Florida State University: An Experimental Approach to Comprehensive Musicianship for Freshman Music Majors

Jack A. Taylor and Dan M. Urquhart

This investigation was supported in part by a grant from the Council for Instruction, Florida State University.
The investigators acknowledge the valuable assistance of Mrs. Elizabeth Aten in preparation and assessment of instructional materials.

Freshman college students enter a music major program with minimal non-performance skills. Most of their training consists of playing or singing with high school ensembles and taking private lessons. Occasionally some experience with the musical elements is gained in a high school theory or "music appreciation" course. But for the most part the novice student is a performer only. He knows little of the theoretical and stylistic structures of music. Furthermore, his knowledge of music literature is confined to certain levels of band, orchestra, or choral music; and he is unaware of the relationships of music in historical contexts.

Recognizing the fact that these non-performance skills must be learned as early as possible, most college music departments have included large doses of theory and literature/history courses in the freshman and sophomore curriculum. The rationale for doing so is logical: in order for musicians to become fluent with the musical language, a solid foundation of primary skills must be firmly established. This basic musicianship process varies from college to college, but usually includes two to five courses in literature/history and three to six courses in theory.1

The basic musicianship process for music majors at Florida State University includes six courses in theory and five courses in literature/history.2 When the student has successfully completed this collection of course work, the School of Music releases him from the basic musicianship core for study in his special area. For example, history, composition, theory, and performance majors extend this basic musicianship process into advanced studies; but therapy and music education majors branch to special content and methodologies.

The problem. The advanced student—the junior and senior music major—should be well prepared in non-performance skills, since he has just completed two separate tracks: theory and literature/history. He has progressed through a hierarchy of musical materials in both tracks.

Unfortunately, most students still demonstrated inadequacies in their comprehension of the fundamentals. They could work with isolated musical structures, but few were able to describe contextual music. For example, it seemed easy enough to write a full cadence with appropriate voice leading, but the task of placing that cadence in its proper historical and stylistic perspective was difficult, if not impossible. Or perhaps the problem was reversed: music literature could be described, but only in historical generalities without awareness of theoretical structures.

The School of Music theory and history faculties became increasingly concerned as more of these problems accumulated. It became apparent that students were completing the basic musicianship courses with little awareness of the relationships between theory, history, and the actual music literature. Apparently students had conceived music theory and literature/history as two mutually exclusive courses of study, and the result was fragmentation of the basic musicianship concept.

A series of meetings was initiated between the theory and history departments. Realizing that the fragmentation problem was associated with the fact that relationships between the theory and literature/history courses (taught by different instructors) never had been stressed in the basic musicianship process, the faculty searched for a solution.

Of the solutions suggested during those meetings, recommendations proposed by the Comprehensive Musicianship Seminar were particularly appealing. The purpose of that 1965 meeting was

. . . to examine the content and organization of those required college music courses which are designed to develop general musical knowledge as a basis for later specialized studies. These courses, generally called "musicianship training," consist of studies in the theory and history of music, which are offered in the early years of various music programs, and are intended to give the student a broad conceptual and practical knowledge of music.3

The Seminar proceeded to develop recommendations for the instructional design of the "musicianship training" courses. With this single exception, the recommendations4 will not be cited here:

. . . the course should directly relate each component of basic music studies to one or more other components; for example, theory to history, or ear training to analysis, writing, performance, sight-singing and conducting.5

Using this recommendation as a statement of intent, the faculty decided to establish a one-quarter, comprehensive course titled Music 141: Music Structures and Literature. Music 141 would combine content from two theory courses and two literature/history courses for a total of ten hours.6 Students enrolled in this course would become the experimental group in a model designed to test the effectiveness of this "comprehensive" solution to the fragmentation problem.

Purpose. The purpose of the model was to determine the effectiveness of the Music 141 course (experimental group) as compared to the two separate theory courses and the two separate literature/history courses (control group). Effectiveness, in this case, was measured by group scores on a post test. Specifically, this question was asked: "Given the same post test, how will the experimental group compare to the control group?" The post test was designed to evaluate the student's ability to make relationships between theory structures, music literature, and historical styles.



Instructional Goal and Objectives. The majority of the materials for the experiment were constructed during summer, 1971, using this goal and objectives as guidelines:

Goal. The student will be able to integrate and correlate theoretical, historical and perceptual learnings into an elementary awareness of the totality of music.

Music literature objective. The student will be acquainted with a basic body of music literature within the defined chronological periods of Pre-Baroque, Baroque, Classic, Romantic, and Contemporary.

History objective. The student will be able to describe (in general terms) the evolution of scales, melody, chords, form, durations, dynamics, and instrumentation through the Pre-Baroque, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Contemporary periods.

Theory objective. On the basis of aural or visual presentation the student will be able to analyze the criteria of scales, melody, chords, horizontal and vertical relationship of melody and chords, durations, forms, dynamics, and instrumentation; and identify the historical style and probable composer of a musical composition.

Composition objective. The student will be able to compose short musical pieces exemplifying the theoretical concepts described in the theory objective.

Experimental Course. These objectives were implemented in the experimental course with various types of instructional units, most of which included outlined lesson plans, student hand-outs, and cassette recordings of musical examples. One auto-tutorial unit on non-Western music consisted of a written script and recording. A lecture/demonstration unit illustrated basic concepts of musical duration and form with examples recorded from the Moog synthesizer. Students were required to read selections from Tovey's Forms of Music and the Harvard Dictionary of Music. Literature lists were distributed, and recordings were made accessible in the music library.

Three textbooks were required: History of Music (Miller), the Norton Scores (Standard Edition, Kamien), and The Art of Listening (Brofsky and Bamberger). The latter text included a set of recordings which reinforced concepts described in the text. A theory text was not used.

Instruction was divided into five, two-week units covering the following elements:

Unit 1: Horizontal devices
Unit 2: Vertical devices
Unit 3: Integration of horizontal and vertical devices
Unit 4: Form
Unit 5: Synthesis of Units 1 through 4

Each unit "skimmed" the chronology from Pre-Baroque music through the Twentieth Century. This skimming made it possible to bring extremes into perspectives more quickly and dramatically. It also enabled the instructors to reinforce the concepts of evolving style several times; and it became more feasible to integrate literature and theory, since the latter must be somewhat layered in a progressive presentation.

Students in the experimental group met two hours daily, five days a week. They were given regular listening and composition assignments. During the first hour of each day all students and both instructors met together for various types of testing, large group discussions, lectures, and group performances. During the second hour each investigator met separately with half the students for additional discussion, drill, and performance of student compositions.

Students were encouraged to listen critically to their colleagues' compositions in these section meetings. The instructor functioned as a discussion leader by introducing questions and remarks to his class after students had performed their compositions. Compositions were graded by the instructor (subjective letter grade) and returned to the student with written comments.

In order to determine if the instructional techniques actually would achieve the general objectives, students were continually evaluated. Three short quizzes and two compositions per week served as checks on student progress, and also guided the instructors in daily adjusting their teaching materials and techniques according to student performance. The quizzes, which contained true-false, multiple choice, and short essay items, usually included sections on music history and style, aural discriminations of music structures and literature, and utilization of theory facts.

Students graded their own quizzes directly after completing them, and a discussion of the individual quiz items followed. This method allowed for immediate feedback, and also stimulated student/teacher interaction that became a vital instructional technique throughout the entire academic quarter. Class discussions became quite lively, since the students played a major and argumentative role.

Control Group. With the exception of the Art of Listening text and the three weekly quizzes, materials for the control courses were identical to those used for the experimental course. However, these materials were distributed within the dimensions of two, one-quarter theory courses meeting three days a week and two, one-quarter literature/history courses meeting two days a week, thus preserving the traditional segregation of material between the two areas.

Experimental Design. The experimental course was taught during the first academic quarter and compared to the control courses (Music 101, 102, 241, 242) taught during the second and third academic quarters. Seventy-two students were randomly selected from a population of 167 freshman music majors at the beginning of Quarter I and were equally divided between the experimental and control groups.7 The instructors team-taught the experimental course and returned to their regular pattern of teaching separate courses for the control group. Figure 1 summarizes this design.


Fig. 1. Teaching model for comparison of the experimental group to the control group (Music 141 vs. Music 101, 102, 241, 242).



Data used in evaluating the experimental course were generated by several different instruments. The Student Opinion Survey and a Student Evaluation of Instruction were completed by the experimental and the control groups at the end of Quarters I and III, respectively. The post test, given at the end of Quarters I and III to the experimental group and at the end of Quarter III to the control group (Figure 2), was designed as a comprehensive measure of student achievement as stated by the four objectives.


Fig. 2. Post test design for comparing the experimental and control groups at the end of academic quarters I and III, respectively.



It contained three sections that required a total of five hours to complete. The first section dealt with theory facts, the second with aural discriminations in music structures and literature, and the last with music history and style. Although these skills appeared to be separated for testing purposes, they were actually connected conceptually.8

In order to compare the relative performance of the experimental and control groups at the end of their freshman year, post test results at the end of Quarter III also were compared (Figure 3).


Fig. 3. Post test design for comparing the experimental and control groups at the end of academic quarter III.




Table I provides the answer to the question, "Given the same post test, how will the experimental group compare to the control group?" The experimental group outperformed the control group by a significant margin. Their mean scores for all skill areas were considerably higher, and this is particularly true for the theory section of the post test. Scores for the experimental group tended to cluster about the mean, whereas control group scores had a greater spread across the total range. For the most part, the wider distribution of scores for the control group is found below the mean. These observations indicate that the experimental course also had the effect of raising low scores.




Although a pretest was not prepared in time to give to the experimental group, those students and students in the control group were randomly drawn from the same freshman population. Therefore, it is probable that both groups would have scored the same on a pretest. If this assumption is made, then it can be concluded that comprehensive instruction in Music 141 made a significant contribution to the higher scores on the post test.

The experimental group received its training during academic Quarter I, whereas the control group courses were held during Quarters II and III. Students in both groups were expected to continue their basic musicianship training in their sophomore years. Since the experimental group had received no basic musicianship training beyond the first quarter, it was of practical interest to compare their performance at the end of Quarter III (six months after the conclusion of their course) to the control group. Students in the control group had just completed their first year of basic musicianship courses, and they should be "fresh"—that is, ready to begin sophomore study. This may not be true of the experimental group.

The answer to this question is found in Table 2.




Even after a six-month period without basic musicianship training, the experimental group performed significantly better on the retention test than the control group did on their post test. Their scores remained clustered about the mean, although they were considerably lower than their post test scores (refer to Table 1). The history skills did suffer enough to create a mean score equivalent to the control group's mean score (column 2, Table 2).

As measured by this post test/retention test comparison, it can be concluded that the experimental group would be better prepared than the control group for basic musicianship courses in their sophomore year. Regardless of the retention problem, these results imply that the concept of a single, comprehensive musicianship course was a viable approach to music fundamentals. Students in that course performed better on an examination that stressed relationships between the musical elements than students who have completed a separate series of courses.

Table 3 lists results of the Student Opinion survey.




The mean ratings illustrated in columns two and three were calculated from individual responses to semantic differential scales for each of the seven questions. The scale ranged from 0 to 100, 0 being absolute no and 100 being absolute yes. Questions one through four required students in both groups to express their opinions regarding the value of their course or courses in developing an understanding of the various music elements. Essentially, there were no differences in opinion between the experimental and control groups as evidenced by the mean ratings and nonsignificant Z scores. Furthermore, mean ratings are high, indicating that both groups believed their courses contributed a great deal to their understanding of the musical elements.

But opinions regarding comprehensive musicianship are more interesting. It can be seen from the mean ratings of questions five and six that the experimental group had a significantly higher opinion (73.8) of the value of the comprehensive approach when compared to their opinion of separating the elements (35.6). It is important to note that the control group's rating of their own course procedures (the four, separate courses) was almost identical to their opinion of the comprehensive approach (56.4 vs. 55.1). Apparently the control group believed that a comprehensive musicianship course would be just as effective as the training they received, whereas the experimental group strongly felt that comprehensive musicianship, as it was used in their class, was preferable to separating the elements.

The experimental group felt the pressures of the ten-credit-hour course, as evidenced by a 50.1 mean rating (Table 3, question 7). It is not an extreme rating, although it is statistically higher than the mean rating for the control group.

Table 4 illustrates a question that also was included in the survey: "Which skill in Music 141 (or 101, 102, 241, 242) was the most difficult for you: theory, composition, history, literature, aural discriminations,9 other?"




Numbers in columns two and three represent proportions of total group response for each skill. Notice that the proportions are quite different across the two groups. Slightly more than half (.55) the students in the experimental group believed that remembering literature was their most difficult task, but only one-quarter (.25) of the control group found it to be the most difficult. Examination of the literature section of the post test, however, indicates that the mean score for the experimental group was considerably higher than the mean score for the control group (116 vs. 98). Perhaps the experimental group found literature more difficult to remember and identify, since those students were responsible for 100 musical compositions within the limits of one quarter. In retrospect, the instructors agreed that only 50 compositions would have satisfied the literature and aural discriminations objectives.

The Evaluation of Instruction survey contained 30 questions intended to assess students' opinions of how well the experimental and control courses were taught. The instructors were rated on a 1 (low) through 5 (high) scale for each of the questions. The grand mean ratings were 4.0 for the experimental group and 3.9 for the control group, indicating little difference in student opinion of instructional quality between the experimental and control courses. Furthermore, ratings for individual questions were almost identical. The two exceptions are cited in Table 5.




The experimental group students rated the instructors higher in organization than the control group did; and they also believed that textbooks, etc., were more helpful in their learning process.



Results of the Student Opinion and Evaluation of Instruction surveys did not supply great or surprising differences in attitudes toward the manner in which the courses were structured or taught. However, students in the experimental group did express enthusiasm for their comprehensive course. Control group students maintained a rather neutral attitude toward the separating of musical elements across the four courses.

Even though the experimental design of this study suffered from some lack of control (no pretest), results of the post test provided substantial evidence that the comprehensive musicianship course created an effective learning environment. The post test evaluated students' abilities to conceptually connect the elements, and mean scores for the three skill areas (theory, aural/literature, history) were substantially higher than the control group's scores.

The fragmentation of musical concepts, although not completely eliminated, had been considerably reduced. Freshman students in the experimental group responded in class and on the post test with an awareness of music that should prove valuable for further skill development.

1Although sight-singing, keyboard harmony, dictation, etc., are part of the basic musicianship process, the major concern of this study was those skills that mainly are cognitive—that is, music concepts not requiring much psychomotor (performance) drill.

2Theory = 18 quarter hours, literature/history = 14 quarter hours. With the exception of three literature/history courses, all courses are offered in the freshman and sophomore years.

3Norman Dello Joio, Chairman, Grant Beglarian, Director, Comprehensive Musicianship—The Foundation for College Education in Music (Washington, D.C., 1965), p. 3.

4See "Comprehensive Musicianship—The Northwestern University Seminar," Music Educators Journal, LIV (March, 1968), 60-61.

5Ibid., p. 61.

6These courses were Music 101 and 102 (three credit hours each): Basic Theory Concepts (a study of the materials of music); and Music 241 and 242 (two credit hours each): Introduction to Music (an introduction to music history and literature).

7A few students were not considered for either group, since they did not wish to participate. Attrition later reduced the control group to 28 students.

8Sample question in the theory section: "Define ground bass and name two specific musical examples giving composer and title."

9Not included as part of the control group's training, since the aural discriminations text was not used.