Doctoral Student (Again)

Today marks a year of me studying for a doctoral degree, this time in Learning Analytics in K12 Education at Northcentral University. I’ve completed four courses so far and look forward to moving toward the dissertation phase of the program.

I’m still focused on music and literacy, and I’ve narrowed that focus to sensorimotor synchronization and phonological awareness. I’ve found in my research that music is simply too broad of a category as is literacy! I needed to select one aspect of each to have a truly spectacular dissertation.

Here are some articles I’m currently reading:

Anthony, J.L., Chen, Y.I., Williams, J.M., Cen, W., & Erazo, N.A. (2021). US Children’s understanding of the English alphabet: Its acquisition, conceptualization, and measurement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 113(6), 1073-1087.

Bonacina, S., Huang, S., White-Schwoch, T., Krizman, J., Nicol, T., & Kraus, N. (2021). Rhythm, reading, and sound processing in the brain in preschool children. NPJ Science of Learning, 6(1), 20.

Eccles, R., van der Linde, J., le Roux, M., Holloway, J., MacCutcheon, D., Ljung, R., & Swanepoel, D. W. (2021). Is phonological awareness related to pitch, rhythm, and speech-in-noise discrimination in young children? Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 52(1), 383-395.

Kempert, S., Götz, R., Blatter, K., Tibken, C., Artelt, C., Schneider, W., & Stanat, P. (2016). Training early literacy related skills: To which degree does a musical training contribute to phonological awareness development? Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1803.

Kertész, C., & Honbolygó, F. (2021). Tapping to music predicts literacy skills of first-grade children. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 741540.

The Grammys: 2019 Music Educator Award

Did you know that music teachers can win Grammys? I honestly didn’t know until last year when I attended the annual conference of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME).

Anyone can nominate a music teacher to the Recording Academy who then selects ten finalists, and from those ten finalists, one winner. All finalists receive $1000 while the winner receives $10,000. What an honor! According to the Grammy in the schools website, there are also semi-finalists (it is unknown how they are chosen) who will receive $500.

For every performer who makes it to the GRAMMY stage, there was a teacher who played a critical role in getting them there. And really, that’s true for all of us who are making music today. Maybe they introduced you to your first instrument. Or they showed you how to get over your stage fright. Or maybe they just inspired you to have the confidence to go for it when you were ready to give up. – Grammy in the Schools

Local newspapers proudly profiled both semi-finalists and finalists, more than half who are current members of NAfME. Eight of the ten finalists are members.

The 2019 finalists included Jeremy Bradstreet (Dublin Coffman HS, Dublin, OH), Victor de los Santos (Santa Ana HS, Santa Ana, CA), Elizabeth Hering (Churchill HS, Canton, MI), Henry Miller (Sierra Vista MS, Irvine, CA), Amy Rangel (Glendale HS, Glendale, CA), Scott Sheehan (Hollidaysburg Area Senior HS, Hollidaysburg, PA), Mickey Smith, Jr (Maplewood MS, Sulphur, LA), Craig Snyder (Penncrest HS, Media, PA), and John Weatherspoon (Lake Worth Community HS, Lake Worth, FL). The winner for 2019 Music Educator Award is Dr Jeffery Redding, who teaches at West Orange HS in Winter Garden, Florida.

I invite you to look at the local articles for each of the finalists and the winner.
Jeremy Bradstreet
Victor de los Santos (also a finalist for the 2018 award)
Elizabeth Hering
Henry Miller (also a finalist for the 2018 award)
Amy Rangel
Scott Sheehan
Mickey Smith, Jr
Craig Snyder
John Weatherspoon
Jeffery Redding

Congratulations to all the nominees, and thank you to the schools, families, co-workers, and students who nominated them! I’ll definitely be keeping up to date on the 2020 winner.

2018 Goals: To Learn!

It’s been about three weeks since my last blog! I’m sorry to my readers. I had set out some goals for myself as I approached this new year. Yes, blogging was one of them, but even more significant, is my desire to pursue learning.

Starting last week, I began taking a graduate class at the University of Washington within their school of education: Developmental Foundations of Early Learning. I’m not an official student. I was accepted as a non-matriculated student, which means I can earn credit, but currently, it won’t get applied to any program at the University yet. My hope is with this class and other activities I will be doing this year, I can put together a stellar application and enroll in their PhD program in Learning Sciences and Human Development. As it stands, I will be preparing for a group case study on the topic, Social and Emotional Development in Early Childhood, and my final will be a poster presentation on an existing form of curriculum designed for those between birth and fifth grade. I already have an idea for my final project, but it hasn’t been approved yet, so I will keep it to myself for the moment.

A second thing I started last week is music lessons. I purchased for myself basically a toddler’s melodica, and I’m intent on learning how to play. I found a private instructor, and I’m taking classes that take place immediately after my university class. I don’t play the piano, so these lessons are actually both teaching me how to play the melodica and the piano. I am having a wonderful time and proving to myself that even forty isn’t too old to learn a musical instrument.

Next, I’m working on my leadership skills. As a member of Toastmasters International (specifically “Leading Ladies Toastmasters Club“), I competed as my division’s finalist in the District 2 conference. Sadly, I didn’t place, but I certainly made an impression upon the leadership in my division. Now, I have accepted the request to chair an officer’s training workshop that will take place this next weekend. While I have had the help of fellow toastmasters, a lot of it was up to my creativity, and this Saturday, I hope to see a successful workshop of over 70 people!

Finally, I’m looking forward to attending the next National Association for Music Education conference in March 2018. This one will be better suited for me as it is focussed on research. One exciting thing I can share with my readers is that NAfME contacted me shortly after their November conference and requested to reprint three of my blogs about their conference. I eagerly agreed. I hope to produce similar blogs when I attend their next conference, and I’m very happy that they liked what I wrote.

For anyone who has completed a PhD program, even though I tried to complete one prior to now, I would love to hear your thoughts or tips on the application process. There is a lot to do, but fortunately, the deadline for applying is January 2019!

Research the research

As someone with a masters degree in educational psychology, I probably have the credibility to tell you that music benefits learning. But how would you know for sure?

© Mark Finkenstaedt |

One thing the Executive Director and CEO, Mike Blakeslee, mentioned in his workshop during NAfME’s 2017 National In-Service Music Education Conference is that quantitative (think objective) research is not as reliable as it once was. There are many flaws where research done in one area won’t prove to be generally true, or perhaps not prove true at all.

How can teachers and administrators advocate for music in education, when they don’t know which research is credible and which is not? While anecdotal or qualitative research can be influential for community members, those relying on money, budgets, and/or expected academic improvement sometimes need accurate statistics and objectively proven results.

© Alfredofalcone | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Even if parents, teachers, administrators, etc. have not had any training in research and statistics, there are still some basic things they can do to verify if a recent study or article is credible.

  1. Who is the author? An author who is a teacher, professor, psychologist, therapist, researcher would be more credible than someone in market research or product sales.
  2. Who is in the research? How many students or teachers were involved in the study? Was there more than one school or more than one neighborhood? How old are the students? Are there any existing learning issues with the students? Is there an existing relationship between the researcher and the people being studied?
  3. What is the research about? Is the author looking at one specific program or method of teaching? Is the person teaching the program or method experienced in that area?
  4. What’s missing? Does the researcher acknowledge any faults in the current study or research in general? Or, does the researcher write of implications for future research? Are all participants accounted for, or if any are eliminated, how many are eliminated and why have they been eliminated?

It seems strange that we should have to question educational research, but the truth is that all researchers have some biases that they bring into their research. Consider me, as an example — I am an educated advocate for music education because a lot of the credible reliable research has proven it to be beneficial. But, that does not mean that I should guide my research in such a way that every type and method of music education is successful. Researchers who do this are the primary cause for elements of education not being taken seriously or perhaps too seriously.

Please contact me if you are concerned about a piece of research you’ve found or if you’re still curious about a study even after you’ve answered the above four questions. I’d be happy to help!

Using Your Voice

People often ask me which instrument I play when I first explain my interest in music cognition. Some may see my response, my voice, as a non-answer, but I believe singing or your voice is just a valid an instrument as a violin, piano, or oboe. There is still so much I need to learn about using my instrument, but I am convinced as I continue to read research from Daniel Levitin and, more recently, Cassandra Sheppard and Sophia Efthimiou, that it is a valid instrument for study and for teaching the benefits of music cognition.

Last year, researcher Cassandra Sheppard shared her thoughts and results from a study on singing: Singing for others creates a calm positive energy that seems to make negativity not so present. Singing in a group creates a bond, can synchronize heartbeats, and can harness the strength of the group rather than the weakness of individuals.

Sophia Efthimiou, a singer and music instructor, explains in her TED Talk, “Singing Ourselves Home” that our voice is the only instrument “that’s inside the body”. In one way, using our voice is unique, but in another, it’s an instrument that everyone can use if they engage in the activity. Efthimiou explains that there are very few speaking individuals that have a legitimate inability to sing – you can’t call yourself tone deaf if you are able recognize a song!

So the voice is an instrument, though, it doesn’t fall into any one category of instruments. At the same time, the voice requires many of the same skills that other instruments do. Efthimiou explains,

When we sing, we are consciously controlling our breath and our larynx to create and sustain certain pitches, and we blend that with rhythm and poetry to create songs.

Similar to Efthimiou’s statement that singing is unique as a corporal instrument, singing is also unique as one of the oldest forms of music. In Levitin’s book, This is Your Brain on Music, published in 2007, he writes,

In our hunter-gatherer or forager days, we had to band together in order to protect ourselves from predators or enemy tribes and one of the evolutionary forces behind that was singing together around a campfire. And people who sing together experience a release of the chemical oxytocin; and oxytocin causes feelings of trust to be increased and causes you to feel more socially bonded to the people you’re around.

I do have a goal of learning a SECOND instrument in 2018, but I’m finally feeling satisfied that I do already “play” one instrument.

Advocacy and Cognition (2017 National NAfME in-service Conference, Day 4), Part 2

I didn’t think I’d need a second blog just to talk about one session on the last day, but this advocacy workshop I attended on the last day is worth mentioning, and my previous blog was awfully wordy!

Credit: Beaverton Valley Times

This advocacy workshop was led by Carolyn Talarr MFA, CAS and Jonnifer Mohr Colett, MEd of the Beaverton Friends of Music. Unaffliated with any Parent-Teacher Association, Beaverton Friends was instrumental in bringing back funding to the arts programs in the Beaverton School District after a 10% budget shortfall resulted in a 30% music education budget cut in 2012. These budget cuts resulted in the lay off of several music teachers or reassignments to music areas in which they did not have expertise. Music programs were also reduced or eliminated.

Because of their success in advocacy, they were the perfect selection for this conference. They identified four areas that are needed for advocacy. First, a community advocacy group should identify the purpose or problem. This problem should be specific, and the group should have in mind a proposal for addressing the desired outcome. Second, the group should identify which people can best aid in reaching the desired outcome. Such helpers can be parents, students, outside organizations and companies, and sometimes covert administration officials. Third, the group should choose the manner in which they can best be persuasive: this includes what the message should be and who should deliver it. Finally, the group should analyze their performance at each step rather than summarize their findings at the end. In doing this carefully defined analysis, the group can be prepared for the next advocacy effort as they will know what worked and what did not work.

This presentation gave me encouragement. While I do intend to join my local PTA, I know I can be a powerful advocate even outside of the PTA. I look forward to contacting local school music programs when I return home.

Advocacy and Cognition (2017 National NAfME in-service Conference, Day 4), Part 1

This conference went faster than I thought. It’s already the last day, and I’m wishing their research conference (March 2018) was starting tomorrow! The National Association for Music Education has provided me so much information I can take home and implement into my short-term and long-term plans.

Today, I attended two sessions – one on advocacy and one on cognition. The seminar on cognition appeared to be the only one at this conference that dealt with music cognition.

Credit: Washington University in St Louis Magazine

While the World Class Minds workshop did provide a basic overall background of how music can be correlated with improved cognition, I was most impressed with Dr. Aurelia Hartenberger‘s emphasis on instilling and improving students’ creativity, which she explained through the individualist approach and sociocultural approach. The individualist approach, which includes Jean Piaget’s experimental cognitive psychology and Gordon Allport’s personality psychology, may be best beneficial to those outside of school, but the sociocultural approach can greatly improve k-12 music classes.

Hartenberger (2017) defines the sociocultural approach as one where “groups collectively generate innovation”. It is a study of “creative people working together in social and cultural systems”. Explaining how the creative process can take place in the classroom, Hartenberger (2017) offered these eight stages:

  1. Find and formulate the problem so that it is more likely to lead to a creative solution.
  2. Acquire knowledge relevant to the problem.
  3. Gather a broad range of potentially related information.
  4. Take time off for incubation.
  5. Generate a large variety of ideas.
  6. Combine ideas in unexpected ways.
  7. Select the best ideas, applying relevant criteria.
  8. Externalize the idea using materials using materials and representations.

One thing I appreciated in her presentation was that a process can’t be considered creativity unless it is expressed in some way.

So, how does a teacher ask creativity of music students? Hartenberger offered a few examples.

Credit: Wuhuiru55/Wikimedia Commons

In a music appreciation class, rather than just teach the students about classical music, she instructed them to develop an instrument and a composition. This is a huge ask for non-music students, but it required creativity as students worked together to learn about sounds, rhythms, instruments, and notation. In another instance, she offered asking students how can they best strategize for optimal rehearsal. The goal is giving the students autonomy to create and explain their music.

Wow, explaining this one seminar took a whole blog! Look to my next one to talk about the last things I learned about advocacy.

Combining Children’s Literature with Music (2017 National NAfME in-service Conference, Day 3)

While I did attend three advocacy seminars today, my favorite seminar was the fourth one: Storybooks and Children’s Literature: Finding the Music Within, taught by Suzanne Hall, PhD.

Suzanne Hall, PhD Augusta University

And, it was wonderful that it was the first seminar of my day because it energized me to take note of all the wonderful advocacy information I learned the rest of the day.

I already knew that music was interdisciplinary, but I didn’t realize the scope by which you could use literature in music. She gave us examples at various age/grade levels and explained five very basic reasons why story books can be used in the music classroom:

Hall, S. (2017). Storybooks and children’s literature: Finding the music within

So much of what she said resonated with me as it sounded so much like Paivio’s theory that Lindamood-Bell utilizes. Students are able to both learn vocabulary and comprehension of the reading material in addition to understanding how rhyme, rhythm, sounds, and composition can work in music. In addition, there are symbols and both decoding and encoding present with both reading and music. For me, this changed my thinking that not only can music reinforce literacy, but that literacy can reinforce music. This would be an excellent argument for including music in elementary education, or if it already exists, to add more or find ways to collaborate with language arts instructors.

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae

The best part of the seminar was Hall’s reading of Giraffe’s Can’t Dance. She had already demonstrated what qualities made a book usable in the music classroom. This one was perfect as it talked about music. For her reading, she prepared a soundtrack including African percussion, Chopin’s “Minute Waltz”, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’s “I Love Rock and Roll”, Isaac Albeniz’s “Latin Flamenco”, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra’s “Tea for Two”, Jimmy Shand’s “Scottish Country Dance”, and Song from A Secret Garden. What I really loved is her incorporation of types of music played for types of dances performed by the various animals. Students could learn the words cha cha and tango not only by looking at the pictures in the story and hearing the teacher read the words, but by experiencing the sounds associated with those types of dance.

Within my work at Lindamood-Bell, it is common to look up images for words students don’t understand. While most students may understand what dancing is, they may not comprehend that such dancing needs a certain type of rhythm. You can’t do the tango to Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll”!

In her last example, Hall shared a lesson that could be used with older students, or at least those who were at the level of reading chapter books. Within a chapter book, or I suppose more than one chapter book depending on the number of students, each student or group of students selects one chapter and identifies three key points within the chapter. They need to illustrate those three points and then imagine, instead of dialogue and actions, what types of sounds could the students hear? The students drew representations of those sounds and then drew a legend where they identified which instrument was represented.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Hall showed us an example of Charlotte’s Web where instruments were used to make the sound of Charlotte talking to Wilbur, Penny first meeting Wilbur, and Wilbur being seen at the fair. Students really had to comprehend what they were reading to come up with the perfect sound or instrument. Without truly understanding what a spider is and how it acts, one might choose a drum instead of a xylophone.

The whole thing fascinated me! I contacted the presenter after with my thoughts on the similarities between her siminar and Paivio’s dual coding theory, and she shared with me the complete version of her presentation, including sound tracks!

Contact me for help in finding story books to use in your music classroom, or books that can incorporate music in your language arts classroom. I would be happy to do the leg work for you and find some great examples based on what your students are currently learning!

Advocacy and Littles (2017 National NAfME in-service Conference, Day 2)

Today, I participated in two sessions on advocacy and two sessions in music education and littles — littles being the youngest kids from birth to grade 3.

I loved the presentations on making music with young children.

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Missy Strong, who has worked in music education involving Pre-K through 8th grade, introduced me to the concept of proprioceptive sense. This was a new term for me. She defined it as “body awareness from signals sent by muscles and joints in the brain” and “the sense of body position, motion, and equilibrium in space and time”. By the time, she finished her talk on this one area, I almost felt that I was suffering from a lack of proprioceptive sense! However, the most important part of this discussion was how music, participation in music, from an early age can help develop the proprioceptive sense, which while an innate ability, sometimes does not develop normally in some children. For these young students, music can be an incredible resource to help them gain at least some proprioceptive mastery.

Dr. Strong added that music is instrumental (yes, pun intended) for developing a child’s fine and gross motor skills and the ability to self-regulate. She uses a combination of resources to incorporate into three simple steps for movement in music. Her inspiration is Dr. John Feierabend who developed the movement component of his First Steps in Music curriculum from the important work of Rudolf Laban. These three steps include movement exploration and warm up, movement for form and expression, and beat motions. At the end of the session, she provided links to  learn more about Dr. Feierabend’s work from the Feierabend Fundamentals Facebook page and a membership opportunity to join others who utilize this method.

While I have had some experience in advocacy, NAfME has educated me even more. Another influential seminar for me was about working with administration. While the seminar was directed at teachers, I still found it useful. Brian Bubach,

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Image taken from

the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Speech Committee Chair, instructed us to begin every negotiation with administrators the same way — present the number one reason for your program and list three things you already do to achieve that reason. Finally, name one thing that would improve your program. For me, reflecting on my goal of research of music cognition within education, I see my number one reason as “Music has application to every other academic area”. I realized that I haven’t taken as much action as I should be. For example, in addition to continuing research, I should be reaching out to schools that do and don’t currently have music programs; I should get active in all music associations; I should join my local PTAs; and I should network with local teachers. The thing I need is collaboration with my current network to create a proposal demonstrating the need for music education (for those schools that don’t have music programs) and advocating for the current needs of music teachers. Right now, that is my current short-term project.

Tomorrow, I will take additional courses focused on the variety available for children’s music classes and how PTAs (and me being a part of one) can best serve music programs.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to attend this conference.

Presidio Brass (2017 National NAfME in-service Conference, Day 1)

I just walked upstairs after watching the 5-member Presidio Brass perform at the conference. That was our nightcap, and it was amazing! Presidio Brass (Image taken from the Press Kit page of their website)

They playfully reprised some of the songs from their album, Sounds of the Cinema, which consisted of music from Star Wars, The Magnificent Seven, Mission Impossible, Bond, West Side Story, An American in Paris, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Bohemian Rhapsody).

Each member took a moment to introduce himself – Yes, it was a “boy-band” of sorts! And, each took a moment to be featured. My favorite part of the show was Presidio Brass’ Mike Frasier featured in the group’s performance of “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story. I’ve provided a video below.

Presidio Brass performing “I Feel Pretty”.

Performances such as “I Feel Pretty” and others demonstrate they can be an excellent way to showcase the fun of band music to all ages! And, in fact, that is their mission. Their website states part of their founding came about due to a cut in funding for the arts in California. Of course, Frasier might not wiggle his butt at a children’s performance!

I look forward to following their music on Facebook and Twitter, and I hope to have a copy of their album soon!