Haston, Warren

Comparison of a Visual and an Aural Approach to Beginning Wind Instrument Instruction

Learning to play a wind instrument is a daunting task. When students learn to read music first, it places a visual emphasis on musical performance instead of an aural emphasis (Kohut, 1973; Schleuter, 1997; McPherson, 1993; Wilkinson, 2000). Students come to the first lesson with aural knowledge and musical intuitions instilled informally by enculturation. It is possible that teaching with a visual emphasis is not as efficient as teaching with an aural emphasis, because it fails to capitalize on these intuitions. A sound-before-sight approach is based on Bruner’s (1966) three types of knowledge representation: enactive, iconic, and symbolic. According to Bruner, learning is more efficient and permanent when it follows this hierarchy. Student’s make sounds, learn to interpret musical icons, and create music using symbols.

The purpose of this study was to assess the effectiveness of teaching beginning wind instrumentalists using a sound-before-sight (aural) approach that was designed to foster the connections between eyes, ears, and fingers, and capitalize on students’ musical intuitions. Twenty fourth-grade beginning band students received one hour of weekly instruction for 15 weeks. One group was taught with an aural/modeling emphasis (singing while fingering their instruments, play-by-ear activities, call and response, and playing from printed music), and the other with a visual emphasis (playing only from printed music). To control for the lack of opportunity for random assignment, groups were compared and found to be similar on three independent variables: Musical Aptitude Profile pretest scores, frequency of voluntary singing, and prior formal instrumental music training.

Posttests were the Watkins Farnum Performance Scale and the performance of a prepared piece. T-tests of group mean scores showed that the aural/modeling group scored higher on both posttests, though not significantly. Aural/modeling students without any prior musical training scored the highest overall, followed by visual students with prior training. The Pearson product-moment coefficient of correlation reflected a significant ( p < .01) and positive relationship between posttest scores. It is clear that teaching with an aural/modeling emphasis does not hamper students’ music performance skills, and may in fact aid them.

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