Music School Drop Outs Essay Research Paper

Music School Drop Outs Essay, Research Paper

Three of the four highest rated possible reasons for student dropout essentially support findings of previous research; “loss of interest,” “scheduling conflicts,” and “lack of parental support” apparently are perceived as continuing problems with respect to loss of students in instrumental music programs. However, the reason perceived by directors as the major contributor to student dropout, student “lack of commitment to work,” had not emerged in previous research. Apparently this psychological variable, which reflects a strong affective component, dominates the other possible variables, at least from these directors’ perspectives.

Obviously, the 19 reasons included in the questionnaire were not discrete, but the nature of the data elicited, which is essentially descriptive, does not allow for examination of relations among the variables or for any cause-and-effect analyses among them. However, “lack of parental support” may be a contributing factor to “lack of commitment to work.” Whether “loss of interest” contributes to, or is a result of, “lack of commitment to work” is unclear.

Three possible reasons for which responses in the present study seem to substantiate previous research were “scheduling conflicts,” “competing interest in sports,” and “too little time.” Both scheduling conflicts and interest in sports were among the highest rated reasons for student dropout both in previous research and in the present study. “Too little time,” a mid-level concern in research cited by Deurksen (1972) and a high-level concern in Brown’s (1985) study, was a mid-level concern for the respondents in this study. A reason for which the present data differed greatly from previous research, however, was “after school jobs,” which directors did not consider a reason for student dropout. Perhaps the present study’s concern with middle and junior high school dropouts, in contrast to previous research which also concerned senior high school dropouts, would account for this difference.

The rankings of several reasons by the directors also revealed quite different perceptions than some previous research which included students’ views. For example, other studies have shown that, for students, “fear of failure” is perceived as a major contributing factor to dropouts, but the directors in the present study did not view this as a major problem.

“Lack of communication with and encouragement from the senior high school” was not considered as major a problem in this study as in Solly’s (1986) study, but it was still viewed as a problem, as indicated by its ranking in the upper half of the list. Apparently, the lack of communication and encouragement from senior high school band directors is a continuing problem. Perhaps better articulation between middle/junior and senior high school programs could alleviate some of the dropout problem.

Cost associated with participation in instrumental music is viewed as a mid-level concern in both the present study and in Brown’s (1985) study, although in an earlier study reported by Duersken (1972) it was not a problem.

“Lack of musical ability” and “lack of success on instrument” apparently are viewed as contributing reasons for dropout. The similarity of the mean ratings for these two reasons (2.32 and 2.18) raises questions regarding whether there might be a relationship between the two variables.

Two reasons rated just below the median rating for the 19 reasons were “lack of time for individual needs” and “band classes too big.” Most schools in the three counties surveyed provide beginning instrumental music instruction in band classes, and it was surprising to the investigators that these reasons were not rated more highly.

Neither “students reactions to the director/teacher” nor “student dislike of band music” were rated as major contributors to student dropout. Apparently these affective, yet situation-specific, variables were viewed as much less of a concern than the highest rated reason, “lack of commitment to work.” The latter, which apparently was perceived more-or-less as a “trait” of today’s middle/junior high school students, is viewed as overriding the variables related to the instructor and the music.

Other variables which were considered of minor importance by the directors surveyed were “peer pressure,” “performance pressure,” and “lack of recognition for accomplishments.” Perhaps performance pressures is more a senior high school problem, and peer pressure and lack of recognition simply do not appear to be problems from the directors’ perspectives.

Directors’ ratings of the impact of the other variables that might have possible deleterious effects on student participation and the overall success of their programs did not reveal any surprising or overriding concerns. As might be expected, “lack of adequate financial support” was the highest rated concern. As the costs of instrumental music programs continue to increase, and when most instrumental music teachers are necessarily involved in fundraising to help support their programs, this is a major concern.

The second highest rated concern, “socioeconomic level of student population,” perhaps reflects the sample bias, three large urban school districts, all of which have significant proportions of inner city areas. This finding is consistent with previous research by Klinedinst (1989).

The highest rated concern, “lack of support for band program from schedule makers,” tends to corroborate the high rating of scheduling conflicts as a reason for student dropout. Also, two of the three counties surveyed are limited to a six-period school day, which compounds the scheduling of non-required courses such as band.

Variables related to classroom management, lack of overall administrative support, and lack of planning and preparation time apparently were not considered major problems for the sample as a whole. However, they must be concerns for some directors, since more than 40% of the respondents rated these variables as having negative impacts on student participation and on the overall success of their programs.

In summary, directors’ ratings of the reasons for student dropout form instrumental music at the middle/junior high school level perhaps raise as many questions as they answer, but some generalizations seem warranted. Directors’ concerns about student lack of commitment to work and lack of parental support seem to be the major issues. Scheduling conflicts and competing interest in sports also are continuing problems, and lack of communication with and encouragement from senior high school directors also is a concern.

Whether the relatively low ratings for some other reasons are reflections of the directors’ lack of sensitivity to them or whether they really are not major problems is difficult to ascertain from descriptive data. Clearly, further research that examines the reasons from a broader perspective and that analyzes the data in more sophisticated ways is necessary.

Specifically, future research on the problem should (a) examine factors that will clarify the variables underlying students’ lack of commitment to work, particularly as they pertain to study of instrumental music, (b) devise a procedure that will “tease out” the relative contributions of the major variables contributing to student dropout from instrumental music, and, perhaps most importantly, (c) once the relative contributions of the major variables are identified, develop and apply strategies that will alleviate them.

Implications for Teachers

The respondents’ predominating perception that students’ “lack of commitment to work” is a primary cause for student dropout in middle/junior high school band programs both raises questions and presents challenges to middle and junior high school band directors. Perhaps the most obvious question is “Are the respondents’ perceptions indeed accurate?” Is student lack of commitment to work really a predominate cause of dropout, or is this just a convenient way for directors to explain student dropout? What would parents, counselors, and students rate as the predominate cause of student dropout in band programs? Clearly, this perception needs to be examined from other perspectives.

Assuming, however, that band directors’ perceptions are correct, then they face a special challenge in finding ways to motivate students. Traditionally, music teachers tend to believe that musical experience in and of itself should be sufficiently rewarding to motivate students to participate and achieve in music classes, but experienced teachers know that this is not sufficient for all students, particularly in the beginning and intermediate stages of instrumental music where skills are still being developed. So, the challenge remains: What can directors do to motivate students to work toward developing the skills necessary for successful and enjoyable pariticipation in middle and junior high school band programs? Is a sense of accomplishment in learning to play an instrument and the resultant band experience sufficient to maintain student interest? While we’d like to think so, this may not be the case. Directors may need to re-think their instructional and motivational strategies to meet this challenge.

Finally, researchers’ examinations of the variables underlying student commitment (or lack thereof) may offer ideas that directors can draw upon to motivate students in band programs. Perhaps the combined efforts of researchers and directors will result in some answers to the dilemma of motivation in middle and junior high school bands.


Hartley, L.A. (1991). The relationship of student attitude, enrollment, and retention in instrumental music to beginning instruction grade and grade level organization. Dissertation Abstracts international, 52, 1247A.

Klinedinst, R.E. (1989). The ability of selected factors to predict performance achievement and retention of fifth-grade instrumental music students. Dissertation Abstracts International, 50, 3381A.

McCarthy, J.F. (1980). Individualized instruction, student achievement and dropout in an urban elementary instrumental music program. Journal of Research in Music Education, 26 (1), 59-69.

Sandene, B.A. (1994). Selected personality variables as predictors of attrition in instrumental music. Presented at the Music Educators National Conference convention, Cincinnati, OH.

Solly, B.J. (1986). A study of attrition from the instrumental music program in moving between grade levels in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Dissertation Abstracts International, 47, 2877A.


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