An Action Research Study into Online
Instrumental Music Teaching
The purpose of this research was to investigate instrumental
teaching within the online environment. This paper focused on two distinct
variations of online technology; online community1
and the internet2. It looked at how
these two disciplines can support the learning of the Scottish Smallpipes
online. Scottish Smallpipes were chosen because there are relatively few
pipers and real piping communities and, as a result, there are fewer alternative
resources available to Scottish Smallpipe players. The Scottish Smallpipes
is an instrument close to the Scottish heritage. As such, most teachers,
communities and schools tend to exist in a small geographical area. Emigration
and cultural inquisitiveness has meant that there are pipers all over
the world, yet their numbers in any given area are not great enough to
support more facilities. It is hoped that this research will help to evolve
Bagpipe teaching and playing online to a level of communication that is
not yet available to these people.
The primary objectives were to investigate the area of online instrumental music teaching through reflection upon own practise and a case study of online based learning.
This investigation used Action Research and took place as reflection and evaluation teaching undertaken in the first instance from a web site specifically built for the purpose. This web site was created after 2 years experience of building five different instrumental teaching web sites for an online educational community. The main area of research took into account the audio / visual / textual learning styles of learners, whilst also looking at the available technologies. The data was gathered in the form of e-mails and audio files. The criteria for success for the participant was the ability to learn tunes from the web site and included a qualitative element through feedback of the learners experience. To investigate the role of online community within this study, the entry point for the web site was placed within a variety of different places, in community (mudcat.org) in newsgroup (bellowspipes newsgroup), single e-mails and in person. Interpretation of the learners responses gave an insight into the role of community within the online learning environment
Review of the Literature
In pre-multimedia environments, the resources available to content creators were limited and as a result it was both hard to create content that was engaging and hard to create resources that were interactive. As can be seen in one of the Open Universitys course books about using the computer as a tutor the O.U. state that...
These limited resources would often be ineffective because they were unable to recognise different learning styles and individual needs of the learner. The facilities of these courses would be limited by their technology and their resultant inflexibility would mean that some users would find value and others wouldnt:
Those who subscribe to these systems will benefit, while those who somehow miss out will be even more isolated (Bainbridge et al 1988:33)With faster internet, greater storage capacity and new technological revolutions comes more diverse opportunities for all walks of technological life including teaching and learning. As computers became powerful enough to employ multimedia, they allowed the scope for video, audio and community to explode. These developments have opened the door for all sorts of disciplines to embrace technology that would not have seen the technological relevance before. Williams discusses the fact the
...multimedia technologies may just prove to have significant and permanent educational value (Williams 1998:159)As with many new technological developments the facility precedes the optimum function. The harnessing of the multimedia possibilities comes with the understanding of its place in peoples lives. Heppell (1994) understood the value of multimedia as a way of enabling learning in online environments and discussed the fact that just as real life learning uses a plethora of audio and visual stimuli so can multimedia on a computer.
Logically it would be more sensible to assume that, as is the case in our everyday lives, all these elements would always be present. We might then ask in what circumstances might it be appropriate to leave something out (when should we exclude text, or when might video be abandoned for example), to good effect. If life is generally a multimedia experience, our normal computer based, learning environment should be too. (Heppell 1994:153)It should be noted that the development in technology alone does not solve or overcome learning barriers. Warren (1997) developed an online learning environment which provided the breadth of tools to make a successful community with very limited bandwidth and technology. He was creating a community for a developing world market with much inferior tools and noted that:
...all software on the market was designed for use in the western world, where computers were common and problems such as unreliable ISPs and slow phone lines are (almost) a thing of the past. So we decided to write our own, a piece of software, that required no downloads, worked in a web browser, allowed five kids to use one computer simultaneously, used very little bandwidth, was safe for the kids to use and was educationally sound. It was a very tall order, but we did it. (Warren, H. 1997)Multimedia and computer based technology is constantly opening doors of opportunity across a myriad of learning and teaching disciplines. However, as Warren (1997) and Heppell (1994) both alluded to, these new facilities are nothing unless there is an understanding of their application. The next stage in this paper is to look at the traditional (non computer-based) environment of musical instrument teaching.
Teaching music has many facets, of which the teaching of musical instruments represents only a fraction. Much has been written on teaching music in the classroom but only a small proportion has been devoted to instrumental teaching. For the most part, instrumental teaching has occurred on a one to one, face to face and voluntary basis. The nature of this teaching method has probably rendered it exempt from the usual discussions, rules, analysis and judgement that classroom teaching et al. is constantly subjected to. Even now many peripatetic instrument teachers have no formal teaching qualifications and such teaching knowledge is not seen as necessary; as supported by Swanwick...
On the surface, and compared with general music teaching, instrumental instruction appears to be relatively uncomplicated by consideration of knowledge and value. (Swanwick, K. 1996:233)Swanwick goes on to describe that instrumental instruction is in fact a more complicated process than the surface image would suggest. Swanwick does not explain the components of this complexity and does not explore the technical and dextrous difficulties that a learner has to negotiate before they can begin to exercise musicality in performance. He does, however, appear to allude to the complexity of the learners experience and the multifaceted processes that they experience during their learning:
We are strongly motivated by observing others and strive to emulate our peers, often with more direct effect than being instructed by those persons designated as teachers.(Swanwick, K. 1996:233)Within the collective discipline of instrumental teaching there are two distinct approaches to the communication of musical language. The more formal disciplines of music learning including, classical and liturgical training, use written notation as their principal vehicle of communicating and sharing music. The alternative approach, as represented by world and traditional music and popular music culture, is to learn and play everything aurally with no written facility. Although some of the newer disciplines including jazz will tap into both approaches individuals, through their teaching method, will often be restricted to one learning mechanism or the other. Kodaly recognises that learning through one discipline excludes the learner from the benefits of the other when he states that...
Millions are condemned to musical illiteracy, falling prey to the poorest of music (Kodaly 1974:119 cited in Swanwick 1996)Kodaly himself came from a background of Hungarian folk music (aural learning) and indeed used this as his initial vehicle for teaching children, so his view that;
all by the year 2000 should be able to read music (Swanwick, K. 1996:244)(written approach) is slightly unexpected. Most academic text will favour the written discipline because they come from the same cultural paradigm of the written word, but Swanwick recognises the value of the aural tradition when stating that:
Without aural performance traditions, most expressive and structural shaping is missing. (Swanwick, K. 1996:244)This battle between playing by ear and playing using written notation has been one long fought. The root of this can be traced back to the cultural divide of folk music and classical. The classical musicians assuming that their higher literacy skill in the ability to read music makes their style of music better, whereas the aural tradition of folk music seeming somehow to show illiteracy. Swanwick (1979) tries to show music teachers how they need to alter their perceptions of cultural music;
It may be that teachers ought not to categorise the cultural background of pupils as in some way inferior, or in deficit, but merely as different.(Swanwick, K. 1979:104)Yet this undervalued genre of music is the basis for today's popular music culture. Todays most successful music industry is pop music and this too has been frowned upon by classical musicians and music teachers in the past. This is now changing. In a new National Centre for Popular music, a Masters degree program has been introduced. Research into this program suggests success, but some findings suggest that the old prejudices linger;
...one found himself saying that he thought that the scheme would be better if higher musical expectations were introduced at the beginning.... too biased towards those who were starting out, those who had just picked up a guitar. (Allsup. R.E. 2003:25)This section suggests that although relatively informally recognised instrument learning can be accomplished through visual and aural means. Although there is much discussion as to which format is better, the last points of this section have suggested that in fact both approaches are not only valid, but could also be symbiotic. The findings from this section, regarding music teaching need to be coupled with the technological findings from the previous section to provide the literary forum for this paper.
Music and Technology
The first section of this critical review of literature suggested that the technology was available to facilitate learning across the board, there still appears to be a resistance in the music environment:
Whilst the students maintained that music technology could help them with listening, composing and performing, and with music history, they believed that activities such as choir practice and instrumental learning require teachers. Ho (2004)Hos research looked at an audience of people who had access to both real and virtual resources: Her use of students tells us that she did not take into account those people who have no access to a teacher, or learning in a community of practise. The question for this paper is not whether online learning is preferable, but whether it is possible.
The greatest exponent of online and distance music education is Matti Ruippo from the Sibelius Academy in Finland. Ruippo researched in great depth the possibilities of distance learning. The first problem that was encountered was the attitude of current instrumental teachers;
Ruippos research looked at synchronous communication, phone / video conferencing. He appeared to focus technological resources on replicating the real teaching scenario i.e. by trying to get as close to face to face as possible. Video conferencing was explored and developed as the preferred model of distance learning.
These examples demonstrate that Videoconferences seem to suit many kinds of music material. (Donner 2003)The notion of video conferencing may well synthesise the appearance of a face to face event but it does not allow for asynchronous learning and autodidact behavioural patterns. In other words it is teacher based and doesnt cater for learners who want to be far more self motivated and take more control over how they learn and not be directed to a high extent by a synchronous teacher.
There is a project in India which is also investigating online music education. There is far more emphasis on asynchronous content and recognises that there is a greater diversity of resources required to fulfil the needs of these disparate learners:
With faculty guidance, the learner must increasingly become self directed, acquiring knowledge and skills through interactive technology-based instruction, videotaped courses, CD ROMs, self-paced learning modules and interactive education. (Bandopadhyay 2000)Bandopadhyay recognises the shift from teacher led education to learner led education through technology:
The shift in educational paradigm will focus on the learning process and the learner, rather than the traditional teacher-centred course.(Bandopadhyay 2000)
Bandopadhyay shows clearly this change of learning process focus process, but does not look in-depth at the impact this has on the teacher and their need to understand how to engage the enthusiasm, motivation and momentum of the self directed learner.
Wenger (1998) claims that learning is fundamentally social. To learn we need to interact with our teachers/tutors and with our peers. In other words to learn in an online environment a community of practise needs to be formed. It is this concept that maybe that is lacking. Those learners are not saying that they believe a real live tutor is required, but that need the social interaction with others. As Rovai states;
Research provides evidence that strong feelings of community may not only increase persistence in courses, but may also increase the flow of information among all learners (Rovai 2002)Perhaps this sense of community that is the lynch pin of the facility that provides the enthusiasm, motivation and momentum of the self directed learner.
The Santa Barbara Music Academy have undertaken research into performing synchronously online, putting on concert where two musicians perform a duet from different locations across the internet.
The virtual duet performance marks a first in the history of music and technology, allowing the musicians to perform in realtime. (Kuehn 2003)Music is intrinsically a social event, from playing in orchestras to sessions in a pub. Miller (2002) writes;
[there is an] Internet based e-learning environment for building ensemble playing proficiency for musicians. (Miller 2002)Musicians, for a fee can log into an online community and either play jazz in small groups of six or have a synchronous master session with a professional.
Conclusions to the Literature
The next stage that music research needs to undertake is how community affects online music learning. The literature for instrumental teaching all states that a real face to face teacher is required to be really effective. Even Ruippo, who is investigating video-conferencing, does not think to look in the direction of community. The internet has been used successfully for many different kinds of teaching and learning but the findings often suggest that the missing component is community. Fig. 2 shows the two constituent parts of online music teaching; music teaching and online teaching.
The arrows mapping the main concepts
and where the area overlaps are. As can be seen from fig. 2. there are
several overlaps between Music Teaching and Online Teaching that are not
replicated in Online Music Teaching at this current time.
Four different slow airs were selected for each scenario;
tunes of the same type were chosen to remove the variable of tune difficulty
from the equation Thus the motivation for the learner was goal driven.
Care was taken to make this a proximal goal (cf Hodges 2004).
The teaching style for this tune was purely audio. The player clicks on the file size and the mp3 is played. The tune was available in its entirety and also broken down into separate two bar phrases. (see fig. 3) This technique of learning by ear is a very common method of handing down music through generations of folk musicians, it is not so common amongst players who have gone through the much more formal and written classical training.
Scenario 2: Audio and Visual
This scenario was aimed at visual learners. As with previous
scenario, the learner clicked on the file size, which this time brought
up a small video close up on fingers of the tune being played. As before
the tune was available in its entirety and also broken down into
separate two bar phrases (see fig. 4). The theory behind this allows the
visual leaner to watch the fingering of the tune as it is being played.
This is the same as the first scenario, but with the addition of video.
The third style added written notation to both mp3s and movie clips. This combined both the previous styles of audio and visual, with written. Again the tune was played in full and broken down into two bar phrases. (see fig. 5)
Scenario 4: Graphical and midi (computer generated audio)
Lament for the Lone Piper was added to the web site to show a different use of technology. See fig. 6) Using the music publishing program called Sibelius it is possible to publish tunes on a web site. This software gives playback using midi. It also provides the graphical notation and the ability to transpose the music into a different key (graphically and aurally). see fig. 7.
Once the site was completed it was advertised in several different places on the internet, including www.mudcat.org, a pipers newsgroup and in person with the Lowland and Borders Pipers Society. All people contacted for this study were given access to all scenarios from the website. If slow internet connection was a problem then a CD rom of the web site was sent to any person that requested it. The learners were asked to answer four questions after attempting each tune.
In the mudcat community a separate thread was provided so that the community members could feedback. An e-mail address was also provided for all learners to give feedback.
Data Collection and Analysis
To counter the problem of bandwidth the web site was transferred onto
a CD rom and posted out to people. This would seem like a good solution,
but again, not everyone could get the disk to work. Although all the materials
were provided on the disk, some computers insisted on trying to connect
to the internet. It was found that users would give up relatively quickly
if the site did not work readily. The added confusion and effort that
the participant had to experience would have compromised the proximal
event intended. (cf Hodges 2004).
Although Mr A liked to have the videos, Mr B (a piper who responded via an online blog) said;
This was almost directly the opposite, the part in common however being that the audio alone was not enough. Ms C (a piper contacted via Mudcat.org) however stated that;
Already there is a pattern forming. The three players are all homing in on the audio aspect and the written notation aspect as being the salient parts to learning the tunes online. Matti Ruippo from the Sibelius Academy however states that;
The findings of this case study suggested that the participants coming
from within online communities (ie Mudcat and the Bellowspipes Newsgroup)
gave a more positive feedback of their experience and their learning outcomes
than did the non-online community participants. This would suggest that
some sort of basic community, (ie. a forum for the learner to share and
discuss their ideas with other people) may be beneficial or perhaps even
requisite to the success of the learner.
Sundbergs paper also recognised the plethora of communication media tools by stating that;
However neither of these seriously entertain the notion of community
that the previous findings suggest are so important.
the findings to the three hypothesis
On balance the findings of this study suggest that it is possible to teach a musical instrument online. The findings also suggest that the most effective resources for teaching are high in multimedia. At present this propensity towards multimedia is somewhat inhibited by the diversity of platforms, bandwidth and technology.
2. Community affects the success of learning an instrument
3. It is possible with multimedia to cater for a
variety of different learning style.
Analysing and Evaluating
Action research will always throw up more issues than can be assessed in one investigation. There is always the possibility of too many variables within the actual research for a topic to be reasonably investigated. Particularly where research is practitioner based, unexpected findings can push the investigation in surprising directions.
The web site built for this investigation was advertised in Mudcat, the Bellowspipes Newsgroup and in a face to face meeting of the LBPS. At first the response from Mudcat was very favourable with most people coming up with helpful hints and suggestions, surprisingly however was the fact that the participants commented on the site and not the tunes themselves. The same was true of the bagpipe newsgroup, many people commented on the site, but a very small number completed the task set from start to finish. Within the groups that were asked to view and feedback on the site after face to face contact, a significant number of participants insisted on feeding back in the same manner: ie face to face, they wouldnt feedback in an online context, even though e-mail was available. The purpose of choosing different groups with which to research was to ensure that a wide range of musicians was used.
The majority of people to respond to this investigation
were male. There are two number possible reasons for this.
Corneliussen appears to supports this:
To have a young lady teaching the bagpipes online may allow a gender / age bias. In an investigation of this size it was not possible to create control groups to check for bias in this area, but it does show that further research would be very valuable important for validity of the research.
The small percentage of participants, relative to the number of people invited, shows that it is not enough to create a web site, it also needs to appeal to its audience and give them something that they perceive they really want or need.
Strategies for Change and Improvement
These and previous studies demonstrate the importance of individual differences as factor in the design of web-based instruction. Designers and instructors cannot assume that all students will automatically use web-based instructional programmes effectively (Chen & Paul 2003)
The strategies outlined above hopefully would remove some of the bias included in this particular study. The greater numbers would not only improve the research data, but also in the realms of action research, provide an opportunity to stimulate further study as they share their own tunes and learning experiences.
There have been many learning outcomes from this study. The original study was to investigate the learning styles of Scottish Smallpipers and relate this to learning online. The literature review showed that research in this area has neglected to take into account community of practise. The instrumental teaching world is a very long way behind in research and philosophical terms in online teaching.
There has been much research undertaken in evaluating different learning styles online, but this has not yet been transferred to the area of instrumental music teaching online. For this reason it is apparent that much more research needs to be undertaken in engaging instrumental learners in online environments. The outcome to the study is the need to alter the site that has been built and make it more community orientated to offer feedback and experiences between learners and tutor. This is has been a surprising outcome as the communities that were used to disseminate the site address were thought to be robust and established enough to act as a suitable conduit, this however was not the case as a larger number of participants would have been preferable.
The final dissemination of the information back into the bagpipe world will be a long one. It is hoped that this study will be published in various bagpipe journals, but it will involve rewriting to some extent. The dissemination will take some time and further research will need to be undertaken before it can be completed. The process of change and improvement is also a long task. This can be seen from the literature, there is plenty of readily available literature on ICT, but on combining music and ICT it can be seen that this area is several years behind.
Computer compatibility is improving all the time as are software developments, so research into creating content that will work for as many people as possible should also be part of ongoing research.
Ally, M. Theories
and Practise of Online Learning (2004)
Community - teaching within an online community, including all socialising
and peer involvment.