The Effect of Teaching Note Names of the Grand Staff
in Story Form in K-3 Music Education
on the K-3 Note Name Assessment Scores
Education Research Paper by Sharon K. Burch
This research contends that the note names of the grand staff should be taught as an initial concept to be mastered in kindergarten using an imaginative
story form recorded on cassette tape, a large grand staff floor mat, and a frog puppet. The research studies the effectiveness of this method in comparison to the effective-ness of the traditional teaching of note names. If effective, a natural progression of instruction and learning would then parallel that of the English language. Children are consistently taught symbol recognition of the letters of their written language during the preschool and kindergarten years. It is the appropriate time developmentally in the process of the lifelong literary journey. Teaching the letters of the alphabet is taught as a concept needed to be learned before creating and recognizing words. Teaching the musical alphabet is a concept also needed to be learned before creating and recognizing melodies.
As stated by Upitis (1987), “Few children learn to read and write music during their elementary school years.” (Upitis, p. 1) This is due to many factors including limited music education time compared to other fields of study, the lack of importance placed on the value of music education, and differences of teaching strategies and theories of music educators. One of the prominent theories is that music should be experienced before the music notation symbols can be understood. This is a valid theory, but this researcher contends that music is a language of communication with similarities to the written and spoken language. Therefore, by studying the practices and successes of the education of the written language, lessons can be learned and transferred into the education of the musical written language.
In the preschool and kindergarten years, identifying and learning the letters of the alphabet by rote is fun and easy. Students are simultaneously creating stories orally and drawing pictures to represent their stories. As time and lessons evolve, there becomes an awareness that the letters of the alphabet are organized to form words. When that time comes, the names of the alphabet symbols are already learned and ready to be put to work to create the words. The learning of the a, b, c’s was an initial concept taught.
Approached in an age-appropriate manner, note names of the grand staff can be learned in the preschool and kindergarten years. Tapping into the vivid imagination and rote learning of kindergarten students, note names and their location on the grand staff could be introduced in a story form using a frog puppet, a grand staff floor mat, and a cassette tape with the story recorded on it. The story would visually be connected with the grand staff and create a foundation to build upon. A grand staff magnetic board and 8 1/2” by 11” flashcards would be used to review. In the second grade, students would be guided to find story characters review. In the second grade, students would be guided to find story characters on the staff in music books. By the third grade, students would be guided into the transition of identifying note names without using the story characters as references and be introduced to the traditional mnemonics used by teachers and adults. This would create an experience of the concept of note names that is easy to grasp. As the students develop musically, they have a system to refer to. The note names would already be in place. A vocabulary to communicate with is established and can be built upon developmentally from year to year as it is in the written language. The hypothesis of the proposed research is that the teaching of the note names of the grand staff in story form using a frog puppet, a large grand staff floor mat, and a cassette recording of the story in K-3 music education will increase the scores of the K-3 note name assessments. The null hypothesis is the teaching of the note names of the grand staff in story form using a frog puppet, a large grand staff floor mat, and a cassette recording of the story in K-3 music education will have no effect on the scores of the K-3 note name assessments.
Researchers agree that music notation knowledge at a younger age has many musical benefits. Upitis (1987) stated that in order for music to achieve the status of its sister fields such as language and mathematics, it is critical that educators and researchers define the conditions which will ensure that children can actively make music a part of their lives, both in and out of school, and in doing so, gradually ease away from the situations which perpetuate a weak musical culture. The central premise for her research is that in order for children to become deeply engaged in music, they must become composers and performers. To do both, it is necessary for children to learn to read and write music so that they can record, manipulate, and share their musical ideas, and express music composed by themselves and others.
Gromko & Poorman (1998) concluded in their research that a notation task that is simple and structured is feasible for the kindergarten through third grade children. All the children in their study enjoyed performing the musical literacy tasks. Given the relatively small amount of tonal information and the structured nature of the tasks, no child was overwhelmed by the task. Their results suggested that the perception of musical sound may evoke internal musical images that can be made visual by drawing and that can be recognized in the traditional symbols of music.
Achievement trends in the arts were studied in the decade of the 1970’s. Through that study, the author related that knowledge about music declined, particularly in knowledge about the elements of music, including musical notation(Ward, 1983).
In a study by Wolf & Perry (1988) they reported that in the first five years, children acquire the bare bones of the symbol systems they will use all their lives; the basic grammar of their spoken language; an understanding of counting and quantifying; the rudiments of a drawing system; a sense for the way their culture organizes the pitches and rhythms of music. During their second five years, the children confront a new set of symbol systems. This time they are the formal, written codes of their culture whether that takes the form of copying verses of the Koran, learning the strokes of calligraphy, or knowing the sounds of a, b, and c.
A 3-year study of kindergarten through second grade children’s ability to record a wide range of information–their knowledge of routes and landmarks, narratives, songs and quantitative information–was conducted by a collaborative of researcher at Harvard Project Zero. In an article by Wolf and Perry (1988), they stated the following:
“Becoming a student is almost synonymous with literacy learning. But what are learned are not just the rules of the letter-sound correspondences or classroom routines for reading aloud without stumbling. Children in kindergarten, first, and second grades are learning a definition of literacy as surely as they are learning to write left to right. In some classrooms, children are taught what we call the “literacy of scribes and clerks.” There, literacy means mastering the technologies of inscription and decoding. In other settings, children acquire the “literacy of authors and thinkers,” coming to understand scripts and rules simply as a means to recording and reflecting on experience.” (p. 1)
It also interesting to note that it seemed to be common knowledge to the authors that musical notation is rarely taught explicitly to young children. They concluded that children are ready for, need, and deserve a very broad set of skills in order to acquire full, productive literacy. They encourage using symbolic skills in the context of complex and engaging problems, the opportunity to make choices, and a climate that supports reflection. They encouraged readers of the study to teach the symbolic skills of the “basic skills” training to reflect and express the students’ ideas. Hicks (1980) is in agreement when he states that if young children are taught basic music concepts in their first formal encounters with music, their understanding can be greatly facilitated.
Zentz (1992) focuses on the Gestalt theory and how it offers music educators an explanation of the phenomenon of human perception. It emphasizes the human tendency to see the world in groups of elements: 1) the law of proximity, 2) the law of similarity, 3) the law of common direction, and 4) the law of simplicity. The law of simplicity suggests that a teacher should begin teaching a concept in its most readily perceivable form. For example, students should experience simple songs with “up and down” melodies before they can be expected to comprehend contour, and ultimately, notation. When concentrating on a particular element of music, teachers must be careful not to split music into independent pieces that are never reconstructed. Games that have as their goal the visual recognition of musical symbols should be followed up by application of the symbols (Zentz, 1992). These studies emphasize the need for an equal balance of experiencing the concepts and learning the symbols similar to the curriculum of teaching the written language. One of the most basic concepts is note names. Teaching note names in a story form enables the student to experience the concept followed by learning the symbol.
Upitis (1987) conducted a study to understand the natural development and depth of one child’s knowledge of music notation. The premise of this study was that learning to read and write music should be as natural as learning to read and write the English language. A five-year-old male was the subject used for investigation. The observation sessions focused on the subject composing using his own invented notation as he felt needed. Guidance was not given until it was requested and then it was minimal. Upitis would question the meaning of his notations to understand the development. The study explored the relationship between invented music notation and standard music notation.
The purpose of the research of Gromko and Poorman (1987) was to examine the relationships among children’s aural perception of tonal patterns and children’s symbol use in drawing and selection tasks based on tonal information. The researchers investigated developmental trends within and across the tasks given to the children. Among the tasks given was a connect-the-dots task of three dots and three pitches played. This was very successful for even the youngest children due to the simplicity of the structure given. The other tasks dealt with rhythm notation and selection. They were also very successful. The results suggested that common cognitive abilities may underlie aural perception of tonal patterns and children’s symbol use.
Ward (1983) compared two assessments of music skills conducted in the 1970’s in a study of the trends of performance over the decade. The first one was conducted in 1971-72 followed by a second one in 1978-79. The assessments were given to 9, 13, and 17 year-old students. Of the findings discovered, the ones of particular interest to this study was the results indicating that knowledge about the elements of music and musical notation decreased in the 9 and 17 year-old students.
This article examined the abilities children exercise in a range of types of record making, including mapping, quantification, and music notation. The research was a 3-year study conducted by a collaborative of researchers at Harvard Project Zero. The children were kindergarten through second grade students of middle- and working-class. The researchers chose to observe children’s development of musical notation due to the assumption that musical notation is rarely taught explicitly to young children. In the conclusions, the authors suggested that children are ready for, need, and deserve a very broad set of skills in order to acquire full, productive literacy.
The author stressed the importance of music educators to guide the students in exploring the principles of notation rather than focusing on the system of notation. The balance of the article outlines strategies to help children experience rhythm and melody perceptually first and then through a series of stages that lead them to traditional notation.
Teaching the notation symbols without the principle, according to O’Brien (1974), is not effective. The author stated that students must 1) experience sounds and concepts in melody, harmony, rhythm, tone color, and dynamics, and then, 2) teach the music symbol name to label the concept experienced. Teaching the principle of notation first enables music reading to begin with kindergarten children, or people of any age. A comparison with the teaching of the English language was made, noting that early language reading is a process of attaching a symbol to objects a child experiences, such as “dog,” “toy,” or “mother.” He contended that music reading and language reading is a continuum that begins on the left with a few symbols concluding to the right with all the symbols. O’Brien also stated that direct symbols should be introduced before indirect. The article finishes with suggestions on guiding experiences and initial symbol writing and reading ideas.
Cromleigh (1977) compared a variety of music notation systems in existence. Methods of teaching notation were described and critiqued. Shape notes and instrument representation/mapping, such as guitar tablature, notation systems using numbers, colors, shapes, patterns, and letters were discussed. Readers were challenged to question the notation systems and be innovative while understanding that the traditional notation system is consistent and not to be disregarded.
The articles all study some facet of music notation in search of discovering the reasons why it is not learned by more children. Few children learn to read and write music during their elementary school years. The researchers agree that teaching and learning the music notation symbols is a complex process. Teaching the concepts, or principles, of notation is essential to learning the symbols. The strength of the articles reviewed is the common conclusions aforementioned. The weaknesses of the studies by O’Brien (1974) and Hicks (1980) is the recommendation to only experience melodies before teaching the symbols. This researcher theorizes that the note names are initially a separate concept from melody and needs to be treated as such. If note names of the grand staff are a concept, they need to be experienced before they can be learned. The researchers reviewed did not separate note names from melody. The melodic concept of line notation was mentioned by Cromleigh (1977). This research advocates that it is a separate concept comparable to the a, b, c’s are a separate concept from words. The two concepts are merged to create a new concept. Note names and melodies operate in the same way.
Upitis (1987) recorded very useful information. The biggest weakness was the subject chosen. The subject was part of a very musical family with consistent musical influences. It raises the question, would the results be the same if another child was studied identically who was not from a climate of musical emphasis? The information researched and learned was very useful for this study.
The biggest weakness of all the articles is the date they were researched or published. It was very difficult to find current research on this topic, even though the researchers are in agreement improvement is needed. That is the reason this research is important and if the null hypothesis is rejected, the information is valuable and instrumental in the acquisition of music notation knowledge of primary students.
The research will be a four-year study. The dependent variables are the treble clef note name by subjects taking individual verbal tests. Correct answers are scored by identifying note names of the grand staff on fifteen flash cards with the treble clef notes F4 , E4 , A5, C5, E5, F5, and bass clef notes with G2, A3, B3, C3, D3, E3, F3, G3, and A4. A tally mark for the number verbally answered correctly is recorded on a recording sheet (see appendix C) for each student. An age-appropriate music education video will be shown to the class while each student is asked to come to the back of the room for their individual verbal test. In the subjects’ kindergarten year they will be shown a puppet video of “Peer Gynt,” in first grade an animated video of “Peter and the Wolf,” in second grade an animated video about a tuba named “Tubby,” and in third grade an animated video of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Each of these videos will be referred to and expanded upon in future lessons.
The treatment (independent variables) are the treble clef note name story and the bass clef note name story entitled, “Freddie the Frog and the Thump in the Night” and “Freddie the Frog and the Bass Clef Monster” respectively. For consistency, the stories will be recorded on a cassette tape and played on a cassette player as the teacher manipulates the frog puppet on the right hand and the pointer finger of the left hand to the correct positions on the grand staff floor mat in correspondence with the story as it is heard on the cassette tape. The researcher will assure that all students in the experimental group sections have clear visibility of the floor mat and can hear the cassette player clearly.
The researcher teaches six sections of kindergarten, six sections of first grade, six sections of second grade, and six sections of third grade. Due to the nature of the study, random sampling is not feasible. The population throughout the district is comprised of low- to middle-class economic families. No section is predominantly one or the other but balanced throughout. There is not an upper-class economic area in the district. Three sections of the kindergarten grade level will serve as the control group (C). The other three sections of the kindergarten grade level will be the experimental group (X). The research will observe through assessment the first grade in year two, second grade in year three, and third grade in year four. Each year, the experimental group and the control group will involve a mean of 63 students per group. Any students that are added to the groups due to being new to the school district will not have their scores included in the study so that the subjects are constant throughout the four years. Any students that leave the school district during the four years, those scores will be removed from the research and scores adjusted accordingly. Any students of the experimental group sections absent on the day of the telling of either story will be told the story at another appointed time agreed upon with the classroom teacher.
The note name assessment pretest will be administered in the fourth and fifth music class session (O1 and O3). In the sixth music class session, the experimental group sections will be told a treble clef story entitled, “Freddie the Frog and the Thump in the Night” (see appendix A). The control group sections will be told the names of notes on the treble clef flashcards in the traditional method and asked to repeat by rote. The traditional method of teaching note names consists of pointing to the location on the staff and stating the letter name. The following six sessions of each music class will spend three to five minutes reviewing treble clef flashcards. The experimental group sections will identify by Freddie story characters and the control group sections will identify by memory of what was learned by rote. In the twelfth music class session, the experimental group sections will be told the second Freddie story entitled, “Freddie the Frog and the Bass Clef Monster” (see appendix B). The control group sections will be told the names of notes on the bass clef flashcards and asked to repeat by rote. The following three sessions of each music class will spend three to five minutes reviewing bass clef flashcards. The experimental group sections will identify by the second Freddie story characters and the control group sections will identify by memory of what was learned by rote. Sessions 16 through 67 will spend approximately three minutes per session reviewing identification of note names of both treble and bass clef. The experimental group will answer with the correct Freddie character from the correct story. The control group will answer with the correct letter name learned by rote. Session 68 and 69 (O2 and O4) will repeat the individual testing process as performed in sessions 4 and 5. This procedure will be repeated each year with the kindergarten, first, second, and third grades respectively for a total of four years.
Participants will have complete understanding of the testing procedures. Participants will be treated with respect and dignity. Only behavior that is essentially public will be observed. Subjects’ identities will remain confidential in all research reports. Subjects’ will not be deceived in any way. Subjects will be protected from any physical and mental stress, harm, or danger. Subjects’ parents will have a right to receive an explanation for the reasons for the experimental procedures and the results of the investigation. Subjects’ parents may decline to have their students participate at any time.
The greatest source of error to this study is the lack of assurance of equivalence because random assignment to experimental and control treatments is not feasible. This also eliminates the use of standard deviation. The research is still one of importance if the null hypothesis is rejected. The rejection will indicate evidence for further research and reason to invest additional time and resources to possible results that could strengthen the foundation of music education.
Randomization can then be employed and the results confirmed. It can indicate that kindergarten through third grade students have the ability to understand the concept of note name locations on the grand staff when taught as a concept by itself before taught as a melodic concept.
The assumptions of the research are that the subjects can focus and comprehend the stories told and visually imagine the characters of the story on the grand staff mat. An assumption that the subject will give their full attention to the story and to the researcher during testing will be evidenced by eyes looking at the researcher and listening.
Limitations of the research include external circumstances distracting the subjects concentration on the stories told, unawareness of hearing impairments, and peer pressures or learning disabilities that the researcher is not aware of.
Data will be initially gathered as described above. A separate recording sheet will be used for each group section. The same fifteen flashcards administered in the same order will be used for each subject. The gain in the scores of each section will be recorded and the results analyzed.
The test has content validity. The flashcards used to test with are the same cards used to teach and review with. The test is also reliable for the same reason.
Analysis of the Proposal
At the end of each year the mean score of the experiment group and a mean score of the control group will be computed. The standard deviation will not be computed because there is not randomization. An independent t test will be used to determine whether a difference is significant. This method of analysis will be computed at the end of each year and again at the end of the four years to compare the initial testing to the final assessment. Again, because randomization could not be employed the scores will need to be looked at closely.
The research expects a great positive difference in the gain of the experimental group.
Depending on the data results the null hypothesis will be accepted or rejected. If the null hypothesis is rejected at the end of four years, the research will be expanded for another four years with a larger group and additional variables. If the null hypothesis is accepted, the research will be concluded at that time. This researcher expects a rejection of the null hypothesis at the .05 level of significance or less. A limitation that might occur is a high frustration or apprehension level during the first assessment. Because it is a pretest with kindergarten age children at the beginning of the first school year, an individual test during the fourth music class session may be overwhelmed with emotions not connected to the test. It may not show an accurate recording of their musical knowledge. The argument is that the expectation that a kindergarten age child will not know any note names regardless of any existing emotion. Note name education is an extremely rare part of any former education such as preschool or within the home. If the stories are effective in even a small way a gain will be prominent in the scores of the first year, increasing with repetition. If any children are studying early childhood music studies privately, the gain will be small. This could convey an inaccurate result since the analysis just shows gain with an expectation that no subject will have prior knowledge in the first observation.
Further investigation will be useful on alternative methods of teaching note names as a concept in primary music education. The next step will be the effectiveness of early note name knowledge of primary children on reading and writing of music of upper elementary children.
A Sampling of the Treble Clef Story, “Freddie the Frog and the Thump in the Night”
(Place a large 4’ X 5’ vinyl treble clef floor mat on the floor in the center of the room. Sit at the top edge of the mat holding the frog puppet on the right hand. Use the left hand pointer finger to point to specific locations on the floor mat following the action in the story).
The story and brief description of teacher actions:
Meet Freddie. (Open Freddie’s mouth as though to say “hi.”) Freddie looks like a frog that came from around here, but Freddie came from a special place called Treble Clef Island. This is a map of Treble Clef Island. It’s a map of the place Freddie came from.
Now right here (point to the top F line) is where Freddie lived with his parents. It was beautiful! They lived in the woods beside a very wide river (point to the C space). In fact the river was so wide that you had to cross the Treble Clef Bridge to get to the other side (point an imaginary bridge crossing the C space). It was far too wide for a little frog to jump over, so Freddie and his family never went to the other side. They had heard there were huge gray monsters on the other side of the river!
This particular summer the weather had been very dry. It had not rained for two months and the grass and the leaves were beginning to turn brown. In fact, many of the insects had flown away to where the grass was green. Freddie’s parents had to make a difficult decision. They had to leave their home to go hunting for a supply of food. Freddie was so small that it would be dangerous for him to go along. There would be no way that he could keep up and if his parents slowed down it would take too long to get to food. He was old enough to stay home alone, so they decided it was safer to leave Freddie at home by himself.
At first Freddie was a little scared. He had that homesick feeling you get when you are all by yourself, jumping at every little sound. But then, he thought about it differently. He could do anything he wanted. He could watch TV as long as he wanted, eat as much candy as he wanted, turn the music up as LOUD as he wanted—this was going to be FUN! And that is exactly what he did! YA-HOO! (Make Freddie dance wildly while humming a “rock and roll” tune.) By the time he was finished having such a good time, he felt sick! He had eaten too much candy! Freddie decided to go to bed. Everything was fine until he woke up in the middle of the night. As he lay in the darkness he could hear a loud, slow thumping sound. Thump—thump—thump. He hid his head under the covers. Still, thump—thump—thump. It wouldn’t go away! He laid there until morning. Still it was there, thump—thump-thump-thump. Finally he could stand it no longer. By noon, he just had to get out of bed and see what it was. Freddie carefully crept out of bed and carefully peered out the front door. Nothing was there, but the thumping was even louder! It sounded like it was coming from across the river! Oh, no. Should he? He had to find out what it was making that constant thumping sound. As he came closer to the bridge Freddie could see that the entire bridge was shaking from the thumping sound! Freddie got on and held on to the rail tightly as he slowly made his way across the river. For you see, swimming in that river were crocodiles (point to the C space)! It was
(The rest of the story involves Freddie discovering the huge gray monster is actually a very friendly young elephant named, Eli [E on the bottom line of the treble clef staff]. They become best friends and decide to build vacation homes next to each others’ homes [Eli’s vacation home, space E on the treble clef; Freddie’s vacation home, space F].
A Sampling of the Bass Clef Story, “Freddie the Frog and the Bass Clef Monster”
(The same supplies are needed for this story as the first.)
As told on the cassette player:
While Freddie was in hibernation, he was dreaming of all the wonderful adventures with Eli. In his dream, he dug out of the mud and it was spring–but, it was not Treble Clef Island. He did not know where he was, but he did not like it. In the darkness, he saw a big iron gate. He peered through the darkness and saw a sign that said, ”
(Freddie is actually having a nightmare. He awakens in a place called
Sample Note Names Assessment Tally Chart for Year One
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Cromleigh, R. G. (1977). Neumes, notes, and numbers: the many methods of music notation. Music educators journal, 64 (4), 30-39.
Gromko, J. E., & Poorman, A. S., (1987). Developmental trends and relationships in children’s aural perception and symbol use. Journal of Research in Music Education, 46 (1), 16-23.
Hicks, C. E. (1980). Sound before sight strategies for teaching music reading. Music Educators Journal, 66 (8), 53-55, 65, 67.
O’Brien, J. P. (1974). Teach the principles of notation, not just the symbols. Music Educators Journal, 60 (9), 38-42.
Ward, B. (1983). Achievement trends in the arts. Issuegram 2. Education Commission of the States, Denver, CO.
Wolf, D. P., & Perry, M. D. (1988). Becoming literate: Beyond scribes and clerks. Theory into Practice, 27 (1), 44-52.
Upitis, Rena (1987, April 20-24). A child’s development of music notation through composition: A case study. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association,