Monday, May 2, 2011

Discipline as the Reason for Music? Where we Went Wrong...

“Building Discipline, Motivation and Socialisation”


This article, which appeared in Orbit: OISE/UT’s Magazine for Schools (Chasins, 2000: 19-21) discusses the disciplinary benefits of music instruction. According to Chasins, the discipline that students acquire through private music lessons leads to future successes in various other dimensions, during that student’s life, and is a valuable skill. Specifically, the benefits have been noted from the students’ participation in private music classes or ensembles. These situations are important learning experiences that teach individuals social and personal disciplinary skills.

Discipline, in the case of this discourse, is not a behavioural consequence such as in the punitive sense, but rather a type of mental of physical training. It can be imposed from an external source, such as a teacher, conductor, or private-lesson instructor or it can be internal. Internal discipline is referred to as self-discipline, and it is the most productive, as it involves the subject making a choice to do something, as opposed to an outside disciplinarian forcing the action. Although external forces of discipline are required at times to correct problems or reinforce certain behaviours, they are best to be kept at minimum; excessive external discipline can reduce one’s development of self-discipline.

Chasins argues that music promotes the acquisition of students’ self-discipline and motivation for four main reasons:

    1. music, as a form of communication, evokes an emotional response in individuals of a variety of ages;
    2. music is made of logical structures of sound;
    3. music requires participation in an active way; and,
    4. music incorporates a plethora of potential group activities.

The melodic and rhythmic structure of music is always in motion, allowing it to captures and contain one’s attention, engaging the listener, actively. The engaging action of music is the element that facilitates a students’ development of discipline. Based on music’s ability to easily educe and hold one’s attention, it is more effective at teaching these skills, as compared to other subjects, and it requires little attention to rules or other contributing elements. As well, music can be understood across many cultures, making it a “universal language” (2000:19) that appeals to all ages and diversities. It is often possible to hear a story or narrative that is ‘told’ by a piece of music, making it attractive and interesting to many individuals, and promoting an intense focus. Many of the communicative properties of music build discipline.

The logical structures of sound that characterise music are: the finite length, which presents a clear goal to a student, and, the internal, musical structure of any song.

There are a variety of unique musical elements that combine to create any given musical work, which are suited to fit a multitude of learning styles, and allow a song to be deconstructed and learned in shorter components. These aspects of music provide many ways of teaching, creating a thorough learning experience for any student, and facilitate the development of disciplinary skills.

Throughout the remained of the article, Chasins describes the implications of music-learning on other subjects. Emphasis is placed on the disciplinary skills that are then used and applied, by students, in other areas of their educational career, and lives. Essentially, learning music requires one to tackle material of an appropriate technical difficulty, and then selecting the best method possible to learn the piece. Learning typically occurs through mastery of small sections of the music, which requires one’s application of self-discipline. With a students’ mastery over a section or piece of music comes a feeling of success and achievement, thus motivating the student to continue to learn and work. Skills of self-discipline are then transferrable to other scholarly subjects and daily situations, and optimally, the same form of success will result.

Music’s importance in its facilitating of disciplinary learning justify the inclusion of music instruction within a school-wide curriculum. Chasins notes: “on the basis of music’s capacity to enrich life through its intrinsic beauty, and on the beneficial effects on brain fuctions” (2000: 21), our schools and families should remain committed to the study of music, especially due to the recent evidence of its additional disciplinary benefits.


Although Chasins’ article contained several valid assessments of the benefits of music, I am disheartened to read yet another item which is dedicated to justifying the benefit of music based on its ability to teach another skill. While music does help to enhance the development of one’s self-discipline, I do not wish to have this be the only reason for its inclusion in our school curriculum. Rather, I argue that music should be taught in schools and in other extra-curricular settings for the benefit of learning music, and not for its ability to enhance another skill. As a music educator who is highly concerned with maintaining, and even increasing, the interest and importance of a strong school music program, I argue that the support towards music education is being misdirected. Our advocacy must be redirected and revised.

In a three-page article, Chasins referred to the “instrinsic beauty” (Ibid) of music, implying its teaching as a means to an end, only in the closing paragraph. Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow is referenced on the second page, briefly, but, it is done so to explain how one accomplishes goals. The rest of the article was spent pleading with readers over music’s potential to build discipline in students. This is not the original reason why people enjoy music and why music was created. Music was developed as a way to communicate, and to express human emotion through a means that is not possible in any other way. Such can be said for dance or art. These two artistic domains do not require justification over-and-above their intrinsic nature, yet often, we feel that music needs to be explained, and continue to do so to facilitate its inclusion in our schools.

As schools continue to make cutbacks within their music curriculum, it is apparent that these methods are proving unsuccessful. It is necessary that educators and advocates of music, alike, recognize music’s inherent potential and allow it to speak for itself: music for the sake of music should be the new direction in our rationale for the indispensability of school music.

Works Cited:

Chasins, Margaret. “Building Discipline, Motivation, and Socialisation.” Orbit: OISE/UT’s Magazine for Schools, Vol. 31 (1), 2000. 19-21.

Music Performance Anxiety: New Insights from Young Musicians

“Music Performance Anxiety: New Insights From Young Musicians”


The debilitating condition of music performance anxiety (MPA) is a severe condition that affects musicians at both amateur and professional levels. Many investigations surrounding the anxiety levels of adult and college level musicians, have been conducted, however, few studies have involved children. Kenny and Osborne, in their 2006 publication “Music Performance Anxiety: New Insights from Young Musicians” (2006: 103-112), summarized their recent research involving young performers’ anxiety, and compare this to the experiences of adults. In their report, they address many similarities in that exist between children and adults’ perceptions of MPA, and suggest reasons to address this problem earlier on, to prevent the condition from worsening over the course of the subjects’ career.

The authors reference Barlow’s (2000) three-dimensional model of anxiety to facilitate an understanding of performance anxiety. He proposes that the development of anxiety has three main components:

    1. biological component
    2. psychological component resulting from past experiences and life histories
    3. specific psychological component as a result of various environmental stimuli associated with behavioural conditioning.

Although Barlow emphasizes that genetics and lived experiences could account for general anxious conditions, the third component has shown evidence of specific phobias or anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder. Study results show that social evaluative situations can trigger emotions that are associated with danger or threat. Performers who have experienced environments of high expectations but low support, are more likely to experience MPA. Once the emotion is triggered, a subject will enter into a state of negative self-perception that leads to a disruption of concentration. These behaviours are symptomatic of MPA, and similar to those of social anxiety and social phobia. The severity of anxiety felt by the performer will be directly related to the subjects’ perceived level of threat.

To compensate for the lack of empirical research which addresses MPA in adolescents, Osborne & Kenny developed the Music Performance Anxiety Inventory for Adolescents (MPAI-A) (Osborne & Kenny, 2005: 725-751). Using this scale, data was obtained from 381 young musicians in an evaluation of their perceived MPA. This Likert-style questionnaire contained 15 questions which measured the factor structure, internal reliability, construct and divergent validity of the MPAI-A.

Results showed that girls possessed higher levels of MPA, despite the boys’ increased display of anxious behaviours before and during a performance. A relationship was also seen between the development of formal operational thought (Piaget, 1970) that occurs in the shift from childhood to adolescence and the trends in MPA.

Obsorne & Kenny (2006: 107-108) reported that American adolescents with less advanced musical training perceived lower levels of MPA than adolescents from Sydney, Australia, whose musical skills were more highly developed. Those students who performed less technical works had reduced MPA, compared with students who performed more technically demanding music. This suggests the possibility that as one’s level of experience increases, as does the expectation of one’s success. Additionally, students who answered “No” to the inquiry of becoming a professional musician also displayed heightened MPA. Based on this data, it can be assumed that high anxiety levels could be responsible for a subjects’ rejection of a career in performance. Both hypotheses highlight the need for the development of preventative and anxiety-management strategies for young musicians.

Reflection/ Implications for Music Education:

As a performer who has always felt significant musical performance anxiety (MPA), I found this article to be one of interest and importance. I spend my teaching hours working with young children, between the ages of 6-12, in our private piano lessons, and often see symptoms of anxiety displayed by my students. Through my years, I have made a point to become more conscious and aware of the behaviours of my students within a musical context, as well as in their academic, personal, and social environments. Having a thorough understanding of the responses and the external stimuli that my students are experiencing on a day-to-day basis, helps me to assess their musical responses and learning styles.

As indicated in the article by Kenny 7 Osborne (2006: 103-112), I have often paid little attention to the possibility of MPA in children. In my approach to my young students, I expect to witness eager musicians unafraid of making mistakes and unencumbered by fear of performance or anxiety. I assume that these feelings develop in adolescence, as students become conscious of their peers and social pressures become more dominant and controlling. However, reflecting on my own teaching experiences, citing the behaviours of students who I assumed ‘just didn’t want to play’, I can see the anxiety that exists in a musical environment, and is mirrored in various other contexts. This awareness has proven to be much more successful in developing a relationship with my students, and I have witnessed greater achievements within the lessons.

I have and am continuing to adjusting my teaching style to be more supportive and non-judging, and to encourage and create a safer learning environment for these students. My standards and expectations remain high, but there is less emphasis on mistakes and errors, and more emphasis placed on the proficiencies in students’ playing. Opportunities for performance by supportive others and peers are becoming more frequent, to prepare and acclimatize musicians to these situations, and to make them appear more natural, and thus, less of a threat to the students. Correspondingly, I see my young musicians becoming more comfortable with playing in front of others, they are taking more musical risks during their lessons, and they are in turn, enjoying the music making opportunities, playing for fun more often.

Educating ourselves on MPA in children and adolescents is a necessary step in the development of strategies that will prevent and reduce this condition in young musicians. If this anxiety disorder can be lessened at an earlier age, the severity of MPA in adulthood will be correspondingly reduced. Moreover, by incorporating teaching practices that minimize symptoms of MPA, there is great potential for fewer students’ abandoning music as they shift from childhood to adolescence, and then into adulthood.

Works Cited:

Kenny, D. T., & Osborne, M. S. “Music Performance Anxiety: New Insights From Young Musicians.” Advances in Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 2 (3). 2006. 103-112.