MUS966: Qualitative Research in Music Education, Fall 2017

College of Music

Music Education Area

Course Syllabus

Fall 2019

Day and Time: Mondays, 6:00-8:50pm





Instructor: Mitchell Robinson, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Music Education

School phone: 355.7555

Office: MPB 208






This course provides graduate students interested in music education research with an introduction to techniques of qualitative research in educational settings in music, with an emphasis on design and analysis, and with a critical review of selected current research studies in music education.   Armed with this knowledge, you will be better prepared to understand research in music education, recognize “good” research, and know how to use it in your classroom.


This course is intended to help you develop your understanding of:


1. the nature, purposes, and types of qualitative research in music and music education.


2. procedures for reviewing research literature.


3. sampling procedures.


4. concepts and procedures relating to: case studies, ethnographies, grounded theory, and other forms of qualitative inquiry.



I very much want this course to function as a seminar—that is, collegial, democratic, and full of thoughtful discussion and lively debate.  While I will serve as the instructor, and, at times, discussion leader, I prefer that the group dynamic be one of mutual responsibility for learning.  The syllabus, therefore, will provide a basic framework for the course, but as with all good qualitative inquiry, we will strive to be open to emergent themes, change, and plasticity as we learn together.  




At the conclusion of the course, students should be able to:


1. access and utilize the basic research journals and other sources of research reports and summaries, including those identified using computer technology (i.e., on-line and CD-ROM) in the field of music education.


2. describe the structure of most qualitative research studies.


3. understand and use most of the language, terms, and vocabulary found in qualitative research reports


4. appraise qualitative research in a systematic way; analyze and review what the researcher produced


5. independently retrieve, critique, and summarize qualitative research related to a particular topic in music education.




Creswell, J. W. (2017). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc.




American Psychological Association.  (2019).  Publication manual (7th ed.).  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (Available for pre-order now. Get this if you don’t have it yet!)


Saldana, J. (2016). The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers. (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc. (Strongly recommended!)


Colwell, Richard, ed.  (1992).  Handbook of research on music teaching and learning.  New York:  Schirmer. [referred to as Handbook in course calendar.]


Merriam, S.  (1998).  Qualitative research and case study applications in education.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.


Miles, M. B & Huberman, A. M.  (1994).  Qualitative Data Analysis:  An Expanded Sourcebook.  New York:  Sage Publications.  (referred to as Sourcebook in course calendar.]


Wolcott, H. F.  (1994).  Transforming Qualitative Data:  Description, Analysis and Interpretation.  New York:  Sage Publications.




Note:  Students not handing in assignments on time will receive an “Incomplete” until the assignments are submitted.  You may revise written work once before the end of the term, attaching copies of previous versions, so long as the original assignment was handed in on time.  All work may be submitted in typed, error-free, electronic format as attachments via email (preferred format: Microsoft Word for Mac, sent to:




1. Writing Exercises: Required, not graded.

Short, focused writing assignments taken from our text.


2. Article Presentations: Required, not graded.

Each class, one student will read a qualitative/narrative article from a scholarly journal or a chapter from a text and present a 3-5 minute verbal synopsis to the class. Each student will do this twice throughout the course of the semester; an article presentation schedule will be posted after the first class meeting on Angel. Please include in your synopsis: a) a purpose statement for the article, b) 3-5 of the most key supporting points, and c) a “so what” statement that applies the article to music performance or learning.


3. Reading Dyads

These are readings assigned in pairs or small groups, depending on class size, so as to allow for collaborative discussion around a central group of themes and archetypes in qualitative inquiry. Each set of articles will represent either a common issue (e.g., music composition) or a form of qualitative study (case study, ethnography, program evaluation, etc.); always be thinking of how you can apply the lessons learned from these readings to your own prospective research projects. I will wander among the groups to eavesdrop, answer questions, challenge thinking, and otherwise facilitate the group process.


Each student will complete a brief critique of each specimen study read for class.  The format is as follows:

1.     Bibliographic listing of the article title
2.     Type of research (historical, case study, etc.)
3.     Purpose of the study
4.     Research design
5.     Results
6.     Author’s conclusions


For guidelines on preparing a research summary, see “Qualitative Research Review Guide” below.  (25 points each)


3. UCRIHS Form: Required, not graded.

Complete an IRB (institutional review board) application via CLICK with the MSU Human Research Protection Program; required for all research involving human participants. Forms may be downloaded at:


4. “Thick Description”

Each student will conduct a brief, but detailed, naturalistic observation of a musical and/or educational activity, and complete a “write up” of the observation. Brief oral reports on these observations will be made during class.  Due Date: Nov 7 (50 points) 


5. Field Work Project

Each student will engage in a short-form research project; this project is intended to be a solid work-in-progress that demonstrates some potential for possible elaboration, either as a longer, more extended research endeavor or as a publishable product. By no means do I expect that you will be able to produce a complete and fully polished piece of work in the space of one semester.  It is not unusual for ethnographic studies to be based on field work periods of a year or more, and a great deal more time spent in post-field data analysis, interpretation and write up.


This project must incorporate some form of field work in a naturalistic setting and appropriate data collection using techniques as discussed in class. The project will include a 20-30 page paper in correct APA form (typed, double-spaced, with one inch margins), including references and title, and a presentation of the project in class for your colleagues.  Think of this oral report as a sort of “mini-conference presentation.”  The use of appropriate audio-visual aids (handouts, charts, overheads, PowerPoint/Keynote slides, etc.) is encouraged. 


A brief statement of the topic for the paper is due in class early in the term (Sep. 14).  The format for the paper is as follows:


a)     Introduction/background

b)    Review of (minimum) 10-15 research articles related to your topic

c)    Conclusions drawn from studies

d)    Method/Design section

e)     Data Collection, Analysis and Interpretation sections

f)     Your suggestions for further research on this topic

g)    References in correct bibliographic form


Due Date: Dec 5 (100 points)




It is my goal to create a family-friendly atmosphere in our class at all times. The policy described here is a reflection of my own beliefs and commitments to student, staff and faculty parents. 


1. All exclusively breastfeeding babies are welcome in class as often as is necessary to support the breastfeeding relationship. Because not all women can pump sufficient milk, and not all babies will take a bottle reliably, I never want students to feel like they have to choose between feeding their baby and continuing their education. You and your nursing baby are welcome in class anytime.


2. For older children and babies, I understand that minor illnesses and unforeseen disruptions in childcare often put parents in the position of having to chose between missing class to stay home with a child and leaving him or her with someone you or the child does not feel comfortable with. While this is not meant to be a long-term childcare solution, occasionally bringing a child to class in order to cover gaps in care is perfectly acceptable.


3. I ask that all students work with me to create a welcoming environment that is respectful of all forms of parenting status.


4. In all cases where babies and children come to class, I ask that you sit close to the door so that if your little one needs special attention and is disrupting learning for other students, you may step outside until their need has been met. Non-parents in the class, please reserve seats near the door for your parenting classmates.


5. Finally, I understand that often the largest barrier to completing your coursework once you become a parent is the tiredness many parents feel in the evening once children have finally gone to sleep. The struggles of balancing school, childcare and often another job are exhausting. I hope that you will feel comfortable disclosing your student-parent status to me. This is the first step in my being able to meet your needs as a parent and as a student. While I maintain the same high expectations for all student in my classes regardless of parenting status, I am happy to problem solve with you in a way that makes you feel supported as you strive for school-parenting balance. My goal as your teacher is for you to be successful--both academically, and as a person; and that includes being the best parent you can be. 


* Borrowed from:


Course Calendar





Readings & Assignments



Aug. 28 (on Wednesday, this week only)



  • “Music is my bag,” by Meghan Daum (a great example of thick description, and just wonderful writing that will make you feel as though you have returned to high school!)

Begin thinking about an issue or topic for your final project.

  • Introductions, organization into reading groups, dividing initial readings
  • Basic premises of the research enterprise:
    • The issue should drive the method/design--What’s the study about?
    • Interesting vs. important, and to whom (issues of audience/venue)
    • Purpose of the study—who will it inform?
  • The 2 paradigms; similarities and differences
  • Making a Match:  How to choose the (right) best paradigm for your study
  • 1 question—2 studies:  Robinson & Fredrickson studies
    • In-class reading: Reichardt & Rallis, “The relationship between the qualitative and quantitative research traditions”

Sep 9



  • Creswell, Ch. 1, Introduction; Ch. 3, Designing a Qualitative Study (first 3 sections only)


PREPARE: Draft a working title for your research paper, and prepare a mock title page in APA form.


PREPARE: Using the script on pp. 103-104, write a sample purpose statement for your topic.

  • How is research reported in popular media?

Bring in an example (or 2!) of research reported in the popular media (newspapers, magazines, internet)—share in class.

  • Discuss students’ Field Work Project topics and ideas 
  • Review handout on writing tips and APA style

Sep 16





  • Creswell, Ch. 3, The Process of Designing a Qualitative Study

PREPARE: Creswell, Ch. 3: Exercise #1 (you can find these writing exercises at the end of the chapter)

  • Elements of design:  The components of a research study
    • Introduction
    • Problem or purpose statements
    • Delimiting or bounding the study
    • Asking the right questions
    • Grand tour questions

Sep 23




Creswell, Ch. 6, Introducing and Focusing the Study


Reading Dyad #1:  On Ethnography


McCusker, J. (2000). Emerging musical literacy


Miranda, M. L.  (2000).  Developmentally appropriate practice in a Yamaha Music School.  Journal of Research in Music Education, 48, (4), 294-309. 


PREPARE: Brief written summary of selected article (see “Qualitative Research Summary Guidelines” below) 


  • In-class discussion of Reading Dyad #1

Sep 30



Reading Dyad #2:  On Case Study


Shaw, J. (2015). "Knowing Their World": Urban choral music educators' knowledge of context.

Journal of Research in Music Education 63, (2), 198-223.


Kastner, J. (2014). Exploring Informal Music Learning in a Professional Development Community of Music Teachers.

Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education 202, 71-89.


PREPARE: Brief written summary of selected article (see “Qualitative Research Summary Guidelines” below)


  • Elements of design:  The components of a research study
    • Review of the literature:  What do we know already?
    • Placement in the study and the research process
    • Use of the literature, grounding the study


  • In-class discussion of Reading Dyad #2

Oct 7






Creswell, Ch. 7, Data Collection.


Reading Dyad #3:  On Phenomenology


Parker, E. & Powell, S. (2014).A Phenomenological Study of Music Education Majors' Identity Development in Methods Courses Outside Their Areas of Focus. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education 201, 23-41.


van der Merwe, L. & Habron, J. (2015). A Conceptual Model of Spirituality in Music Education. Journal of Research in Music Education 63, (1), 47-69.


PREPARE: Use the ISF (linked on the web page) as an interview protocol form


PREPARE: Brief written summary of selected article (see “Qualitative Research Summary Guidelines” below) 

  • Elements of design:  The components of a research study
    • Collecting/gathering the data: 
      • Sampling
      • Surveys
      • Interviewing
      • Observing
      • Documenting
  • In-class discussion of Reading Dyad #3


Oct 14




READINGS: Creswell, Ch. 8, Data Analysis and Representation



  • Elements of design:  The components of a research study
    • Analyzing the data: 
      • Taking notes
      • Organizing data
      • Matrices, tables, cards
      • Codes, categories and themes
      • Looking for the outlier
      • Confirm/disconfirm
      • Computer applications


Oct 21




READINGS: Creswell, Ch. 10, Standards of Validation and Evaluation


Reading Dyad #4:  On Program Evaluation

Robinson, M. (2005). The impact of beginning music teacher assessment on the assessors: Notes from experienced teachers.  Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education163. 


Conway, C.  (2002).  Perceptions of beginning teachers, their mentors, and administrators regarding preservice music teacher preparation.  Journal of Research in Music Education, 50, (1), 20-36. 


PREPARE: Brief written summary of selected article (see “Qualitative Research Summary Guidelines” below)

  • Elements of design:  The components of a research study
    • Verifying the data: 
      • Internal & external validity/trustworthiness
      • Audit trails
      • Member checks
      • Role of the researcher


  • In-class discussion of Reading Dyad #4

Oct 28




READINGS: Wolcott, “Ways to organize and present description”


Creswell, Ch. 9, Writing a Qualitative Study

  • Elements of design:  The components of a research study
    • The Write Up
      • The DAI Balance
      • Telling the story
        • 10 ways to organize the plot
      • Narrative writing styles 
        • Realist tales
        • Confessional tales
        • Impressionist tales

Nov 4




PREPARE:  “Thick description” of music or educational activity.  Be prepared to read/present in class.

  • Elements of design:  The components of a research study
    • Outcomes/results
      • What to do when you’re done! 
      • Sharing the results—
      • Venues, conferences, symposia, poster sessions
      • Journals
      • Calls for papers, proposals

Nov 11




READINGS: Brittin, R. & Standley, J. M  (1997).  Researchers in music education/therapy:  Analysis of publications, citations, and retrievability of work.  Journal of Research in Music Education, 45, (1), 145-161.


Humphreys, J. T. & Stauffer, S. L.  (2000).  An analysis of the Editorial Committee of the Journal of Research in Music Education, 1953-1992. Journal of Research in Music Education, 48, (1), 65-77.


Randles et al. (2009) Eminence in Music Education Research as Measured in the

New Handbook of Research on Music Teaching and Learning.


Kratus, J. (1993). Eminence in Music Education Research as Measured in the "Handbook of Research on Music Teaching and Learning." Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 118, 21-32.

Where are we?:  The current state of music education research and trends for the future.


 Nov 18






Nov 25


Student Presentations: Field Work Projects



Dec 2

PREPARE:  Final written versions of Field Work Projects are due

Student Presentations: Field Work Projects


Class wrap-up, final questions & thoughts



Qualitative Research Summary Guidelines

(From N. H. Barry, University of Oklahoma) 


Select a minimum of two published research studies demonstrating appropriate applications of qualitative methodology.  (Students are encouraged to locate studies related to their own research interests, but please keep in mind that the purpose of this assignment is to acquaint the student with models of qualitative methodology.) Read the complete article (abstracts are not acceptable) and write a summary and critical review of the research.  Students are also expected to present an oral review and critique of the research to their classmates.  Summaries should include (but are not limited to) the following information: 

1.     Complete reference citation (APA format) 

2.     Background for the study

Why is this an important topic?  Why did the researcher undertake the study? 

3.     Purpose

What did the researcher set out to do? 

4.     Methods and Procedures

How did the researcher carry out the study?  What type of people, places, situations, etc. were of interest (Who, What, Where, When)?  How did the researcher go about collecting data?  What types of data were collected (e.g., fieldnotes, videotapes, interview transcripts, etc.)?   What types of qualitative techniques were employed (e.g., observational case study, fieldwork, etc.)?   How did the researcher address ethical issues? 

5.     Results

What did the researcher learn?  Were there any emerging themes?  Were there any surprises? 

6.     Discussion

How do these findings compare with the related research?  What are the implications of this research for the profession? 7.     CritiqueDiscuss the strengths and weaknesses of the research study.  Was the research design logical, ethical and appropriate to the situation?  Did the researcher employ any techniques to ensure accuracy and control for bias (such as triangulation)?  Was the report clearly written?  Does the study hold implications for the profession?  


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Qualitative Research Review Guide
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Exploring Informal Music Learning in a Professional Development Community of Music Teachers
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"Knowing Their World": Urban choral music educators' knowledge of context.
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A Phenomenological Study of Music Education Majors' Identity Development in Methods Courses Outside Their Areas of Focus.
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A Conceptual Model of Spirituality in Music Education
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Thick Description Rubric
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Final Project Rubric
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