Ohio Wesleyan Professor ‘Jazzes Up’ Training of Classical Musicians

Nancy Gamso Publishes Results of Aural Learning Project in Peer-Reviewed Music Educators Journal

Nancy Gamso (Photo by Stephen Pariser)

DELAWARE, OHIO – Watching her music students study and hone their performance skills, Ohio Wesleyan University professor Nancy Gamso, D.M.A., discovered an opportunity to “jazz up” the training of tomorrow’s classical performers.

Gamso, a member of the Ohio Wesleyan faculty since 1991, decided to incorporate some of the listening skills and drills traditionally used by jazz musicians into the curriculum for her classical woodwind students. And, thus, her Aural Learning Project (ALP) was born.

After more than five years of research, Gamso has published the results of her work in the December issue of Music Educators Journal – a quarterly, peer-reviewed publication that prints articles on music teaching, trends, and other issues.

“Jazz musicians and classical musicians develop very differently,” said Gamso, who also performs regularly as an orchestra musician. “Jazz is mostly learned and performed by ear; classical through notated music. Because of that, classical musicians develop very good reading skills, technique, and very specific aspects of hearing – intonation, balance, and interpretation, to name a few – but they don’t rely on or develop their aural abilities as broadly as jazz musicians. The Aural Learning Project allowed my students to explore their classical literature through various aural activities.”

These activities included having her applied studio students listen to and analyze at least two professional recordings of the works they were studying, having students record their own projects and provide written evaluations of their performances, having them memorize and transcribe the music, and assigning them research projects tied to the works, as well as readings about how the brain processes music.

Ohio Wesleyan students seem to have embraced and benefitted from the Aural Learning Project, Gamso said, with one student sharing: “Usually when you take lessons, you learn the notes and rhythms, get some instruction on how to play it correctly, but you don’t think about how your brain is processing the music. When I recall what we have read, I have ‘a-ha’ moments every time I practice.”

Gamso said it isn’t feasible to incorporate APL into every class, but she continues to use the concepts to enhance the training of her students. She also believes her research has practical applications for secondary education teachers.

“This research is important because music teachers in this country are stretched so thin that they can’t possibly teach instrument-specific skills to every student in their band, orchestra, and choir programs,” she said. “Quality private lesson teachers and quality live performances are not accessible or affordable to most of our young students who need those resources, especially when they are developing musicians. With the accessibility and savvy that students have for technology, we can at least attempt to bridge the gap through recordings, recording equipment, and music learning software. My job is to show how the technology can be used so that the student can be proactive in their learning.”

Gamso will discuss her research and teaching with presentations of “Small Group, Big Impact – Effective Tools for Including Chamber Music in the Instrumental Curriculum” at two upcoming meetings: the Ohio Music Education Association conference Feb. 16-18 in Columbus and the North Dakota Music Educators Association conference March 22-24 in Bismarck.


Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier small, private universities, with more than 90 undergraduate majors, sequences, and courses of study, and 23 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Located in Delaware, Ohio, just minutes north of Ohio’s capital and largest city, Columbus, the university combines a globally focused curriculum with off-campus learning and leadership opportunities that translate classroom theory into real-world practice. OWU’s close-knit community of 1,850 students represents 47 states and 57 countries. Ohio Wesleyan was named to the 2010 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with distinction, is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives,” and is included on the “best colleges” lists of U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review. Learn more at www.owu.edu.

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