A Discussion of Socio-Cognitive Theories and Jazz Improvisation 

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Watson (2010) studied the effects of aural imitation versus music notation instruction on achievement and self-efficacy in jazz improvisation. Watson (2010) used a social-cognitive theory framework in the study in his exploration of the effects of modeling and self-efficacy on learning jazz improvisation. The study furthered Bandura’s original theory: social-cognitive learning is based on motor skill imitation (Thompson, 2005). Watson (2010) found aural imitation from a “nationally recognized jazz trumpeter” model was a more efficient method of learning jazz improvisation than reading music notation (p. 245).

The constructs of this study were: the effects of aural imitation on jazz improvisation, the effects of music notation pedagogy on jazz improvisation, self-efficacy in jazz improvisation, and achievement in jazz improvisation (Watson, 2010). All study participants were asked to perform before aural or notation instruction for four expert judges who used a jazz improvisation quantitative measuring tool (Watson, 2010). Participants were then divided into aural imitation or music notation learning groups (Watson, 2010). Participants learned the same musical material with the same amount of practice time via recordings of a model (aural imitation) or by playing along with a metronome while reading notation (Watson, 2010).

Aural imitation and music notation learning effects were measured by participants performing following the learning for the four experts who used the jazz improvisation quantitative measuring tool and comparing the results to the pre-instruction performance; the quantitative measuring tool was also the method for measuring jazz improvisation achievment overall (Watson, 2010). Self-efficacy of jazz improvisation was measured using a self-efficacy questionnaire before and after aural imitation or music notation learning and comparing the results (Watson, 2010).

The article didn’t include some data, such as the self-efficacy reports of the aural versus music notation groups; instead it combines the data of the two groups. The addition of this data could have clarified one of the reports seemingly contradictory findings. For example, Watson claimed that there was no significant difference between aural imitation and music notation learning on self-efficacy (Watson, 2010). However, the study reported that self-efficacy for the music notation learning group was lower after instruction (Watson, 2010). There were several limitations to the study, including the small pool of participants (n=62) and the quantification of subjective musical experiences as objective quantities (Watson, 2010).

There is research to reinforce Watson’s findings. Dickey (1992) found music teacher modeling for students increased skill development significantly (and more effectively than verbal instruction), affected a student’s sense of what is correct in music, and directed the preference for student music performance. College music majors were found to perform more accurately when using a model (Dickey, 1992).

Linklater (1997) demonstrated recorded modeling was more effective than the absence of a model when teaching music performance, though interestingly he discovered students with more “higher musical aptitude” used the recorded model more than students with lesser aptitude (p. 411). A remarkable finding by Rosenthal et al. (1988) was listening to a model without practicing was as effective as practicing with the instrument in hand. Spilka, Steele, and Penhune (2010) found that musical training is beneficial for imitating fine-motor gestures. This suggests students may benefit more from an audio-video model than an audio model alone.

There is also research that challenges some of Watson’s conclusions. Dickey (1991) found modeling was effective in music performance instruction, but only for specific musical activities that involved motor skills such as vocal imitation and rhythmic movement. Similarly, Woody (2006) found that modeling was effective for replicating an exact musical performance element but was ineffective when a student was required to interpret the musical performance element using the model as guide for their own expression.

In terms of using musical notation versus aural imitation as though they were mutually exclusive forms of instruction, Kendall (1988) found that music reading activities did not interfere with aural imitation activities. Haddon (2013) discovered that students participating in observational music learning were often unaware that they were in the process of observational learning. Consequently, students may be missing benefits from observation if they are inattentive or lacking observational skills (Haddon, 2013). If students are not attentive to details in the modeling, then modeling may not be effective. Students may profit from instruction in observational skills.

In terms of self-efficacy, there is evidence that women in jazz can have less confidence, more anxiety, less self-efficacy, and can be included in jazz ensembles only as token performers (Wehr, 2016; Wehr-Flowers, 2006). These findings challenge Watson’s evidence that instruction alone can improve self-efficacy in jazz improvisation, though he reported the study was unable to examine the link between sex and self-efficacy in jazz improvisation (Watson, 2010). Bandura (1997) notes that, related to self-efficacy, if people feel they lack ability to perform a task, then they will not attempt to do so. Consequently, high self-efficacy is crucial to any learning environment.

Watson (2010) sought to provide evidence that jazz improvisation was not the result “divine inspiration,” but a process that could be taught through modeling (p. 249). Additionally, Watson developed a measurement tool to quantify elements in jazz improvisation (Watson, 2010). Both Watson’s method to teach improvisation through modeling and his jazz improvisation achievement measuring tool could be used in future research to develop methods for assessing teaching and performance in the arts.


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A Discussion of Socio-Cognitive Theories and Jazz Improvisation . (2021, May 29). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/a-discussion-of-socio-cognitive-theories-and-jazz-improvisation/

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