Pull-Out School Music Classes

“Pull-outs have become almost a nightmare for many elementary school principals, who view the practice as a kind of pernicious anemia that attacks whole-class instruction time. Once pull-outs take hold in a school, there appears to be no end to them, and no way to rid the instructional program of their debilitating impact.”- From “Pull-outs: How much do they erode whole-class teaching?” by F. English, appearing in Principal, May 1984, p. 32.


Many school instrumental music programs remove students from aregular classroom for individual or small-group instrumentalinstruction. Often, this practice causes tension among teachers and administrators. Many of those opposed to pull-out lessons are concerned that students will fall behind in their academic performance by missing classroom instruction time. In the study described below, the test scores of students who leave theirclassroom for thirty-minute string instrument lessons twice each week are compared to the scores of students who remain in the classroom.


The authors studied the 1995 results of the Ohio Proficiency Test (OPT) given to fourth-grade students in Hamilton, Ohio. To make the comparison between string and non-string students as fair as possible, the researchers looked at students’ scores on a previous standardized test, the Cognitive Abilities Test, or COGAT. Each of the 148 fourth-grade string students was matched to a non-stringstudent who achieved the same verbal score on the COGAT. This made a total of 296 students whose scores on the Ohio Proficiency Test were analyzed, and the academic abilities of the non-string students selected for the study matched the academic abilities of the string students as closely as possible.


Listed below are the mean (average) Ohio Proficiency Test scores for the students in this study:


String Students: 5.05

Non-String Students: 4.85


String Students: 229.5

Non-String Students: 223.2


String Students: 214.8

Non-String Students: 211.8


String Students: 231.3

Non-String Students: 224.8

Listed below are the percentages of students in this study achieving test scores at or above standard performance. The standard for the 1995 Ohio Proficiency Test is 4.0 in reading and 200 in all other areas.


String students: 85%

Non-string students: 85%


String students: 89%

Non-string students: 87%


String students: 76%

Non-string students: 65%


String students: 93%

Non-string students: 87%


String students: 68%

Non-string students: 58%


From the results of this study we can conclude that the string students did not suffer negative academic effects when compared to students of similar academic capability who remained in the classroom. We can also conclude that the overall Ohio Proficiency Test performance of the students who participated in string pull-out lessons was better than the performance of the students of similar ability who did not participate in the string program.

The results of this study seem to indicate that students who study instruments in a small-group or individual setting actually improve their academic abilities, however this study was not designed to document improvement, and further study is needed before drawing this conclusion.

The author of the Ohio report offers this analysis of what takes place during pull-out string instruction:

“When string students are excused from their classrooms for string class, they are not leaving instruction. They are moving to another classroom in a different area of the building. The concepts taught in string [lessons] go far beyond pitch and rhythm. For example, a student must understand fractions and their relationships to each other in order to manipulate rhythm. The student who has trouble understanding the abstract concept that a half is twice one quarter may comprehend the concrete example of his or her bow moving twice as far on half notes as quarter notes. The musician reads abstract concepts from the page and then translates them into concrete phenomena that involve time and space.”

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