Tag Archives: music education

Mixcraft 7 Teacher’s Guide

11 Mar

Mixcraft 6 Teacher's Guide


An updated version of the Mixcraft Teacher’s Guide is now available. As always, a .pdf-version of the book is free. Updates include new student projects, an overview of the added features in Mixcraft version 7, recommendations on hardware, and fresh screenshots. See below for a description:

Mixcraft 7 Teacher’s Guide is a teaching tool and reference manual aimed at educators who wish to incorporate music composition, music production, and digital audio workstations into an education curriculum. The book contains an overview of a great piece of music software called Mixcraft and includes lesson plans for making remixes, podcasts, film scores, and about a dozen other creative creations. Educators can download the book here along with supplementary materials (i.e., templates for making music and sample projects).

Is There A “Window Of Time” For The Development Of Language and Music Abilities?

12 Nov

Researchers have proposed a developmental model in which the formation of certain musical and language abilities correlate with specific training and practice.  For instance, there might be critical periods for the acquisition of absolute pitch and development of rhythmic perception. Heller and Campbell (1972) theorized that this period of time occurs between the time of birth and diminishes between the ages of 6 to 10.  If specialized practice of music and speech abilities occurs between this period, children seem to absorb implicit rules of language and music of their culture.  This includes rules on tonality (preparation and resolution) and linguistics or semantics (such as the order of adjectives, “small blue truck” versus “blue small truck”).

Jack J. Heller and Maria B. Athanasulis recruited forty 1st graders, 3rd graders, and 5th graders to participate in biweekly music lessons.  After the lessons were finished (for how many weeks? the researchers never stated), all grades were administrated the same music and verbal tests that consisted of 30 verbal and music tasks.  Each task required the participants to differentiate between three recordings of the same musical phrase performed on a clarinet, cello, or piano (music condition) and various spoken phrases (verbal condition).  In each task, two of the phrases were replications, while the other was a different “interpretation” of the musical or verbal phrase.  It was the objective of the participants to distinguish which phrase out of the three was the “interpretation.”

The results showed that the ability to discern between the three variations of the music and verbal phrases, increased between the ages 6 and 8, and slowly leveled off between the ages of 8 and 10. With the current “window theory” proposing that growth occurs up to age 10, these results might required the model to be tweaked.  The researchers speculate that verbal growth might occur up to age 10, but that musical growth occurs between a narrower window of time.  Further research be needed to evaluate such theories.

Heller, J.J., & Athanasulis, M.B. (2002). Music and language: a learning window from birth to age ten. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 153/154(19th), 18-22.

How Do Children Notate Music And What Does It Tell Us?

3 Nov

Before children learn convention music notation, they often invent their own system using symbols from drawing, writing, and numbers.  These notation devices have been deemed a “window” into the internal understanding and perception of music in children.  Previous studies have shown that children accumulate a wealth of notation techniques that incorporate pictorial depictions and more abstract representations.  Children often choose a notation system that is task-specific and outlines salient musical features.  But what types of notation mechanisms are at a child’s disposal?  And in what instances do children decide to use them?

Margaret S. Barrett conducted a three year longitudal study that studied kindergarten children (aged 4-5).  In the classroom, Barrett set up various “music corners” in which children were asked to sing familiar songs, to make up or write their own music, and finally to “find a way of putting their music down on paper.”

The gist of Barrett’s research article revolves around dialogue between Barrett and “Brittany,” one of the students participants.  Brittany was age 4 years and 6 months at the start of the research and had experience playing violin with out of school music classes.  Over the course of the study Brittany, used a combination of Rhythmic Solfege (RS), and letters names to notate instrumental pieces and lyric pieces.  Brittany even composed her own song “Crickets and Bugs,” and used letters that referred specific to her song as the method for notation.  After additional interviewing, it became apparent that Brittany chose to use “letters” in instances when lyrics would be recorded, and RS when lyrics were not her focus.

Barrett concludes that Brittany is not randomly assigning symbols and letters as music notation– Brittany’s system is deliberate, and is often monitored by constraints that she imposes.  In other words, Brittany makes up the “rules” for her own notation system, which as Barrett suggests, is crucial to understanding how children use the notation tasks as a space for general problem solving and semiotic communication.  Barrett believes this study shows that children use their notational practices for intentions outside of music, and might be a basis for understanding how children use symbols.

Barrett, M.S. (2004). Thinking about the representation of music: a case-study of invented notation. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education , 161/162 (20), 19-28.

How And Where Do Children Listen To Music?

19 Oct

How much music do people listen too?  In what contexts?  The office, at home, or in the concert-hall?  And for what reasons?  Enjoyment or to accompany activities?  Previous research found that personal differences, focus of attention, and the physical and social context of music listening, influence listening habits.  Additionally, researchers have been able to define our listening habits using four “modes of listening” (listening to background music, listening to accompany non-musical activities,  listening as a main activity, listening and performing musical activities) that cover both our practical and leisurely uses of music.

Using the four modes of listening, this study investigated how and where children listen to music by examining different social contexts (home and school), cultural contexts (British and Portuguese participants), and childhood development.  Graça M. Boal-Palheiros and David J. Hargreaves recruited 120 British and  Portuguese students ranging from age 9 – 10 and 13 – 14 as participants.  The researchers aimed to recruit participants that differed culturally, and represented an extensive range of ages for the developmental perspective.

The study required the students to partake in an introduction interview and a survey consisting of open-ended questions (questions without predetermined responses; no multiple choice).  The students were asked when you listen to music at home, do you do anything else as well? And when you listen to music at school, do you do other activities as well? The interviews were recorded and fully transcribed for further analysis.

The results showed drastic differences in how children listen to music at home and in school:

At home: the study found that the children often interacted with musical activities  (43%) or non-musical activities (40%) while listening.  Several of the children notated that they listened to music just for pleasure (%15).  There were no significant differences or either age or nationality in the responses.

At school: the study found that children often listen to music while engaged with other musical activities (57%) or for pleasure (33%).  Few of the children recollected listening to music with non-musical activities (4%).   There were no significant differences or either age or nationality in the responses.

The authors conclude that different modes of listening occur in children that correspond to ranging levels of attention and emotional involvement. When the children listen at home, music serves primarily to satisfy emotional functions, where in the school setting, music was used in collaboration with learning.  The authors suggest that understanding children’s different modes of listening might result in better music education programs.  For example, teachers might facilitate learning by instructing music using musical-related activities that are physically interactive.  Additionally, the results showed a difference in preference for which musical activities to students would engage in.  Older students preferred to sing rather than dance, and they were found to listen to more music than the younger students to accompany their day-to-day routine.  This also might be useful in education purposes:  instructing  older students through their preferred musical activity.

Boal-Palheiros, G.M., & Hargreaves, D.J. (2004). Children’s modes of listening to music at home and at school. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 161/162(20), 39-46.

Do School Band Programs Influence Aesthetic Appreciation?

5 Oct

It is often rewarding to pour over older studies in music cognition and music education.  Much of the premier research addresses the most pressing and profound questions in the fields: how do we acquire musical taste?  How does musical training influence our human experience?  Is music representational of “meaning?”  How can music evoke emotion?  And though research methodology has changed drastically with the development of brain-imaging technology (cognitive neuroscience) and has offered more comprehensive explanations, I find that these earlier studies get to the heart of the field.  This study, conducted between 1971-72, investigated how the type of musical literature, the study material of study band organizations, affected the participant’s aesthetic appreciation.

Lawrence Anderson set out to measure the “aesthetic sensitivity” between groups of students that participated in stage-band and/or concert-band programs.  The study took place over the 1971-72 academic school year, and began with an initial review using the Gaston Test of Musicality and California Test of Aesthetic Judgments in Music tests and an additional test that investigated the student’s musical background and experience.  The groups of students were divided into the “stage-band” or the “concert-band” band group, and participated in daily rehearsals that related to their division.  Musical literature was used in each group that pertained to the music and practices of the bands.  A control group of students participants in both the concert and stage band rehearsals that were daily, held for a period of 50 minutes, and instructed by the same teacher.

The results showed no significant difference between the two groups using the Test of Musicality.  However, the California Test showed a vast difference in the growth of aesthetic sensitivity between the two groups.  Those that were enrolled with the concert-band group, became more aesthetically attuned over the course of the study. Furthermore, those that were enrolled in both groups, became more aesthetically attuned than those just enrolled in the stage-band group.  These results illustrate that concert-band literature might facilitate an individual’s ability to become “aesthetically sensitive.”  Additionally, the musical background score found that those involved to a greater degree with school musical performance also became more aesthetically sensitive.  The most influential factor was the number of years of participation.

Despite the results gathered from this study, we must be cautious of over-generalizing the conclusions to today’s school bands — the change of practice literature since the 1970s,  and the incorporation of new teaching methods and programs might eradicate these found differences.  It would be interesting to conduct a similar study, and see how aesthetic sensitivity differs between music programs of all sorts in current academic environments.

Anderson, L. (1975). The effects of music literature in developing aesthetic sensitivity to music. Journal of Research in Music Education, 23(1), 78-84.

Is There A Critical Period For The Development Of Rhythmic Perception?

29 Sep

Rhythmic perception is a prominent area of research in music cognition.  How do we acquire our abilities to perceive rhythm?  Is it innate?  Or rather, learned?  Previous studies showed that rhythmic perception can be improved with regards to age and musical training.  However, several researchers were curious on whether there was a critical developmental period or window of time in which rhythmic perception abilities might increase substantially.  If such a window of time is discovered,  the researchers suggested that specific training programs can be catered to certain age-groups, in hopes of facilitating the development of rhythmic perception.

Stefania Lucchetti, Lucia Cacciò, and Rossana de Beni devised an experiment consisted of three tests: one test on duration, one test on rhythm, and one test with nursey rhymes.  Each section required the participants to compare  musical excerpts and determine differences of time or duration between them.  The participants were over 200 children ranging from 3 graders to 5th graders.  A group of female teachers also participated for comparison.

According to the results, the third graders performed worse than the fourth and fifth graders on the duration and rhythmic taks, suggesting a significant age effect.  Interestedly, no differences in performance were found on the nursery rhyme task, which required the participants to denote differences between the rhythm of a recited nursery rhyme and the rhythm of hand claps.  The teacher subjects outperformed the student subjects on all three of the tasks.

Additionally, the researchers decided to compare these results with a primary school test that evaluated reading comprehension, meta-comprehension, listening comprehension, writing, study skills, reasoning, numeracy, and sensory motor skills.  For the third grader participants, a correlation was found between the duration series and in a time series concerning numeracy.  Performance with the nursery rhymes positively correlated with performance in a sensory motor skill series concerning fine motility.  And finally, a positive correlation was shown between the duration, rhythm, and nursery rhyme tests.

The researchers observed a drastic improvement in ability of rhythmic perception between the passage from third to fourth grade.  This might suggest a developmental period for rhythmic perception during these age years. However, duration detection still remains ambiguous, and future research is required to determine whether a critical period for third and fourth graders is a viable explanation for these improvements.

Lucchetti, S., Caccio, L., & de Beni, R. (1997). The development of rhythmic perception in eight to ten-year-old italian children. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 133, 52-56.

Is Listening To Music Detrimental To Our Work Performance?

27 Sep

Is music debilitating to our work ethic?  Should we be listening the radio or putting in our ear buds at the office?  Previous research has reached conflicting conclusions on the tie between music and performance: in some cases, the addition of music can be a positive diversion (such as distracting patients away from pain), in others it can interfere with our learning and task performance.  Certain intra-musical characteristics have been shown to affect an individual’s performance such as tonality and whether the listening samples are instrumental or vocal music.  Even musical training how shown to be an influence (one study by Randsell and Gilroy (2001) demonstrated a significant difference in the performance of those with musical training).

Alice-Ann Darrow, Christopher Johnson, Shawn Agnew, Erin Rink Fuller, and Mihoko Uchisaka wanted to create a study that would emulate the “natural” work environment (complete with coffee machine and all), by having the participants bring in their favorite music to listen too during the study.  This would enhance the mundane reality of the test environment and provide results that might shed clarity on the matter.

The participants were music and non-music majors from a local university.  The study was comprised of two conditions: the first condition required the participants to perform the attention task while listening to their self-selected music.  The second condition removed the music (interestedly there was no third condition that required the participants to perform under a control condition such as white noise).

The participants undertook the d2 test of attention task, that required the subjects to read lines of “d”s on a sheet of paper, and cross out the “d”s that had two dashes above or below them.  The attention demanding task, challanges our selective attention, that is our ability to focus on stimuli that is deemed important while blocking out external distractions.  Both the music and non-music majors performed the task under both conditions.  The presentation order of the conditions was changed throughout the trials to eliminate any order effects.

The results, not surprisingly, add to the ambiguity of music’s affect on performance.  The researchers found that both the music and non-music majors performed better on the attention task during the music condition. Overall, the music majors performed better than the non-music majors on the attention task, suggesting that music experience might negate the distracting affects of external auditory stimuli.  The order of the condition did seem to affect performance.  When presented with the music condition first, the music majors performed less of the attention task.  Yet in the instances where the silent condition preceded the music condition, no such affect was found.  The researchers suggest that the absence of music, after its initial presentation, might be more distracting then the music itself.

As noted by the researchers previous studies found music to both distract and facilitate performance.   According to these results, the music condition accelerated performance on the attention task.  Perhaps the familiarity of the self-selected music excerpts is responsible: previous exposure might be less-of a distraction than other unfamiliar environmental noises, and thus our focus of attention can be maintained to the task at hand.  It would be interesting to run another trial with the same participants but with music supplied by the researchers.

Darrow, A.A., Johnson, C., Agnew, S., Fuller, E.R., & Uchisaka, M. (2006). Effect of preferred music as a distraction on music majors’ and nonmusic majors’ selective attention. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, (170), 21-31.