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Student teachers' confidence and anxiety in relation to music education. (The scholarship of teaching and learning).


Student teachers bring with them a variety of perceptions relating to their own ability and confidence both in their own musical ability and in their ability to teach music in the generalist classroom. These perceptions have been influenced by students' background in the years prior to their University enrollment. Some students are confident while others are very anxious about the thought of teaching music to a classroom of school children. This study investigates if there is a correlation between the age of the students, their tertiary entrance score, year level, socioeconomic background, and their anxiety in relation to music education, their confidence in teaching music lessons and their musical background.


Student teachers enrolling in University or other teacher training institutions bring with them a variety of perceptions relating to their own ability and confidence both in their own musical ability and in their ability to teach music in the generalist classroom. These perceptions have been influenced by students' background in the years prior to their University enrollment. Some students are confident while others are very anxious about the thought of teaching music to a classroom of school children. Earlier research (Mills, 1989, Russell-Bowie, 1993) indicates that approximately 60 - 70% of Primary Teacher Education students enter their primary teachers training having minimal, if any, formal music education experience, either from school or from out-of-school activities. Lephard (1995) adds to these observations, indicating that `the majority of students entering university for generalist training do not have substantial music literacy, and the time allotment for music is inadequate to produce teachers who are sufficiently competent and confident to successfully implement a music program'. Some evidence seems to indicate that a lack of a good background in music education decreases the student's self-concept in regard to their ability to make or teach music. This is alluded to in the Plowden Report (CACE, 1967:251) from Britain, which indicates that primary teachers' lack of confidence and ability resulted from inadequate teaching in their Secondary and Tertiary education.

There has been at least some support in empirical research for the relationship between parental involvement and interest in music and their children's musical outcomes. For example, Russell-Bowie (1993) has shown that family background factors such as income, language background, and urban living were significant factors related to the amount of musical experiences children have at home, the priority their local primary schools give to music, and the priority their parents give to music.

However, many families, and indeed schools, are not providing children with this nurturing musical background. Many Australian public schools are reaping the results of decades of inadequate music education in most primary schools as children who have come through this system are now back in schools as teachers or are training to be teachers. Because of the lack of supportive family background and adequate training in music, generalist teachers are anxious about, and lack confidence in teaching each of these subjects and therefore often end up omitting the subjects from their program (Russell-Bowie, 1993). The seriousness of the situation has been reflected repeatedly in numerous reports into Arts Education over the past 35 years and anecdotally, this scenario is repeated in classrooms around the world where generalist teachers are required to teach music and the other arts. This study samples preservice teachers from five different countries and examines factors relating to their anxiety about, and their confidence in music education.


This study was part of a larger Creative Arts: Students' Attitudes - National and Overseas Associates (CASANOVA) study. The aim was to survey a sample of generalist Teacher Education students from six Universities or Colleges of Education around the world to investigate their attitudes towards the Creative Arts. However, the smaller study on which this paper is based used only the questions from the survey which related to music and omitted those which related to dance, drama and visual arts.

There seem to be no valid and reliable instruments available to test student teachers' attitudes to music and music education and how these attitudes interact with factors such as age, year level, socio-economic status, university entrance score and family background. This has limited the progress in understanding this area. As a result, this instrument has been developed. Specifically this study examines the following questions:

1. Can a reliable set of scales relating to anxiety in music education, confidence in music education and background in music be derived from the CASANOVA data using exploratory principal component analysis?

2. Is there a difference between frequencies of students' responses to the questions relating to anxiety, confidence and their background in music in relation to their sex, age, university / college entrance score, socioeconomic status (SES), year level and the language spoken at home?

3. Is there a correlation between the age of the students, their University / College Entrance score, year level and SES background, and their anxiety in relation to music education, their confidence in teaching music lessons and their musical background?



The participants were 939 university students enrolled in tertiary generalist teacher education programs in Sydney and Newcastle, Australia (n = 385 = 41%), Windhoek, Namibia (n = 187 = 20%), Durban and Pretoria, South Africa (n = 254 = 27%), Illinois, USA (n = 59 = 6%) and Dublin, Ireland (n = 51 = 6%). These institutions were selected on the basis of lecturers being willing to administer the instrument to their students and return the surveys to the author in Australia. Other institutions in different countries were also approached but the above were the only ones to respond with completed surveys. Of these students 82% were female and 18% were male, 82% were aged 18 - 25 years, 9% were aged 26 - 34 years and 9% were 31 years old or older. Responses indicated that of the sample students, 30% were in their first year, 25% were in their second year, 29% were in third year and 15% were in their fourth year. It was also noted that some of the sample institutions only had three years of teacher education while others had a four year course.

In response to the survey, 89% of the students indicated that they lived in a very low to low SES area with 11% responding that they lived in medium to very high income areas. They were also asked to indicate what score they received as their University entrance score, and 23% indicated that they received a score from between 0 - 60% and 25% had a score above this. 52% of the responding students were not required to have a University entrance score so indicated `not applicable' on their survey form.

In relation to the language spoken at home, of the responding students, 60% spoke English at home and the rest spoke a variety of other languages including Arabic, various African languages, Vietnamese, Spanish and Greek. In the sample countries, the Creative Arts is one of the key learning areas in the primary / elementary schools and as such, comprises a crucial component in the teacher education program. Most of the countries (NSW in Australia, Namibia, South Africa and Ireland) have recently introduced a new Creative Arts syllabus instead of separate curriculum documents for each of the individual arts areas. Within this context, the sample students were training to be generalist primary school teachers, not specialists in any of the particular creative arts areas. Listwise deletion of missing data was undertaken for each of the statistical analyses.

Survey Instrument

The survey instrument was developed specifically for this study, but was based on a similar survey the author had used in 1991 to ascertain the attitudes of teachers to music and music education in New South Wales public schools (Russell-Bowie, 1993). Similar questions were asked in both surveys, however the instrument for this current study was focussed on student teachers, covered all four strands of the Creative Arts (music, dance, drama and visual arts) and was administered in five different countries.

Apart from the demographic questions, each of the other questions had one stem with four endings, and each of the endings related either to music, visual arts, dance or drama. Responses were given by circling a number, eg. to indicate one answer in the demographic questions, or one number on a Likert-type scale from 1 - 5, with 1 = Strongly Disagree and 5 = Strongly Agree. This study reports on those items related specifically to music.

Data Collection procedure

Students were asked to complete the survey during lectures at each University or College and the same instructions were printed on the front of the instruments and were read out to every group of students. Ethics clearance had been obtained from the University of Western Sydney Ethics Committee and students gave their informed consent by completing the survey. They were told the reason for the survey (to assist Creative Arts lecturers in tailoring course and subjects to suit the needs and interests of the students) and were given a practice example to ensure they understood how to complete each question. Students took between 15 and 30 minutes to complete the survey and surveys were collected as students completed them.

Data Analysis

The raw data from the surveys were then entered into an SPSS file and analysed using factor analysis, reliability testing and correlations. Statistical procedures were selected in light of the questions to be tested. A set of a priori scales had been developed, then exploratory principal component analysis with Varimax rotation was used to validate the scales, and Cronbach alphas were computed to check reliability of the scales. Correlation coefficients were used to test the differences between the scales and the individual variables. Frequencies of students' responses to these scales were also computed.


Using exploratory principal component analysis with Varimax rotation the following survey items were grouped together to form scales in relation to perceptions and attitudes to music and music education: (See Table 1) Website <> The criterion for selection of scale items was set at 0.45 and using this criterion, there were no cross-loadings on Factors 2 and 3, however in Factor 1, one item cross-loaded on another Factor, but was included with Factor 1 scales as it had greater face validity.

In the sample for this study, there was a diversity of attitudes in relation to student perceptions in relation to their background, confidence and anxiety in music education. Results of frequencies indicated that 29% of the respondents disagreed, and 41% agreed that they had anxieties in relation to music and music education. In relation to confidence, 29% indicated they were not confident in teaching music and 42% indicated that they felt confident in this area, while 52% indicated that they did not have a good background in music and 26% felt that they had a good musical background. The remainder indicated that they were unsure in each of these scales.

These three scales relating to perceptions of confidence, anxiety and family background were then correlated with each other and with the following variables:

* Age (18 - 25, 26 - 30, 31 +)

* Socioeconomic area (SES) (Very low/low, medium/high/very high)

* Year of study at the institution (first, second, third, and fourth year)

* University / College Entrance Score (1 - 60, 61 - 100, not applicable)

Results indicated that the only significant positive correlation within these variables was between background in music and the students' perceptions of their confidence in music (r = .626, p = .000).


In relation to the focus questions of this study, the following results were found:

1. Reliable set of scales from the CASANOVA data. A reliable set of scales relating to anxiety in music, confidence in music and background in music was derived from the CASANOVA data using exploratory principal component analysis with Varimax rotation, and underwent reliability tests with Cronbach's alphas all indicating a reliability of 0.7 and above. The scales related to:

a. Students having a good musical background in relation to family, in and out of school music lessons and through learning an instrument and knowing music theory;

b. Students' perceptions of their confidence in music education as evidenced by their feeling confident and positive about teaching music lessons; and

c. Students' perceptions of their anxiety in relation to teaching music, being assessed in music and having to demonstrate how to sing to children and peers.

2. Differences in frequencies of students' responses to scales. There were clear differences in frequencies between students' responses to the questions relating to anxiety, confidence and their background in the arts. Results indicated that a third of students responded that they were not confident in relation to teaching music and just over a third indicated that they were confident in teaching music. A third of the students indicated that they did not feel anxious in relation to music education and just over a third agreed that they felt anxious in this area. In relation to students' background in music, 52% indicated that they did not have a good background in music whereas only 26% indicated that they had a sound musical background. These results confirm what many music educators have experienced within their classes and continue to restate the challenge for educators to increase students' confidence, knowledge and positive experiences in music education in the short time given them by their respective teacher education institutions.

3. Correlations between scales and tertiary entrance score, SES, year level The only significant correlation in and between the scales and the independent demographic variables was a fairly strong positive correlation between students' perceptions of their confidence and their background in music education.

This significant correlation between students' background in music and their perceptions of their confidence reiterates the important need for parental involvement in the musical development of children. When one observes very young children it is obvious they exhibit a natural interest in movement and music. Such interest can either be nurtured or ignored by the parents or other caregivers and can have far reaching effects on the growing child's confidence in relation to music. Parents are important in shaping the child's attitude to music and therefore should be strongly encouraged to be involved in such activities with their children. This can be as simple as singing and moving with the child as they watch children's television shows, making up songs to familiar tunes about daily activities, or experimenting with all the different sounds that can be made around the house. Other activities could include singing along with children's CDs, tapping the beat on the child's body to music heard on the radio, encouraging spontaneous movement with an accompaniment of vocal sounds, clapping or singing or having them explore rattles, bells and small musical instruments. Parents could also seek out early childhood music programs and enrol their children in these as well as bringing them to a variety of musical performances covering many different styles.

Through their parents' influence, as they see music being modelled in the home setting in ways such as these, as they become older, children may then be encouraged to learn an instrument and have music lessons outside of school. Parents interested in their child's musical development may lobby for specialist music teachers in their local school, and for performers to visit the school or even encourage staff development in this area. All of these are clearly important in building children's self-concept and confidence in relation to music. The present study shows that student teachers who have had this nurturing environment towards music from their families and schools tended to be more confident about teaching music in the classroom.


The results of the present investigation with potential teachers from five different countries also have important implications for teacher education. Student teachers enter their training institution with attitudes to music that they have developed over their lifetime. Most of them arrive having had little formal music education in school and often have negative attitudes and low self-esteem in relation to their ability to teach these subjects (Russell-Bowie, 1997). This will surely affect their confidence in teaching music in the classroom, It is crucial that teacher educators realise this nexus and attempt to break down the negative attitudes and low self-esteem by providing students with positive and successful learning experiences in music. Being involved in fun, relevant and successful music learning and teaching experiences may help break down the barriers and develop confidence and expertise in teaching music in the classroom.

Such intervention, even for adults, can be very productive in changing their self-concept in relation to music. Positive learning experiences in music have been found to be a significant factor in breaking down barriers, changing students' attitudes, lessening their anxiety, giving them confidence and new teaching ideas, and developing their self-esteem in relation to teaching each of the subjects in their classroom (Russell-Bowie, 1997). Obviously it is better that children receive encouragement and positive modelling from an early age both in the family and the school situation, but this often does not occur, especially when children come from homes of a non-English-speaking background or of low socioeconomic status, particularly those from rural areas (Russell-Bowie, 1993). Teachers and teacher educators need to be aware of these problems and be proactive in meeting them so that all children can receive an effective music education.


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Hodges, D.A. (2000); A virtual panel of expert researchers. Music Educators Journal, September 2000. 40 - 44.

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Mills, J. The generalist Primary teacher of music: a problem of confidence. British Journal of Music Education (1989) Vol 6, 23, 125 - 138.

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Russell-Bowie, D, Yeung, A. S., & McInerney, D. M.,. (1999, November). Creative Arts: Self-concept and anxiety: do family backgrounds matter? AARE Conference proceedings.

Russell-Bowie, D. (1993) Policy and Practice in Music Education in NSW State Primary Schools. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Wollongong.

Russell-Bowie, D. E., Yeung, A. S., McInerney, D. M., &. (1999, November). Creative arts self-concept and anxiety: Do family backgrounds matter? Paper presented at the AARE conference in Melbourne.

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Vander Ark, S. (1989). Self-esteem, creativity, and music: Implications and directions for research. Suncoast Music Education Forum on Creativity, 105-121 (ERIC Document Reproduction Service ED380342).

Yeung, A. S., McInerney, D. M., & Russell-Bowie, D. (1999, February). Potential teachers' hierarchical, multidimensional artistic self-concept. Paper presented at the International Conference on Teacher Education at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong.

Deirdre Russel-Bowie, University of Western Sydney, Australia Dennis M. McInerney, University of Western Sydney, Australia

Dr Russell-Bowie is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Arts Education and has had over 30 Creative Arts education resources published. She has presented at many international conferences and has received the University of Western Sydney's Award for Excellence in both Teaching and Research. Dr. McInerney is a Professor in the School of Psychology and Series Editor of Research in Sociocultural Influences on Motivation and Learning.
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Author:McInerney, Dennis M.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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