collected data related to the above-mentioned questions, obtained by comparing the answers contained in the first and in the second questionnaire. Table 1 illustrates the data concerning the level of interest of the students in learning to play an historical musical instrument after the school lessons and after the early music concert.  It can be observed that the number of students highly interested in learning to play an historical instrument has increased after the early music concert.  In fact, after the live performance, all the students enrolled in the Musical orientated section were extremely interested in playing historical instruments. 



Table 1


Regarding the historical instruments chosen by the students, Table 2 shows that: 
a) after the music lessons, the most chosen instruments by the students of the Ordinary section were transverse flute and harpsichord, and this latter was also the most preferred instrument after the early music concert. The preferences for bass viol remained stable over the time and it was not affected by the experience of participating in the concert. In addition, after the live performance two more students would have liked to play the lute; 
b) after the school lessons, most of the students enrolled in the Musical orientated section were interested in playing the lute or the harpsichord. These preferences were confirmed by the second questionnaire: five students chose the harpsichord again, four students identified their favorite instrument as the lute and only one student as the bass viol.



Table 2 



Therefore, considering the totality of the answers given by the students, it is possible to state that: 
a) before the concert, the most favorite instrument was the transverse flute, followed by the harpsichord and the lute; b) after the early music concert, the number of students which named the transverse flute as their favorite instrument decreased from seven to three; c) the preference for the lute increased after the live performance and there was also a rise in students’ preference for the harpsichord; in fact, in the second questionnaire eleven students named it as their favorite historical musical instrument. 
In particular, after the school lessons the ranking of the most favorite instruments was: 
1. transverse flute;
2. harpsichord; 
3. lute; 
4. bass viol. 
Differently, after the concert the ranking was: 
1. harpsichord;
2. lute; 
3. transverse flute; 
4. bass viol.        

The reasons which led the students to choose a specific historical musical instrument are illustrated in Table 3. It can be seen that after the music lessons the interest in playing an historical musical instrument was primarily affected by the sound of the instrument, heard by the students during the listening activities held in the classroom by the teacher. This was also confirmed after the early music concert: almost half of the students made them choice considering the sound produced by the instrument; 40 percent of the students justified their preference by referring to the physical and external characteristics of the chosen instrument and only three students preferred the instrument perceived as the “easiest” to play. 


Table 3


Moreover, Graph 1 clearly shows there is a correspondence between the historical musical instruments chose by the students and the “modern” instruments they learned to play at school: piano, guitar, cello and recorder. However, this correspondence is not always present: for instance, recorder players chose the transverse flute after the school lessons, but they changed their preference after participating in the concert.
On the contrary, the number of pianists which indicated harpsichord as their favorite instrument increased from three to five after the early music concert. In fact, at the end of the music lessons, two pianists decided to choose the transverse flute and the bass viol, but in the second questionnaire all the pianists chose the harpsichord, the historical instrument which corresponds to the “modern” piano. 
It is possible to state the same for one guitarist, who changed his preference from the bass viol to the lute after the concert, and for the only cellist, who affirmed to prefer the bass viol both in the first and in the second questionnaire. 

Graph 1



5. Discussion

Considering the data presented, it is possible to state that preteens’ preferences for historical musical instruments have substantially changed after the participation of the students in the early music concert. Viewing closely an historical musical instrument and listening to its sound live played by a professional musician made the students more interested in learning it and the whole experience of the concert influenced their preferences, as it was demonstrated by the results of the second questionnaire. In fact, after the concert, the majority of the students changed their previous choices, justifying this with reference to the “nice sound” (twelve in twenty-five students) and to the external and physical characteristics of the instrument (half of the students), which were not really taken into account during the music lessons.  
Looking at the specific preferences expressed by the students, there were substantial differences between the students enrolled in the Musical orientated section and the others. 
The number of students attended the Ordinary section who preferred to learn the transverse flute, more similar to the recorder played at school, decreased after the early music concert from 46.5 percent to 20 percent. This could mean that participating in a live performance stimulates the curiosity of the students for instruments which are different from those they learn to play at school, also because attending a concert is more enjoyable than looking at the instruments depicted on a school book or listening to their recorded sounds. On the other hand, after the concert the group of students enrolled in the Musical orientated section resulted more interested in playing historical instruments which are comparable, for their characteristics, to the “modern” string, wind and keyboard instruments. 
This was observed for pianists and guitarists and also for the only cellist of the group, that never changed his preference for the bass viol. 
These are important evidences of the relevant impact of a live music performance on the students’ choices and preferences for lesser known musical instruments from the past.


6. Conclusions 

This research shows that, notwithstanding the importance to teach early music at the school desks, experiencing it is something different. It is clear that the lessons given by the music teacher are useful to introduce the historical musical instruments to the students and serves as a guide to help them finding their favorite historical instruments. However, attending an early music concert represents for the students a concrete opportunity to know instruments they have probably never seen before and, also for this reason, affects their preferences. This demonstrates the importance to explore new educational practices, as alternative or co-existing approaches to the “formal” or “conventional” ones, especially in the field of early music. In addition, further research is needed to make the teachers more aware regarding the potential value that learning the musical instruments of the past may add to the high school music curriculum, as an activity which makes the students able to play (or listen) better also the music of the present. As well underlined, music history is not only the history of musical cultures, but also the history of musical “events” (Cano, 1994), which included also the events related to the development of new musical instruments and to the creation, through them, of new sounds. From this point of view, learning to play the piano without never having listened to a harpsichord seems to be a huge loss for the musicians of the future. 
For this reason, further research is needed in the field of historical musical instruments preferences, starting from extending the pilot case presented here to a more representative population, also with the purpose to establish a “mixed learning model”, based both on music history lessons, focused on early music, and live concerts, changing the mindset of music teachers and their way of teaching music history.
Moreover, this model, for its flexibility, could be replicated with other musical instruments (such as the folk ones) and contexts. 



This paper was presented at 6th EIMAD – Meeting of Research in Music, Art and Design, and published exclusively at Convergences.


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Reference According to APA Style, 5th edition:
Carugno, G. ; (2018) Choosing an Instrument? The Educational Impact of an Early Music Concert at the Middle School [1]. Convergências - Revista de Investigação e Ensino das Artes , VOL XI (21) Retrieved from journal URL: