Finish line in sight

I finished my Lit Review chapter last night. I now have just my Discussion/Conclusions chapter (or chapters – not sure how it will pan out) to write, and my Introduction. It’s quite a relief to get this close!

The Discussion points are interesting. Here are some of the things I think I’ll be writing about:


The instruments are clearly a point of focus for the students. They nominate them without hesitation as the thing they like best about music. One child uses the words ‘music’ and ‘instruments’ interchangeably – which might be an issue of language (perhaps the two words are the same in her language) or it might suggest something about what she thinks ‘music’ (the subject at school) means and entails.

Why are the instruments such an obvious highlight? Is it because they are tangible, physical things (we don’t use books or much other equipment in music)? Is it because they allow a tactile experience, and require use of kinetic energy? Is it the sound of certain instruments that attracts the students (they each nominate they same two instruments as their favourites)? Do the sounds comfort and nurture the players, or offer an important emotional release? Is it something to do with their novelty – perhaps these students haven’t seen instruments like these in their countries of origin? Does that novelty suggest a quality of abundance, richness and luxury in Australia that was not present in their countries of origin? Is it to do with the suggestibility of the instruments – that you can see straight away how to play them? Their accessibility? Is it because everyone in the class always has something to play, and that there is a wide range of sounds, from all around the world, to choose from?

To answer this I’ll be looking at some music therapy sources, to see what they have to say about the qualities and appropriateness of different instruments.

Social or Learning?

Is music viewed by the chidren as essentially social, or as a learning process? How do they describe what they do, and what does this suggest about the place music sits within in their lives?

Personality, participation and perception

There appears to be  a link between the way each child participates in music, and the way they perceive the lessons (or at least, the way they report their perceptions). I am wondering whether this is a one-way causal link, or two-way. If the former, which way does it go? For example, their personality determines to some extent their style of participation in music class (active, passive, engaged, disengaged, leader, explorer, etc), and this participation style will affect the way they perceive the classes, as what they get out of the music work is presumably related to what they put in. Or, does it happen the other way around? Do they perceive the music classes in a certain way, and this perception determines the way they participate?

Interpretation, and the child’s capacity to respond

I’m digging between the lines of their transcripts today, looking for what has been called ‘the language of the unspoken’. For one child in particular, many of the questions I asked were difficult to answer. To try and figure why this might have been I am going through the transcripts for all three children, looking for the points where they took lengthy pauses, or answered ‘I don’t know’, or ‘I can’t remember’. There are also points where they break off mid-sentence, or switch languages. There could many practical reasons for these kinds of things, and I need to be careful not to over-analyse their statements, as the scope of my data is limited. However, I also know that there are many  variables at play in the inner worlds of newly-arrived children – I want to make sure I have attempted to find these, if they are present.

Issues in researching this cohort

This particular cohort of children (aged in upper primary years, new arrivals, both immigrants and refugees, speaking via interpreters) seems quite under-represented in the literature, and as a result my study has had a strong methodological strand to it. There are a number of methodological issues that arise that are specific to this kind of group; one of particular relevance to my study is the way the langugae of music is expressed differently in different languages. Often the interpreters struggled to translate the children’s words. I don’t know if the children struggled also. Therefore, there is sometimes a clumsiness to the descriptions that may well be due to the adult interpreters trying to find the words in English to describe something they may not often have need to talk about.

Musicians learn to talk about music over many years of training. I don’t mean technical or theoretical language, I mean words like ‘beat’, ‘rhythm’, the ‘bars’ on a xylophone that can be lifted on and off, and have alphabet letters printed on them, the notion of ‘reading’, of playing within textures, or different musical ‘lines’, etc. Frequently, in a musical setting, it is easier to play what you mean, than try to describe it. So how does one find the words when you need them?

Other contextual language

One of the things I have been interested in is what the children think they learn in music. It seems to me though, that the labels for the different kinds of ‘learning’ that takes place elsewhere in school are not automatically transferred by the children to music. For example, the children talked about ‘copying’ (words, letters) in the classroom. Does copying happen in the music room, I asked? No, they all said. And yet we copy things from each other (sounds, phrases, musical ideas) all the time, and I often give them the instruction to ‘copy’ me or a particular child in the class. Thus, their understanding of the word ‘copy’ is limited to a certain set of circumstances. At what point in language acquisition does language and meaning broaden out from a single context?

Here is an anecdote to explain further what I mean: When I was much younger, we were all in the car, going on a family drive. Up a mountain, or something. “Look at the view!” we all enthused. “What does ‘the view’ mean?” asked my younger brother, who must have been about 2 or 3 at the time. “‘The view’ means what you see when you get to the top of a mountain,” I informed him confidently. My parents laughed, and said no, a view could be anything that you could see. But at that point in my life, I had only heard it used in the context of mountains, I suppose, so I was assuming it only belonged in that context.

Reflexivity – how is my presence, and the fact that I’m asking these questions, affecting the students as I observe them in music class?

Changes occurred in the way the three children participated in music lessons during the time that their interviews were taking place. I need to build these into my interpretive picture. One girl, for example, when watching herself on the video, said, “Oh, I was just feeling so nervous about what we are going to do today!” I thought she meant ‘what we are doing in the music lesson that day’, which surprised me as she is a very confident participant in music. But no, she meant she had spent part of her music lesson worrying about what she might be asked in her interview with me the following day!

Another child became a much less active participant. But was this because of the interview process, and generally feeling scrutinised or self-conscious, or was it becuase our composition focus that term was theatre-based, which she felt less comfortable in?

The third child seemed to blossom with confidence during the time of the interviews. He became more and more sure of himself, of his speaking abilities, his musical skills, and his status in the group. Other teachers commented on it. However, was this part of his natural learning trajectory at the Language School? It is not unusual for students to surge forward in confidence in their last weeks in the school – would he have done this anyway, if the interviews hadn’t been taking place? Also, did I single him out to take on a leading role because of my interest in him through this project, or was it because he was the right candidate for the task? (I believe it was the latter, but I do have to put myself under scrutiny as well).


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