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Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna, August 22-26 2006 Conceptions of musical ability Susan Hallam Institute of Education, University of London, UK. s.hallam@ioe.ac.uk ABSTRACT Historically, musical ability has been conceptualized in relation to aural abilities. Recently, this view has been challenged. Musical ability is now viewed by a number of authors as a social construction acquiring different meaning in different cultures, sub-groups within cultures and at the individual level. This study aimed to explore conceptions of musical ability in the United Kingdom. An inventory adopting a five point rating scale was developed to assess individuals’ perceptions of musical ability. The inventory included 77 statements derived from previous qualitative research categorized into 21 themes (Hallam and Prince, 2003). The inventory was completed by 660 individuals. Musical ability was most strongly perceived as relating to a sense of rhythm, followed by the ability to understand and interpret the music, express thoughts and feelings through sound, being able to communicate through sound, motivation to engage with music, personal commitment to music, and being able to successfully engage musically with others. Least important were having technical skills, being able to compose or improvise, being able to read music, and understanding musical concepts and musical structures. Factor analysis revealed 6 factors. The first was concerned with being able to read music and play an instrument or sing. The second focused on musical communication, the third valuing, appreciating and responding to music, and the fourth to composition, improvisation and the skills required for undertaking these. The fifth factor related to personal commitment to music, motivation, discipline and organisation, and the sixth to rhythmic and aural skills. The findings suggest that the construct of musical ability is perceived broadly in the general population. The high proportion of participants stressing the importance of having a sense of rhythm may reflect the characteristics of popular music where ‘the beat’ is central. The stress on motivation and commitment also suggests an awareness of the time required to successfully develop musical skills. INTRODUCTION The concept of musical ability has a long history. The development of tests to assess ‘musical ability’ paralleled that of intelligence testing. In the early and mid-twentieth century, there was an assumption that individuals were endowed with different levels of ‘intelligence’ that were genetically based, relatively immutable and unchanging. Such measures of intelligence have continued to be used to identify individuals with learning difficulties and sometimes in situations where it is necessary to select individuals for limited educational or employment opportunities. In parallel with intelligence tests, musical ability tests were first developed to assist music teachers in the selection of those pupils most likely to benefit from music tuition. Testing began in 1883 when Carl Stumpf suggested a number of simple aural tests which music teachers might undertake to select pupils. Subsequently, a range of tests have been developed which can be administered to groups of children of different ages. The content of the tests varies although they all focus on aural skills (for reviews see Shuter-Dyson, 1999; Hallam, 2006). The most comprehensive set of measures is that of Gordon (1965, 1979, 1982, 1989a, 1989b) who has devised tests to be used with pre-school children through to adults, taking account of prevailing cultural norms based on tonal imagery, rhythm imagery and musical sensitivity. Recent testing procedures reflect technological advances. Individualised computer based In: M. Baroni, A. R. Addessi, R. Caterina, M. Costa (2006) Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Music Perception & Cognition (ICMPC9), Bologna/Italy, August 22-26 2006.©2006 The Society for Music Perception & Cognition (SMPC) and European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (ESCOM). Copyright of the content of an individual paper is held by the primary (first-named) author of that paper. All rights reserved. No paper from this proceedings may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the paper's primary author. No other part of this proceedings may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information retrieval system, without permission in writing from SMPC and ESCOM. ISBN 88-7395-155-4 © 2006 ICMPC 425 ICMPC9 Proceedings systems can assess the recognition of change in synthesiser-produced melodies and allow for individual speed of responding increasing validity and reliability (Vispoel, 1993; Vispoel & Coffman, 1992) through minimising the reliance on the general cognitive processing skills needed to perform well on earlier tests (Doxey & Wright, 1990). What these various tests have in common is that they assess the ability to discriminate sounds that vary in subtle ways. The devisers of the various musical ability measures held different beliefs about the nature of musical ability. Revesz (1953) adopted the term ‘musicality’ to denote the ‘ability to enjoy music aesthetically’ which was assessed by establishing the depth to which a person could listen to and comprehend the artistic structure of a composition. Seashore (Seashore et al, 1960) believed that musical ability was a set of loosely related basic sensory discrimination skills, which had a genetic basis and would not change over time except for variation due to lapses of concentration or other environmental changes. He did not believe that subtest scores should be combined to obtain a single score, but rather that a profile should be obtained which could be divided into a number of clearly defined characteristics which were unrelated to each other (pitch, loudness, rhythm, time, timbre, tonal memory). In contrast, Wing (1981) believed in a general ability to perceive and appreciate music rather than a profile. He believed that the elements in his battery of tests should be related to each other and an overall score should be reported. Gordon (1979) viewed musical ability as consisting of three parts, tonal imagery (melody and harmony), rhythm imagery (tempo and metre) and musical sensitivity (phrasing, balance and style). His tests contrasted with earlier work in that musical ability was viewed in part as sensitivity to the prevailing musical cultural norms. The concept of musical ability has been severely criticised in recent years. Focussing on the importance of effort, some have proposed that it is time spent practising which underpins the development of expert performance, not inherited ability. Ericsson and colleagues (1993) suggested a monotonic relationship between ‘deliberate practice’ and an individual’s acquired performance, a relationship supported by Sloboda and colleagues (1996). Interviews with the parents of the children in Sloboda et al’s study revealed that singing by the child at an early age was the only sign that distinguished those children who later succeeded in being accepted by a high status music school reinforcing the practice explanation (Howe, Davidson, Moore & Sloboda, 1995). However, not all the evidence is supportive. Sloboda and Howe (1991) found that students identified as having greater ability by their teachers had undertaken less practice in their main instrument, their practice time having been spread more equally across three instruments. Wagner (1975) found that increased practice did not lead to any greater improvement in performance over an eight-week period and Zurcher (1972) found no relationship between total practice time and performance achievement. Reported correlations between achievement and time spent practising also vary considerably and are only moderate (Sloboda et al., 1996). In addition, skills can be developed through playful practice and playing in groups, not only through deliberate practice. Social factors such as parental support, teacher’s personality, and peer interactions have also been shown to be more important than amount of practice time in achieving a high level of musical performance (Moore et al., 2003). There has also been a tendency in much of this research to neglect the issue of drop-outs – those who may have undertaken extensive practice, been unsuccessful and dropped out. While Sloboda and colleagues (1996) demonstrated that those who had dropped out had undertaken less practice and achieved less than those who continued, in much of the research on drop-outs no single explanatory factor has emerged. Rather a number of factors, including socio-economic status, self-concept in music, reading achievement, scholastic ability, measured musical ability, math achievement, and motivation are all valid predictors of continuing to play a musical instrument (Mawbey, 1973; McCarthy, 1980; Klinedinst, 1991, Hallam, 1998a). Hurley (1995) found that students who dropped out viewed continuing to play as demanding too great a time cost for the relatively small rewards it offered. When the quality of performance has been considered rather than the level of expertise attained, the amount of practice undertaken is not a good predictor (Hallam, 1998a; 2004; Williamon & Valentine, 2000). A further issue is that measures of time spent practising do not take account of the effectiveness of the practice undertaken. There are certainly differences in the practising strategies adopted by students and their metacognitive skills, although their development seems to be inextricably intertwined with the acquisition of knowledge (Hallam, 2001a; 2001b). Increasingly it has been recognised that aural skill is only one of many skills necessary for the development of musical expertise. In 1979, Gilbert devised tests of motor skills, performance on which was highly correlated with musical attainment (Gilbert, 1981). The importance of creativity in music has been acknowledged and ways of assessing it devised (Vaughan, 1977; Webster, 1988), the evidence suggesting that generally, musical creativity factors seemed to be discrete from those assessed by musical ability tests (Swanner, 1985). In relation to instrumental playing, McPherson (1995/6), identified five distinct skills: sight reading; performing rehearsed music; playing from memory; playing by ear, and improvising, while Hallam (1998b) suggested that ‘musical skills’ included aural, cognitive, technical, musicianship, performance and learning skills. There has also been an increasing acknowledgement that individual musicians ISBN 88-7395-155-4 © 2006 ICMPC 426 ICMPC9 Proceedings have differing strengths and weaknesses within their profile of musical skills. There has been little research addressing the ways in which individuals within society as a whole conceive of musical ability. Sloboda et al. (1994) proposed the existence of a folk psychology of talent held by non-academics which postulated innately determined differences between individuals in their capacity for musical accomplishment. This was supported by the findings from a survey that indicated that more than 75% of a sample of educational professionals believed that playing an instrument, singing and composing required a special gift or natural talent (Davis, 1994). A number of researchers have explored the conceptualisation of musical ability by different groups in society. Haroutounian (2000) analysed the level of importance attached to particular criteria in identifying musically able children. General behaviours of ‘sustained interest’ and ‘self-discipline’ received higher mean responses than music-specific characteristics indicative of music aptitude. A performance assessment scale showed note and rhythmic accuracy rated highest in importance followed by steady rhythmic performance, dynamic contrasts, and technical fluency. Originality received the lowest rating. However, interviews with experts across the musical fields of research, performance, psychology, and education, teachers involved in gifted education programs and others regularly involved in the identification of gifted children revealed categories of perceptual awareness and discrimination; meta-perception; creative interpretation; behaviour/performance; and motivation. The most decisive factor perceived to determine musical potential in children rested on criteria related to the child’s creative expressive involvement in musical activities. This contrasted with the questionnaire survey which found that creativity was found to be an inadequate measure reinforcing the complexity and difficulty of defining and identifying musical potential. Hallam and Prince (2003) explored the qualitatively different ways in which groups of people with differing levels of involvement in active music making conceptualised ‘musical ability’. Individuals (129 musicians; 80 non-music educators; 112 adults in other occupations; 60 students involved in extra-curricular music; 14 not involved in extra-curricular music) were asked to complete in writing the statement ‘Music ability is:’ The statements were analysed using an iterative process of categorisation. Musical ability was conceptualised in relation to: receptive activities; generative activities; the integration of a range of skills; the extent to which it is learned; metacognition; and motivation. Overall, 28% of the sample mentioned aural skills as indicative of musical ability, 32% included listening and understanding, 24% having an appreciation of music, and 15% being responsive to music. By far the largest response in any category was that musical ability was being able to play a musical instrument or sing (cited by 71% of the sample). This response was highest in children who did not take part in extra-curricular music (86%), and adults not involved in education (83%). The integration of a range of skills was cited by 9% of respondents. Personal qualities including motivation, personal expression, immersion in music, total commitment and metacognition (being able to learn to learn) were cited most by musicians. The findings did not indicate a general conception of musical ability as genetically determined. In addition, the concept of musical ability was constructed in different ways by each group of participants. The greater the active involvement with music making the more detailed and complex the constructions became. This qualitative research, relying as it did on individuals spontaneously generating their own conceptualisations of musical ability, did not take account of non-articulated beliefs. The purpose of this study, using the categorisations derived from the qualitative study by Hallam and Prince (2003) is to explore current conceptions of the nature of musical ability. METHOD The present study is an extension of the research carried out by Hallam and Prince (2003), which used qualitative methods to determine how participants perceived the construct ‘musical ability’. In the qualitative study, respondents completed the statement ‘Musical ability is’. The constructs derived from the first study were Musical Ear; Rhythmic Ability; Listening and Understanding; Response to Music; Appreciation of Music; Knowledge about Music; Evaluative Activities; Performing; Reading Music; Technical Skills; Emotional Sensitivity; Communication and Interpretation; Performing in a Group; Composition/ Improvisation; Organisation of Sound; Creativity; Integration of Skills; Metacognition; Motivation; Personal expression; and the Origins of Musical Ability, i.e. whether it was learned or innate. In the current study each of these categories was represented by several statements derived from the qualitative study. For instance, the statements relating to having a musical ear were: Musical ability depends on having perfect pitch; Musical ability is being able to play by ear; Musical ability is being able to internalise sound. A total of 77statements were included in the questionnaire. Statements were responded to through levels of agreement on a 5 point rating scale. Statements relating to the origins of musical ability were not included in the analyses described here. Respondents were also asked to provide information regarding age, gender, occupation and musical experience. The questionnaire was self-administered. The sample was an opportunity sample which consisted of 650 individuals aged 14 to 90. There were 212 males and 447 females, one participant did not indicate their gender. The sample was balanced between several different groups: ISBN 88-7395-155-4 © 2006 ICMPC 427 ICMPC9 Proceedings 102 musicians, 95 educators who were not musicians, 132 adults who were actively engaged in music making in an amateur capacity, 60 adults who were not actively engaged in making music, 193 children actively engaged in making music in addition to their engagement with the school curriculum and 71 children with no engagement with music outside of the school curriculum. FINDINGS Table 1 and Figure 1 set out the mean responses in each category. Having a sense of rhythm was the most highly supported conception of musical ability. Other highly rated categories related to being able to express oneself through sound, being able to understand and interpret music and being able to communicate through music. A range of personal factors including motivation, personal characteristics and being able to work in a group followed. Having a musical ear received relatively low ratings given its high rating in musical ability tests. The lowest ratings were for reading music and knowledge about music. Table 1: Mean responses to each category Musical ability is Having a sense of rhythm Expressing thoughts and feelings through sound Being able to understand and interpret the music Communication through music Motivation Personal characteristics Group performance Integration of skills Responding to music Metacognition Playing or singing Having a musical ear Listening and understanding Appreciation of music Creativity Evaluation skills Technical skills Composing or improvising Reading music Knowledge about music N 645 475 644 640 627 635 639 626 648 639 641 637 643 644 641 644 647 638 642 648 Mean 3.84 3.75 3.74 3.66 3.56 3.48 3.44 3.39 3.37 3.34 3.32 3.29 3.27 3.13 3.10 3.04 3.03 2.99 2.77 2.68 SD .69 .62 .81 .75 .88 .73 .82 .75 .75 .81 .88 .74 .71 .87 .79 .87 .86 .82 .99 .86 To further explore the nature of conceptions of musical ability a factor analysis was conducted. Principal component analysis was used followed by a Varimax rotation with Kaiser Normalization. Six factors were identified which had eigenvalues of above 2. The factors were: being able to read music and play an instrument or sing (Eigenvalue 15.5); musical communication (5.01); valuing, appreciating and responding to music (3.1); composition, improvisation and the skills needed to undertake them (2.5); commitment, motivation, personal discipline and organisation (2.4); and rhythmic ability, pitch skills, and understanding (2.3). Factor 1 included high ratings for statements relating to reading music, being able to play an instrument or sing, having appropriate technical and physical skills, critically evaluating and analyzing performance, and understanding the music. In short, all of the skills required to play an instrument or sing well (see Table 2). Only weightings above .3 are included. Table 2: Factor 1- Being able to read music and play an Instrument Factor 1 To transfer what is written on a score to an .747 instrument Being able to play an instrument well .740 Being able to sight read .696 Having the technical skills to play an .669 instrument Being able to play an instrument/sing .663 Being able to read music .655 Generating music .641 To master technique .632 Understanding musical concepts .554 Knowing about musical form .546 Figure 1: Mean responses in each category 4.00 3.00 Mean 2.00 1.00 0.00 ng si e vi dg c le usi pro ow m im kn ing or g ad in re s i lls po k m l s ll s c o ca k i ni s g ch on in te ati nd u ta al y ev tiv it n ers io d ea at un c r ec i nd pr a ap ing r g n a te e gin l is ical sin us or n m g i n iti o ay n pl og ls ac g il et din f s k m d on o ce cs un sp i on an sti ic so r e at rm ri us h gr rfo te m ug ac te in p pe har he ro t t th ou l c r e gs gr ona rp li n rs on n nte ee pe vati atio d i d f n n i ot ni c a a m mu and hts m st ug co der tho un ss m to pre hy th ex f r to e o ns se ISBN 88-7395-155-4 © 2006 ICMPC 428 ICMPC9 Proceedings Reproduce a melody or rhythm on an instrument To play an instrument, sing, read music Judge what is musical good or bad Analyse a piece of music Good overall physical coordination To convey the emotions intended by the composer Is complex and requires being able to do many things Understanding, knowledge and a flair to be creative in music To value music by taking part in making it To critically evaluate musical performances .528 .477 .410 .404 .384 .382 .379 .363 .354 .331 A relationship between music and your life To make decisions about performance and compositions Is complex and requires being able to do many things The integration of different distinct skills To help others enjoy or play music To perceive what is musically beautiful To use music to express one's personality To make sense of the world through musical stimuli Risk taking .429 .414 .413 .399 .397 .363 .340 .315 .307 Factor 2 focused on those issues relating to musical communication including conveying emotions and moods to an audience, playing and performing with feeling and emotion, interpreting the music, and making decisions about performance. There were also weightings related to being sensitive to other musicians within the group and inspiring group performance. High weightings were also in evidence in relation to making sense of the world through music, being inspired by music and taking risks (see Table 3). Factor 3 took into account those aspects of engagement with music which focus on listening and appreciation including responding to music, valuing music through listening, hearing and understanding music, and being able to describe music in words and gestures (see Table 4). Table 3: Factor 2 - Musical communication Factor 2 To communicate moods and emotions through music To perform showing understanding of expression To play with feeling To interpret the feelings of music To express thoughts and feelings through music To convey your interpretations to an audience To be sensitive to others within an ensemble Expression through sound To unite, inspire group performance To convey the emotions intended by the composer To use music as a source of inspiration .696 .686 .653 .651 .637 .602 .559 .539 .516 .511 Table 4: Factor 3 - Valuing, appreciating and responding to music Factor 3 .696 .637 .596 .577 .569 .519 .488 .472 .463 .431 .378 .372 .360 Being able to value music by listening to it Being able to enjoy music Being able to appreciate music Respond to the mood of the music Respond creatively to music To perceive what is musically beautiful To value music by taking part in making it Judge what is musical good or bad Being able to describe music in words and gestures Respond to a musical stimuli To hear and understand music To critically evaluate musical performances Move in time with a rhythm The focus of Factor 4 was composition, improvisation and the skills needed to undertake them (see Table 5). This included making decisions, integrating different distinct skills, taking risks, being able to read music, and play by ear. Table 5: Factor 4 - Composition, improvisation and the skills needed to undertaken them Factor 4 .691 .646 .637 .496 To play as part of a group .472 Understanding, knowledge and a flair to .448 be creative in music Compose using new styles To compose To improvise ISBN 88-7395-155-4 © 2006 ICMPC 429 ICMPC9 Proceedings To integrate listening, performing and composing To organise sound To play an instrument, sing, read music To make decisions about performance and compositions Risk taking The integration of different distinct skills Being able to describe music in words and gestures Analyse a piece of music Being able to read music Able to play by ear .617 .552 .508 .472 .388 .384 .348 .340 .324 .318 Move in time with a rhythm Analyse a piece of music To hear and understand music DISCUSSION The findings described above indicate that conceptions of musical ability in the general population are much broader than those identified by traditional tests of musical ability. The high proportion of participants stressing the importance of having a sense of rhythm may reflect the characteristics of popular music where ‘the beat’ is central. The stress on motivation and commitment also suggests an awareness of the time required to successfully develop musical skills. There was also considerable emphasis on being able to work well with other musicians in a group. Of the factors that emerged only one reflected traditional conceptions relating to aural abilities (rhythm and pitch), the remaining factors focused on other elements which contribute towards expert musical behaviour in its various forms. Factor 1 focused on being able to read music and sing or play an instrument along with all the skills required to do this effectively including technical skills, having the appropriate physical characteristics to play an instrument, being able to evaluate performance, understand music and be creative. The second factor encapsulated elements relating to musical communication. These not only included communicating with the audience, both emotions and specific interpretations, but also communication with other performers reflecting the recent interest in research in these areas, for instance, research on group rehearsal (e.g. Davidson and King, 2004; Goodman, 2000; 2002), the role of movement in musical communication (e.g. Davidson, 1993), the role of playing from memory in communication (e.g. Williamon, 1999), and research on music and emotion (Juslin and Sloboda, 2001). The third factor related to valuing, appreciating and responding to music. Some of the earlier tests of musical ability acknowledged the importance of musical appreciation. Revesz (1953) considered that ‘musicality’ included the ‘ability to enjoy music aesthetically’, Wing (1981) described a general ability to perceive and appreciate music and Gordon’s (1979) conceptualisation included musical sensitivity. The findings from this research reinforce the importance of these elements. The fourth factor centred around the skills required for composition, improvisation and the skills required for undertaking these. The highest weighting was on composing using new styles - a form of creativity. Other elements were those which might be considered to be necessary in order to compose and improvise - including integrating listening, performing and composing, reading .384 .346 .330 Factor 5 focused on personal commitment, motivation and organisation – all of the elements which enable an individual to develop high level skills in music. Commitment to practice loaded highly on this factor, as did motivation to succeed, setting and attaining goals and personal organisation and discipline. Immersion in music, using it as a source of inspiration and as a means of expressing oneself were also important as was being selfcritical. Table 6: Factor 5 -Commitment, motivation, personal discipline and organisation Factor 5 .771 .763 .718 .666 .604 .494 .402 .392 .391 .384 The commitment to practice The motivation to succeed Working towards set goals Personal organisation and discipline Showing in interest or desire to make music To be self critical in performances To immerse yourself in music A relationship between music and your life To use music as a source of inspiration To use music to express one's personality Factor 6 loaded on those elements which have traditionally been considered in musical ability tests, for instance, rhythmic ability, being able to recognise tone/pitch and internalise sound, and analyse music (see Table 7). Table 7: Factor 6- Rhythmic ability, pitch skills, and understanding Factor 6 .707 .682 .635 .617 .519 .495 Perceive a rhythmical progression Sing in time A good sense of rhythm Able to recognise tone/pitch Internalise sound Able to play by ear ISBN 88-7395-155-4 © 2006 ICMPC 430 ICMPC9 Proceedings music, playing by ear, making decisions, analysis, description, and risk taking. Traditional tests of musical ability have tended to neglect creative musical outcomes, although as we saw earlier some authors have recognized its importance and devised ways of assessing it (Vaughan, 1977; Webster, 1988). The fifth factor related to personal commitment to music, motivation, discipline and organisation, and acknowledged the importance of these in developing musical expertise reflecting research findings referred to earlier which suggest that time spent practising underpins the development of expert performance, not inherited ability (Ericsson et al., 1993; Sloboda et al., 1996). However, the range of other elements identified as contributing to musical ability support findings which contest a simple relationship between amount of practice and attainment (Sloboda and Howe, 1991; Wagner, 1975; Zurcher, 1972; Hallam, 1998a; 2004). The sixth factor focused on rhythmic and aural skills indicating that these are still perceived as constituting an important element of musical ability albeit with a greater focus on rhythm than may have previously been the case. The emphasis on rhythm in much contemporary popular music may explain why it is perceived as an important element of musical ability. Overall, the research suggests that in a Western musical culture at this time, musical ability is perceived to be exemplified by actual musical skills in performing, composition and improvisation, through listening, valuing and appreciating music and through being able to communicate through music. While aural skills play a part they are perceived to be less important than generative skills. The acquisition of these skills is perceived to require high levels of commitment and motivation, a way of life of which music is a crucial part. In the long term, the truly defining element of musical ability may come to be perceived as interest and commitment as the means to create and perform music become increasingly accessible to everyone through more advanced computer technology. What are the implications of the findings for education? Where a process of selection for playing an instrument is necessary because resources are limited it may be better to take account of a wider range of factors than those assessed in traditional tests with a particular emphasis on motivation. While aural skills may be important, without sufficient effort and commitment on the part of the learner little will be achieved. REFERENCES Davidson, J.W. 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