An Investigation on the Use of a Constructivist-Learning Environment to Improve Musical

April 8, 2009 / By: Sara B. O’Connor

The intent of this study was to determine if implementing a constructivist-learning environment framework leads to the development of musical problem-finding and problem-solving skills in young band students. The sub-problems in the study focused on if lessons in a constructivist-learning environment led to students finding and solving problems regarding phrasing when playing a musical excerpt in the areas of overall phrasing ability, breathing and/or breaks, dynamic contrast, and note emphasis.

Subjects of this investigation include thirty sixth-grade band students from two public elementary schools in Woodbury, Minnesota.  Students were recorded playing a musical excerpt without previous formal lessons regarding phrasing.  Following the initial recording, students participated in six band lessons (one lesson a week for six weeks) focusing on different aspects of phrasing in which a constructivist-learning environment was implemented.  After the lessons, students were recorded again playing the same excerpt as the original recording, but were asked to add phrasing to their playing.  Three band director judges listened to the before-and-after recordings of each student and rated them using 4-point rubrics in the following categories: Overall Phrasing, Breathing and/or Breaks, Dynamic Contrast, and Note Emphasis.  Students also completed self-evaluation rubrics comparing their before-and-after recordings using the same categories.

Results of the study show improvement in the students’ playing following the lessons taught in a constructivist-learning environment.  Regarding the category of Overall Phrasing, all evaluators (students, Judge 1, Judge 2, and Judge 3) heard more improvement than decline in overall phrasing ability among the subjects.  The students, Judge 1, and Judge 3 again heard a large amount of improvement in student playing when evaluating the category of Breathing and/or Breaks.  When listening for the category of Dynamic Contrast, the same trends as the previous categories prevailed: students, Judge 1, and Judge 3 heard improvement in a majority of students in this category.  The results of the final category, Note Emphasis, show an overwhelming amount of students who improved according to the evaluations of students, Judge 1, and Judge 3.  (Generally, Judge 2 tended to have inconsistent ratings.)

In conclusion, the findings of this study suggest that judges and students agreed that improvement resulted in student playing regarding phrasing ability following lessons taught in a constructivist-learning environment.  It can be implied that students learned how to solve musical problems regarding phrasing on a more independent basis as a result of the lessons.