Ten year follow-up investigation of preservice generalist primary teachers' background and confidence in teaching music

Russell-Bowie, D. (2010). Ten year follow-up investigation of preservice generalist primary teachers' background and confidence in teaching music. Australian Journal of Music Education, 2, 76-86.


This study looked at pre-service students’ perceptions of their background in formal music education and their confidence in teaching music lessons, with the goal of understanding the role that background and confidence play in promoting music education by general classroom teachers. Researchers surveyed 138 pre-service generalist teachers in Australia in two university classes in 1998 and in 2008 and gathered data about the correlation between students’ perceived music background and their confidence teaching music.

Results indicated that pre-service teachers entering the course had little formal music education and lacked confidence in teaching music lessons, however about half of them felt positive about teaching music lessons. These results are compared with current and past research as well as with the findings from a previous study done by the same researchers, which found that students in the 1998 cohort had a stronger formal musical background than those in the recent study. Further research suggestions are considered along with suggestions for addressing these challenges in teacher education courses.

Key Findings:

Through literature and examination of data from 1998 and 2008, researchers conclude that pre-service teachers’ prior music background is a significant factor in building their self-confidence in teaching music education. When pre-service teachers felt confident as students of a subject they were more apt to be comfortable teaching that subject. Because of this, the researchers studied the general music background of undergraduate and graduate study participants, learning that:

  • Undergraduate respondents from the 1998 study generally had more formal music training and higher confidence teaching music than graduate respondents from the 2008 study.
  • While graduate study participants had less formal music training and lower music confidence, they perceived themselves to have a good background in music and felt positive about teaching music at higher levels than expected.

Significance of the Findings:

Since generalist primary teachers in Australia are often responsible for teaching music instead of a dedicated music teacher, it is important to understand their training in this area to know how best to support them. Prior research has shown that pre-service generalist primary teachers typically have had little experience with music, either before their teacher training or during it. This research shows that it is crucial for teacher educators to understand the perceptions, beliefs and capabilities of pre-service teachers and to address negative barriers that pre-service teachers face to provide a shift in self-confidence with an ultimate goal of increasing positive music educational experiences at the primary level.


The author administered a survey to 138 pre-service generalist primary teachers, half of whom were in an undergraduate teaching course and half of whom were in a Masters of Teaching program at the same university in Sydney, Australia. The survey was a validated measure used in a study conducted in 1998 with 346 undergraduate students from the same university. For both studies, respondents were surveyed at the beginning of a creative arts course. Descriptive statistics and correlation analysis were used on the survey results.

Limitations of the Research:

The current study compared results to those of an earlier study, which warrants discussion of the prior study’s respondent pool. Also, it is possible that there were contextual factors at the times the two different respondent pools were taking the survey that could also contribute to findings. There was no discussion of possible contextual factors that may have shaped results.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How does increased self-confidence of a pre-service teacher in music education translate to their classrooms? What do pre-service teachers believe constitutes a successful music lesson, and how does it compare to the reality of what is considered a strong music lesson?