Applying Informal Music Learning Strategies in High School Choral and Instrumental Ensembles: A Collaborative Research Project


Frank Abrahams, Ed. D.
Professor of Music Education
Westminster Choir College of Rider University
Princeton, New Jersey USA


Anthony Rafaniello
Cranford High School
Cranford, New Jersey USA


David Westawski
Robbinsville High School
Robbinsville, New Jersey USA

Jason Vodicka
Pennsbury High School
Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania USA


John Wilson
Bridgewater-Raritan High School
Bridgewater, New Jersey USA


Daniel Abrahams
Omaha Bryan High School
Omaha, Nebraska USA



The work of Lucy Green (2002; 2008) and others (Batt-Rawden & DeNora, 2005; Folkestad, 2006; Jaffurs, 2004) call attention to the power of informal learning to engage students in authentic music making and thereby empower musicianship. Green organized general music students at British high schools into small friendship groups and asked them to copy a piece of music, and arrangements, that were both popular and classical. The role of the teacher was to be an observer, supporter, model and guide rather than an instructor in the traditional way. Heuser (2008) applied informal learning techniques to an introductory music course for college students studying to be music teachers. Goodrich (2005) infused informal learning into college music education courses focusing on peer mentoring and pedagogical practice. Lostetter (2009) adapted Green’s model as a strategy to engage pre-adolescent children learning to play saxophone.

This collaborative project studies the applications of informal music learning within the context of high school performing ensembles. For a 12-week period, the conductors of four high school choirs and one high school band will assign students to small groups. The conductors will instruct each group to copy a Christmas carol from a recording or to create a new arrangement of a carol inspired by the recording with support but minimal intervention from their conductor. The intent is to perform those carols at a public concert during the December holiday season. The research is designed with input from each researcher. It is coordinated and monitored by a senior researcher who is a faculty member at the college where the choral directors were trained and earned their degrees. The team of teacher/researchers met face-to-face and on SKYPE at the beginning of the semester, to fine-tune the research design, procedures and methodology. The research team will meet again mid-way through the semester and then at the end. Data, consisting primarily of interviews and observations, will be collected by each researcher and coded to uncover patterns and themes. Their studies, each an action research, shall became the data sets for the senior researcher who will complete a cross-case analysis including open coding, focused coding and axial coding to generate a grounded theory. The overarching research question addresses the possibilities for informal learning to be a catalyst to inform students’ musical performance when singing and playing music they created themselves. It also seeks to see the ways informal learning might empower aural acuity among the ensemble students. Then, in what ways might that transfer to the performance of music by other composers?

The research is supported by the Center for Critical Pedagogy at Westminster Choir College where the senior researcher serves as director. Research assistants for this project include Chad Keilman, John Fitzgerald, James Stirling, Louis Spinelli and Jacob Ezzo.

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