Do you Talk Too Much?

Have you ever noticed that your students stop paying attention to you as soon as you stop them to make a correction? Do you wonder if you are talking too much and whether you should have them perform more? This article is intended to give you a glimpse of research that has been conducted on the issue of teacher talk. The issue of teacher talk in music rehearsals is important to teachers and those who train them. While some might argue that teachers need to limit the amount of time they spend talking in rehearsals and keep the students engaged in performance, others argue that teacher verbalization plays a critical role in engaging and motivating the students. Researchers and pedagogues also have conflicting ideas regarding the role of teacher talk. Kohut and Grant (1990) wrote: “One of the quickest ways to bore an ensemble and put the performers to sleep is with excessive talk and verbal explanation…do not waste time talking about things that will not be remembered by anyone anyway” (p. 113-114). Alternatively, Gonzo (1981) asserts that conductor verbalization is an integral component in rehearsals. Rehearsal conditions, in his opinion, should include a meaningful interaction between the conductor, the singer, and the music. Researchers have indicated that successful teachers spent between 35-45% of their time engaged in teacher talk. Outstanding band directors talked for 42% (Pontious, 1982) to 44% (Sherill, 1986) of their total class time. Successful choral conductors spent between 35% (Caldwell, 1980) to 40% (Thurman, 1977) of their rehearsal time talking. Evidence has suggested that the ways in which time was spent distinguished experienced teachers from novices and student teachers. Goolsby (1996) found that instrumental student teachers talked more than novice or experienced teachers, and that expert band teachers talked less than novice and beginning teachers (Goolsby, 1999). Further, novice elementary teachers spent more time in preparation activities (Moore, 1976), and expert elementary teachers gave directions in half the time beginning teachers did (Wagner & Strul, 1979). There seemed to be a trend for more experienced teachers to talk less than beginning teachers, and for this reduced talk to be equated with more effectiveness. In fact, Grechesky’s (1985) research documented a strong relationship between a high quantity of talking and less effective teachers. Researchers have examined teacher talk as it relates to student attentiveness and student attitude. Consistently, students were most off-task during periods of nonperformance/teacher talk in high school choruses (Brendell, 1996; Dunn, 1997; Napoles, 2007; Yarbrough & Price, 1981), secondary instrumental ensembles (Witt, 1986), university bands (Spradling, 1985), private piano lessons (Kostka, 1984), university classes (Madsen & Geringer, 1983) and elementary general music classes (Forsythe, 1977; Madsen & Madsen, 1972; Moore, 1987). Excessive teacher talk negatively affected attitudes of university band students (Spradling, 1985) and high school choral students (Napoles, 2007). Certainly, teachers would desire to keep their students engaged as long as possible, and if successful teachers spend between 35-45% of their rehearsal time talking, what exactly is considered too much? Does it depend on the teacher? Another study (Napoles, 2006) suggests that type of teacher talk matters. Students are most on-task when the teacher is giving directions about where to begin (“let’s go back to measure 5”) and more off-task when the teacher is not giving any kind of academic or musical information. It appears that students tune out between the time they stop performing and the next time the teacher gives a starting place to begin performing again. Interestingly, Spradling (1985) found that student attentiveness did not change when the teacher talked for longer periods of time. He compared 15, 30, and 45-second stops, and concluded that the simple act of stopping served as “timeout from reinforcement” since the students really wanted to perform, and how long the teacher talked did not matter. However, students in that study were university band students, so it is possible they were more attentive in general than junior high or high school students. Continued research is essential to assist with “bridging the gap” between researchers and practitioners, if there is any hope for applied research to be relevant to classroom teachers. References Brendell, J. K. (1996). Time use, rehearsal activity, and student off-task behavior during the initial minutes of high school choral rehearsals. Journal of Research in Music Education, 44, 6-14. Caldwell, W.M. (1980). A time analysis of selected musical elements and leadership behaviors of successful high school choral conductors (Doctoral dissertation, Florida State University). Dissertation Abstracts International, 41 (3A), 976. Dunn, D. E. (1997). Effect of rehearsal hierarchy and reinforcement on attention, achievement, and attitude of selected choirs. Journal of Research in Music Education, 45, 547-567. Forsythe, J. L. (1977). Elementary student attending behavior as a function of classroom activities. Journal of Research in Music Education, 25, 228-239. Gonzo, C. (1981). The use of videotapes in the choral rehearsal. Choral Journal 21(6), 5-8. Goolsby, T. W. (1996). Time use in instrumental rehearsals: A comparison of experienced, novice, and student teachers. Journal of Research in Music Education, 44, 286-303. Goolsby, T. W. (1999). A comparison of expert and novice music teachers’ preparing identical band compositions: An operational replication. Journal of Research in Music Education, 47, 174-187. Grechesky, R. N. (1985). An analysis of non-verbal and verbal conducting behaviors and their relationships to expressive musical performance. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Kohut, D. L., & Grant, J. M. (1990). Learning to conduct and rehearse. New York: Prentice Hall. Kostka, M. J. (1984). An investigation of reinforcements, time use, and student attentiveness in piano lessons. Journal of Research in Music Education, 32, 113-122. Madsen, C. K., & Geringer, J. M. (1983). Attending behavior as a function of in-class activity in university music classes. Journal of Music Therapy, 20, 30-38. Madsen, C. K., & Madsen, C. H. Jr. (1972). Selection of music listening or candy as a function of contingent versus noncontingent reinforcement and scale singing. Journal of Music Therapy 9, 190-198. Moore, R. S. (1976). Effect of differential teaching techniques on achievement attitude and teaching skills of preservice elementary music teachers. Journal of Research in Music Education, 24, 129-141. Moore, R. S. (1987). Effects of age, sex, and activity on children’s attentiveness in elementary school music classes. In C. K. Madsen & C. Prickett (Eds.), Applications of Research in Music Behavior (pp. 26-31). Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. Napoles, J. (2006). The relationship between type of teacher talk and student attentiveness. Journal of Music Teacher Education, 16, 7-19. Napoles, J. (2007). The effect of duration of teacher talk on the attitude, attentiveness, and performance achievement of high school choral students. Research Perspectives in Music Education, 11, 22-29. Pontious, M. F. (1982). A profile of rehearsal techniques and interaction of selected band conductors. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois. Sherill, M. H. (1986). An analytical study of videotaped rehearsal and conducting techniques of selected junior and senior high school band conductors. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Rochester. Spradling, R.L. (1985). The effect of timeout from performance on attentiveness and attitude of university band students. Journal of Research in Music Education, 33, 123-37. Thurman, V. L. (1977). A frequency and time description of selected rehearsal behaviors used by five choral directors. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois). Wagner, M. J., & Strul, E. P. (1979). Comparisons of beginning versus experienced elementary music educators in the use of teaching time. Journal of Research in Music Education, 27, 113-125. Witt, A. C. (1986). Use of class time and student attentiveness in secondary instrumental music rehearsals. Journal of Research in Music Education, 34, 34-42. Yarbrough, C., & Price, H. E. (1981). Prediction of performer attentiveness based on rehearsal activity and teacher behavior. Journal of Research in Music Education, 29, 209-217.

Jessica Napoles
Associate Professor of Choral Music Education
University of Utah

Permission for reprint from Utah Music Educators Journal, citing this issue: Vol. 57, No.3 Posted by Jeffrey Bauman, Young Harris College Council for Choral Education.