Campus Focus: The Ohio State University—A Challenge for Improved Learning in College Music Courses

October 1, 1963


Dept. of Photography Ohio State University
"Music students learning the elements of music in the School of Music Audio-Visual Training Laboratory, Ohio State University, by means of self-instructional, programmed, tape-recorded materials."

Students with little pre-college music experience are skeptical about college music instruction. Those students who have little or no knowledge of music are most apprehensive about entering into a discussion of the subject or even listening to others discuss it. Over the centuries music and the attainment of musical skills have been veiled with a kind of mystical quality. The result has been to create and perpetuate about the subject-area a kind of wall or curtain that is similar to the political curtains that have been so prominent in current world news. The effects of this kind of veil limit communication, understanding, education, and progress. Music taught subjectively as an art for arts' sake is limiting. Music taught, however, as an area in which there are well-defined objectives and concepts supported by definitive materials and methods will lead the student to the desired learning, a goal that is vital to all interested in music instruction at the college level.

Music, at some level, surrounds us daily, and is almost impossible to avoid. It is around us in a way similar to verbal language which is employed in the social structure in many degrees of complexity. The tragedy that college music instruction often fails to meet student needs, because of lack of understanding and communication concerning its objectives, results in student rejection rather than acceptance.

That music is sometimes referred to as a language does not infer that music has specific meaning. Even verbal communication or expression, let alone music, does not necessarily "mean" the same to everyone. If, however, music is considered objectively as a kind of communication in the way that language is so considered, it is easier to dissect and investigate, to make comparisons with other areas of communication, to develop new points of view, and to create a new atmosphere for better understanding. Such a position is more practical than the one in which music is an art for the selected few. This limitation of the field is questionable and should not be acceptable to college music teachers. If it is, present work in college music would be too circumscribed and discouraging.

The evidence even of traditional music instruction indicates that music can serve as a communicative device for all to understand if freed from the restrictions established by a mystical viewpoint. Once this veil is lifted, music instruction is similar to instruction in other fields of academic specialization, particularly those subjects in which there is a need to develop complex skills along with broad knowledge and appreciation. Music teaching is thus based on important educational objectives that are scientifically possible to attain and that take into account the interests and abilities of students at various stages of growth. Objectives can be defined; method and content can provide the means of achieving these objectives.

In particular, music has the same teaching-learning problems that exist in the instruction of other subject matter such as mathematics, speech, foreign languages, linguistics and English. Often, however, these similarities are ignored when referring to music because the words "musical talent" are interjected. Little if anything is known about talent. When the word talent is used, it is associated with a subjective opinion about a person or persons. At present there is no objective means to measure talent. Even if there were, the necessity for the average individual to acquire information and develop skills would still exist. The important task is to find better ways for all types of students to learn more.

Music students must learn skills as a part of their education and training which would enable them to develop, construct, and conceptualize the relationships between music symbols,1 sounds, and notational elements. All music responses should be at such a level that they may be connected to relevant music stimuli. These tasks are considered essential for the teacher, the student, and performer at all levels, but do not necessarily include the complication of performing on a musical instrument.

One solution to the problem of improved college music instruction has been the use of programmed self-instructional materials. The use of these materials has assisted instruction of music in two ways. First, it has provided the means for improving the presentation of materials used to develop students' learning of music. Second, a way has been provided for the study of problems related to the development of this learning and offers the possibilities of controlled presentation on an individual basis.

In the fall of 1958, a pilot study was undertaken at The Ohio State University School of Music to evaluate the use of specially prepared tape recordings as a self-presentation method to develop students' aural comprehension in comparison to developing aural comprehension through conventional classroom procedures. The design of the study incorporated an experimental situation. Two groups of music students divided equally by ability and background were used as subjects. The basis for determining the ability and background of the students was derived from test scores received on the Ohio State Psychological examination and music entrance tests. The applied instrumental area and the sex of the student were also taken into consideration. Both groups were instructed in class by the same instructor. In the control class aural development was taught by normal classroom procedures (e.g., the teacher played melodic and rhythmic exercises on the piano; the class sang melodies at sight; and assignments were given to notate familiar songs from memory). The second class, the experimental group, used specially prepared tape recordings for aural practice outside of class. An equal amount of time for the development of aural comprehension was provided for both groups.

Both sections were given a pretest before training and a posttest after training. These were scored especially on "rhythm" and "melody," and then the "total" number of errors was calculated. A statistical analysis of the scores showed that, for the experimental group using tape-recorded self-presentation materials in comparison with a control group taught traditionally, the average decrease in the number of errors made by the control group was 57.68 percent, while the corresponding decrease in the number of errors made by the experimental group was 80.33 percent. The difference of 22.65 percent in favor of the experimental group was significant at the 1 percent level.

A similar but more refined technique has been used so that students may learn another of the elements of music, intervals. The question was asked, "Can music students learn to identify ascending melodic intervals by means of programmed materials and self-presentation methods?" The purpose of the aural interval project was to: (1) study the question for a reasonable answer and (2) develop a method that would make an evaluation of learning possible. The seventy-seven students enrolled in the 1960 freshman Fundamentals of Music course were the subjects for the study.

The intervals2 used for the study were those which may be found between members of a major scale. The stimulus for the study was the recorded performance of the intervals sounded by a piano. The response for the identification of intervals was by their symbolic names. The complete list of symbols used in the study was: m2, M2, m3, M3, P4, T (Tritone), P5, m6, M6, m7, M7, P8. Each tone was sounded for two counts. After the first playing there were four counts at the same tempo in which the student could respond on the worksheet by naming the interval. After the judgment was made, the correct answer was given (the correct answer had been recorded on the tape). This technique gave the students immediate knowledge of results. The interval was played again, (this playing might be called reinforcement-new information). If the students had made a correct response, in a set of boxes on the worksheet, they were instructed to place a check mark in the lower row of boxes immediately under their answer. If the answer was incorrect, the students were instructed to put the correct answer in the lower box.

Here is a sample of the way a correct answer would look:

Here is a sample of the way an incorrect answer would look:

All training on intervals was done outside (the Fundamentals of Music) class with the self-presentation tapes. All students were instructed to use each of the six practice tapes which were divided into three levels of difficulty. The procedure was as follows: If the first performance on the first practice tape reached an established criterion of forty-six correctly identified intervals out of forty-eight, then the student could proceed to the next drill level. If the first performance was not up to the criterion, the taped-drill was repeated until the criterion was reached, at which point a different but equivalent taped-drill was given as a final check. If the criterion was reached on the first performance of this new tape, the student could proceed to the next level. If the criterion was not reached, that tape was practiced until the criterion was achieved and another equivalent tape was given to recheck the results.

From the sample of seventy-seven students, forty-seven completed the aural interval study. Thirty students failed to complete the series due to the lack of time. (The training period during the quarter was only six weeks.)

A comparison of the scores of the two groups showed that in each case there was an improvement in the ability of the students to identify intervals. The group that completed the tapes improved equally well in their ability to identify both melodic and harmonic intervals. The difference in improvement of all the students is significant at the 1 percent level. The group of students that did not complete the tapes due to lack of time also started at a lower level (a mean score of 54 percent on the pretest compared to mean score 71 percent for the other group). These students, however, made a marked improvement in their ability to identify melodic intervals significant at the 1 percent level. The ability of this group to identify harmonic intervals was not significantly increased. An analysis of individual errors shows that even when students had not achieved accuracy in their identification (which was necessary to meet the criterion level), there was improvement in their judgments about the intervals.

The study on intervals was repeated in 1961. With the previous experience it was possible to supervise the teach-learning process more closely. The results were essentially the same.

In the study, the total student population (freshman music students) was divided among four classes and three teachers. There was little difference in the way the classes worked on the materials or the results of the individual class accomplishment. The work done at specific points in the drill series indicated some trouble spots. These were analyzed and the materials were modified based upon the new data. The record of work accomplished by the students indicated that our population was divided into three groups as to level of competency. Each group looks statistically different.

The students did take advantage of working on these self-presentation materials at their own rate and expressed a vote of confidence in this procedure.

Research in the perceptual learning of music has continued in The Ohio State University School of Music Audio-Visual Training Laboratory. This work is supported by a grant from the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Office of Education. The purpose of this project is to determine the effectiveness of two different methods of programmed tape-recorded self-presentation teaching materials in comparison with two different ways in which students can make responses. This study utilizes the procedures previously described but with slight modification. The basic design for the teaching materials is stimulus presentation—student response—knowledge of results.

One group of students is learning with taped-music materials programmed with aural music sound and written responses. Each student hears a recorded music sound and responds with paper and pencil, then is given the correct identification. The pattern of presenting the subject material is stimulus—response—knowledge of results. The second group of students is learning with taped-music materials programmed with notation and recorded responses. Each student sees music notation and makes a voice response which is recorded on tape, then is given the correct identification. The third group of students is learning with taped-music materials programmed with aural music sound and recorded responses. Each student hears a recorded music sound and makes a voice response which is recorded on tape, then is given the correct identification. The fourth group of students is learning with programmed music notation and makes a written response, then is given the correct identification.

Preliminary review of the data from this research indicates that for some kinds of music perception one stimulus is more useful than another. These data also reveal that one stimulus or mode of response is superior for the learning processes of some students while not so effective for others. There is evidence from this research to indicate that stated information from which the student can learn whether his response was right or wrong is not necessarily the best method of providing knowledge of results. This research is producing practical results in learning. The data obtained will afford information about learning. The main objective is to provide methods that are effective and can be efficiently developed from sound data to improve the learning of music.

The work previously cited is only representative of the kind of research that is important to music learning. The subject of music offers uncharted areas for experimental and developmental investigation. Traditional procedures should not be viewed as bad simply because they are traditional. There are, however, problems related to music learning that have plagued teachers and students for generations. University and college music departments have opportunities to develop and pursue new innovations in music learning. The data from such work will be helpful to all. The following general outline used as a check list provides a basis from which to work.


I. Physical Facilities

A. Provide a suitable area for classes to work with new materials and/or equipment.
B. Choose equipment that is as trouble free as possible.
C. Instruct staff and students in the proper operation of the facilities.
D. Develop an attitude that will allow objective evaluation of new innovations and experimental situations.


II. New Teaching Materials

A. Determine an effective beginning level for the instruction.
B. State the objectives of the instruction.
C. Establish the criteria for student work.
D. Analyze the materials to be used for instruction and evaluate the problems to be encountered in meeting the stated objectives.
E. Design and develop the teaching materials, based on the evaluation, for student use.
F. Obtain high quality duplication of the materials for student use.
G. If student worksheets are separate from the teaching material, procedural clarity is essential.
H. Provide materials that can be evaluated immediately by the student.


III. Expedite The Use of New Innovations

A. Give students information about the objectives and use of the instruction.
B. Present new materials carefully and without flaw.
C. Collect all of the students' work for teacher evaluation and analysis.
D. Establish a reasonable but demanding criterion for all student work.
E. Provide, thorough supervision of student work, use of facilities and materials.


IV. Evaluate

A. Establish an objective evaluation of the students' competency in the area of work before they start to use the materials.
B. Objectively determine the accomplishment at the end of the teaching-learning period.


The challenge, then, is for college music teachers to learn more about how people learn. Such information will be helpful in determining objectively what students need to learn and the best way for them to learn. Teachers will then be able to provide more effective instruction for more students. Future growth in music is dependent upon quality teaching-learning environment.

Dept. of Photography Ohio State University
"Students may work at their own rate and can sing or write in response to the instructional material."


1The word symbol is here used for verbal and numerical abbreviations of pitch and differs from its more usual notational connotation.

2The intervals were always presented in an ascending melodic form. The accurate perception of these sounds is considered to be an important and basic part of all music instruction.

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