The social-emotional impact of instrumental music performance on economically disadvantaged South African students

Karendra Devroop*

*School of Music, North-West University, Private Bag X6001, Internal Box 124, Potchefstroom 2520, South Africa.

Abstract:

Within the literature there exists a large volume of research studies attesting to the positive relationships between studying music and various psychological and sociological variables. A close examination of these studies reveals that only a handful were conducted on disadvantaged populations. Accordingly, it remains unclear to what extent these findings hold true for disadvantaged students. The purpose of this study was to investigate the social-emotional impact of instrumental music instruction on disadvantaged South African students. The two specific questions addressed in this study were (1) what impact did instrumental music instruction have on student’s self-esteem, optimism, sense of happiness and perseverance and (2) do any relationships exist between instrumental music instruction and the variables under investigation? The results indicated that there were generally increased levels of self-esteem, optimism, happiness and perseverance after participation in an instrumental music programme. There was also an increase in subject’s optimism and sense of happiness. There were moderate to moderately strong positive relationships between participation in instrumental music and self-esteem, optimism, happiness and perseverance.

Keywords: disadvantaged students; instrumental music performance; social emotional impact.

The role of the arts in education

Several researchers and leading international organisations suggest that the arts play a critical role in the development of youth. UNESCO, one of the champions of policy initiatives on culture and education, appealed to arts organisations and practitioners to foster the development of arts education in the UNESCO Road Map for Arts Education (UNESCO 2006). Several researchers have indicated that involvement in the arts has been associated with improved scores in math and reading and elevated verbal, cognitive and spatial reasoning skills (Burton, Horowitz, and Abeles 1999). Researchers (Brown, Benedett, and Armistead 2010) have also indicated that the arts provide a suitable avenue for school readiness skills for children from diverse backgrounds.

The arts have been shown to play a critical role in the development of at-risk children and those facing poverty-related stressors. It has been suggested that the arts could provide regulation of emotions and behaviour for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds while increasing their cultural awareness through education (Brown, Benedett, and Armistead 2010). The arts could in essence become a focal point for early intervention of developmental deficiencies in children facing economic and other social challenges including lack of parental support, drug abuse and crime.

The importance of music in the educational curriculum

Within the literature there exists a large volume of research studies attesting to the positive relationships between studying music and various social-emotional variables (Costa-Giomi 1999; Fitzpatrick 2006; Marjoribanks and Mboya 2004; Michel and Farrell 1973; North, Hargreaves, and O’Neill 2000; Taetle 1999; Trusty and Oliva 1994; Young 1975). Asmus (2005) conducted an intensive literature review of approximately 270 electronic databases with the aim of identifying research studies that investigated the impact of music education on various samples. He categorized the research studies into three large all-encompassing groups that investigated specific variables. These included: (1) home environment and learning (socio-economic status, enrichment, parental attitude, genetics, motivation, attitude, creativity, intellectual development and confidence), (2) school (grades, motivation, student learning, self-esteem, social status and language development) and (3) community (social development, emotional development, behaviour, self-expression and social skills). In the majority of these studies, positive relationships were established between studying music and the variables under investigation. In some studies, researchers were able to identify specific variables that accounted for as much as 80% of the variance in learning. Several researchers have provided evidence of strong positive correlations between instrumental music performance and specific social-emotional constructs. These include but are not limited to self-esteem, self-discipline, perseverance, motivation, leadership, attitude and cooperation (Adderley, Kennedy, and Berz 2003; Costa-Giomi 2004; Hietolahti and Kalliopuska 1990; Lillemyr 1983; McDowell 2002; MENC 2009; Scott 1992; Zehr 2003). Additionally researchers (Fitzpatrick 2006; Young 1975) have identified strong positive relationships between music and brain activity (cognition, spatial temporal reasoning and communication), music and the development of fine motor skills and music and improved test scores. Given the abundance of research findings in this area, it can be argued that studying a musical instrument positively impacts the development of various psychological and sociological skills. A close examination of these studies reveals that only a handful was conducted on disadvantaged populations. Accordingly, it remains unclear to what extent these findings hold true for disadvantaged students. According to Young (1975), disadvantaged students have less musical ability than their counterparts at the point of which they enter school. He further suggests that this disparity becomes greater as they progress through school due to differences in learning rate. However, Gordon (1970) hypothesises that disadvantaged students would achieve the same academic standards if they were afforded the same educational opportunities as their counterparts. According to Gordon, achievement levels of disadvantaged students and their counterparts may be different but their aptitude is essentially the same. He validated this hypothesis in a series of studies that followed over the past three decades.

The current status of music education in South Africa

The current music education environment in the public school system in South Africa is facing tremendous challenges. Since 1994, many public school music programmes have been abolished for reasons ranging from: a greater focus on math and science, lack of facilities, curriculum constraints, lack of suitably qualified teachers and little to no financial resources to support music programmes. A very small number of schools around the country offer instrumental music instruction due primarily to a lack of human and financial resources. The vocal tradition continues to sustain itself with many schools offering a school choir as the only form of exposure to music. String, wind and percussion programmes are practically non existent in most public schools. Many schools face challenges other than the lack of music education programmes. These included poor and deteriorating facilities, lack of financial resources, lack of qualified teachers and overcrowding. Given the tremendous challenges facing most schools in the country, it may be understandable why so few music programmes exist. The need for studies focusing on the benefits of studying music in South Africa is of vital importance given the large population of economically disadvantaged students within the country. The benefits of research studies investigating the effect of music instruction on disadvantaged South African youth could serve a dual purpose: (1) justifying the need for music instruction within the public school system and the expansion of current offerings within the arts and (2) investigating a potentially novel mechanism for addressing the learning disparity between disadvantaged youth and their counterparts. The latter would be justified if the findings from such studies were to substantiate the current findings in the literature. The current study is the second in a series of studies addressing the impact of instrumental music instruction on disadvantaged South African youth. In a previous study by this researcher (Devroop 2009), the effects of instrumental music instruction on the career plans of disadvantaged South African youth were investigated. The purpose of this study was to investigate the social-emotional impact of instrumental music performance on economically disadvantaged South African students. The two specific questions addressed in this study were (1) what impact did instrumental music performance have on student’s self-esteem, optimism, sense of happiness and perseverance? and (2) do any relationships exist between instrumental music performance and the variables under investigation?

The South African Music Outreach Project

This study was conducted in conjunction with the South African Musical Outreach Project (SAMOP). The SAMOP is an international outreach project that creates sustainable music programmes in the form of performing instrumental ensembles (concert bands) at disadvantaged public schools in South Africa. Over the past four years, the SAMOP has created instrumental music ensembles comprising approximately 45 musicians each via grants and donations of musical instruments from the USA. The project was founded by Dr Karendra Devroop in 2007 and is administered in conjunction with faculty from North-West University (Potchefstroom campus), Tshwane University of Technology and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Pietermaritzburg campus). The goal of the SAMOP is to establish instrumental music ensembles specifically wind ensembles for economically disadvantaged students at public schools in South Africa. The majority of students who benefit from the SAMOP have no prior experience studying or performing music. The majority of students come to the programme with no experience or training in music. Due to the severe economic and social challenges that face these students, many cannot afford a musical instrument. Educationally the SAMOP approaches music making in a large ensemble setting thereby trying to accommodate as many students as possible. The ensembles established by the SAMOP are modelled on the typical US middle and high school concert band which comprise woodwind, brass and percussion instruments. Students study the fundamentals of wind performance while developing their instrumental proficiency and playing through various wind literature. Instruction generally occurs one to two times per week in a ‘full band’ setting and also once a week in sectional rehearsals. The band director at each school is the primary instructor and is occasionally assisted by a part time instructor. To date the SAMOP has positively affected hundreds of students from elementary to high school and more recently to university-level students. In addition to the service component of the SAMOP, there exists a research component in which faculty and students conduct individual and collaborative interdisciplinary research studies. To date several studies (Bogdanov 2009; Devroop 2008, 2009; Getz et al. 2012; Sandifer 2008) have been published and presented at conferences in the US, UK and South Africa. The current study is the second in a series of longitudinal studies aimed at addressing the efficacy of the intervention.

Method

Subjects for this study (N_84) consisted of students from the two instrumental ensembles established by the SAMOP in the Kwazulu-Natal province during 2008 and 2009. Each ensemble consisted of approximately 42 students who had never played a musical instrument before. Students in the two ensembles had participated in the SAMOP project for approximately two years. Prior to participating in the SAMOP project, none of the students could read music and the majority had never been exposed to a musical instrument. Over 95% of the students had never performed in a music ensemble and this was their very first formal instruction and exposure to an instrumental music ensemble. The ensembles were similar to concert bands that currently exist in US middle and high schools and included flutes, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, trombones and percussion instruments. The average age for subjects within the sample was 13 years (M_13.65, SD_0.77) with a range of 12_16 years. All subjects were in the eighth grade. There was a greater number of females (62%) compared to males (38%). Racial distribution revealed that 76% of the sample was comprised of Black/African students followed by 19% of Coloured and 4% of Indian students. White/Caucasian students accounted for a little less than 1% of the total sample. Due to the high percentage of orphaned and homeless children in South Africa, subjects were required to provide information on their family and home environment. Approximately 38% of the total group indicated that they lived with both parents at home. A quarter of the total sample (25%) indicated that one or both parents were deceased and 42% indicated that they lived with a single parent or guardian. Many students were impacted by AIDS, crime and poverty and lacked parental supervision. Due to the lack of parental supervision, many students were drawn into drugs and gangs from a very young age. Approximately 20% of respondents indicated that they lived with someone other than a parent or guardian. School administrators were asked to provide insight into this finding and the general consensus was that the majority of these students were classified as ‘head of household’. In essence, these students lived by themselves while attempting to provide a stable living environment for their younger siblings. Administrators cited the death of parents due to HIV/AIDS, an over-burdening of the government social support infrastructure and the need for parents to work in other parts of the country in order to sustain an income as the primary reasons for the lack of parental supervision of these students. A survey instrument was developed specifically for this study after review of surveys conducted on similar populations in other countries. Items on the questionnaire were measured on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’. Subjects were required to respond to a series of statements such as ‘participation in band has made me feel happier’ and ‘participation in band makes me feel like I can be a leader’. Each of the constructs (self-esteem, optimism, happiness and perseverance) was measured by obtaining a composite score of several sub-questions and/or statements. This was consistent with the manner in which previous researchers measured such constructs. Administration of the questionnaire was done by the researcher in a joint rehearsal of both ensembles. This ensured that all participants were available to complete the questionnaire, resulting in a 100% return rate. Prior to administration, the questionnaire was submitted for review to an expert familiar with questionnaire construction to ensure that content was appropriate for the target group. The questionnaire was revised for content and language and subsequently administered to the target group. Completed questionnaires were coded and entered into a statistical database (SPSS 16.0) for analysis. All information remained confidential and were stored on the investigator’s personal computer. The data were analysed using (1) descriptive statistics that included frequencies, percentages, means and standard deviations and (2) correlational statistics that included Pearson’s r and Spearman’s Rho. Correlation statistics measure relationships between variables such that changes in one variable are generally accompanied by similar changes in the correlated variable.

Results

The first question that this study sought to answer was the impact of instrumental music performance on student’s self-esteem, optimism, sense of happiness and perseverance. These variables were included by researchers in several prior studies on similar populations. Accordingly, they were included in the current study. Table 1 presents the composite mean scores of these variables. Changes in self-esteem, optimism, happiness and perseverance were measured by asking students to respond to a series of questions that related to each of the constructs.

Table 1. Mean distribution of change in self-esteem, optimism, happiness and perseverance.

Mean Standard deviation
Self-esteem 4.45 0.692
Optimism 4.56 0.691
Happiness 4.43 0.921
Perseverance 4.40 0.739

Subjects were required to respond to questions on a 5-point Likert scale, with lower scores indicating that they strongly disagreed with the statement and higher scores indicating they strongly agreed with the statement. The results indicated that there were generally increased levels of self-esteem, optimism, happiness and perseverance after participation in the instrumental music programme. Mean scores ranged from 4.43 to 4.56 for the four main constructs. Considering that mean scores could range from 1 to 5, it can be deduced that the mean scores were extremely high thereby alluding to the notion that students’ participation in instrumental music had positively impacted their self-esteem, optimism, sense of happiness and perseverance. Interpretation of mean scores was consistent with model surveys upon which the current survey was based, such that higher mean scores reflected increased levels and vice versa. Accordingly, a mean score of 4.45 (range 1_5) on self-esteem suggested that there was an increase in student’s self-esteem after participation in instrumental music instruction. Similarly, there was an increase in subject’s optimism and sense of happiness with mean scores at 4.56 and 4.43, respectively. The final construct attempted to measure perseverance. Within the literature there exists a number of studies that suggest confidence levels increase when individuals persevere and succeed at challenges that are presented to them. This in turn motivates individuals to persevere at greater challenges in life due to their success with overcoming smaller challenges. The researcher included this construct in an effort to measure whether the perseverance that students exhibited in this environment would transfer to other greater challenges in life, given that these students faced daunting challenges on a daily basis. Subjects were asked questions such as ‘having learned to play an instrument, how likely are you to succeed at other challenges in life?’ A mean score of 4.40 was obtained on this item with a range of 1_5 where higher scores reflected greater perseverance. The high composite mean score suggested that students felt more inclined to persevere at some of the challenges they face on a daily basis due to overcoming the challenge of learning to play a musical instrument and function collaboratively within a performing ensemble. The results from this series of analyses affirm that student’s participation in instrumental music performance positively impacted their self-esteem, optimism, sense of happiness and perseverance. The mean scores for these variables suggest that students ‘agreed’ to ‘strongly agreed’ that their participation in instrumental music performance positively impacted their self-esteem, optimism, sense of happiness and perseverance. To address the second research question, a series of analyses were conducted to determine the possible relationships between student’s participation in instrumental music performance and the four constructs under investigation. To determine potential relationships between variables, correlation statistics were utilised. These statistics generally provide the strength (on a range of _1 to _1) and direction (positive or negative) of the relationships such that changes in one variable are generally accompanied by similar changes in the correlated variable. The correlation matrix in Table 2 indicates that there were moderate to moderately strong positive relationships between participation in instrumental music and self-esteem, optimism, happiness and perseverance. The strongest relationship (0.50) existed between participation in music and sense of happiness, followed by participation in music and perseverance (0.48) and participation in music and optimism (0.47). The weakest relationship was identified between participation in music and self-esteem (0.38). Although this relationship would be classified as small to moderate in size, the relationship remained positive. It is important to note that there were no negative relationships between variables. The fact that all of the relationships (albeit some were small) were positive indicates that the overall impact of students’ participation in instrumental music performance had a positive effect on their self-esteem, optimism, sense of happiness and perseverance. One can infer that continued participation in instrumental music performance would ultimately strengthen and enhance these social-emotional constructs due to the positive relationships between these constructs and students’ participation in instrumental music performance. The analysis of relationships between variables excluding participation in music revealed the strongest relationship between happiness and optimism (0.56) and the weakest relationship between self-esteem and perseverance (0.28). Almost all relationships were statistically significant at the 0.01 alpha, except the relationship between self-esteem and perseverance which was statistically significant at the 0.05 alpha level.

Discussion

The results from this study need to be analysed and interpreted with caution due to the relatively small number of studies conducted in this area in South Africa. Furthermore, sample size and sample selection does not allow for generalisations to the entire population of disadvantaged students within the country. However, the results do provide baseline data and initial insight into this unique yet understudied group.

The results from this study provide evidence that self-esteem, optimism, happiness and perseverance increased after participation in the instrumental programme. This finding is validated in the literature with several researchers substantiating these findings in previous studies. Costa-Giomi (2004) and Hietolahti and Kalliopuska (1990) found increases in self-esteem in studies that focused on the effect of instrumental music instruction on young children. These studies also found positive correlations between music and self-esteem, thereby validating the positive correlation between music and self-esteem in this study. Increases in levels of happiness and a positive correlation between participation in music and happiness have been identified in previous research studies. In a recent study that investigated the relationships between musical experiences of religious musicians and happiness, researchers Hills and Argyle (1998) established increased levels of happiness and a correlation between music and happiness. The findings by Hills and Argyle lend credibility to the findings from the current study. While the findings from the current study may be justified, the issue of greater importance is the applicability of the findings to the current sample and potentially to the broader population of students within the country. Given the circumstances that disadvantaged South African youth face on a daily basis including poverty, crime, hunger and lack of a stable home social environment, the importance of elevating students’ levels of happiness cannot be overstated. Researchers have found that increased levels of happiness tend to impact psychological health, thereby potentially impacting the general psychological well-being of the individual. The ramifications of all South African youth having good psychological health could have far-reaching consequences for the nation as a whole.Relationships between participation in music, optimism and perseverance have not been widely studied. In fact a very small number of studies were found to address these issues. Optimism and perseverance were included in this study due to their importance to the population under investigation. In research studies unrelated to music but based on South African youth, researchers (Mathombela 1997; Watson et al. 1997) have alluded to the importance of investigating optimism and perseverance of disadvantaged South African youth. Accordingly, these variables were included in this study. Results indicated that mean scores were higher for optimism and perseverance after participation in the instrumental music programme. In fact the mean score for optimism was the highest when viewed in relation to the other variables under investigation. Correlations between participation in music and optimism and perseverance were moderately strong and positive. These findings were supported in studies by Scott (1992) and Priest (2006) who found higher levels of optimism and perseverance after participation in music.Similar to the variable happiness, increases in optimism and perseverance need to be viewed in light of the broader social-emotional development of economically disadvantaged South African youth. With high rates of temporary withdrawal, grade repetition and dropout within the public school system in South Africa, increased levels of optimism and perseverance become pivotal building blocks to a psychologically and socially balanced and healthy generation of youth. The findings from this study indicate that participation in music may play a vital role in addressing these issues. Subsequent research would need to be conducted to validate this claim. Irrespective of the potential social-emotional benefits to studying music, the need to engage in instrumental music instruction and performance is justified as an entity within itself.

 Notes on contributor

Dr. Karendra Devroop is Professor of Music and Director of the School of Music and Conservatory at North-West University in South Africa. His primary area of research is on the career development of amateur and professional musicians. He has published and presented his research in several countries including the US, Canada, Mexico, UK, Italy, Germany, Taiwan, Thailand and South Africa. In addition to his research and teaching, he is a professional jazz saxophonist with a string of recordings and performances at several international jazz festivals.

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Note* This is reprint article .

It has been published earlier with Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK ISSN 1461-3808 print/ISSN 1469-9893 online, # 2012 Taylor & Francis, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14613808.2012.685456. http://www.tandfonline.com.

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