I believe a well-rounded music program should include four different types of performance assessment: self-assessment, peer assessment, director assessment, and software assessment. This variety will help students gain the skills and knowledge to recognize musical strengths and weaknesses, identify playing errors, and then make adjustments without waiting for a director’s input. The end goal is to encourage students to take individually take responsibility for reaching their highest level of musicianship.
Self-assessment is by far the most important skill any musician can have, at any level. If student musicians do not possess the skills to hear errors in their playing and make adjustments in a timely manner, then their musical growth will be limited. While students may improve skills during rehearsal with a constant stream of error correction by the director; without internalizing the ability to self-correct, students will become dependent on a director, a private teacher, an adjudicator, or a software program, to note the mistake and tell them how to correct it.
Do you want your students to rely solely on you to make corrections, or do you want them to be able to adjust their own playing so that you can focus on the music behind the notes? If you fix, fix, fix mistakes each day up until the concert, your students are not becoming independent musicians and you are not getting to the music behind the notes.
The solution is to develop the skill of self-assessment in your students. Self- assessment is possible if you:
- Articulate for students a specific set of musical skills – performance, written theory, and listening theory – required for each year they are in your program.
- Determine clear standards for tone, intonation, rhythm, balance/blend, interpretation, and musicianship. These standards can be best communicated through audio file examples. If audio files are unavailable, the director should teach the level of expectation from the podium and reinforce that expectation daily in rehearsal.
- Have students identify their specific musical strengths and weaknesses, and set goals for improvement.
- Allow students to practice recognizing errors in individual performances. Have them demonstrate their knowledge by identifying the mistake and its solution through writing, verbalizing, or playing/singing. The ability to pinpoint errors and self-correct is vital to individual musical growth.
- Encourage students to record themselves and then listen to these recordings while following the score or part. Have them identify mistakes, articulate the nature of the mistake, and correct them. If they have the skills to hear their own mistakes and self-correct, then they are on their way to becoming independent musicians who can solve problems on their own.
- Celebrate success! Even limited growth in a particular skill is a motivator for students and shows that practice on specific musical skills can pay big dividends in the long run.
Once students have taken ownership for their musical skill development, then it is time to have them practice those skills in the next step of the assessment process by performing for a peer.
Peer assessment is an important but difficult step to develop. First, students need a solid understanding of the language used when giving performance feedback to another student. Second, students need to be receptive to peer feedback. The director should demonstrate in rehearsal the proper language for communicating performance issues and their possible solutions.
When one student communicates suggestions that will enhance the performance of another, both students benefit, and a high level of learning is achieved. Not only will both students have practiced the skills of listening, reading, and communicating ideas using the academic language of music, but they will also benefit from the feedback of a peer. This powerful learning reinforces the skills needed to improve an individual’s overall understanding of music and encourages ownership of one’s learning.
Once a student has self-assessed, and has completed a peer assessment, it is the director’s turn. Students should not be assessed by the director without first having to take responsibility for tweaking their performance on their own and with the help of a fellow student.
Your time is valuable and so is that of your students. That being said, it is imperative that the director and students maximize this precious assessment opportunity. The director should recognize that the student has spent time self and peer assessing; now it is time for the director to hear the performance and provide feedback on musicality, rather than focusing on superficial, skill-based issues such as rhythm or notes.
This immediate one-to-one feedback provides both parties with the information to enhance musical growth. Skill development can be refocused and areas of growth noted and celebrated. More importantly, it gives the director valuable insight as to the overall development and internalization of skills taught during rehearsal. If the director detects growth, or a lack of, from each student, then he or she can adjust teaching and rehearsal methods to re-teach or reinforce skills the students are unable to grasp individually. Students will see the director’s feedback as a critical step toward reaching their musical potential and taking responsibility for their own learning.
I have left the software discussion for last, because I believe this method of assessment should only enrich an already robust assessment program. Computer-assisted assessment is only as valuable as the learning that has been developed from implementing self, peer, and director assessment opportunities. Software is a tool that should enhance the internalization of an already established set of skills and standards, ones that will lead to independent musicians creating quality performances. There is no substitute for direct input from one’s self, peers and director.
Make sure your students aren’t relying on software (or recordings) to learn repertoire. I suggest periodically testing students with a short sight reading selection and limited time, about a minute or two, to practice before playing.
A solid music program will provide students with a wealth of assessment opportunities. The key to successfully developing and implementing a four-part assessment plan is to identify and articulate the musical skills valued by your program. I will share ideas about how this identification process works in my next post. Please share your ideas so that we can create a community of music educators who learn from one another.
Paul Kimpton is the author of several best-selling music education books including Scale Your Way to Music Assessment, Grading for Musical Excellence, and Common Core: Re-Imagining the Music Rehearsal and Classroom. He is also a contributing author to The Oxford Handbook of Assessment Policy and Practice in Music Education and a valued clinician on music assessment and grading throughout the US and Canada. Along with his wife, Ann, he is the author of the Adventures in Music Series books; Starting Early, Dog Tags, Summer of Firsts, and Stepping Up: The Bully in the Band. These books combine music, adventure, and history for grades 4 through 8, and are available at www.giamusic.com. A music educator for 33 years, he has been honored with the Outstanding Music Educator Award from the National Federation of High Schools.