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Why is pre-service training in music for general primary teachers so unsuccessful?

Edward F. Gifford
Senior Lecturer, Music Education
Faculty of Education, Griffith University (Mt Gravatt Campus)
Recent national and international documents dealing with education and the arts attributed poor teaching of music in primary schools to inadequacies in the training of primary teachers. Most frequently reported problems associated with the training of teachers in music education were students' lack of confidence and their low musical ability.

Against this background, a study was undertaken to examine the extent to which participation in a music education course during pre-service training advanced the musical skills, music teaching ability, musical sensitivity and attitudes towards music of students who become general primary teachers. This paper reports data on the influence of pre-service training on attitudes to music and to music teaching.

The investigation confirmed general primary pre-service teachers' low perception of their competence and confidence as music teachers and established that any limited gains in music and music teaching skills were offset by them enjoying and valuing music and music education ]ess. A model of music education is forwarded both as a further means of interpreting the data and as a basis for the potential refocussing of the music curriculum.


Recent national and international reports (Botsman, 1985; Commonwealth Department of Education, 1985; Lett, 1981; Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1982; Cleave and Sharp, 1986) have expressed concern about the quality of arts education in pre-service training and primary schools. Botsman (1985) attributed poor teaching of the arts to '. . . the inadequacy of the training of the teachers in both primary and secondary schools'(p.104). The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (1982) identified the major obstacle to effective arts teaching as lack of confidence, due to a feeling by teachers that they themselves are not artistic. Mills (1989) found that general primary school teachers were less confident in music than in any other subject.

A study, which is reported fully in Gifford (1991), was undertaken to examine the extent to which participation in a music education course during pre-service training advanced the musical skills, music teaching ability, musical sensitivity, and attitudes towards music of students who become general primary teachers. Since the musical background of students and their preferred learning styles were known and since the quality of instruction by staff was high as measured by students evaluation of music courses, factors that moderate the effects of training could be identified. This article reports data on the influence of pre-service training on attitudes to music and to music teaching.

The training program

The study was undertaken at Griffith University (Mt Gravatt Campus) in Queensland, Australia. Students training to be general primary teachers completed a 12-week (three hours per week) introductory course in music in the second semester of their first year. In addition to studying music curriculum and the theory of music, students divided into groups for practical music making. Assessment included a test on music theory (25 per cent), multiple choice questions covering the music curriculum (25 per cent), and a practical test where students performed individually and in pairs using voice (time names, solfa and words) and recorder (50 per cent). Three sequential lesson plans also were prepared A further 12-week course was completed in the second or third year of training. Though similar to the first course, students also performed two music ensembles in small groups, as well as developing and notating a short musical play (10-15 minutes) which they performed in groups in the presence of peers and primary school children. Students who elected to pursue a music major completed seven courses, including the two courses described above, a course in advanced curriculum studies, and four courses designed to facilitate the musical development of the individual student.


The manner in which attitudes towards music and music teaching changed as a consequence of participation in pre-service training was assessed using the Music Attitude Questionnaire (MAQ) (Gifford, 1989, 1990). The 76 items in the MAQ identified general attitudes towards music, students' perception of their ability to teach music, and attitudes to music education in the training institution. Each item (e.g. 'To what extent do you have the confidence to teach music in your classroom?') was rated on a seven-point scale (ranging from 'not at all' to 'a great deal').

The sample comprised 123 students completing the first-level course in music education, 329 students completing the second-level course, 26 'music majors' who also were enrolled in the general primary teaching degree, and 210 graduates who in the previous year had completed a three-year Diploma of Teaching (Primary) at Griffith University and were at the time of the study teaching in schools in Queensland.

Cross-sectional data were collected by administering the MAQ to first-level students in the third week of their course and to second-level students in the eighth week of their course. Students majoring in music completed the MAQ in the third week of their final semester. As the instrument was administered in class time, the return rate was close to 100 per cent. The graduate teachers completed the MAQ eight months into their first year of teaching. The response rate to the postal survey was 59 per cent. Longitudinal data also were obtained by administering the MAQ to the same students (N=91) during the first-level course and the second-level course.


Responses to the 76 items of the MAQ were subjected to factor analysis (principal components, SPSS Inc, 1988). A seven-factor solution was accepted on the basis of the scree plot of eigenvalues and factor interpretability. The labels given to these factors were:
  1. music ability and music teaching ability;
  2. importance of music;
  3. music valuing and appreciation;
  4. music education at the training institution as worthwhile and enjoyable;
  5. valuing 'popular' music;
  6. support for music teaching; and
  7. preference for different types of music programs.
Mean scores on these factors were compared through analysis of variance to determine the extent to which ratings differed as a function of the stage of respondents in the training process (cross-sectional data) and for the same students between the first-level and second-level of training (longitudinal data). These cross-sectional and longitudinal trends generally were consistent. The results from the different analyses will now be summarised.

All groups placed co nsiderable emphasis on music education in primary schools. The music majors and the graduates perceived music education as more important than either the first-level or second-level trainees did. There was a slight decrement in the perceived importance of music education between first-level and second-level. Consistent with this decrement, second-level students valued and appreciated most aspects of music less than first-level students. Respondents overall reported that they least enjoyed attending 'classical music' concerts, and they indicated limited experience or understanding of ethnic music. Although most indicated that music was important to them personally, the rating was often given to whether specific aspects of music were valued or appreciated as 'average'. All groups expressed very positive attitudes to 'popular' music, and there was limited change in ratings on this attribute over the stages in training.

While all respondents believed that their own education at the training institution was quite worthwhile and enjoyable, second-level students (and to a lesser extent the recent graduates who now were teaching) were less positive than first-level students. The music majors were only slightly more positive than the first-level students towards their music training. Students nevertheless assessed their own musical ability as being marginally higher at the second-level than at the first-level of training. As well as believing they were more able to plan for music, they felt more confident in implementing a range of musical experiences in music classes. The graduates who were now teaching were more confident of their ability as music teachers than the pre-service students, particularly in the area of lesson planning. However, despite these differences the respondents overall, whether trainees or graduates, did not feel very competent or confident as music educators.

Although they anticipated difficulty in teaching music, many respondents (and particularly the recent graduates) expressed hesitancy over seeking support. Music resource teachers were identified as the most preferred source of assistance, and school principals as the least preferred source. Only the music majors rated the training institution positively as a source of assistance. There were differences over the stages of training in the extent respondents saw the need for music 'kits' or a pre-planned 'package' of resources to be provided to teachers. A]though first-level students and the music majors were less positive about such materials than second-level students or the recent graduates, all groups preferred to develop their music programs in consultation with a specialist music resource teacher rather than to exercise complete autonomy.


The results from the study provide little evidence that the pre-service training courses enhanced the confidence and competence of students to teach music. In general terms, students typically entered the training institution with a weak formal background in music but with positive personal and professional attitudes towards music. While they perceived training as having to a small extent improved their own musical skills and having influenced positively their ability to plan music lessons and teach certain musical skills, they came over the course of training to value and appreciate music less, they experienced less enjoyment in listening to music, and by the end of training, their courses were perceived as less enjoyable and less valuable. Further, over the course of training, respondents became less enthusiastic about teaching music and expressed less positive opinions about being involved in music education generally. Thus, although respondents saw the acquisition of musical skills and competence in music teaching as essential processes in teacher training, participation in courses designed to foster these skills seemed to foster attitudes that are counter-productive to positive involvement in music by teachers after graduation.

The model of music development in childhood formulated by Swanwick and Tillman (1986), and subsequently extended by Swanwick (1988) to music education in general, provides a basis not only for understanding the trends identified in the present study, but for pursuing an alternative approach to the music education of trainee teachers. The development spiral shown in Figure 1 summarises this model. An aspect of interest is that the left-hand side and the right-hand side of the spiral balance musical encounter with musical instruction (Swanwick, 1988, p.123). The music courses which the respondents in the present study completed were positioned on the right-hand side of the spiral. Students were involved with music in the context of instruction rather than encounter. Course content was developed and taught very much in terms of pre-specified or behavioural objectives. For example, technical ability in playing instruments such as the recorder was given high priority, as was the ability to sing in tune and to use solfa with hand-signs. Assessed also was knowledge of musical theory and even the mass curriculum theory lectures were focused more on what children could do in terms of being able to 'list', 'classify', 'apply', 'contrast', 'differentiate', 'identify', 'produce', 'demonstrate', and so on. This is in contrast to using words such as 'understand', 'value', 'enjoy', 'respond to', and 'use imagination'. Furthermore, instruction is also evident in terms of the vernacular, idiomatic and systematic characteristics which are featured on the right-hand side of the spiral. Established musical conventions and traditional forms of repertoire and notation are central aspects of the courses. This concentration on the 'public domain' - skill mastery, the conventions of the musical vernacular, idiomatic authenticity and the systematic extension of musical possibilities, seems to have overshadowed and possibly ignored the potential richness of musical encounter which are the characteristics of the left-hand side of the spiral. The exploration of the sensory qualities of sound, personal expressiveness, student speculation and a commitment to the symbolic significance of music will be central to both teaching and learning.

The Developmental Spiral
(Swanwick & Tillman 1986)

Figure 1

Central to the notion of musical encounter is musical criticism: the ability to interpret sensitively and encourage the musical engagements of individuals. For Swanwick (1988, p.130) 'the effectiveness and insightfulness of this criticism derives substantially from the quality of the teacher's own musical encounters and the ability to reflect upon them'.

It is not a new music curriculum that is being advocated here but a music education which responds to both sides of the dialectic; one where instruction and encounter both have important roles. The role of formal music education then is not just to develop skilled musicians but to enable general primary teachers to be musical critics both in their own in their students' responses to musical performance, listening and composition. What is proposed is that the pre-service teachers, while certainly being required to develop some musical skills commensurate with the limited time available to do this, will develop a sensitivity to musical processes and an understanding of what makes music musical. Therefore, the role of the teacher as music critic is seen as more important than being a model of a skilled musician. It seems that any attempt to train musicians may result in some limited positive gains in terms of improved teaching skills but this is off-set by music involvement being less valued and enjoyed and a greater reluctance to be involved in music education generally.

It appears, for a music curriculum for pre-service teachers to be effective within the constraints set by a range of factors, that there needs to be an interaction between instruction and encounter. Given this, it is sugges ted that the central role for the general primary school music teacher in responding to childrens' music making and music taking is that of an imaginative musical critic which is rooted in sensitive musical encounters. In this way, perhaps teachers will assess their ability to teach music not just in terms of how musically skilful they are, but just as importantly, in terms of their ability to respond to their students' work in a musically sensitive way.


Botsman, P.B. (1985) Review of Arts Education and Training, AGPS, Canberra.

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (1982) The Arts in Schools. Principles, Practice and Provision, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, London.

Cleave, S. & Sharp, S. (1986) The Arts, A Preparation to Teach - Initial Training for Primary Teachers, NFER, London.

Commonwealth Department of Education (1985) Action: Education and the Arts, Report of the Task Force on Education and the Arts to the Minister for Eduction and Youth Affairs, AGPS, Canberra.

Gifford, E. (1989) The Development and Validation of a Music Attitude Questionnaire for Music Program Evaluation in Teacher Training, unpublished MEd Dissertation, School of Education, Tasmanian State Institute of Technology, Launceston, Tasmania.

Gifford, E. (1990) 'The Development and Validation of a Music Attitude Questionnaire for Music Program Evaluation in Teacher Training - A Pilot Study', in The Journal of Proceedings of the VIIth National Conference of the Australian Society for Music Education, Alice Springs, Northern Territory.

Gifford, E. (1991) An Investigation into Factors Affecting the Quality of Music Education in Pre-service Teacher Training, unpublished PhD thesis, London University Institute of Education, London.

Mills, J. (1989) 'The generalist primary teachers of music; a problem of confidence', British Journal of Music Education, 6, 2, 125-138, Cambridge University Press.

SPSS Inc. (1988) SPSS-X User's Guide, 3rd edn, SPSS Inc., Chicago.

Swanwick, K. & Tillman, J. (1986) 'The sequence of musical development', British Journal of Music Education, 3, 3, November, Cambridge University Press.

Swanwick, K (1988) Music, Mind and Education, London, Routledge.

Please cite as: Gifford, E. F. (1993). Why is pre-service training in music for general primary teachers so unsuccessful? Queensland Researcher, 9(3), 28-35. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qr9/gifford.html

[ Contents Vol 9, 1993 ] [ QJER Home ]
Created 6 May 2006. Last revision: 6 May 2006.
URL: http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qr9/gifford.html