Parker, E. C. (2014). The process of social identity development in adolescent high school choral singers: A grounded theory. Journal of Research in Music Education, 62.


The purpose of this study was to describe the process of adolescent choral singers’ social identity development within three midsized, Midwestern high school mixed choirs. Forty-nine interviews were conducted with thirty-six different participants. Secondary data sources included researcher memos, observations and interviews with the choir teachers. The study found that students who participated in choir exhibited greater self-acceptance and self-understanding. The researchers also concluded that the singer’s social identity and continued participation in choir was impacted by interactions with peers, parents, teachers and other school and community members.

Key Findings:

The researcher found high school choral singers in this study as having a “team” social identity. Adolescent descriptions of belonging in choir included feelings of accomplishment and acknowledgement, pride, a greater sense of “who I am,” and a desire to give back to the school community. Outcomes of this study include the following:

A main consequence of mixed choir participation is greater self-acceptance and self-understanding.

Pride in participants’ accomplishments help participants make better choices and encourages competency into other areas of their lives.

Adolescent choral singers who are acknowledged for their singing by those who are important to them are more likely to continue in choir and increase their school choral participation over time and potentially hold leadership roles.

The act of singing with another person serves as a form of interpersonal communication and helps to break down barriers to friendship.

Adolescent choral singers’ social identity development is strengthened by a variety of contextual conditions, including short- and long-term time commitment, the size of the singing group, and rehearsal and performance intensity.

Significance of the Findings:

This study systematically examines and presents adolescent social identity growth in school music programs and explains students’ experiences with a theoretical model. Findings in this study support the positive benefits of school music programs and highlight the key role school collaborative/ensemble music experiences play toward building adolescent self-confidence, experience of belonging, and desire to give back to their school communities. This study reinforces the importance of music education experience in supporting the development of social-emotional learning.


This study is based on grounded theory, a systematic qualitative methodology where researchers use constant comparison of the data as they are collected and analyzed. In this case, grounded theory methodology was utilized to examine how adolescents build social identity through the context of the high school mixed-gendered choir. Through several waves of interviews, in this case also using several types of participant sampling, the researcher developed a theoretical explanation of social identity in high school mixed choir. Secondary data was gathered from interviews with the three choir teachers and 16 total observations of the choirs, to provide context for the three waves of student interviews.

Limitations of the Research:

This study was limited by a small sampling of 49 interviews with 36 singers in three Midwestern high schools. Data from parents, other teachers, and friends were not included in this research which could have had a causal effect on the observed behavior of the interviewed students. The students interviewed were members of audition-only groups so the self-selection into the ensemble may have played a part in their commitment to the ensemble and limit ability to generalize these results.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Is social identity development experienced similarly in other singing contexts (i.e., women’s choirs, men’s choirs, or un-auditioned mixed-gendered choirs)? Does social identity develop similarly for instrumental ensemble participants? How do solo or private music experiences impact the development of social identity?