Making music is a complex activity that requires consistent practice and development of skills. In education, metacognition is known to be useful, as it helps students progress and make the most of their learning. However, in recent years, there has been research into the role metacognition can play in music performance.
What may seem like an unlikely pairing has helped make strides in many musicians’ careers. So, how can teachers help their music students through metacognition?
What is Metacognition?
Metacognition is a type of thinking in which learners reflect on their own cognitive process. Research suggests that metacognition is one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways to help students become successful learners.
It is especially useful in many educational settings as it can be applied to any subject and across all grade levels. This is because metacognition often involves teaching students how to think, not what to think. The metacognitive strategies that students learn in science class can be applied to music lessons, and so on, demonstrating the effectiveness of teaching metacognition in schools.
Promoting metacognition amongst students can lead to independent learners who are increasingly self-reliant. It has a positive impact on learning and research shows that learners who use metacognitive strategies are likely to experience a growth in thinking. Students’ conceptions of thinking are malleable so, by starting with younger students, teachers have the power to create successful learners by incorporating metacognitive strategies in their teaching.
The relationship between music and Metacognition
For students to become experts in any area, they require extensive practice and engagement with the subject. Whilst any time spent playing an instrument or singing can enhance musical practice, it is important for music students to ensure their practice sessions are effective. This will make the process of developing the skill more efficient as students will be making the most of their time.
Regrettably, metacognitive strategies are often not provided to music students which makes them inefficient in their learning processes. In fact, evidence suggests that 40% of students entering a music academy reported having received ‘very little to no’ emphasis on practice strategies.
Metacognition is now considered to be fundamental for musicians as it allows them to structure, monitor and assess their performance. Although it may sound complex, metacognition can be very easy to promote among students. Music teachers can do so by designing and implementing instructional strategies that encourage their students to engage in reflection, self-assessment, and think-aloud sessions. Research shows that students who received metacognitive teaching achieved higher performance ratings when compared to students receiving control instruction.
Think-aloud sessions help students monitor their thinking and slow down the learning process to allow for a better understanding of the material. It is a way to break down the thinking process by speaking out loud step-by-step. Many teachers use this strategy across many subjects and it can be very useful for teachers looking to develop metacognition in their students. Because learning an instrument or being able to sing a complete range can be cognitively demanding in many ways, think-aloud sessions can benefit music students greatly. For students who are creating music, articulating their ideas either to themselves or their peers allows them to self-reflect and receive advice from their peers. Evidence shows that having students explicitly verbalise and reflect on their learning process produces more efficient practice and a greater end performance.Another way to improve self-reflection is by asking students to record their work and listen back to it. This gives them an opportunity to hear their performance and makes it easier to point out areas of improvement. This can also be done as a group activity so that peers can evaluate each other’s work and be further inspired for their own.
Metacognition is a very important and useful instructional strategy that is being rapidly introduced in schools. Both teachers and students can benefit from its teachings, and progress to become more successful overall. For students especially, as they become aware of how they are learning, they will gain a better understanding of what is being taught. The process of efficiently acquiring new information will eventually become routine; this is how independent learners are created.More specifically for music, teachers should aim to create an environment where their students are consistently reflecting on their performance and are open to constructive criticism. This will benefit them greatly as they progress in their musical careers.