Singing in tune is a fundamental skill in the music classroom. This emphasis on the ability to match pitch with the voice requires that a great deal of class time be spent on singing. Furthermore, extensive research into the factors affecting pitch-matching ability has increased the general understanding of vocalization. Playing the soprano recorder is often taught as a supplementary skill, separate and unrelated to singing, even though both voice and recorder are melody instruments with tone produced by the breath. The purpose of this investigation was to determine whether there were differences in vocal pitch-matching accuracy between students who learned to play recorder and those who did not, as well as to further interest in recorder study and research.
A review of related literature revealed sparse inquiry into this subject, and no conclusive answers. However, the concept of transfer of knowledge and skill from one area of study to another emerged from the literature to form the basis of this experiment. Namely, the experience of playing and hearing exact pitches and intervals with the recorder may implicitly assist students to sing the same pitches and intervals accurately.
Fifty-three third- and fourth-grade students from two different schools were involved in this pretest-posttest study. An experimental group consisted of fourth-graders from School 1 and third-graders from school 2 (n=25), while the control group included third-graders from School 1 and fourth-graders from school 2 (n=28). The groups were considered nonequivalent because intact classes were used rather than randomly assigning students to groups.
The pretest required individual students to echo two recorder patterns. The patterns were mi-re-do and do-re-mi, modeled by an adult female singing on the pitches b’-a’-g’ and g’-a’-b’, respectively (b’ indicates the B above middle C). The patterns were sung on the neutral syllable loo, and the students were given two trials at each pattern. Student responses were sung into a hand-held microphone and recorded on digital audio tape.
Following the pretest, students in the experimental group spent six weeks of music classes learning to play recorder, always vocalizing the songs and exercises they played. The songs and exercises focused on the pitches used on the pretest, and students sang with solfege, absolute note names, and loo. Students in the control group spent the six weeks practicing the same pitches in songs and exercises, singing with solfege, note names, and loo, but did not learn to play recorder. At the end of six weeks, the posttest (identical to the pretest) was administered.
Responses were scored with the use of a Korg AT-12 Tuner. Students were given one point for each pitch sung within plus or minus 50 cents of the target pitch. The better score for each three-note pattern was used, giving each student a total of six points possible.
Mann-Whitney U and Chi-Square analyses of the results showed no significant differences between the two treatment groups, although the experimental group scored higher than the control group on both tests. Subsequent Mann-Whitney U comparisons revealed grade level and school to have had significant effects on the scores.
In this experiment, experience in playing the recorder was not shown to have a significant effect on vocal pitch-matching scores. But more importantly, this research opened up a field of inquiry lacking much exposure. Future investigators should consider using a larger, more homogenous group of students and a longer treatment period, as well as probing deeper into the possibility of transfer of skills from recorder-playing to singing.