Music education and mentoring as intervention for at-risk urban adolescents: Their self-perceptions, opinions, and attitudes

Shields, C. (2001). Music education and mentoring as intervention for at-risk urban adolescents: Their self-perceptions, opinions, and attitudes. Journal of Research in Music Education, 49(3), 273-286.


This study examines the role of music education as an intervention technique for at-risk urban adolescents. In particular, it explores the relationship between students’ participation in music and their participation in school and perceptions of their own musical competence and global self-worth. The researcher selected at-risk students in an alternative school for the arts for inclusion in the study based on their participation in either the percussion or chorus performance groups.

The students participated in the choir or percussion performance groups for 16 weeks, during which time the music teachers acted as mentors by paying particular attention to at-risk students and providing extra instruction when needed. The researcher gathered data from pre- and post-test administrations of the “Self-Perception Profile for Children” survey and differences were determined through statistical analysis of the survey data. The researcher supplemented these analyses with student and parent interviews. Students involved in the music performance programs increased their self-perception of musical competence. The researchers found that self-perception of musical competence and global self-worth were only slightly correlated.

Key Findings:

The research did not reveal any significant differences from pre-test to post-test in self-perception of scholastic competence, social acceptance, physical appearance, behavior conduct, and global self-worth. However, the study did reveal a significant positive increase in self-perception of musical competence.

From pre-test to post-test the number of students who ranked music as important increased from 76% to 82%, though students shifted in both directions.

A correlation emerged between students’ self-perceptions of musical competence and global self-worth, suggesting that musical competency is related to, but not synonymous with, global self-worth.

Through the administration of interviews with both students and parents, researchers discovered that both parents and students felt that musical performance was a positive experience. Students felt free to be themselves in the music room, and parents thought their children could gain confidence there. Students and parents agreed that music teachers should teach content, use hand-on activities, communicate with and help students, and get to know students as individuals. Both students and parents wished for better behavior during participation in music and articulated that negative behavior took away from the music experiences.

Teachers reported finding the mentoring process to be positive and rewarding as they observed changes in some of the students’ behavior, such as increased musical skills and expression of pleasure and self-satisfaction in playing or singing music.

Significance of the Findings:

These findings suggest that participation in a music group coupled with teacher mentoring inside and outside the content area may lead to an increase in the value placed on music and self-perception of musical competence. Significantly, the correlation found between self-perception of musical competence and global self-worth suggests that participation in music performance groups could be one of many factors that influence student global self-worth.


The researcher identified at-risk sixth-grade students enrolled in an alternative arts school in a large urban school district in the Midwestern region if the United States for participation in the study. Students were identified as at-risk by at least two of the following adults: their teacher, counselor, and/or principal, each of whom rated students using a 31-characteristic, at-risk referral form.

The researcher included students who self-selected into the choir and percussion performance groups that were offered alongside the school’s weekly, general instruction in music, art, and dance. Of the sample, 42% were female, 58% male; 58% were black and 44% were white. The sample included ten at-risk students in the percussion performance group and 28 at-risk students in the choir performance group. All students (at-risk and not at-risk) received mentoring from the music teacher, with the teacher giving extra assistance related to music, providing encouragement, talking through life problems, home visits, etc. The researcher administered pre- and post-test assessments of the “Self-Perception Profile for Children” and administered structured interviews to parents of study students. The researcher used statistical comparison to determine changes in student self-perceptions and coded the interview responses to determine salient topics and themes.

Limitations of the Research:

Bias is introduced into the findings because the students self-selected into the music performance groups, and the sixth-grade students sampled attended an alternative arts school and as such may possess particular characteristics that make them unrepresentative of typical sixth-grade students. The weaknesses identified in the sampling method limits the applicability of findings in the study. Prior to the study, these students already had significant interaction with music and other arts and may therefore show less change from pre-test to post-test than would other students. The study is weakened because the research design did not include a control group of students by which to compare the gains observed in the treatment group. The study would be strengthened by including structured classroom observations as a mechanism for collecting data on the changes in student behavior, especially off-task behavior and engagement.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Additional studies that consider the relationship between global self-worth and participation in music for at-risk youth would shed more light on the findings of this study. Future research examining the effects of music participation and mentorship should consider a sample of children with limited or no prior exposure to arts in order to gauge more clearly the effects of the particular intervention. Also, future studies looking at the impact of music/mentoring for students might consider how effects differ for students of different ages.