This study began with an examination of familiarity with bluegrass music, reported and tested preference for the music, and stereotypes elicited by bluegrass music.  An exploration of the relationship among these constructs was conducted and the correlates of geographic location, educational background of the family of origin, gender of respondents and involvement in music were tested in relation to each of the primary constructs.  Statistical techniques included descriptive univariate analysis, associational techniques and inferential analysis.  The findings were presented in Chapter Four.  This chapter draws conclusions about the findings, synthesizes the findings with the literature and posits implications for future research and directions for preserving and promoting bluegrass music.

Before addressing the conclusions and implications, however, the limitations of this study are noted.  First, the sample was one of convenience.  While every effort was made to broaden the sample to multiple geographic locations around the country, many faculty did not have the time in their classes to devote to this study.  Thus, the sample was drawn from two states, Maine and Arizona.  While these states provide diverse populations, they do not represent a national sample.  However, the results of this study may be applicable to similar populations.  The population also was  limited by several parameters including recruitment of undergraduate students only and those who volunteered.  Any generalization of the results of this study must take these limitations into account.

The second major limitation of the study has to do with the instrumentation.  The instrument was tested for content validity, but further validation studies were not done. Because of the concern to maximize sample size, the time to administer the survey was considered and efforts to limit the survey to under 20 minutes were taken.  As a result, only selected musical pieces and excerpts were played for the respondents.  While these songs were agreed-upon exemplars of each music genre, it may have been possible that respondents did not like the song rather than the whole genre.  Thus, the tested preference scores may be more reflective of respondents’ opinions of selected tunes rather than the whole genre.  Another consideration regarding preference lies in its conceptual and operational definition.  Based on the literature, preference is indicated by liking a sound, listening to it on the radio and purchasing recordings (DePoy, 1995b).  However, what music individuals listen to may not be a function of sound preference.  To address this limitation, preference for listening to a selection was separated from the total preference score for some statistical analyses.  Also, on testing familiarity, respondents were asked to write in the type of music that they heard, rather than select it from a list.  This technique was chosen to eliminate guessing by matching.  Thus familiarity in this study is equivalent to naming the genre.  Also, related to instrumentation, it was apparent that some of the respondents collaborated on their answers despite the instructions to respond alone.  Some students may have perceived this as a testing situation and may have attempted to “get the answers right”.  Finally, the social desirability response style of the stereotype items may have influenced students to respond in ways consistent with expected social norms.  Conclusions are now advanced considering these limitations.

Seven research questions guided this study:

1. What is the extent of familiarity with bluegrass music among respondents?

2. What are the tested and reported preferences for bluegrass music among respondents?

3. What is the relative reported preference for bluegrass music?

4. What association is revealed between tested and reported preferences?

5. What stereotypes are elicited among the respondents by bluegrass music?

6. What are the relationships among familiarity, reported preference and stereotypes?

7. What are the demographic correlates of bluegrass familiarity, preference, and stereotype?

Statistical analysis presented in Chapter 4 provided findings to answer these questions and the literature in Chapter 2 provides a context in which to interpret the findings.

In response to Question #1 (What is the extent of familiarity with bluegrass music among respondents?) familiarity was treated in two ways.  Respondents were asked to write in the names of the genres of music represented by the selection that they heard.  Scoring revealed that respondents were more able to identify what bluegrass was not rather than what it was.  It is interesting to note, however, that so many respondents identified bluegrass music as country music or a similar genre.  So while it is clear that a large number of the respondents cannot differentiate bluegrass from country music. However, it is not clear that they are unfamiliar with bluegrass at all.  The same phenomenon occurred with old time music, which was named correctly by only four respondents out of the total sample of 188.  It certainly is possible that the average college listener may hear the music but not be conversant in differentiating it from similar forms or in accurately labeling it.  Unfortunately, if bluegrass cannot be differentiated from country, its uniqueness as a traditional American music may be lost.  On the other hand, as reported by Kretzschmar (1970), until bluegrass was named and differentiated from country music, it enjoyed significant success and thus classifying bluegrass as a type of country music may serve to increase the exposure of bluegrass to the radio audience.

In response to Questions #2 (What are the tested and reported preferences for bluegrass music among respondents?), #3 (What is the relative reported preference for bluegrass music?), and #4 (What association is revealed between tested and reported preferences?), the findings revealed that tested preference scores for the bluegrass music selections were extremely low when considering all preference items as a single index.  However, listening preference for the first selection was notable, in that 36% of the respondents (n=66) reported enjoying the selection.  Listening preference for the second selection was less frequent with only 21% (n=39) reportedly enjoying the music.  Reported preference was low, with bluegrass being ranked thirteenth out of twenty in popularity.  Ranking was lower for bluegrass than for other unfamiliar genres such as show tunes and folk.  In response to Question #3, bluegrass has a low relative popularity compared with other music genres.  These findings are in direct contradiction with the National Endowment for the Arts findings (Robinson, 1993), in which bluegrass was listed as the 9th most popular music of the 19 genres, just three percentage points behind classical music.  Considering the findings regarding familiarity, it may be possible that respondents do not know how to label the music that they reportedly like or dislike.  Although it seems reasonable to suggest, based on the tested low preference rating for bluegrass music in this study, respondents accurately reported their limited preference for bluegrass music.  However, the moderate association between reported and tested preference leaves room for doubt.  It may be possible that respondents misidentified the genre of bluegrass or just did not prefer the selections played in this study.  It is possible that respondents may like other bluegrass tunes that they do not identify as bluegrass.  Certainly, when separating listening preference from the other preference items, over one third of the sample enjoyed the first selection.  The high preference rating for country music creates additional room for speculation that respondents may prefer some bluegrass music more than they report, since findings of this study reveal that respondents frequently identify bluegrass as country music.

Findings regarding preference also conflict with DePoy’s (1995a) pilot study findings in which the popularity of bluegrass was rated as third out of 19 genres.  This discrepancy may be due to differences in the composition of the sample.  DePoy’s pilot study included individuals who were familiar with bluegrass as both musicians and folklife scholars, while the study conducted herein included only undergraduate college students in the sample.

To explore some explanation for the familiarity and preference findings, cultural aspects of music listening were addressed in this study through testing stereotypes elicited by listening to bluegrass music.  This element of inquiry was included in the study based on the literature tracing the history of bluegrass music (Artis, 1975; Cantwell, 1984; Price, 1975; Rosenberg, 1984) and the literature highlighting the role of music in popular culture (Adorno, 1941; Adorno, 1968; Fussell, 1983; Hebdidge, 1979; Storey, 1993; Turner, 1982; Willis, 1991).  As indicated in the method section, stereotype statements were extracted from the literature to test the degree to which these theoretical understandings of the role of bluegrass music in contemporary popular culture were supported in this study and had any association with preference or familiarity.  Question #5 (What stereotypes are elicited among the respondents by bluegrass music?), was answered in several ways.  First, an overall stereotype favorability score was computed by summing all stereotype items.  This score revealed moderately favorable (or unfavorable) stereotypes.  Essentially, the mean total score was a middle ground score.  However, an item analysis of percentages of respondents who expressed favorable or unfavorable stereotypes was extremely illuminating.  Item analysis findings revealed a stereotypical picture of bluegrass music that closely resembled the literature (Fussell, 1983; Linn, 1991; Storey, 1993; Willis, 1991).  That is to say, many respondents reported negative stereotypes elicited by listening to two selections of bluegrass music, one vocal selection and one instrumental selection.  The findings also suggest that bluegrass music is not homogeneous in that each selection revealed significantly different stereotypes, with the vocal more preferred but with less favorable stereotypes than the instrumental tune.

On both selections, the most favorable stereotype related to bluegrass music addressed the appearance of the musicians.  Over 80% of respondents on the vocal and 73% on the instrumental selection perceived the musicians as clean cut and pleasant looking.  A majority (59.58% on the vocal and 55.32% on the instrumental) viewed the music as pleasantly down to earth, and energizing (59% on the vocal and 56% on the instrumental) yet a large minority did not on both selections.  Although the majority of respondents did not report that the music evoked images of unintelligent people, over 20% did report this stereotype for the vocal tune and over 15% reported it for the instrumental tune. Further evidence suggesting that the respondents did not view bluegrass music as music of the intelligentsia was revealed on the item about the music evoking images of college professors in a quaint coffee shop.  Only 8.5% and 9% had this image for the vocal selection and the instrumental selection respectively.  Further supporting this finding were the large numbers of respondents answering unfavorably on the item about bluegrass eliciting images of backwards people from the hills (68% on the vocal and 49% on the instrumental).  Over one third of the respondents felt that either one or the other selection was too primitive to “make it on the radio”.  This finding suggests that almost two thirds of the respondents agreed that bluegrass music, as identified by the selections, could make it on the radio.

Given these findings, and the significantly higher favorability stereotype scores for those who enjoyed listening to the two bluegrass selections in Section One of the questionnaire, it is certainly possible that stereotype plays a significant role in the type of music that individuals choose to consume, but not necessarily in their preference for listening to bluegrass music.  As suggested by Hebdige (1979), espousing a music that has such negative stereotypes could function to identify one’s cultural membership as marginal and/or subordinate (Linn, 1991; Storey, 1993). However, it may also be possible for those individuals who fit Turner’s model of nostalgia (1974) to find positive images in “earthy, clean-cut” music.  While the association between tested preference and favorability of stereotype was not strong, the reason for this finding may have been found in the nature of measurement and what was tested.  As stated above, the mean stereotype favorability score was obtained by summing the responses to the stereotype items and emerged as moderate.  However, in the process of creating a single score, extreme scores were mediated by the summation process.  Considering the small to moderate correlation between individual stereotype ratings and both reported and tested preference scores, and considering the numbers of respondents who enjoyed listening to the selections, but who did not score bluegrass high on their overall preference, it may be possible that preference for a music sound may not always be the reason that individuals consume a particular music form.

The findings discussed thus far pose significant questions to be investigated and considered by the bluegrass community in preserving and promoting their music.  First, it is apparent that the college population tested in this study did not prefer bluegrass music even though some enjoyed listening to the selections.  Some respondents could not identify bluegrass music and yet hold many negative stereotypes about the music.  However, it is also interesting to note that the music has been frequently identified as country music, a genre that is very popular in relative rankings.  Country music was ranked first on the National Endowment for the Arts study (Cutietta, 1993) and ranked first in DePoy’s pilot study (DePoy, 1995a), and ranked third in this study. 

Some of the stereotypes support the value of Turner’s notion of nostalgia as well, in that a significant portion of the sample view the music as earthy, energizing and pleasant.  Perhaps one of the questions to ask in preservation efforts is how to capitalize on the positive cultural trappings of the music to preserve its authenticity while not blending it into popular country music.  Findings related to the final two research questions in this study suggest some directions for consideration and eliminate others.

To answer question #6 (What are the relationships among familiarity, reported preference and stereotypes), Pearson Correlation Coefficients were calculated.  The associations revealed moderate or small relationships among preference, familiarity and stereotype in total and individually.  The association between preference and stereotype was the highest, suggesting that one who prefers the music is most likely to hold positive stereotypes about it.  The results of the ANOVA testing for significant differences in stereotypes, grouped by those who enjoyed listening and those who did not, provide further evidence to support that listening preference may mediate negative stereotypes but overall preference, illustrated by enjoyment along with consumption, may not.  The findings illustrating that the vocal selection was more preferred but less favorably stereotyped than the instrumental is a case in point.  However, these associations were only moderate. Interpretation of the association between overall preference and stereotype must consider two points: 1) the overall favorability score was moderated by the summation of extremely favorable and extremely unfavorable scores on selected items, and 2) preference is a complex construct that was tested as both listening enjoyment and consumption. Future research should explore the complex construct of preference, in that listening to a music and purchasing a recording may not always be a function of whether one prefers the sound of the music.  Other factors, such as the cultural meanings of music forms, may illuminate the nature of sound preference and distinguish it from consumption.

The low association between familiarity and either stereotype or preference suggests that being familiar enough with the music to distinguish it and name it does not necessarily relate to the stereotypes that one holds or the preference for the music.  The small association between age and each of the three constructs (stereotype, preference and familiarity) may indicate that as people age, their tastes and perspectives moderate.  However, these relationships require further inquiry due to the small value of the correlation.  Location and level of education in the family of origin had little relationship with preference, familiarity or stereotype.

Considering the findings and the assumptions of this study, several important implications emerge. First, future study is warranted to examine the research questions and findings in a broader population.  How to accurately test familiarity with music genres may be expanded beyond naming the genre of a series of selections.  Inquiry into why tested and reported preference are discrepant should be investigated as well as research to clarify the elements of music preference.  Such a study would direct efforts to determine an accurate accountings of music popularity and consumption behavior.  Stereotypes generated by music may also be tested further.  The stereotype items in this study were productive in supporting the stereotypes suggested in the literature.  However, qualitative inquiry may reveal stereotypes that have not been advanced theoretically and tested in this study. 

Turning to the efforts to preserve and promote bluegrass music, the results of this study suggest areas to be explored and others to be eliminated.  Consistent with the literature, bluegrass is misidentified frequently as country music.  Advancing the music as a more popular genre could certainly enhance its popularity.  However, if the music moves more towards a country sound, such as the music of Allison Krauss, it may lose its authenticity as a traditional American music form.  Highlighting the music as nostalgic (Turner, 1979) and authentic (Adorno, 1968; Benjamin, 1966) may be a direction for preservation and promotional efforts.  The findings of this study revealed a minimal association between familiarity and preference.  Educating the public about how to identify bluegrass may not be a strategy to promote the music.  This study also did not provide any evidence to support targeting preservation and promotional efforts toward specified segments of the population by education, gender or geographic location since no differences on preference, familiarity or stereotype were revealed related to gender, education, or geography.

In summary, this study examined preference for, familiarity with, and stereotypes elicited by bluegrass music.  The findings suggest that in the college population tested, bluegrass is not popular, is not readily identified and elicits varied stereotypes from extremely negative to very positive.  The study illuminated the relationships among preference, familiarity, and favorability of stereotypes and identified other correlates such as gender, geographic location, parent's education, and involvement in music that were unrelated to the three primary constructs tested in this study.  Of particular importance was the finding that bluegrass is not homogeneous, that preference is a complex construct, and that preference and familiarity were not necessarily related to favorability of stereotypes.  Conclusions and implications for future study and directions for preservation and promotion of bluegrass emerged from the findings and provide a foundation and clear direction for on-going exploration into this uniquely American music form.


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