Music Education: The Descriptive Research Methods


Research methods in music education are increasingly becoming commonplace. The challenge now facing designers of curricula is to balance the conventional components of the music education curricula recent research methods additions. Such a balancing act need not be done on the basis of speculation, but rather requires the input of the students in music education (Colwell & Richardson, 2002).

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This research study is aimed at exploring the descriptive research methods in music education, with a view to examining the pre-service music teacher’s education. To achieve this, it will be necessary for this research study to formulate research questions. In addition, use shall be made of descriptive qualitative research study for the topic in hand. For purposes of data collection, a semi-structured research questionnaire shall be deemed appropriate. Following a compilation and analysis of the research findings, these shall then be reported and discussed, relative to the research findings of related studies. Conclusions emanating from this research study shall then be drawn.

Literature review

According to recent local and international documents that sought to explore arts and education, the practice of poor music teaching has been attributed to inadequacies with regard to music teacher training. A majority of the problems that have been reported revolves around a lack of confidence on the part of the pre-service music teachers (Phillips, 2008). The quality of service that teachers offer to their students in terms of teaching is directly related to the pre-service preparation that they received while in training institutions. The kind of training that music teachers receive while in training is extremely significant, seeing that music teachers while in the classroom have to grapple with unique challenges that they have to overcome.

There are quite a large number of researchers who have engaged themselves in behavioral studies of music education, as Jones and McPhee (1986) have substantiated. A similar conclusion has also been arrived at by Szego (2002) who discovered that experimental and descriptive studies, respectively, constituted about 76 percent, philosophical and historical studies 16 percent, and qualitative together with other forms of research studies 8 percent. There may be a possibility that editorial policy could have led to this observed high percentage for both descriptive and experimental research.

There are three common and recognized ways through which research information in a given topic could be obtained. These include:

  1. literature review,
  2. trials and error,
  3. serendipity.

For teachers especially, use of trial and error could provide solutions to several dilemmas that may be facing a given research. It involves the use of one strategy after another, until a satisfactory approach has been established. Nevertheless, the “accepted heading of research “does not include the trial and error approach discoveries through serendipity have been responsible for what are thus far regarded as “the greatest advances in the scientific world” (Phillips, 2008). Nonetheless, quite limited solutions to problems often encountered by educators in music have come about due to serendipity.

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In their work, “Research on teaching arts and aesthetics”, Jones and McPhee have illustrated that dissertations seeking to address music education have in the past mainly assumed a quantitative scope, and their research techniques have largely hinged on psychology and general; education (1986). Jones and McPhee further opine that music education curriculum studies in actual fact have been focused on enhancing skills of performances. By comparing art and music education, these authors show that little agreement on objectives and goals of instructions by music and art educators. On a more positive note however, the authors have given a nod to educators of music, who tend to concur that educators in art as far as methodologies are concerned, are called upon to give answers to research questions (Jones & McPhee, 1986).

Research questions

In light of the findings by various research studies into the area of descriptive qualitative assessment of music education, there is a need to come up with research questions that shall assist in the compilation of the findings of the various participants involved. These include students of music education, educators in the music education institutions of learning, as well as policy makers in the sector. As such, this research study shall seek to address several questions:

  • Why are the qualitative research methods not quite popular in studies on music education?
  • How best can music education curricula developers tailor the curriculum to incorporate both the conventional methods of study, and the new research based curricula?
  • In your own opinion, do you feel that the music education at the institutions of learning is both enjoyable and worthwhile?
  • Would you prefer different forms of music programs to be offered in training institutions, as opposed to one program?
  • In what ways do you feel that the current curricula of music teacher education should be improved?
  • Faced with a problem in the teaching of music, would you consider seeking assistance from experienced music teachers?

Research design and methodology

Research design

This research study shall assume a descriptive qualitative research design. In this regard, the study shall attempt to explore the issue of music education, within the context of a descriptive qualitative research design. Besides being an exploratory activity, qualitative research studies have also been noted for their role in helping collect real-life data. Often collected in a natural setting, such data therefore tends to be descriptive, rich and extensive (Creswell, 2007).

Moreover, a qualitative research design often involves humans as the principal instrument of research (Lichtman, 2006).

Designing of a qualitative research is an evolving process that develops as the study goes on. Often, such a process may either result in a blurring or prolonging of the study’s focus. Sometimes also, a qualitative research design may result in a sharpened or narrowed focus. Usually qualitative research relies on information gathered through listening, watching, and interaction (Creswell, 2007). By investigating the qualitative features of teacher educators as well as those pre-service teachers that have been in the education profession for sometime, the findings are expected to shed light on the current situation of music education.

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Data collection

The most common forms of data collection that a qualitative research study utilises includes observations, use of questionnaires, interviews, and at times, video recording (Creswell, 2007). In this particular research study, both semi- structured questionnaires and interviews shall be conducted on the study’s respondents. This research study hopes to target pre-service and beginner teachers in music education, with a view to collecting their opinions as regards mentoring and induction exercises that they often undergo upon a successful completion of their studies. In the data collection exercise for this research study, both the primary and secondary data shall be utilized. The assessment of the attitudes of pre-service music teachers regarding its teaching and learning shall be assessed by the Music Attitude Questionnaire (MAQ) as developed by Gifford (1991).

Survey Instrument

This research study hopes to utilize a semi-structured questionnaire administered to the respondents as the main survey instrument. In this regard, the questions shall be open-ended, and the development of the questionnaire as a survey instrument for this study survey shall be an improved version of one that has been used in related studies (Phelps et al, 2005).

Data collection procedures

Surveys shall be conducted through self administered questionnaires. First, the questionnaires will be checked for grammatical and typographical errors. The researcher shall then administer the questionnaires to the identified respondents, and they shall fill these out. Once completed, the researcher shall collect these for data entry and analysis.

Data entry and analysis

Once the data has been corrected, data entry for this research shall be done manually into a computer, and the MS Excel software package utilized for compiling the results.

Ethical considerations, limitations and IRB approval

Ethical considerations

Data collection shall only be used for purposes of the research study under question, and all the information obtained from the respondents shall be held in strict confidence.


It is anticipated that time and financial constraints may be limiting factors to this research study.

IRB submission and approval

IRB submission

Research background and purpose

The purpose of carrying out this research study is to assess the descriptive and qualitative research methodologies into the field of music education. Furthermore, this research study also hopes to explore how qualitative research study could be integrated with other research methods in order to facilitate in obtaining conclusive research findings in the area of music education. The research study makes use of qualitative data analysis, and use of open-ended questionnaires is made to collect data. This is with a view to arriving at conclusive findings as regards the issue of music education.

Work plan

The research project has been proposed to be completed within a period of 6 months from the date of commencement, which is from May to September. Though such a period could be shorter in comparison to other projects in academia worth comparing with, nevertheless it is lengthy, based on the experience of the researcher:

Month Activity
May Review of literature
June -Review of literature (continued)
– Preparation and sending of research enquires for participation into the research study
July -Assessment of responses of research participants
– preparations and presentation of questionnaires
August – interviewing of research participants
– administering of questionnaires
– assessment of progress
September – data analysis
October – draft report preparation
– review of draft report
final report writing


There are not many research studies in music education that have a research basis on descriptive qualitative techniques. While other methods of research studies had already established themselves in the field of music industry, the qualitative method of research only became well known during the 80s and 90s (Phelps et al, 2005), at least in the field of music education. For this reason, this research study hopes to capitalise on the use of this technique, along with its inquisitive and rich nature to study the field of music education, thereby providing a knowledge base to the profession that other research methods could have overlooked.

It will therefore be necessary to come up with research questions, in line with a suitable research method and design. This is to facilitate a purposive data collection, analysis and reporting of findings, in addition to a comparison of the same with related studies.


Colwell, R. J., & Richardson, C. (2002). The New Handbook of Research on Music Teaching and Learning. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design. (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.

Gifford, E. (1991) An Investigation into Factors Affecting the Quality of Music Education in Pre-service Teacher Training, unpublished PhD thesis, London University Institute of Education, London.

Jones, B.J., & McPhee, J.K. (1986). Research on teaching arts and aesthetics. In M.C. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Teaching (3rd ed., pp. 906-916). New York: Macmillan

Lichtman, M. (2006). Qualitative Research in Education, A User’s Guide, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Phelps, R. P., Sadoff, R., & Edward, C. (2005). A guide to research in music education. New York: Scarecrow Press.

Phillips, K. H. (2008). Exploring research in music education and music therapy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Szego, C. K. (2002). Music transmission and learning: A conspectus of ethnographic research in ethnomusicology and music education. London: Sage.

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