This study investigated high school band students' processes of learning as well as their responses and reactions to student-led aural-based learning projects. Previous research has focused on various aspects of informal learning and student-centered learning--the frameworks upon which this study is based--but none have focused on inclusion of informal learning methods into a secondary large ensemble classroom setting with an emphasis on playing by ear.
Participants in this study were 20 students divided into four small groups in a 45-member high school band. The study took place during the regularly scheduled band class during one full class period for eight weeks, culminating in small group performances. Data were collected throughout the study via observation and audio- or video-recording of weekly group rehearsal, participant interviews, teacher interviews, and collection of student artifacts. Data were analyzed by creating a case study of each of the four groups to determine their working processes.
Cross-case analysis revealed themes common to the participant groups in these categories: navigation of the learning process, playing by ear, and student attitudes and perceptions of benefits and drawbacks of the project. Discussion of navigation of the learning process includes group members' methods of problem solving within a constructivist classroom environment. These methods included problem finding, strategizing, and responding, peer assessment and feedback, and teacher scaffolding; I also discuss how group dynamics played a major role in student's learning processes. While learning to play by ear, musical elements students addressed included pitch, division of parts, form, key and modality, intonation, instrumentation, dynamics, tempo, rhythm, improvisation, and range. Students' attitudes included enjoyment of most aspects of the project, and dislike or frustration with a few aspects. Benefits students perceived from participation in the project included increased ability to play by ear and increased confidence. Recommendations for music teachers and music teacher educators as well as suggestions for future research are provided.