One of the problems facing elementary music educators is how best to facilitate those children who experience difficulty learning to sing. Singing remains a highly prioritized goal in elementary music education, yet the ubiquity, resilience and scale of the problem continues to be demonstrated in surveys of its incidence.
The usual vehicle for child vocal instruction is the general music class. While experts agree that this venue can be a successful learning site, there is also evidence that not every child may be able to learn successfully in this situation. Recognized experts in the field of child vocal education stress that some children may require remediation apart from the class setting in order to proceed to singing success (Goetze, 1990; Phillips, 1992; Welch, 1992).
These recommendations for remediation presuppose the developmental nature of singing acquisition, which has been well established. While such recommendations are extant in the literature, to date little has been forthcoming to guide the practitioner in terms of how to diagnose the need for remediation and to carry it out effectively. The prime purpose of this study was to design, implement and evaluate a pedagogical approach for the diagnosis and remediation of obstructed beginning singers.
Obstructed beginning singers are those students whose singing development has become stalled in an early stage along the developmental continuum and who, without intervention, will not proceed to further development. The term obstructed beginning singer is one of a series of terms evolving from my work with children and used in this study to underscore the developmental nature of singing acquisition, and within it, the need for vigilance in evaluation and action in remediation. The study aligns these terms (beginning, [obstructed beginning], evolving and established singers) with the behaviorally-described stages of Rutkowski’s (1990) scale of developing vocal flexibility and Welch’s (1986) scale of developing pitch discrimination/pitch monitoring. The term obstacle zone outlines the critical period for intervention, beyond which remediative success becomes an increasingly unlikely outcome.
At the outset of the study, singing was viewed as a cultural phenomenon which was being addressed in school life. It viewed child development as central to understanding any learning process, and consideration of child developmental tenets as critical to teaching effectiveness. The learning setting and method reflected these elements, which operated in a collaborative, reflective mode including a pre-service teacher as observer-participant, and parents in a peripheral but important way. A preliminary investigation was carried out to gain a sense of teachers’ perceived preparedness in child vocal education on professional licensing (undergraduate degree).
The subjects of the study were four seven-year-old males who had neither access to head register nor effective pitch-monitoring ability. After a twelve-lesson (15 minute) small group remediation, three of the four subjects demonstrated consistent competence in vocal flexibility, including head register access and accurate individual pitch monitoring. Two subjects achieved group pitch monitoring competence as well. The fourth subject made significant gains, but will probably require additional remediative measures to reach independent singing competence.
An action research mode of inquiry revealed the collaborative reflective action process as a realistic and achievable means of facilitating singing remediation provided it is addressed a) early enough and b) in a protected setting with greater instructional frequency, closer scrutiny and increased feedback to the learner. In addition to musical progress, the subjects all showed evidence of improved self-esteem and social learning skills, greater valuing of music and understanding/ownership of their own singing progress. Overall, the cultural nature of singing was affirmed and the potential link of aspects of language and speech acquisition was suggested, particularly as it relates to the internal structuring of musical thought. Other pertinent issues that surfaced as a result of the collaborative reflective process centered mainly on elementary music education practice, professional concerns, teacher education and research. The preliminary investigation revealed a clear sense of teachers’ perceived lack of preparedness in their licensing preparation to effectively facilitate child vocal development. These issues are articulated in the summary. Recommendations for praxis and further areas of investigation are also delineated.