Music teachers becoming research savvy

Have you heard? Music teachers need to become research savvy. This will help in spotting those snake oil salesmen with their seductive lures: learning styles, brain gym, how music cures toothache, the transforming properties of this and that and other compelling ideas. And are you being inducted into growth mind-set theory? Has it reached your school yet? Teachers beware!

This is the message coming thick and fast as part of a movement seeking to empower teachers. For example, see

There is a growing conviction that teaching should be informed by robust evidence (research-informed) rather than whims, trends and quick fixes. At the same time there is talk of in-school research cultures and of ‘research rich schools’.

Thus, the teacher is encouraged to become both a consumer and a producer of research, that is, become research savvy. [1]

In the blog I gave an example of a music teacher doing this.

Whether we call this research or critical enquiry a systematic approach is required.

Here is one view of what this might mean. [2]

Step 1: A particular problem is identified.

Step 2: The problem is made explicit by placing it in a wider context drawing on existing knowledge.

Step 3: The problem is framed as an enquiry through the construction of research questions.

Step 4: Both methodology and methods are made clear.

Step 5: Findings are presented and discussed with self-critique.

Step 6: New knowledge (theory) has been created and can be shared with others.

With this in mind here is a taste of another music teacher researching. No, not action research, but case study seeking to understand rather than seeking to change or improve. [3]

Emily teaches a year 7 class for both Music and Dance. Samba Band features as a project in years 7, 8 and 9. By year 9 Samba has become an eclectic mix of stylistic groves. But how to make a good start in year 7?

I start from step 3. The problem is framed as an enquiry through the construction of research questions.

1 To what extent does dancing to Samba music support the internalization of Samba rhythms, leading to improved Samba performance? [4]

2 Are students able to find flow as a result of improved Samba playing? [5]

Step 4: A case study methodology is established along with methods of data collection. Data is collected throughout the term’s work from a variety of sources.

Audio/video recording

Semi-structured interview

Quick questionnaire

Periodic focus group

Teacher diary

Extended questionnaire

Here is an extract from Emily’s report as she discusses findings in response to question 1.

‘Lesson 4 was the first chance to evaluate whether the dance lesson produced any outworking during the week, and whether the process of internalization had begun. This was the music lesson after their first dance lesson. I asked the students the following questions at the beginning of the lesson:

  1. Who has been chanting samba rhythms at any point during the past week? (27/30)
  2. Who has tapped out samba rhythms at any point during the past week? (28/30)
  3. Who has moved their body to an imaginary samba beat? (25/5)
  4. Who has stood up to dance an imaginary samba beat? (13/17)’

Just one example of data forming part of a much larger set.

Emily concludes her report with a proposition.

‘The dance or movement develops a freedom of body consciousness, which supports the process of internalization, which develops the knowing body and moving mind, which, taking into account the improved accuracy that internalization has given rise to, leads to flow experience’.

This is a reasonable proposition, not only because Emily has been systematic about her research but also because her research questions were derived from examining existing knowledge which provided a framework for the study. [6]

Emily’s proposition or, if you prefer, her theory, or, if you like, her hypothesis, is waiting to be tested, disputed, argued about.

Is it reasonable to say that Emily’s teaching is informed by evidence?

By the way, what’s your theory?


[1] The TES has recently included a column for teachers to report their research.

Perhaps a useful piece of scepticism would be to question ‘what am I being asked to sign up to?’

[2] This is based on the model provided by Keith Swanwick. See Swanwick, K. (1984) Some observations on research in music education. BJME, 1 (3), 195-204. It would be interesting to hear about alternative ways of defining research.

[3] This may seem strange when the discourse of ‘improvement’ has never been stronger. Change and improvement may well be further down the line in respect to case study research.

[4] In respect to dance and movement Emily defers to Anthony Kemp citing: ‘Through dance children are given the means to internalize and conceptualise in terms of pulse, tempo, accent, rhythm, dynamics, texture, form and phrasing. Through kinaesthetic processes children become perceptually aware of these aspects through feelingful neuro-musicular sensations, which become the basis for future conceptual thought and imagination.’ Kemp, A. (1986) Current developments in Music Curriculum Thinking in the United Kingdom. Paper presented at the 4th Baghdad International Music Conference, Bagdad.

[5] See for the ‘flow’ concept.

[6] For a full account of Emily’s work see her article in the Music Mark Magazine Issue 4, Spring 2014 ‘The dance becomes the music.’

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