The University of St. Thomas


Espeland, Mari

Espeland, Mari

Improvisation in the Elementary Music Classroom: A Descriptive Study of Mentored and Non-Mentored Teachers and Their Students
Mari N. Espeland

Are children actually improvising in their elementary music classrooms? What skills do music teachers need to facilitate improvisation in their classrooms? This study was designed to answer these questions by comparing three music teachers who participated in the Mentorship Residency Program at the University of St. Thomas to three music teachers who had similar education, but were not mentored.

A review of literature related to improvisation included perspectives from Orff Schulwerk, Kodály, Dalcroze Eurythmics, and other pedagogies, and a section on research done on children improvising music. The literature showed that, while music educators see much value in improvisation for elementary children in their music classes, only two studies could be found that collected data on children improvising in a classroom setting. Mentoring programs were also explored in the review of literature. Again, only two studies were conducted with music educators as the subjects, and no studies or programs had been designed specifically for elementary music teachers. The uniqueness of the Mentorship Residency Program at the University of St. Thomas was very evident.

The research was carried out by having each teacher tape six lessons with the understanding that each lesson should include improvisation. Two cameras were used for taping, one focused on the children and one focused on the teacher. Information gathered from the tapes was analyzed and the percentage of time spent in defined areas of Teacher Actions, Student Activities, and Media was compared.

The results showed that the children were improvising for a small amount of time in their elementary music classrooms. Mentored and non-mentored teachers did not show much difference in the percentage of time spent in specific teacher actions. There was a ten percent difference in the amount of time spent improvising between the mentored and non-mentored teachers, but this is inconclusive because of the structure of the study. More study is needed in the area of children improvising in their elementary music classrooms and the area of mentorships for elementary music educators.

Capstone Advisor
Mary S. Adamek