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Music Education Research

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Introducing Ethnomethodological
Analysis to the Field of Music
Kathy Roulston
Published online: 19 Aug 2010.

To cite this article: Kathy Roulston (2001) Introducing Ethnomethodological Analysis

to the Field of Music Education, Music Education Research, 3:2, 121-142, DOI:

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Music Education Research, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2001

Introducing Ethnomethodological Analysis to

the Field of Music Education
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KATHY ROULSTON, Department of Educational Psychology, 325 Aderhold Hall,

College of Education, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA (e-mail:

ABSTRACT In recent years qualitative research methods have been adopted within in the
Ž eld of music education and have received widespread acceptance. However, the
theoretical framework provided by ethnomethodology (GarŽ nkel, 1974, in R. Turner,
Ethnomethodology, Penguin, Middlesex, UK) and the tools of conversational analysis
(Sacks, 1992, Lectures on Conversation, edited by Gail Jefferson, Blackwell, Oxford,
UK) have, to this point, been overlooked by researchers in the Ž eld of music education.
In this paper I argue that the application of ethnomethodological and conversation
analytical approaches in the Ž eld of research in music education can provide fresh
insights into the work of music teachers and how this work is accomplished in
institutional settings. Here I demonstrate how a conversation analytical perspective
drawing on an ethnomethodological framework might be used to investigate transcripts
of audio-recorded interview talk. This type of analysis can illuminate aspects of
members’ roles in relation to, and perceptions about music education in school settings
that might be overlooked in other types of analysis. A conversation analytical approach
to the examination of talk-in-interaction explicates in Ž ne-grained detail how members
orient to matters at hand in the context of research settings, as well as revealing features
of the cultural world of music teaching. Further application of the approach to research
problems in other school settings, I argue, will inform the Ž eld of music education in
ways yet to be realised.

Ethnomethodology as a ‘research policy’ was formulated by Harold GarŽ nkel (1967) in
the 1960s. Growing out of the work of Alfred Schutz (1899–1959) (Cuff, Sharrock &
Francis, 1998, p. 150), ethnomethodology as deŽ ned by GarŽ nkel concerns the ‘organi-
zational study of a member’s knowledge of his [or her] ordinary affairs, of his [or her]
own organized enterprises, where that knowledge is treated by us as part of the same
ISSN 1461-380 8 print; ISSN 1469-9893 online/01/020121-2 2 Ó 2000 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/1461380012008920 5
122 K. Roulston

setting that it also makes orderable’ (GarŽ nkel, 1974, p. 18). Put another way, eth-
nomethodology focuses on the ‘study of common-sense reasoning and practical theoriz-
ing in everyday activities’ (ten Have, 1999, p. 6).
Conversational analysis (CA) grew out of various developments in phenomenology,
ethnomethodology, language philosophy and sociology in the 1960s (Goodwin &
Heritage, 1990, p. 283). Conversation analysts emphasise ‘talk-in-interaction’ (Psathas,
1995) and seek to describe the ‘underlying social organization’ (Goodwin & Heritage,
1990, p. 283) and ‘collaborative practices speakers use and rely upon when they engage
in intelligible interaction’ (Holstein & Gubrium, 1998, p. 144).
CA was ‘invented’ in the early 1960s by the sociologist Harvey Sacks (1992, Vol. 2).
His concern was to systematically work out a method of studying talk-in-interaction. At
the time of his death in 1975, a framework for studying talk-in-interaction, including
basic concepts and exemplary studies was well-established (ten Have, 1999), and the use
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of CA may be found in a diverse range of Ž elds, including anthropology, linguistics,

education, medical practice and counselling, science, mathematics, and sociology. One
distinct departure from the ethnographic tradition is that analysts provide data in which
‘the reader has as much information as the author, and can reproduce the analysis’
(Sacks, 1992, Vol. 1, p. 27). Thus, transcripts provide far more detail than that found in
other types of work, and the analysis employs conventions developed mainly by Sacks’
colleague, Gail Jefferson (ten Have, 1999).
Data employed by Sacks in his lectures (1992) primarily stemmed from two collec-
tions—audio-recordings of telephone calls to a suicide prevention center and of a series
of group therapy sessions. Likewise, the foundational literature in CA predominantly
investigates talk in everyday settings—that is, casual or mundane conversation. It has
since been applied to ‘other forms of “talk-in-interaction” ranging from courtroom and
news interview conduct to political speeches’ (Goodwin & Heritage, 1990, p. 284). More
recently, CA has been applied to transcripts of interview talk ranging from standardised
survey interviewing to unstructured interviews (see for example, Baker, 1997a and
forthcoming; Hutchby and WoofŽ tt, 1998; Mazeland and ten Have, 1998; Rapley and
Antaki, 1998; Roulston, 2000b; ten Have, 1999).
Within the Ž eld of education, ethnomethodological and conversation analytical studies
have contributed signiŽ cantly to an understanding of schooling. For example, studies
have investigated how classroom interaction, classroom knowledge, and social order are
produced (see for example, Baker & Perrott, 1988; Heap, 1985; McHoul, 1978, 1990;
Mehan, 1979); how the organisation of parent–teacher interviews is accomplished (Baker
& Keogh, 1995; Maclure & Walker, 2000); and how decision-making is undertaken in
school meetings (Baker, 1997b; Mehan, 1991, Verkuyten, 2000). However, studies that
focus on ‘music’ are conŽ ned to reports by Sudnow (1978) and Weeks (1990, 1996).
Sudnow has investigated jazz improvisation on the piano from an ethnomethodological
perspective, and Weeks has examined in Ž ne detail transcripts of musical rehearsals from
a conversation analytical perspective. Naturally occurring activities such as rehearsals
provide a fruitful source of data to investigate the production of activities taken for
granted and known-in-commo n by musicians (GarŽ nkel, 1967, p. 37). Weeks (1990), for
example, examined how a change of tempo is achieved in a rehearsal of Handel’s
‘Hallelujah Chorus’. While of interest to music educators and musicians, these studies
do not focus on music education or the work of music teachers in institutional settings
such as schools. I argue that the use of ethnomethodological and conversation analytical
approaches by qualitative researchers in the Ž eld of music education is thus timely, if not
Introducing ethnomethodological analysis 123

In the next section I investigate excerpts of interview data. The focus of my analysis
here is the accounting practices of music teachers: how they construct their descriptive
accounts, and what this reveals about the cultural world of music teaching and its
‘content of moral assumptions’ (Silverman, 1993, p. 108). As Silverman (1993, p. 114)
has noted, interviews provide a ‘rich source of data which provide access to how people
account for both their troubles and good fortune’. In adopting a conversation analytical
approach then, I treat interview accounts as ‘part of the world they describe’ (Silverman,
1993, p. 108).1

Data Generation and Analysis

Data analysed in this paper is derived from a 3-year study of itinerant music teachers’
work 2 in Australian primary schools which used an ethnomethodological framework
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(Roulston, 2000a). Excerpts from transcripts presented in this paper are derived from the
Ž rst of three data sets generated for this study. The larger study was comprised of (i) a
pilot study including interviews with 12 practicing music teachers; (ii) a state-wide
survey; 3 and (iii) a multiple-site case-study investigating six music teachers’ work over
the course of one school year. In this paper, I include excerpts from transcripts of
interviews conducted in the pilot study phase of the study.
In the latter months of 1996, I conducted semi-structured pilot interviews with
12 practicing music teachers in South-East Queensland, Australia. Male and female
teachers were included and were drawn from a variety of teaching contexts, both full-
and part-time, and with varying lengths of teaching experience. Audiotapes were
transcribed verbatim and were subject to both thematic4 and conversation analysis.
Below I demonstrate a conversation analytical approach to talk from Ž ve of these
interviews. All teachers were itinerant at the time of these interviews—that is, working
regularly in more than one school.

‘Good Days’ and ‘Rewarding Work’

In his classic sociological study entitled Schoolteacher, Lortie found a question relating
to ‘what a good day is like for you’ to be one of the ‘most useful’ asked (Lortie, 1975,
p. 168). Lortie found that all respondents emphasised three points in answering this
question. The Ž rst was that all of the 94 participants interviewed for his study accepted
the variability of teaching: that their work was ‘up and down’ in nature and that the  ow
of accomplishment and rewards was erratic. Secondly, Lortie found that regardless of the
teacher’s grade or specialty, the focus of the ‘good day’ was within his or her immediate
work area (whether classroom, gymnasium, workshop, or laboratory). Other settings
such as assemblies or corridors were ‘alluded to in negative terms’. The third point was
that the positive features were linked to two sets of actors: teachers and students. Lortie
notes that ‘all other persons, without exception, were connected with undesirable
occurrences’ (1975, p. 169). The events of the good day were described by teachers in
interviews in terms of ‘what the teacher brought to the day’, the ‘teacher’s actions
throughout the day’, and thirdly ‘the teacher’s feelings about such a day’ (p. 171).
In the pilot study phase of my project, I asked each teacher to describe a ‘good day’
and ‘rewarding work’. A common feature of teachers’ responses was that they were
situated within descriptions of the contextual difŽ culties of their working conditions. A
‘good day’ or ‘rewarding work’ was often described in contrast to a ‘bad day’ and
‘difŽ culties’. In the Ž rst example presented below, a teacher with 11 years’ experience
124 K. Roulston

has difŽ culty in clearly articulating the events of a ‘good day’, but rapidly moves to
assign the location of blame for former ‘bad days’ to herself. In this account, while a
‘good day’ arises in mysterious circumstances, the ‘bad day’ has been understood in the
past in terms of being a ‘bad teacher’.

Excerpt 1: ‘You don’t go home nearly crying’

The discussion of the good day begins with Daniella, a teacher with 11 years’
experience, initially drawing my attention to the missed question.5
[PSD/21.10.96] 6

1. D and I was thinking of the really good day 5

2. R oh I forgot to ask you that one
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3. D yeah I Ž nd when uh (2.0) your lessons just  ow [and some ti- days
it happens and
4. R [yeah
5. [then other days I don’t know what goes wrong [whether it’s (.)
6. R [yeah [yeah
7. there’s so many variables aren’t there 5
8. D 5 you just jump from one thing to the next and it just  ows really
beautifully [and
9. R
10. D other days it doesn’t work like that so 5
11. R 5 yeah 5
12. D 5 that’s a good day

Daniella uses Ž gurative phrases to describe a good day. It occurs when ‘your lessons just
 ow’ (line 3) and ‘you just jump from one thing to the next and it just  ows really
beautifully’. This reference to the erratic quality to the  ow of accomplishment has been
documented by Lortie (1975, p. 168). Daniella qualiŽ es her description on two occasions
(line 5 and 10) with oblique references to the ‘bad day’, when things go wrong. In this
account there is an inexplicable quality about the good day (line 3). I subsequently
provide a possible explanation to the mysterious quality of the good day by noting that
‘many variables’ impact on one’s teaching (line 7).

5. D [then other days I don’t know what goes wrong [whether it’s (.)
6. R [yeah [yeah
7. there’s so many variables aren’t there 5
At line 13 I provide a statement of afŽ liation with Daniella. Here I refer to other pilot
study participants who have made similar observations in interviews. Daniella is ‘not
alone’. That Daniella has understood my statement (and restatement) in this light is
evident in her use of ‘we’ at line 17.

13. R heh heh heh I don’t think you’re the Ž rst person who’s said that heh
heh heh
14. D what’s that?
Introducing ethnomethodological analysis 125

15. R that I I think I’m you’re not the Ž rst person [who’s said that heh heh
16. D [no I’m not the Ž rst person
17. yeah (.) we’re all the same hh heh heh heh

Jefferson (1984, 1988) notes that statements of afŽ liation (for example, ‘we’re all the
same’, line 17) provide an environment for a ‘troubles telling’. Troubles talk does
subsequently occur—but only after I have established my co-categorical status as music
teacher with Daniella. In doing so I become a possible sympathetic recipient for troubles
talk. Demonstration of my categorical incumbency of the group ‘music teachers who
suffer similar problems’ is accomplished in two ways—Ž rst, through my statements of
afŽ liation (lines 13, 15), and second by my formulation of ‘what other teachers say about
the good day’ (lines 18, 20) which matches Daniella’s earlier description.
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18. R you get your teaching done [and things go well and you don’t have
a lot of
19. D [mm
20. R interruptions (.) and those kinds of things

By using ‘you’ in my description of ‘what music teachers say’ (line 18), I am speaking
on behalf of Daniella, other teachers, and myself. Sacks (1992, Vol. 2) describes the
phenomenon of the telling of ‘second stories’ that takes place regularly in conversation,
and which I accomplish at lines 18–20.

So that though I start with a possible sense of uniqueness I can solve that
uniqueness problem by just telling somebody else the story—not even
speciŽ cally asking them for another—and they will simply come up with one
if they have one. And not only will they come up with one if they have one,
they will often know one that somebody else has come up with … . One Ž nds,
when something happens to one, that whole ranges of things you never knew
existed exist, and that lots of people turn out to be in exactly the same
situation. (258–259)

To this point then, Daniella and I have agreed on both the content of the good day (that
it ‘ ows’ and things go well), and the fact that this it is something that all teachers agree
on (‘we’re all the same’, line 17). In light of the talk thus far, at Ž rst glance the
conversation appears to take a curious twist at line 22. However, the statements of
afŽ liation from lines 13–20 which align Daniella as troubles teller and me as recipient
actually set up an auspicious environment for troubles talk (foreshadowed in lines 5 and
10) to occur (Jefferson, 1984, 1988). In graphic detail Daniella describes not the outcome
of a good day, but the guilt and emotional turmoil produced by a bad day. This talk
exempliŽ es the point made by Hargreaves (1994, p. 142) that ‘[g]uilt is a central
emotional preoccupation for teachers’.
Throughout the account there is a good deal of shared laughter and general hilarity.
Daniella begins with a dramatic story preface at line 22 (see Sacks, 1992, Vol. 2) which
serves to contrast the bad day with the good day. I immediately pick this up, giving
Daniella the opportunity to continue (lines 21–25).

22. D yeah (.) yeah (.) you don’t go home nearly crying heh heh heh
23. R what was that? 5
24. D 5 you don’t go home nearly crying
126 K. Roulston

In contrast to the good day—the genesis for which has a certain mysterious quality—
Daniella self-assigns the production of past bad days to personal shortcomings.
26. D I used to come home and say ‘I’M A BAD TEACHER’ [heh heh heh
27. R [heh heh heh heh
28. D ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’
29. R WHY? heh heh heh
30. D oh well and it was a good in a way because [husband] would say
well (1.0) um ‘Why?
31. R yeah
32. D What went wrong?’ and you’d sort of sit down and make you
[analyse and well it was
33. R [yeah
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34. D my: bad planning [or I should have or but you know you learn from
your [mistakes
35. R [yeah
36. D and you [learn that some things aren’t gonna work with some
particular children
37. R [yeah
38. D so [you just don’t do that again heh heh heh
39. R [mm that’s right
Daniella takes full responsibility in this story for having produced ‘bad days’ in the past
(lines 26, 28, 32, 34, 36, 38). She has been aided and abetted in the analysis of ‘what
went wrong’ by her husband, who is also a teacher (line 30). At line 40 I take control
of the conversation by offering an exploration of the comment made at line 7 (‘there’s
so many variables aren’t there’) and providing a lengthy formulation of preceding talk
in lines 40–48. This passage shows the three characteristics of formulations identiŽ ed by
Heritage and Watson (1979, pp. 128–129): preservation, deletion, and transformation.
40. R and sometimes heh heh heh exactly sometimes it’s out of your
control. hhh I mean you
41. uh can be planned [and you can be organised and you can be in a
good mood huh heh
42. D [mm
43. R heh heh and something else [goes wrong and as you say, just because
it works with
44. D [I don’t ( )
45. R one set of children at one school doesn’t mean that it will work with
someone else
46. either
47. (2.0)
48. R and year to year it changes too
Lines 43 and 45 preserve the element that ‘what works with one set of children’ may
not work elsewhere. I have deleted the notion that the bad day is a function of being a
‘bad teacher’, and accomplish a transformation by proposing that the teacher—who in
spite of being planned and in control—has ‘something else go wrong’. The bad day in
this alternative account is produced in the same mysterious way as the good day, but is
Introducing ethnomethodological analysis 127

not the sole responsibility of the teacher as has been proposed by Daniella in lines
At line 49, Daniella continues the account of herself as a ‘bad teacher’ in the past.
Again she questions her own teaching, this time suggesting that she can no longer
accomplish ‘great things’ in her teaching (line 59) because she has become ‘less
courageous’ (line 55).
49. D mm (.) I think back to some of the things I did early in [my teaching
and I’d love to try
50. R [yeah
51. D them again 5
52. R 5 mm 5
53. D 5 but it takes courage
54. R heh heh heh you’re not wrong
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55. D and I’m getting- I’m getting more and more (2.0) um (1.0) less
courageous I think
56. R yeah no I agree with you 5
57. D 5 I did some great things and I’ve got photos of 5
58. R 5 to prove it heh heh heh 5
59. D 5 we did this great moving machi:[ne and you know the kids sort of
in formation and
60. R [yeah
61. D making sounds and (1.0) I don’t think I’d have the courage to do
that 5
62. R 5 yeah 5
63. D 5 and I don’t know if it’s because the children have changed or if
I’ve changed or::
64. R yeah
65. D I don’t know
66. R it could be yeah all of those things couldn’t it yeah (2.0) it’s
interesting (.) how you
67. cha- how your teaching changes over the years and as you heh heh
say you get less
68. courageous
69. D yes
70. R you think ‘Oh I tried this
71. D mm
72. R and it didn’t work I don’t think I’ll try that again’ heh heh heh heh
73. D well that’s the thing you know sort of if you do that you never do
it [again but it
74. R [heh heh heh
75. D might be really successful with another class but you think ‘I’m not
doing that again’
76. R yeah
77. D masochist heh heh heh heh
78. R heh heh heh heh I don’t want to torture myself
79. D funny mm
Daniella’s description begins with activities of the young enthusiastic teacher who
accomplished ‘great things’ (lines 57, 59) and contrasts this with the less courageous
128 K. Roulston

teacher (lines 55, 61, 63) who would ‘never’ attempt these things again (line 73, 75). I
provide encouragement to the view of ‘losing one’s courage’ at line 54 (‘you’re not
wrong’) and line 56 (‘yeah no I agree with you’). At line 66, however, I call upon
Daniella’s earlier viewpoint as an explanation (lines 7, 40–45, 48).

66. R it could be yeah all of those things couldn’t it yeah (2.0) it’s
interesting (.) how you
67. cha- how your teaching changes over the years and as you heh heh
say you get less
68. courageous

While agreeing that ‘you get less courageous’, I also make way for other possibilities (‘it
could be yeah all of those things’) without overtly disagreeing. I repair my initial
formulation ‘It’s interesting (.) how you cha’ (change) to ‘how your teaching changes’
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(lines 66–67). In contrast to Daniella, who has repeatedly linked her past teaching to her
sense of self (see lines 26, 28, 34), I make a distinction here that it is the ‘teaching’
which changes, not the teacher.
In the concluding comments in this conversation, I initiate a construction of a teacher
who has lost courage through the experience of bad days.

70. R you think ‘Oh I tried this

71. D mm
72. R and it didn’t work I don’t think I’ll try that again’ heh heh heh heh
73. D well that’s the thing you know sort of if you do that you never do
it [again but it
74. R [heh heh heh
75. D might be really successful with another class but you think ‘I’m not
doing that again.’
76. R yeah
77. D masochist heh heh heh heh
78. R heh heh heh heh I don’t want to torture myself
79. D funny mm

Again, there is much shared laughter in this account that provides a portrait of an
experienced teacher afraid to take new chances with classes. Bad experiences in this
account have led to the teacher deciding ‘I’m not doing that again’ because to do so
would be masochism.
In this excerpt a short discussion of the mysterious ‘good day’ has led rapidly to a
lengthy discussion of bad days as an outcome of being a bad teacher. It concludes with
the contrast between the young enthusiastic teacher accomplishing great things and the
older, wiser and less courageous teacher afraid to try some of the things that worked well
in the past. In the next example, a teacher with over 30 years’ experience deftly
exempliŽ es the rewards to be reaped from his teaching, which is a labor of love, hard
work, and self-sacriŽ ce, in a single day’s work.

Excerpt 2: The best kids the best harmony

Edward, a teacher for over 30 years, provides a description of the good day’s teaching
which he has just experienced. Because of the length of this excerpt, only selected
extracts will be discussed here. Below, extreme case formulations (ECFs) are marked by
Introducing ethnomethodological analysis 129

arrows (for example, ‘every’, ‘best’). Pomerantz (1986) argues that ECFs are used to
legitimise claims.

1. R I just wondered if you could describe what for you is a really good
day (.) what
2. (1.0)
3. E mm um (.) well today I had a I had a reasonably good day today
because I started
4. the Senior Choir which I love an- and I never mind I even though
® I start every day
5. of the week with a choir rehearsal even though that’s that’s
difŽ cult cos I cos
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6. my voice you know packs it in sometimes when I teach from eight

o’clock til three
7. R yeah
8. E but um (.) I love starting with choir because it it’s a wonderful
way to start the day
9. because 5
10. R 5 yeah 5
11. E® 5 it’s it’s just the best kids the best harmony the best and so it’s
rewarding it’s hard
12. work but it’s ve::ry rewarding
13. R yeah
14. E so the kids walked out the door at nine and you feel as if you have
accomplished 5
15. R 5 yeah 5
16. E 5 some beautiful stuff it’s a
17. R yeah

Edward begins his account of the really good day by relating it to his teaching day,
which has ended half an hour prior to this interview.

3. E mmm um (.) well today I had a I had a reasonably good day today
because I started
4. the Senior Choir which I love an- and I never mind I even though
I start every day
5. of the week with a choir rehearsal even though that’s that’s
difŽ cult cos I cos
6. my voice you know packs it in sometimes when I teach from eight
o’clock til three

In his description Edward not only downgrades the really good day to a ‘reasonably good
day’, but also packages this description to include a portrayal of the difŽ culties and hard
work involved in his work. The self-sacriŽ ce involved in his accomplishment of choral
work that sometimes leads to voice loss is depicted through the use of ECFs—‘I never
mind I even though I start every day of the week with a choir rehearsal’ (line 4). Another
ECF (‘best’) is used repeatedly to describe the Senior Choir, which, although requiring
‘hard work’ is ‘ve::ry rewarding’.
130 K. Roulston

11. E 5 it’s it’s just the best kids, the best harmony the best and so it’s
rewarding it’s hard
12. work but it’s ve::ry rewarding
At line 18, a shift in topic from the enjoyable extracurricular activity, Senior Choir, to
the speciŽ cs of the teaching day takes place. This is introduced with ‘but then’.

18. E but then (.) on on Wednesday I my Ž rst lesson they walk out the
door at nine o’clock

What follows is a description densely packed with speciŽ c references to time (see
arrowed lines below), along with accounts of how that time is spent.

21. E® so I’ve got [forty-Ž ve minutes and I have my twos (.) and my
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twos are going well

22. R [yes
23. E® this year [so I have forty-Ž ve minutes to try and and I to try and
get organised I
24. R [yeah
25. E® don’t have forty-Ž ve minutes to get [ready for the twos that’s no
I I did not get back to
26. R [mm
27. E the music [room I just had so much other organisation [to do you
wouldn’t believe 5
28. R [yeah [yeah
29. R 5 yeah 5
30. E 5 you know with all these concerts and [things I had to do I had
to go to the ofŽ ce I
31. R [yeah
32. E had to talk to people I had to I just had a million things to do but
I got back there about
33. twenty-Ž ve to I had ten minutes to organise what I was gonna do
® with the twos 5

The 45 minutes referred to in lines 21, 23 and 25 is a ‘spare’ with which Edward begins
his teaching day following the 8 o’clock choir rehearsal, and after which he takes his Ž rst
class, a Year 2. Edward’s use of this spare period is accounted for ‘to try and get
organised’ (line 23). An explanatory note is added in line 25 when Edward points out
that this organisation is not simply for the upcoming Year 2 lesson, but rather ‘concerts
and things I had to do’ (lines 27, 30). In fact there is ‘so much’ organisation—‘a million
things to do’ (lines 27, 32)—that Edward did not get back to his room until 10 minutes
before the Year 2 lesson.
Time in this description is carefully accounted for in terms of minutes. Coupled with
this description is a careful account of how that time was used. Implicit in this teacher’s
account is a moral portrayal of a teacher who is so busy that not one minute is wasted.
Later on, Edward refers to another spare half an hour that is lost ‘completely’ because
he conducted a Bentley test7 with Year 4 children. Incorporated in Edward’s portrayal
is a comparison of the easiness of testing with the hardness of daily music teaching.
Once again there is a proliferation of ECFs (see arrowed lines) used in this depiction of
music teaching as difŽ cult work.
Introducing ethnomethodological analysis 131

41. E so I I did that and that was a bit easy and I just thought how easy
it is (.) um not that
42. ® I like testing much but how easy it is not to have to talk all the
43. R yes
44. E® just put a tape on and test and think [the music teacher never gets
45. R [yeah
46. E® very rarely ever get a time[where you don’t have to actually go
 at out
47. R [mm
yeah 5
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48. E 5 and I felt it was very relaxing cos I thought [well I just did the
test and thought ‘Boy
49. R [yeah
50. E this is easy isn’t it [how easy this is’ compared [with you know
compared with
51. R [yeah [heh heh heh heh heh heh heh
52. E® teaching every half hour

The music teacher in this description normally talks ‘all the time’ (line 42), teaches
‘every half hour’ (line 52), and ‘very rarely ever’ gets a time when he does not ‘go  at
out’ (line 46).
Edward completes his description of the good day he has just experienced by
providing details about his last lesson of the day, a Year 6 class. He concludes this
account by attributing the good day to having had ‘two spares that gave me a little
breathing space’ (line 68).

65. E and it was quite a satisfying day got to the end and I was
exhausted but it was good 5
66. R 5 yeah 5
67. E 5 pretty good sort of a day -hhh uh (1.0) because I had a li-
because I had those two
68. spares that [gave me a little bit of breathing space 5
69. R [yeah
70. R 5 time to re[cuperate
71. E [so I got a little bit of time where forty-Ž ve minutes at
the beginning of the
72. [day where I could go round and do a bit of the [organisation
which I had to do 5
73. R [yeah [mm
74. 5 yeah 5
75. E and even though I only got 10 minutes to prepare what I was
gonna teach today but
76. I had a really nice day ( )
77. R yeah yeah
78. E but I actually coped with that and um (.) you know I had a pretty
sort of rewarding
132 K. Roulston

79. day because the you know but other days (.) you know if you get
badly behaved kids
80. you know who who come at you every half hour 5

Located in Edward’s summation of the good day that he has just experienced is a
description of the intensity of the work of music teaching. In this description the teacher
is so busy that he gets to the end feeling ‘exhausted’ (line 65). This is qualiŽ ed with ‘but
it was good’. The ‘up and down’ nature of teaching noted by Lortie (1975) and which
has surfaced in the previous two excerpts included in this chapter is also re ected in the
descriptive devices used by this teacher. Whereas in line 76 it has been ‘a really nice
day’ this is downgraded to a ‘pretty good sort of a day’ in line 67 and ‘a pretty sort of
rewarding day’ at line 78.
In line 79 Edward introduces a new but related topic, the bad day, caused by ‘badly
behaved kids’. In the ensuing account (lines 95–108), the source of bad behavior in
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Edward’s example, that of Year 7s, is the teacher’s lack of preparation and organisation.
Edward’s account of a good day incorporates two distinct aspects. The Ž rst is the
‘good day’ as related to teaching children, Ž rstly in choir (lines 3–16) and secondly in
regular classes (line 35 and lines 54–63). The second aspect of the good day has to do
with the inclusion of sufŽ cient time during the day within which to accomplish
organisational tasks (lines 65–79). By his own account Edward has had a good day.
However, Edward also includes in his description references to the obstacles that serve
to prevent him from having a good day (loss of voice, lack of preparation time for
classroom teaching, and lack of time for completing administrative tasks).
3. E mmm um (.) well today I had a I had a reasonably good day today
because I started
4. the Senior Choir which I love an- and I never mind I even though
I start every day
5. of the week with a choir rehearsal even though that’s that’s
difŽ cult cos I cos
6. my voice you know packs it in sometimes when I teach from eight
o’clock til three
75. E and even though I only got 10 minutes to prepare what I was
gonna teach today but
76. I had a really nice day ( )

Time has been identiŽ ed by Hargreaves (1994, p. 95) as a major constraint faced by
teachers. The impact of having insufŽ cient time in which to achieve desired goals, and
the resulting pressure to achieve many tasks in a short time, identiŽ ed by researchers as
‘work intensiŽ cation’ (Apple, 1986; Densmore, 1987; Hargreaves, 1994; Larson, 1980),
is clearly evident in this teacher’s talk about his work. In this teacher’s account, while
achieving worthwhile results with children is central to the good day, the continuing
pressure of insufŽ cient time for preparation and organisation is identiŽ ed as an obstacle
to the achievement of these ‘psychic rewards’ (Lortie, 1998).
Edward is not isolated in identifying time pressures as an issue of central concern. In
an open-ended survey question granting music teachers8 the opportunity to raise any
issue surrounding their work, while 30 survey respondents expressed their pleasure in
teaching music, many more provided complaints concerning ‘time’ issues. These ‘time’
issues encompass several areas: (i) concerns about non-contact time and the resulting
lack of support for music (n 5 62); (ii) work intensiŽ cation (n 5 35); and (iii) time
Introducing ethnomethodological analysis 133

compression (n 5 29). That Edward’s description of ‘rewarding work’ is embedded

within a portrayal of the time constraints he faces in order to accomplish that work is
re ective of a condition of teaching faced by other music teachers.

Excerpt 3: ‘ … everything’s for the children’


1. R now I think next question what aspects of your work do you Ž nd

most rewarding
2. you’ve already covered that [um in a number of ways
3. J [yes I suppose (3.0) well I think
it’s I mean to
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4. me the essence is the children [heh heh heh

5. R [yes yeah
6. J everything’s for the children 5
7. R 5 yeah 5
8. J 5 but that’s that’s my love is certainly of teaching [music is
teaching children um I
9. R [yeah

Here, Jean, a teacher with 10 years’ experience as a classroom music specialist, notes
that the ‘essence’ of her work is ‘the children’. In her next utterances Jean expands on
this initial description by supplying speciŽ c instances of what is rewarding in her work.
The illustrations that follow exemplify tangible displays of her value to the school
communities that she serves. Having spent several years visiting small country schools
one day each week, Jean notes that in these schools children showed immediate positive
feedback by racing ‘to the gate to unpack the car’ for her (lines 12, 14). Further, teachers
took her professional advice by ‘buying equipment’ in order to set up music programs
(lines 18–20). In these two examples Jean is provided with concrete demonstrations of
her value to the school communities that she has visited.

10. J guess the um certainly the u- the what I’ve been doing in the
country [schools was
11. R
12. J very rewarding there was a [lot of feedback [immediate feedback
[from the children
13. R [yeah [yeah [yeah
14. J this response when the car pulls up and they race to the gate [to
unpack the car
15. R [yes
16. J [you don’t have to ask for people to come [down and unpack the
[car and uh big and
17. R [that’s great isn’t it [yeah [yeah
18. J from the teachers as well too a big response as far as coming back
again the
19. next year or the next term or whatever and buying equipment you
know asking
134 K. Roulston

20. [for things and [putting it into their budget and [buying them
which was great 5
21. R [yes [mm [yeah 5
22. J 5 that was part of the thing to set up something in each school 5
23. R 5 yeah 5
24. J 5 before a music teacher came in on a more full-time basis and
that’s worked really
25. well that was great 5
26. R 5 yes 5
In further talk Jean returns to her base school to provide further evidence of the positive
support that she experiences. In this example her base school principal has ‘fought all
the way down the line with every cutback’ to assist Jean in her work (lines 27–28). This
principal has also supervised negotiations regarding Jean’s timetable with the principal
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of the new second school that she has been assigned to in the coming 1997 school year.
Jean’s portrayal of her principal’s actions makes proliŽ c use of ECFs: ‘fought all the
way’, ‘every cutback’ and ‘do his best’, and is a cumulative representation of ‘the best
of all possible principals’. This principal both values Jean’s work and supports her
personally in the management of her work in two school settings.
27. J 5 certainly here um I’ve got great sup- particularly support from
staff and particularly
28. from the principal who has fought all the way down the line with
every cutback 5
29. R 5 yeah 5
30. J 5 to do his best and is doing the same now that I’ve got [new
second school] he keeps
31. saying ‘Don’t you go over [there until I’ve heh heh had a talk’ and
‘Make sure you’re
32. R [heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh exactly
33. J [not doing this you’re not doing that’ and and he’s great that way
as well 5
34. R [lay down the rules
35. R 5 yeah it’s good isn’t it
Not only does Jean feel supported by the staff and principal at her base school, she notes
that she is ‘lucky’ in that the school has positive support for music from the parent
community (lines 38–39). Again, Jean provides concrete examples in which parents
purchase instruments for children participating in the instrumental program.
36. J so I’m certainly very happy to stay here as a [base school um and
again as you can see
37. R [yes yeah
38. J I mean I guess I’m lucky in being in a school where the money
hasn’t been too much
39. [of an issue at all the children buy instruments [for the instru-
mental program after the
40. R [yes [mm
41. J Ž rst [year without very much hassle [at all sometimes I don’t even
have to loan out
42. R [yeah [yes
Introducing ethnomethodological analysis 135

43. J school instruments they’ve bought them 5

44. R 5 wow that’s good isn’t it 5
45. J 5 last year we had four clarinets on the shelf we had our quota
of how many we
46. could take and they’d bought theirs 5
47. R 5 yeah that saves a lot of and that’s rewarding too because the
children uh are going
48. to be enthusiastic 5
49. J 5 if they’ve got their own instrument it makes a big difference

In this excerpt, while Jean initially notes that the most rewarding aspect of her work is
working with children, the ensuing description serves to qualify her initial assertion. The
work which Jean Ž nds rewarding is situated in a context of overt and concrete support
from both her base school principal and other teachers. Children she teaches openly
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welcome her to the schools she visits and the local parental community provides
substantial Ž nancial support for the instrumental music program. In outlining what is
‘good’ and ‘rewarding’ about her work, Jean implicitly notes what may be ‘bad’ and
‘difŽ cult’ about the work of music teaching. Implied in Jean’s description of what she
Ž nds to be rewarding about her work are other possibilities: schools in which you must
ask others for assistance to unpack the car (line 16), and where there is little Ž nancial
support for the instrumental music program (line 38).
Although Jean has described her situation in ideal terms (she explicitly portrays her
teaching situation as one she enjoys, one in which her work is appreciated and supported
by teachers, the principal, children and parents) this supportive environment did not
prevent her from suffering considerable difŽ culty in the following year. Due to
stress-related illness, Jean took a lengthy period of leave from teaching before commenc-
ing a graduated return to work.9

Excerpt 4: The best part of teaching music

An experienced teacher, Kate describes the most rewarding part of teaching music as
working with little children. Kate provides a list of speciŽ c characteristics of little
children that she loves. Again we see this characterisation accomplished by way of ECFs
(see arrowed lines below). These ideal children ‘absolutely adore music’, ‘always want
to do music’ (line 4), say things which Kate loves, are ‘so spontaneous’, are ‘really open
to everything’, are ‘very giving’ and have ‘no pretences’ (lines 8, 10).


1. R um what aspects of your work do you Ž nd the most rewarding?

2. K I love working with little children 5
3. R 5 yeah 5
4. K® 5 and I love the way they um absolutely adore music and um
always want to do music
5. that’s the best part of 5
6. R 5yeah 5
7. K 5 um teaching music with with little kids they just love it so
much and and I love
136 K. Roulston

8. I love them I love the things they say [and they’re so spontaneous
and um um ­ open
9. R [yes
10. K® they’re really open to everything and very giving and they’ve got
no pretences
11. ® so little children that’s what I love the best
12. R yeah yeah and I guess the opposite of that one is what’s most
difŽ cult?
13. K well the most difŽ cult is when they start to get a bit older and they
do have a few
14. inhibitions about music 5
15. R 5 mm 5
16. K 5 but that’s probably not the hardest bit the hardest bit’s dealing
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with lots of people 5

17. R 5 mm 5
18. K 5 dealing with (.) thirty-three classroom teachers 5
19. R 5 yeah 5
20. K 5 in three different groups of um administration teams

Given Kate’s description of what she Ž nds rewarding about her work, which Kate has
upgraded to ‘what I love the best’ (line 11), I immediately follow with a query regarding
the ‘most difŽ cult’ aspect of her work, thereby generating a view of the ‘other side’.
Kate’s account here begins with a contrast with her description of ‘little children’. More
difŽ cult are children who are ‘older’ and have ‘a few inhibitions about music’ (lines
13–14). However, in Kate’s description, there is something much harder, that is ‘dealing
with (.) thirty-three classroom teachers in three different groups of um administration
teams’. In effect, this second response to my query of what is difŽ cult about teaching
is a repair of her initial response. While Kate Ž nds ‘little’ children delightful to work
with, older children with inhibitions are more difŽ cult to manage. Yet, comparatively
speaking, something much more difŽ cult, the ‘hardest bit’ of teaching, is working with
teachers and administrations teams in three different schools. In this particular account
it appears that the emotional labor (Hargreaves, 1998; Hochschild, 1983) involved in
working with other staff members and administrative personnel outweighs the consider-
able effort necessary to work with older children who express less enthusiasm for music
than their younger counterparts.

Excerpt 5: ‘Maybe what I’m teaching them isn’t so bad after all’
Maria’s tentative replies to my question ‘What aspects of your work do you Ž nd most
rewarding?’ are an indication that she found it difŽ cult to formulate a response. Given
her immediate hesitation, it is apparent from the following account that Maria, who had
just completed her Ž rst year of teaching, had experienced a difŽ cult introduction to her
chosen profession. However, given the research setting of the interview, Maria’s ‘work’
on this occasion was to formulate an ‘adequate’ answer to my question. The content of
Maria’s reply includes children’s performances, others’ positive evaluation of those
performances, and children’s tangible acceptance of her as a teacher.
Introducing ethnomethodological analysis 137

1. R the next one is um just what aspects of your work do you Ž nd
most rewarding
2. M I think (4.0) u::m performances? that the kids do? and knowing
that they’re enjoying it? 5
3. R 5 yes mm 5
4. M 5 and having people say how w- how well they [sang or per
formed or what ­ ever and also
5. R [yes
6. M just when (.) the kids come to me and and say hello and are really
­ friendly [because um
7. R
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8. M then I think oh maybe what I’m teaching them isn’t so bad after
[all you know? hhh-
9. R [yes ye(h)ah hhh-
Maria’s interpretation of children greeting her warmly and being ‘friendly’ is that
‘maybe what I’m teaching them isn’t so bad after all’ (line 8). My formulation of
Maria’s talk at line 11 categorises the children’s friendly responses as ‘positive
feedback’. Maria elaborates on the children’s talk with her in succeeding lines. These
include children speciŽ cally requesting songs and material that Maria has taught them.
In this account Maria analyses these requests for songs as a positive indicator that the
activities she has accomplished in class have ‘worked’ (‘you think well ‘­ Wo(h)w’ heh
heh it works’, line 15).
1. M u::m 5
2. R 5 get [some positive feedback from the children
3. M [that’s mostly ­ yeah yeah ‘Oh can we do
this song or
4. can we do that [song or can we [play this on the recorder’ and (.)
you know that you’ve
5. R [mm [mm
6. M taught it to them and [you think well ‘­ Wo(h)w’ heh heh [it
7. R [mm [mm yeah that’s nice isn’t it
8. yeah 5
9. M yeah that’s the main thing
The delivery of Maria’s description of what she Ž nds rewarding about her work is
revealing on two counts. First, the way in which Maria delivers her responses,
tentatively, hesitantly, and with rising intonation which beg an afŽ rmative response of
her interlocutor, suggests that on this occasion, she had difŽ culty in formulating an
immediate response to my question. Here, Maria appears to be searching for afŽ rmation
that her responses are appropriate within the context of the research interview setting.
Second, Maria’s uncertainty in regard to the effectiveness of her own teaching is
expressed in both the content of her responses and the manner in which she delivers her
While it might seem reasonable to question any teacher in regard to aspects of their
work that they Ž nd most rewarding, it would seem from Maria’s response that this
question inadequately addresses her experience of the everyday. For, it appears that
138 K. Roulston

Maria’s experience of being a Ž rst-year music teacher has been difŽ cult to the extent that
she has trouble formulating an adequate description of what she Ž nds to be rewarding.
Instead, Maria tentatively lists ‘possibilities’ which could count as rewarding work. This
excerpt illustrates the disjuncture that may occur between a researcher’s purpose and her
respondents’ everyday experience of the world. Smith (1990b, p. 24) urges us to
remember that

[o]ur training as sociologists teaches us to ignore the uneasiness at the

junctures where multiple and diverse experiences are transformed into ob-
jectiŽ ed forms. That juncture shows in the ordinary problems respondents have
of Ž tting their experience of the world to the questions in the interview

While it is quite possible that the difŽ culties Maria experienced in her Ž rst year of
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teaching far outweighed the rewards, nevertheless she still produces an adequate account
within the research setting. It might also be noted here that the future for teachers
receiving little in the way of immediate psychic rewards (Lortie, 1998) from their work
is bleak. Like Maria, who resigned from her teaching position to pursue another career
prior to the completion of her second year of teaching, it is highly likely that they will
exit from the teaching profession.

When called upon to describe a ‘good day’ or ‘rewarding work’ in an interview setting,
music teachers frequently construct accounts which are contrastive in design (cf.
Atkinson, 1984; Drew, 1992; Smith, 1990a) and make use of ECFs (Pomerantz, 1986).
The portrayals achieved by music teachers in these interview accounts are ones in which
the ‘good’ parts of teaching are idealised (by way of ECFs) and contrasted against the
‘bad’ and difŽ cult aspects of teaching. Contrastive designs are also used to depict other
‘scenes’. For example, in data considered here, Daniella (Excerpt 1) contrasts a version
of herself a young enthusiastic teacher willing to take risks in her teaching with an older,
wiser teacher who is ‘less courageous’. Jean (Excerpt 3) contrasts her own supportive
work environment against the possibility of other, less supportive ones. Further, in
interview accounts the joyful aspects of music teaching are embedded in descriptions of
the difŽ cult and problematic features of working conditions. For example, Edward
(Excerpt 2) sometimes experiences voice loss in the midst of a busy work schedule with
a ‘million things to do’. Kate (Excerpt 4) ‘loves’ working with little children ‘best’, but
Ž nds working with ‘thirty-three classroom teachers in three different administration
teams’ very difŽ cult.
Another feature of spoken accounts is the variable and erratic quality of delivery. This
is a situated representation of the ‘up and down’ nature of everyday teaching noted by
Lortie (1975), and regularly occurs in interview data in three ways. First, music teachers
regularly use ‘ urries’ of quantifying terms, to do with the amount of work to be
accomplished within time limitations often described in speciŽ c units (often that of
minutes). Second, music teachers successively upgrade and downgrad e assessments
made throughout their accounts before settling on a certain description. Third, hesita-
tions, pauses, slips and repairs in speakers’ utterances tend to indicate the difŽ culty that
some teachers have in both the formulation and delivery of accounts in the interview
setting (see for example, Excerpt 5). If one takes a conversation analytical perspective,
Introducing ethnomethodological analysis 139

these features of talk are signiŽ cant. For, as Hutchby and WoofŽ tt (1998, p. 228) have
noted in regard to interview talk, people

are not merely using language to re ect some overarching social or psycholog-
ical reality which is independent of language. Rather, in the very act of
reporting or describing, they are actively building the character of the states of
affairs in the world to which they are referring.

Through an examination of the formulation of accounts and the descriptive methods used
by speakers, such features as troubles telling, contrastive talk, or those outlined above,
provide a substratum of data for analysis that illuminates the cultural universe of music
teachers’ worlds along with its ‘content of moral assumptions’ (Silverman, 1993, p. 108).
This type of analysis also illuminates the co-constructed nature of interview talk (cf.
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Briggs, 1986; Holstein and Gubrium, 1995), by showing the interviewer’s contribution
to the generation of talk.
To conclude, in this paper I have demonstrated the application of a conversation
analytical approach to the investigation of transcripts of interview talk. This application
is signiŽ cant in that it provides a new method with which to investigate interview
accounts of music teachers’ work. This is merely one kind of talk-in-interaction that
might be investigated. Within the Ž eld of music education, other types of social
interaction open to investigation include meeting talk, classroom interaction, and
instrumental lessons. Weeks’ work (1990, 1996) investigating interaction in ensemble
rehearsals provides a possible starting point for other researchers choosing to adopt a
micro-analytical approach to analysis of the practical accomplishment of musical
activities such as rehearsals.
In the area of music education, possibilities for further research that could apply
methodologies drawn from ethnomethodology and conversation analysis are limited only
by a researcher’s imagination. For example, Hester and Francis (2000, pp. 8–11) outline
six broad themes of ethnomethodological research within the Ž eld of education. These
include: (i) the organisation of educational decision-making; (ii) standardised educa-
tional assessment and standardised testing; (iii) classroom order and management; (iv)
the production of classroom activities and events; (v) the practical organisation and
accomplishment of academic knowledge; and (vi) the child as a practical actor. All of
these topics are pertinent to music education and offer many possibilities for researchers
wishing to examine any of these issues as they apply within the Ž eld of music education.
For example, taking only the second strand presented here, a number of research
questions might be pursued. How is classroom order achieved in the music classroom or
in ensemble and choral rehearsals? How is deviance identiŽ ed and managed? These
questions are of practical relevance to the everyday work of music teachers, and
ethnomethodological studies provide a way of investigating these topics. Through the
microanalysis of talk-in-interaction, whether it is interview talk or naturally occurring
data such as classroom interaction, meeting talk, ensemble rehearsals or instrumental
lessons, researchers in music education might apply and extend the work of eth-
nomethodologists in other Ž elds. ‘Such effort’, writes James Heap (1990, p. 44)

may deliver news about the structure of phenomena, and especially about the
consequences of those structures for realizing ends and objectives regarded as
important outside of ethnomethodology’s analytical interests. The states of
affairs may be other than they appear, other than they have been reported to
140 K. Roulston

be by others, or may be of interest independently of what others have said,

rightly or wrongly.
I urge others to take up this challenge.

Transcription conventions used

Teacher D (Daniella)
Researcher R
( ) words spoken, not audible
(( )) transcriber’s description
[ two speakers’ talk overlaps at this point
5 no interval between turns
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? interrogative intonation
(2.0) pause timed in seconds
(.) small untimed pause
th:::en prolonged sound
why emphasis
YES louder sound than surrounding talk
heh heh laughter
the(h)n word spoken in laughing voice
-hhh in breath
hhh- out breath
°little° softer sound than surrounding talk
­ really rising intonation

[1] Comprehensiv e overviews and guides to doing CA may be found in Heritage (1997), Hutchby and
WoofŽ tt (1998), Pomerantz & Fehr (1997), Psathas (1995) and ten Have (1999).
[2] In Queensland , Australia, primary music teachers work with students from preschool to Year 7. I
refer to the work of classroom music teachers , rather than instrumenta l teachers.
[3] Survey results are reported in Roulston (1998b).
[4] Thematic analyses of data are reported in Roulston (1998a, 1998c, 1999).
[5] Teachers were given the schedule of question s prior to the interview.
[6] Transcription convention s are found in endnotes .
[7] A standardise d musical aptitude test often used in the selection of children for the instrumenta l music
[8] Two hundred and forty teachers were included in the survey mail-out and 64% responded (n 5 145).
[9] Jean was later to present her case to the Workers’ Compensation Board, and was eventuall y awarded
compensation for major depressio n caused by work-related stress.

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