The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of applied improvisation and composition assignments that were related to and reinforcing of curriculum content on fifth-grade students' ability to sight-read traditional music notation, ability to learn to play the soprano recorder, and understanding of music theory. Specifically, the research questions sought to determine whether there would be a difference in student achievement in these areas of music study when given the same curriculum content and delivery of instruction, one group reinforced their learning through repeated practice and the other group through applied improvisation and composition assignments.
The subjects were 46 fifth-grade students in two, heterogeneously grouped classes. The students completed the Gordon Intermediate Measures of Music Audiation and a pretest of music theory (written music understanding) at the onset of the 18-week study and performance exams in playing and sight-reading on the soprano recorder and a posttest of music theory at the completion of the study. Three experienced music educators evaluated the students on criteria using five-point, rating scales. Results on the Gordon IMMA showed the groups had comparable music aptitude. Means on the posttests for performance exams in playing and sight-reading and for written music understanding were compared using independent t tests. In addition, pretest scores on the music theory measure were compared to the posttest scores for each of the groups to determine gains.
No significant differences in mean scores were found between the two groups on posttest scores and the sight-reading and playing evaluations however the results showed that both groups made a significant gain in music theory. Mean scores for the sight-reading and playing indicated that the control group scored at the 89th percentile on both measures and the experimental group scored at the 91st percentile on playing and 88th percentile on sight-reading. A major result of the study is that the inclusion of composition and improvisation activities during music class did not negatively affect sight-reading, playing or music theory understanding.