Exploring the outcomes of rock and popular music instruction in high school guitar class: A case study.

Seifried, S. (2006). Exploring the outcomes of rock and popular music instruction in high school guitar class: A case study. International Journal of Music Education, 24(2), 168-177.


This research explored the impact of popular and rock music on high school students’ music education. The researcher conducted a case study on a large suburban high school in Northern Virginia (just outside of Washington, D.C.) that had a strong music department that included a guitar program with a strong popular music component. Fourteen students in the guitar program were selected to participate in two rounds of in-depth interviews. Results showed that students improved in their musical ability, increased their knowledge and appreciation of various forms of music, and felt that the guitar courses allowed them to explore their personal identities through song in a safe and welcoming space. Students also explained that they would not have become involved in school-based music if the student-centered guitar courses were not offered.

Key Findings:

Many students commented that the ways they listened to music and their musical preferences expanded as a result of participating in the guitar courses. They reported listening to songs with a more sophisticated and critical ear. They explained how they had improved as musicians citing the musical skills they had learned including rhythm and learning how to read music. They also found examples of “real world” applications for the skills they were learning in class.

Students’ reasons for participation in the program varied. Several shared that they found guitar class more meaningful than other academic classes. Students who reported a strong dislike of school, and were often truant, reported high levels of enjoyment and engagement in the course. The majority of students admitted that they would not have become involved in music at school if the guitar courses had not been offered. They preferred the structure of the guitar course because they were able to explore music that interested them at their own pace in a relaxed and fun environment without a large public performance as the goal.

Most students did not self-report a connection between doing well in guitar class and doing well in academic subjects, however, some reported that participation in guitar motivated them to try harder in other classes. Other students reported feeling that time spent on guitar negatively affected school work, while others appreciated a break from academic classes. Many students appreciated the non-obligatory nature of guitar class that gave them a sense of freedom.

Students reported that their musical tastes correlated strongly with their identity, so that because they could study music that was important to them through the guitar program, they felt personal validation, acceptance and a safe space to be themselves.

Significance of the Findings:

These findings suggest that by structuring a music program that allows students to find a personal connection, study what interests them, and explore music without the pressure to perform may attract students to music who would not otherwise be interested or feel they are outsiders. Positive outcomes for these students could include improved musical ability, expanded musical taste and listening sophistication, and a safe space for supportive identity exploration.


The researcher selected a sample of students by administering a survey to 99 mostly white middle class high school students who attended a large suburban high school in Northern Virginia (just outside of Washington, D.C.) and who were enrolled in either beginning or intermediate guitar. The survey asked about students’ attitudes toward school, academic achievement and grade point averages. The researcher selected 14 students to participate in the study, most of whom evidenced low achievement and negative attitudes toward school. Each participated in two sets of in-depth interviews including a short open-ended interview and a long structured interview that was based on the data analysis from the first interview. In addition, the researcher randomly selected 16 additional students from the 85 students enrolled in guitar to form two focus groups of eight. These sessions were aimed to gather additional contextual information. All interviews were recorded, transcribed and analyzed.

Limitations of the Research:

Generalizing study findings is limited due to the small sample size and the case study nature of this study. In particular, it focuses on outcomes for a particular subgroup of students—those who may feel marginalized in school—but only considers the views of white middle class suburban youth.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Would the replication of this study in several different urban, suburban and rural high schools produce similar findings? Do the implications for a music program such as this have long term effects? Are there any correlations between academic improvement and participation in a music program such as this one?