Are You Itching to Do Research in Music Education?

17 Oct

By Si Millican
Assistant Professor of Music Education
The University of Texas at San Antonio

Do you have a painful research problem itching to be scratched?

I recently heard a story on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition that highlighted the work of a team of chemists led by Dr. Rebecca Braslau and first published in the Journal of Organic Chemistry. Dr. Braslau’s team has developed a method to detect the active compound in the oils of the poison ivy plant that cause many hikers and outdoors types to develop a pesky and often painful rash. According to the NPR interview, Dr. Braslau became interested in developing an effective detector for the oils in poison ivy because she herself is highly allergic. She was, if you will excuse the pun, just itching to discover a cure to her problem.

I encourage all researchers in music education to approach their projects in this same way. What is it about your current teaching situation that irritates you? What “itchy” problems do you ache to scratch? What painful rash affects your classroom? If you have a burning desire to solve pedagogical problems in your classroom, you will be better motivated to carry out research into a particular topic.

My own research was motivated by a concern I had about ineffective teaching. My¬† undergraduate experience was wonderful in many regards, but I came out of my particular program lacking a clear understanding of how to teach beginning band students in a systematic way. When I became a teacher, I often experienced frustration with some of the student teachers who were assigned to my campus, many of whom were from prestigious universities, who lacked some of the basic knowledge and skills to lead a band (If you were ever one of my student teachers, I’m not talking about you!). Several of my neighboring public-school teachers also seemed to lack an understanding of the basics of learning and teaching music. This ambiguity surrounding what effective teaching was and what band directors needed to know and be able to do in order to be successful led me to pursue my dissertation project and has launched my further research into beginning-band instruction.

Take the issues that weigh heavily on your mind as you teach and turn them into research questions. Your efforts do not need to turn into a dissertation; you can discover a lot by having your students complete a simple survey. Consult with some colleagues or a music education professor to help frame your problems into workable research projects. When you have finished investigating your problem, write up the results in your state music educators’ journal or share the fruits of your research with a national publication such as The Instrumentalist, School Band & Orchestra, or Music Educators Journal.

The profession needs answers to the itchy problems you are experiencing.