What do the students want? An investigation of high school students' music class interests.

Open Access
Rickenbach, Kailyn Lee
Area of Honors:
Music Education
Bachelor of Music Education
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Joanne Rutkowski, Thesis Supervisor
  • Ann Callistro Clements, Faculty Reader
  • Joanne Rutkowski, Honors Advisor
  • music
  • secondary music
  • general music
  • diverse music
  • pop music
  • rock music
  • high school music
  • high school music class
  • high school general music
Secondary school students seem to be musically engaged during their daily lives. However, only a small percentage of high school students choose to participate in school music programs. Perhaps for this reason, it is often difficult to pinpoint what students may enjoy or need to learn to accomplish their musical goals. However, as the age of electronic instruments and mass communication continues, so must the search for relevancy in the music classroom. This reality of relevance has come to the attention of a variety of researchers and educators, many of whom feel that there is a disconnect between what is being taught in the secondary music classrooms and how students musically interact in their daily lives. Unfortunately, the “traditional” music programs of large bands, choirs, and orchestras performing Western Art Music may not be serving the population in our secondary schools in a way that is applicable to their daily, musical lives. The purpose of this study was to investigate what music courses would be of interest to students who are and are not currently enrolled in their high school’s music program. Four main research questions were posed: How many students are currently or have ever been involved in the high school music program; In what ways do the students participate musically outside of school; Why do the students choose not to be involved musically in school; and, How might the music program better suit the needs of these students. Determining these students’ interests may inform music curriculum that would meet the needs of a larger percentage of the high school student population. Forty-eight high school students completed a questionnaire developed by the researcher and administered via the internet. Among this sample, 87.5% did not participate in their school’s music program. However, over half of the students had at one time participated in a school music elective course. Interestingly, most of the students indicated that music is “extremely important” or “very important” in their lives and cited listening to a large amount of music per week. However, the majority of students indicated that they feel the music taught in their school does not interest them. Many of the students reported a strong desire to sing outside of school with their friends, but in steep contrast, very few students indicated interest in singing in organized choirs. This same trend was noted in instrumental music. Another trend found was the high interest in Rap and Rock genres of music. However, there was very little interest in genres most typically found in secondary music programs, including Jazz and Classical genres. When asked to create their own, ideal music class almost every respondent to this question had a very clear idea of what they would like to be taught in music class. It should be noted that no two students had the same answer when asked this question. Instead, the answers were highly personalized and provide support for the argument that students are interested in music, but school programs do little to meet these students’ interests. Since this study was limited to only 48 students who all attended the same high school, further research should include more students who represent a wider geographical area. As each area and culture has its own musical traditions, the answers to this questionnaire could vary greatly.