Roger Buckton

In providing the first national survey of children’s attitudes to and perceptions about music, the 1996 NEMP report on this area of the National Curriculum provided very valuable baseline data for music educators and researchers in New Zealand. It also included information about children’s participation in music activities in and out of school. This probe study took a close look at all the music survey data obtained at the time of the NEMP music assessments, not just that data documented in the 1996 report.

During the 1996 NEMP assessment, 500 randomly selected students at Year 4 and Year 8 answered nine survey (Likert-type and open-ended) questions. These related to the following: students’ attitudes to music inside and outside of school; the amount of time they devoted to various music activities, again inside and outside of school; their preferences for various types of music-related activities; and their perceptions of their own abilities in music.

• Music is a relatively popular school subject. Year 4 students ranked it as their fourth most preferred subject out of 11 and Year 8 students as their fifth.

• The vast majority (80–86%) of students said they enjoyed music.

• Year 4 students showed a stronger preference for a variety of musical activities (singing, playing and listening) than did Year 8 students.

• A majority of students, according to their own perceptions, experienced very little classroom music. For example, 63% of the Year 4 sample said their most preferred musical activity in the classroom would be to play an instrument, yet only 25% indicated that they did this ‘lots’ or ‘quite often’ at school.
  • The students appeared to react very positively to music in their own time, and it
was a significant activity for most of them, especially at Year 8 (88% versus 71% for
Year 4).

• Enjoyment, talent, accessibility and practice were all identified as factors in the reasons children gave as to why they saw themselves as good at particular musical activities.

Given the evidence of an increase in musical interest outside of school, it is a concern that, in school, music loses popularity as students become older. If one believes that there is a significant element of ‘enjoyment’ in the aims of aesthetic subjects such as music, then popularity and enjoyment are important indicators of success. School music programmes need to cultivate positive attitudes towards music if music is to fulfil its purpose. Part of the solution may be for teachers to relate music experiences in school more to the culture of the children and to performers who are well known to them.

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The full report of this probe study will be available on this website by Jan 2004 or can be obtained from USEE.