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Musicians in the Making

Studies in Musical Performance as Creative Practice

Series Editor John Rink

Volume 1
Musicians in the Making: Pathways to Creative Performance
Edited by John Rink, Helena Gaunt and Aaron Williamon
Volume 2
Distributed Creativity: Collaboration and Improvisation in
Contemporary Music
Edited by Eric F. Clarke and Mark Doffman
Volume 3
Music and Shape
Edited by Daniel Leech-Wilkinson and Helen M. Prior
Volume 4
Global Perspectives on Orchestras: Collective Creativity and Social Agency
Edited by Tina K. Ramnarine
Volume 5
Music as Creative Practice
Nicholas Cook

About the series

Until recently, the notion of musical creativity was tied to composers and the works
they produced, which later generations were taught to revere and to reproduce in
performance. But the last few decades have witnessed a fundamental reassessment
of the assumptions and values underlying musical and musicological thought and
practice, thanks in part to the rise of musical performance studies. The five volumes in
the series Studies in Musical Performance as Creative Practice embrace and expand
the new understanding that has emerged. Internationally prominent researchers,
performers, composers, music teachers and others explore a broad spectrum of
topics including the creativity embodied in and projected through performance,
how performances take shape over time, and how the understanding of musical
performance as a creative practice varies across different global contexts, idioms
and performance conditions. The series celebrates the diversity of musical perfor-
mance studies, which has led to a rich and increasingly important literature while
also providing the potential for further engagement and exploration in the future.
These books have their origins in the work of the AHRC Research Centre
for Musical Performance as Creative Practice (, which con-
ducted an ambitious research programme from 2009 to 2014 focused on live
musical performance and creative music-making. The Centre’s close inter-
actions with musicians across a range of traditions and at varying levels of
expertise ensured the musical vitality and viability of its activities and outputs.
Studies in Musical Performance as Creative Practice was itself broadly con-
ceived, and the five volumes encompass a wealth of highly topical material.
Musicians in the Making explores the creative development of musicians in
formal and informal learning contexts, and it argues that creative learning is
a complex, lifelong process. Distributed Creativity explores the ways in which
collaboration and improvisation enable and constrain creative processes in
contemporary music, focusing on the activities of composers, performers and
improvisers. Music and Shape reveals why a spatial, gestural construct is so
invaluable to work in sound, helping musicians in many genres to rehearse,
teach and think about what they do. Global Perspectives on Orchestras consid-
ers large orchestral ensembles in diverse historical, intercultural and postcolo-
nial contexts; in doing so, it generates enhanced appreciation of their creative,
political and social dimensions. Finally, Music as Creative Practice describes
music as a culture of the imagination and a real-time practice, and it reveals the
critical insights that music affords into contemporary thinking about creativity.
Musicians in the Making

Edited by
John Rink
Helena Gaunt
Aaron Williamon

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Rink, John (John Scott) | Gaunt, Helena. | Williamon, Aaron.
Title: Musicians in the making : pathways to creative performance /
edited by John Rink, Helena Gaunt, Aaron Williamon.
Description: New York, NY : Oxford University Press, [2017] |
Series: Studies in musical performance as creative practice ; 1 |
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016039276 | ISBN 9780199346677 (hardcover) |
ISBN 9780199346707 (oxford scholarly online) | ISBN 9780190657277 (epub)
Subjects: LCSH: Music—Performance—Psychological aspects. |
Music—Instruction and study.
Classification: LCC ML3838 .M98 2017 | DDC 781.4/3111—dc23
LC record available at

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Printed by Sheridan Books, Inc., United States of America

List of contributors ix
List of illustrations xvii
Preface xxi

Insight John Wallace: A musician’s journey 1

PART 1 Creative learning in context

1 Learning to perform: from ‘gifts’ and ‘talents’ to skills and creative
engagement 7

2 Apprenticeship and empowerment: the role of one-to-one lessons 28


3 Facilitating learning in small groups: interpersonal dynamics

and task dimensions 57

4 The role and significance of masterclasses in creative learning 75


5 Evaluating progress and setting directions: examination and

assessment 93

6 Informal learning and musical performance 108


Insight Jane Manning: The creative voice in artistic performance 126

Insight Mine Doğantan-Dack: Expressive freedom in classical
performance: insights from a pianist–researcher 131
Insight Ricardo Castro (with Helena Gaunt): Transformation through
music 136

viii Contents

PART 2 Creative processes

7 Performers in the practice room 143

8 Small ensembles in rehearsal 164


9 The creative work of large ensembles 186


10 Learning in the spotlight: approaches to self-regulating and profiling

performance 206

11 Incorporating improvisation into classical music performance 222


Insight Carlos Lopez-Real: Musical artistry and identity in balance 241

Insight Margaret Faultless: Ensemble music in the making: a matter
of shared leadership 245
Insight Helen Reid: Making connections 248

PART 3 Creative dialogue and reflection

12 Reflection and the classical musician: practice in cultural context 253

13 Towards convergence: academic studies and the student performer 271


14 Musical expression from conception to reception 288


15 Dialogue and beyond: communication and interaction in ensemble

performance 306

16 Responding to performers: listeners and audiences 322


Insight Susanne van Els: On artistic adventures and connecting

to audiences 341
Insight Frances-Marie Uitti: Beyond convention: listening to one’s
inner voice 344
Insight Melvyn Tan (with John Rink): Learning to take time 347

Notes 351
Index 361

Stephen Broad is Head of Research and Knowledge Exchange at the Royal

Conservatoire of Scotland, where he pursues research interests across musi-
cology, music education and practice-based research. His diverse publications
reflect his wide research interests and include a translation of Olivier Messiaen’s
early journalism (2012).
Ricardo Castro is a Brazilian pianist and conductor. He is also the founder
and director of an internationally acclaimed programme of youth orchestras,
NEOJIBA, which was created in 2007. He was the first Latin American pianist to
receive First Prize in the Leeds International Piano Competition, which he won in
1993. Castro is the only Brazilian Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic
Society. He teaches at the Haute École de Musique in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Terry Clark is Research Fellow in Performance Science at the Royal College
of Music. His research interests include the assessment and development of
performance skills and injury prevention for performing artists. Following a
PhD in performance science at the RCM, he held postdoctoral appointments
in dance science at Trinity Laban Conservatoire for Music and Dance and in
performing arts health in the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine.
Stephen Cottrell is Professor of Music at City, University of London. His
research interests encompass three interrelated areas: ethnographic approaches
to musicians and music-making, particularly within the western art music tradi-
tion; the study of musical instruments, especially the saxophone; and the study
of musical performance. His publications include Professional Music-making in
London (2004) and The Saxophone (2012). During a freelance career spanning
nearly two decades he earned an international reputation as a saxophonist per-
forming contemporary music, particularly as leader of the Delta Saxophone
Andrea Creech is Professeure en didactique instrumentale and Canada Research
Chair in Music in Community at Université Laval. Following an international
music performance career and then a PhD in Psychology in Education, she
has published widely on musical development across the lifespan. She was
co-investigator for the Music for Life Project and winner of the Royal Society
for Public Health’s award for research in Arts and Health in 2014. She is a sen-
ior fellow of the Higher Education Academy and is especially interested in sup-
porting professional development in instrumental and vocal teaching. ix
x List of contributors

Darla Crispin is Associate Professor in Musicology at the Norwegian Academy

of Music, Oslo. A Canadian pianist and scholar with a PhD in historical musi-
cology from King’s College London, she specializes in the music of the Second
Viennese School. Her work includes a collaborative volume with Kathleen
Coessens and Anne Douglas, The Artistic Turn: A Manifesto (2009). She is cur-
rently working on a book entitled The Solo Piano Works of the Second Viennese
School: Performance, Ethics and Understanding.
Jane W. Davidson is Professor of Creative and Performing Arts (Music) at the
University of Melbourne and Deputy Director of the Australian Research
Council’s Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. Her interests are
in musical development, musical expression, voice, and music and wellbeing.
She has published extensively and has secured a range of research grants in
both Australia and the UK. She has also performed as a vocal soloist, has
directed and devised music theatre pieces, and has choreographed dance works
and operas.
Mine Doğantan-Dack is a concert pianist and musicologist. She studied at the
Juilliard School of Music (BM, MM) and received a PhD in music theory from
Columbia University. She also holds a BA in philosophy. Her books include
Mathis Lussy: A Pioneer in Studies of Expressive Performance (2002) and the
edited volumes Recorded Music: Philosophical and Critical Reflections (2008)
and Artistic Practice as Research in Music (2015). In 2008 she was awarded a
professorship by the Turkish Ministry of Education.
Celia Duffy was formerly part of the senior management of the Royal
Conservatoire of Scotland, where she held institutional responsibilities includ-
ing research and knowledge exchange and the implementation of a new under-
graduate curriculum. As the first Head of Research at the Conservatoire, she
led the team responsible for development of research, consultancy and knowl-
edge exchange activities. She now works freelance, carries on with her research
and chairs the board of Scotland’s leading contemporary music ensemble, Red
Margaret Faultless is a specialist in historical performance practice as both vio-
linist and director. She has been concertmaster of the Amsterdam Baroque
Orchestra and a member of the London Haydn Quartet, and is co-leader of
the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. She is Director of Performance at
the University of Cambridge Faculty of Music, a bye-fellow of Girton College,
and Musician in Residence at St John’s College. She is an honorary member
of the Royal Academy of Music and Head of their Historical Performance
List of contributors xi

Helena Gaunt is Vice Principal and Director of Guildhall Innovation at the

Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where she provides strategic leadership in
academic development, research, enterprise and internationalization. An obo-
ist and previously a member of Britten Sinfonia, she has published on one-to-
one tuition in conservatoires, orchestral musicians in the twenty-first century,
and collaborative learning. Current interests include ensemble practices, cre-
ative entrepreneurship and the potential for the arts to contribute to education
and development practices more widely.
Following a successful career as a professional singer, Jane Ginsborg studied
psychology with the Open University and gained her PhD at Keele University
in 1999. She is now Professor of Music Psychology and Associate Director
of Research at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, UK.
Her research addresses aspects of musicians’ learning, expert performance
and health. She is Managing Editor of Music Performance Research and
was President of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music
Lucy Green is Professor of Music Education at the UCL Institute of Education.
Her research is in the sociology of music education, specializing in meaning,
ideology, gender, popular music, informal learning and new pedagogies. She
is the author of six books and numerous shorter works, has given keynotes in
countries across the world, and serves on the editorial boards of thirteen jour-
nals. She created the ‘Informal Learning’ pathway within the ‘Musical Futures’
project and is currently taking this work forward into instrumental tuition.
Anthony Gritten is Head of Undergraduate Programmes at the Royal Academy
of Music. He has coedited two volumes on music and gesture and has published
in visual artists’ catalogues and philosophy dictionaries, and on Stravinsky,
Cage and Delius. His articles in the field of performance studies have discussed
distraction, problem-solving, ethics, ergonomics and technology. He is a fel-
low of the Royal College of Organists. His performances have included several
UK and Canadian premieres of Daniel Roth and complete cycles of Tunder,
Buxtehude, Homilius, Mendelssohn and Brahms.
Susan Hallam studied at the Royal Academy of Music before becoming Principal
Second Violin in the BBC Midland Light Orchestra and Deputy Leader of
Orchestra da Camera. Following further study in psychology leading to an
MSc and a PhD, she became an academic. She is currently Emerita Professor
of Education and Music Psychology at the UCL Institute of Education. Her
research interests are learning and performance in music, issues relating to
music education, and the wider impact of music on other skills.
xii List of contributors

Ingrid Maria Hanken received her PhD in pedagogy from the University of
Oslo. She is Emerita Professor at the Norwegian Academy of Music, where
she served as Vice Principal from 2006 to 2013. Her research interests are in
higher music education with a special focus on quality enhancement, and she
has given many presentations and published extensively on this subject.
Scott Harrison is currently Director of Queensland Conservatorium Griffith
University. He has over twenty years of experience in the performance of opera
and music theatre as both singer and musical director. He is a recipient of
the Australian Award for University Teaching and a fellow of the Australian
Government Office for Learning and Teaching. His recent grants and publica-
tions have focused on assessment in music, one-to-one pedagogy, higher degree
education and musicians’ careers.
Joe Harrop was among the first to graduate with a PhD from a British conser-
vatoire. He has worked as a violinist and lecturer in the UK and New Zealand.
With research specialisms in ensemble pedagogy and contemporary applica-
tions of rhetorical theory in music performance, he is the founding director
of Sistema Aotearoa, a government-funded social development programme
teaching over 300 children from low-income communities.
Juniper Hill is an ethnomusicologist with interests in performance prac-
tice studies and music education. A  recipient of Fulbright, Marie Curie
and Alexander von Humboldt Fellowships, she is Professor and Chair in
Ethnomusicology at the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg. Her spe-
cializations include improvisation, creativity, pedagogy, revival and intercul-
tural exchange, on which topics she has conducted fieldwork in Finland, South
Africa, the USA and Ecuador. Her books include The Oxford Handbook of
Music Revival (2014) and Becoming Creative:  Insights from Musicians in a
Diverse World (in press).
Mary Hunter is A. Leroy Greason Professor of Music at Bowdoin College in
Brunswick, Maine. She is the author of The Culture of Opera Buffa in Mozart’s
Vienna (1999), and Mozart’s Operas: A Companion (2008), as well as two edited
collections and many articles on eighteenth-century music. She is currently
working on a project on the discourse of classical music performance.
Mirjam James studied musicology, psychology and politics at the Technical
University Berlin. After an MSc in music psychology at Keele University, she
was awarded a PhD on audio-visual perception at TU Berlin. She has worked
as an acting professor in Systematic Musicology at Bremen University and as
a research associate in the AHRC Research Centre for Musical Performance as
Creative Practice, based at the University of Cambridge. She also founded the
charity Music for Open Ears and is a cellist and a singer.
List of contributors xiii

Elaine King (née Goodman) is Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of

Hull, where she has been employed since 2000. She co-edited Music and Gesture
(2006), New Perspectives on Music and Gesture (2011), Music and Familiarity
(2013), and Music and Empathy (2017), and has published chapters and articles
on aspects of ensemble performance, including rehearsal techniques, gestures
and team roles. She is Associate Editor of Psychology of Music. She is an active
cellist, pianist and conductor.
Mats Küssner is Research Associate in the Department of Musicology and
Media Studies at Humboldt University, Berlin. In 2014–15, he was Peter
Sowerby Research Associate in Performance Science at the Royal College of
Music. He completed his PhD under the AHRC Research Centre for Musical
Performance as Creative Practice at King’s College London, investigating
embodied cross-modal mappings of sound and music. In 2013, he and Daniel
Leech-Wilkinson co-edited a special issue of Empirical Musicology Review on
‘Music and Shape’.
Don Lebler is an adjunct professor at Queensland Conservatorium Griffith
University, where he has served in that institution’s directorate and led its inno-
vative Popular Music degree programme. He has over fifty years’ experience
as a drummer and programmer specializing in recording studio contexts. He
is a recipient of an ALTC Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student
Learning. His recent focus has been leadership of the Australian Government
Office for Learning and Teaching Assessment in Music project.
Carlos Lopez-Real is a saxophonist, composer, improviser and educator. Since
2005 he has taught at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where he is
Programme Leader for the BA in Performance & Creative Enterprise and the
PGCert in Performance Teaching, playing a key role in developing collabo-
rative and transformative teaching and learning approaches. He has recorded
and toured extensively, composed music for silent film, and curated several
club venues, and in 2007 he founded the E17 Jazz Collective. His music is
published by Spartan Press and Saxtet.
Jane Manning OBE is known internationally as a singer of contemporary
music. She has worked with many leading composers and conductors. She has
been Visiting Professor at Mills College, and has taught at Harvard, Princeton,
Cornell, Stanford, Yale and Columbia. She has also published extensively. Her
monograph Voicing Pierrot (2012) was short-listed for a Royal Philharmonic
Society Award. A third book, Vocal Repertoire for the 21st Century, is in prepa-
ration for OUP. She holds honorary doctorates from Durham, Keele, Kingston
and York Universities.
xiv List of contributors

Gary E. McPherson is Ormond Professor and Director of the Melbourne

Conservatorium of Music at the University of Melbourne. His most important
research examines the acquisition and development of musical competence,
and the motivation to engage and participate in music from novice to expert
levels. With a particular interest in the acquisition of visual, aural and cre-
ative performance skills, he has attempted to understand more precisely how
music students become sufficiently motivated and self-regulated to achieve at
the highest level.
Sinéad O’Neill’s recent research investigates the responses and experiences of
highly engaged audience members at live opera. Her previous work includes
exploration of site-specific opera performances and a dramaturgical analysis
of Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s productions of Verdi’s Macbeth, which span
seventy years. Her chapter in this volume was written as part of a postdoctoral
fellowship with Creativeworks London at Queen Mary University of London.
She is a trustee of English Touring Opera and the founder and director of
Cambridge City Opera.
Stefan Östersjö is a leading classical guitarist. He has recorded twenty CDs as a
soloist, improviser and chamber musician and has toured Europe, the USA and
Asia. As a soloist he has cooperated with conductors such as Lothar Zagrosek,
Peter Eötvös, Mario Venzago and Andrew Manze. He received his doctorate
in 2008 for a dissertation on interpretation and contemporary performance
practice, and since then he has been engaged in artistic research at the Malmö
Academy of Music and the Orpheus Institute.
A former keyboard finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year and Royal
Overseas League competitions, Helen Reid teaches at the University of Bristol
and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. She has given recitals in venues
throughout England, including Wigmore Hall and the Purcell Room. She has
performed many concertos, including the world premiere of David Matthews’
Piano Concerto, which was written for her. She was an affiliate artist of the
AHRC Research Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice.
John Rink is Professor of Musical Performance Studies at the University of
Cambridge, and Fellow and Director of Studies in Music at St John’s College,
Cambridge. He specializes in performance studies, theory and analysis, and
nineteenth-century studies. He has produced seven books and has directed
such projects as the AHRC Research Centre for Musical Performance as
Creative Practice, The Complete Chopin, Chopin’s First Editions Online and
the Online Chopin Variorum Edition. He performs regularly as a pianist and
List of contributors xv

John Sloboda is Research Professor at the Guildhall School of Music &

Drama, where he directs the Understanding Audiences research programme
and is a contributing researcher to Creativeworks London. He is Emeritus
Professor at Keele University and from 1974 to 2008 was based at Keele’s
School of Psychology, where he directed the Unit for the Study of Musical Skill
and Development. He is internationally known for his work on the psychology
of music, ranging across listening and performing contexts.
Tim Smart is a professional trombonist, with experience in a huge range of
styles from contemporary classical and orchestral to musicals, salsa, ska and
pop. Recent work includes playing for the West End musical The Book of
Mormon and seminal British ska band The Specials. He holds a BMus (Hons)
from the Royal Academy of Music and an MA in Music Education from the
UCL Institute of Education, where he is currently studying for a PhD with
Lucy Green.
Melvyn Tan established his international reputation in the 1980s with pioneering
performances on fortepiano, and he continues to cast fresh light on music con-
ceived for the piano’s early and modern forms. Tan’s work as recitalist, chamber
musician and concerto soloist has been heard at many of the world’s leading
concert halls and festivals. His large discography includes fortepiano record-
ings of concertos by Mozart and Beethoven and of Schubert’s Impromptus
for EMI Classics, and releases on the Archiv, Deux-Elles, Harmonia Mundi,
NMC, Onyx and Virgin Classics labels.
Frances-Marie Uitti, composer and performer, pioneered a revolutionary
dimension to the cello, transforming it into a polyphonic instrument by using
two bows in the right hand. She tours as a soloist throughout the world and
appears regularly in festivals and on radio and television. She has given lectures
and masterclasses at most major European conservatories and many music
schools in the USA. In 1997 she was named Regents Professor at the University
of California San Diego and again in 2007 at UC Berkeley. She is the founder
of the Bhutan Music Foundation.
Susanne van Els has been active as a solo violist and chamber musician. She
co-founded the Ives Ensemble and Sinfonietta Amsterdam, and from 1990 to
2009 she was the violist of the Schönberg Ensemble. She has premiered a large
number of new works written for her, gave the Dutch premiere of Ligeti’s solo
viola sonata and recorded it for harmonia mundi, and has performed in music
theatre works. She was Head of Classical Music at the Royal Conservatoire in
The Hague before moving to Conservatorium Maastricht.
xvi List of contributors

John Wallace was a student at King’s College, Cambridge, prior to studying

composition at the Royal Academy of Music and York University. A thirty-year
performing career followed as a trumpet player with the London Symphony
Orchestra, the Philharmonia and the London Sinfonietta. In 1986 he formed
a brass ensemble, The Wallace Collection. He also played many new concertos
written for him, by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies among others. From 2002 to 2014
he was Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He was made CBE
in 2011.
Aaron Williamon is Professor of Performance Science at the Royal College of
Music and Director of the Centre for Performance Science, a partnership of the
Royal College of Music and Imperial College London. His research focuses on
skilled performance and applied scientific initiatives that inform music learning
and teaching. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the UK’s Higher
Education Academy, and in 2008 he was elected as an honorary member of the
Royal College of Music.
Karen Wise is Research Fellow at the Guildhall School of Music &
Drama and previously was a research associate at the University of Cambridge
in the AHRC Research Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice
(CMPCP). She studied at the University of York and as a singer at the Royal
Northern College of Music, later attaining her PhD in psychology from Keele
University. She has published on the psychology of singing (focusing on adult
non-singers) and on creativity in performance.


3.1 A facilitator’s perspective, leading jazz students and professionals

working together (from a personal communication invited by the
authors from Shanti Jayasinha, freelance trumpeter, composer and
educator, specializing in helping musicians from all backgrounds to
‘get into the groove’) 64
3.2 The facilitator’s perspective in a community opera context (from
the chorus director of a community opera; Creech 2014) 66
3.3 A student perspective on chamber music coaching (from a year 4
undergraduate conservatoire student, via personal communication
with the authors) 68


1.1 Differentiated model of musical giftedness and talent (adapted

from Gagné 2009: 64; see also McPherson and Williamon
2016) 10
1.2 McPherson’s (1993) model of relationships between musical skills
and conditions of study (with simplified arrows to demonstrate the
strength of paths between the variables) 15
1.3 The Tripartite Model of Success (adapted from Burland and
Davidson 2004: 241) 19
1.4 Stages for musical development (adapted from sports-related model
by Abbott and Collins 2004) 24
2.1 The mentoring and coaching continuum (adapted from the School
of Coaching and Linden Learning) 37
2.2 The dimensions of one-to-one lessons 46
2.3 Change in the significance of continua over time 47
2.4 Differing approaches of student and teacher to each
continuum 49
2.5 Interactions between continua 50
7.1 Processes in forming one’s own interpretation and making it ‘your own’.
The first-level themes represent reported practice strategies that operate
as micro processes in support of the macro processes expressed in the xvii
xviii List of illustrations

second-level themes, which in turn are incorporated in the overarching

concept of ‘making it “your own”’. 151
9.1 Modelling Gunther Schuller’s implied relationships between
musical score, conductor, ensemble and performance 192
9.2 A more equitable model of the relationship between musical score,
conductor, ensemble and performance 193
10.1 A schematic diagram of the level of risk and contextual richness
typically experienced in practice, rehearsal and performance,
illustrating the experiential gap between those situations in which
musicians learn and where they perform (adapted from Kneebone
2011; © Roger Kneebone, used by permission) 208
10.2 Example of a performance profile of (a) general musical skills
and (b) specific artistic subskills. In each profile, black lines show
the performers’ current skill levels (the ‘now’ state), and grey lines
represent the performers’ ideal levels (the ‘ideal’ state), where
1 = very poor and 10 = skill mastery. Ultimately, each musician
should identify general and specific skill sets that he or she
considers essential for success in order to maximize the effectiveness
of the individual performance profiling. 213
14.1 ‘Werktreue’ and ‘Virtuoso’ traditions (after Goehr [1998]
2004: 140–65) 292
14.2 A model of four main conceptual approaches to musical
expression 295
14.3 Refining the expressive field for the musical work 301


2.1 Indicative sample of literature reviewed in the chapter relevant to

specific dimensions of the framework 51
3.1 Practical strategies for facilitators 70
7.1 Participants 149
7.2 First-level themes and select participant comments 151
7.3 Characteristics of ‘two ways of working’ 152
8.1 Coding of utterances 172
8.2 Utterances in each practice and rehearsal session (by number and
percentage) 173
8.3 Early-stage individual practice: goals and corresponding strategies
and plans 177
8.4 Late-stage individual practice: goals and corresponding strategies
and plans 177
8.5 First ensemble rehearsal: goals and corresponding strategies and
plans 178
List of illustrations xix

8.6 Last ensemble rehearsal: goals and corresponding strategies and

plans 178
8.7 Idea units by category: goals (WQ1 = wind quintet; SQ1 = newly
formed first-year string quartet; SQ3 = established third-year string
quartet) 179
8.8 Idea units by category: strategies (WQ1 = wind quintet;
SQ1 = newly formed first-year string quartet; SQ3 = established
third-year string quartet) 180
8.9 Idea units by category: plans (WQ1 = wind quintet; SQ1 = newly
formed first-year string quartet; SQ3 = established third-year string
quartet) 180
8.10 Practice and rehearsal strategies rated highest by students 181
15.1 Definitions of key terms applied in the context of ensemble
rehearsal and performance 307

This book has been in the making for over ten years. The volume was first
conceived in December 2005, when John Rink designed a research project that
would eventually take place under the aegis of the AHRC Research Centre
for Musical Performance as Creative Practice (CMPCP). The project—entitled
‘Creative learning and “original” music performance’—ran from 2011 to
2014, and its main aim was to investigate how the ‘creative voice’ of individ-
ual musicians develops over time, especially during late adolescence and early
adulthood. Musicians in the Making was intended to be one of the principal
outcomes of this study.
Accordingly, several of the research questions at the heart of the project also
informed the commissioning of this volume:

• How can the knowledge and skill acquired in the teaching studio,
practice room and classroom be used to maximum benefit in
• What learning and teaching techniques are most conducive to
transmitting the musical skills and knowledge required to surpass the
routine and predictable in musical performance?
• Should ‘creative performance’ necessarily be considered the main
artistic goal for each and every performer?

Although such questions are both fascinating and important, it is far from
easy to answer them. That is one reason we have produced this volume, which
attempts to shed new light on musicians’ creative development. The constituent
essays draw from and build upon past work on this topic, but the end result is
unprecedented partly because of the distinctive aims of the volume and also
because of the unusually collaborative approach that was taken during com-
missioning and as the material evolved. As the brief literature review that fol-
lows indicates, there are also differences from previous publications in terms of
authorial perspective and the ‘tone’ of the material. Although richly informed
by theory of various kinds, Musicians in the Making is not a predominantly
theoretical study, nor, for that matter, is it a practical handbook, even though
we hope that performers, music teachers and others will find it rewarding and
enlightening in respect of practice, rehearsal and performance contexts alike.
The three editors engaged a diverse authorship to investigate the manifold
issues surrounding what we refer to as pathways to creative performance. To
that end, twenty-nine contributors all told produced the book’s sixteen chapters, xxi
xxii Preface

eleven of which are the result of collaboration between two or three people. In
addition to the main chapters, the volume contains ten shorter ‘Insights’ writ-
ten by practitioners, among them internationally prominent performers and
performance teachers. Their articles, which are based on personal experiences
across a broad musical spectrum and which tend to be more informal in char-
acter, are interspersed between the chapters, thereby generating not only an
internal rhythm within the structure of the volume but also a dialogue between
respective contributors. Such dialogue was started at the book development
workshops in which the editorial team and many of the authors participated
in April 2013 and January 2014. These sessions enabled contributors to outline
initial responses to the briefs assigned to them by the editors, to compare notes
with other authors and to define a set of common goals. The ensuing process
involved unusually close interaction between the editors and individual authors
or groups thereof.
It is worth considering what the pathways to creative performance referred
to in the book’s subtitle might entail. Musicians generally do not follow rigidly
prescribed routes in developing as either amateur or professional performers,
and even if they do so there is considerable scope for idiosyncrasy. In fact,
the developmental ‘journey’ undertaken by each and every musician tends to
be individually determined in respect of the location, nature and timing of
the activities that contribute to it. Such journeys are usually anything but lin-
ear, and often they do not have fixed endpoints or even predetermined goals.
Indeed, most if not all musicians are continually ‘in the making’: learning is
an ongoing, lifelong process which involves not only oneself but the teach-
ers, friends, family members and listeners with whom one comes into contact
along the way. It should be remembered, of course, that the voices of these
‘others’ are often strong and pervasive, and while they can be instrumental in
determining pathways to designated goals, musicians must also find sources of
innovation from within, a challenge that can be daunting as well as inspiring,
depending where one is along an individual developmental trajectory. In any
case, the imperative to assess and reassess one’s musical insights and aspira-
tions is a central feature of life as a performer, whether one is preparing a piece
for the first time or performing it many times over, forging new partnerships
or maintaining established ones, or addressing new challenges or persevering
in familiar roles.
Similar discussion of what ‘creative performance’ and creativity in general
mean is also warranted here. The mystique of the artist as an intrinsically cre-
ative being has a long history, and even now a sense of awe can surround the
work of performers among others. Seen from that (rather outmoded) perspec-
tive, creativity functions as an attribute within an individual, who may then
transmit it into an artistic product. In recent years, however, this understanding
of creativity has changed significantly, with a growing emphasis on its location
within processes rather than understanding it as an innate quality. It follows
Preface xxiii

that creative processes may be learned and refined, and furthermore that col-
laboration and interaction within group contexts carry significant potential to
inform and catalyse creative experiences and outcomes.
A significant body of work from a practitioner perspective reflects on
creativity and creative processes, including Green and Gallowey (1987) and
Werner (1996). Such publications offer insights from experience and personal
experiment, and many are compelling. Because they are framed in terms of
self-help and based largely on anecdote, however, they often lack a systematic
evidence base. Nevertheless, they share a focus on several important issues,
among them the significance of enabling a musician’s creativity to inform and
flow through processes of practising, rehearsing and performing; the holistic
approach needed to achieve creative processes of this kind, ones which con-
nect mind and body; the detrimental effects of an approach dominated by
cerebral rather than embodied thinking; and/or the risk of overly self-critical
inner dialogue and obsession with perfection resulting in the body seizing up,
with a concomitant loss of flow and constraints on the musician’s ability to be
present in the moment.
With the exception of jazz improvisation, processes of creativity in musi-
cal performance have been little explored by researchers.1 From a research
standpoint, the performance of western classical music seems to be viewed
less in terms of the performer’s creative input and more as a matter of repro-
duction (see Cook 2001), whether of composers’ intentions or the dictates of
given scores or performing traditions. Such constraints have the potential not
to enhance but to hinder creative outcomes (Hennessey and Amabile 1988).
Arguably, however, performers’ success also depends on their ability to pro-
duce something beyond the routine and predictable, at least in some contexts.
As Lehmann, Sloboda and Woody have noted (2007b:  85), ‘it can become a
matter of huge personal significance, even financial survival, that one way of
playing a well-known repertoire piece is unique and recognisable as quite differ-
ent from another way of playing it’. The development of an individual artistic
voice in students is identified as a valued aim by some conservatoire teachers,
although teachers sometimes believe that power imbalances in the one-to-one
teaching relationship inhibit this development (Gaunt 2008). Furthermore, the
pathways that students may take towards creative and original performance,
however these may be defined, are not well understood.
To date, when creativity has been considered in a musical context, it is
mainly connected with improvisation or composition (e.g. see Deliège and
Wiggins 2006, and Lehmann, Sloboda and Woody 2007a; cf. however Burnard
2012) and thus is defined in terms of fundamentally new musical material. Even
though new material might not be generated within a performance from a pre-
existing score, however, the interpretation of the notated music in a way that
is perceived as different, fresh or ‘inspired’ will reflect the creative skills of a
performer (Lehmann et al. 2007b). In any case, the degree to which a product
xxiv Preface

of any kind is recognized and evaluated as ‘creative’ depends on the values and
judgements of the social and cultural system in which it was produced or is
assessed (Boden 1994; Hennessey and Amabile 2010; Williamon et al. 2006).
The problem for researchers is to define the broad term ‘creativity’ in a way
that makes it amenable to investigation. One approach has been to delineate
different components and determinants of creativity. A commonly used frame-
work features the four categories of person, product, process and press (see
e.g. Runco 2004), where ‘press’ concerns external influences such as cultural
or social constraints (Glück, Ernst and Unger 2002; Hennessey and Amabile
1988), while ‘person’ refers to intra-individual factors such as self-efficacy
(Beghetto and Kaufman 2007; Beghetto, Kaufman and Baxter 2011; Tierney
and Farmer 2002, 2011) and intrinsic motivation (Amabile et al. 1994).
With regard to product, researchers have delineated many types of cre-
ativity, depending on the level of novelty that a product or idea may have
within a given culture. Boden (1992) distinguishes between historical creativity
(‘h-creativity’), an idea that is totally new to a culture, and psychological crea-
tivity (‘p-creativity’), an idea which is new to the person in that moment. From
a slightly different angle, Kaufmann (2003) distinguishes between ideas or
products that are fundamentally new to a culture on the one hand (Big-C cre-
ativity) and those that are recognized as solving an everyday problem on the
other (little-c creativity). With regard to the material presented in this volume,
the ideas of p- and little-c creativity are clearly the more appropriate frames
of reference for students, who by definition are still learning the cultural rules
of their field and cannot be expected to produce outputs of culture-defining
magnitude, which in any case could be identified only through a historical lens.
However, less helpfully in respect of educational contexts, the focus of these
varying definitions of creativity lies on the creative endpoint rather than on
the means of achieving it. Recognizing this, Beghetto and Kaufman (2007)
extended the notion of Big-C and little-c creativity by incorporating a develop-
mental aspect. Their own concept refers to a creative process by which a person
achieves new insights (see also Burnard 2012).
Creative processes are by no means restricted to individuals: in recent years,
research has also taken into account the types of creativity achieved in collab-
oration with others. With regard to music, the main focus has been on improv-
isation in ensembles, but group creativity is also recognized as essential when
interpreting notated music (Sawyer 2003, 2006). This reflects a more general
approach in the wider literature that views creativity as a socially emergent
phenomenon (Sawyer and DeZutter 2009). Teacher–student collaboration
and the quality of interpersonal interactions in one-to-one lessons influence
the achievements of young pupils (Creech and Hallam 2011) and must also be
taken into account for music students’ creative development.
One arena which is essential to the evolution of pathways to creative
performance in the development of professional practitioners is specialist
Preface xxv

education and training in music. Research in the field of higher music edu-
cation has grown considerably in recent years, but, perhaps surprisingly,
here too creativity itself has been meagrely represented. Jørgensen’s (2009)
comprehensive overview from a quality enhancement perspective devotes
detailed discussion to the developmental processes offered in conservatoire-
type contexts. It covers aspects of motivation; learning styles (including
within the context of individual practising); reflective and metacognitive
skills; teaching–learning relationships in one-to-one teaching and mentoring,
group work and ensemble coaching; and assessment and feedback processes.
Creativity is barely mentioned, however, and when it is, the emphasis tends to
be on issues of programming and selecting innovative repertoire to perform
(see e.g. ibid.: 93).
The Reflective Conservatoire (Odam and Bannan 2005)—an edited vol-
ume emerging from research studies and development projects in one special-
ist institution—tackles a creativity agenda more directly, considering ways in
which specialist education embraces the potential of and tension between con-
serving musical traditions on the one hand and creating new work and perfor-
mance practices on the other. In this context, improvisation becomes a central
mechanism through which musical traditions may be explored by ‘playing’
with them, purposefully connecting individual performers’ musical instincts
and imagination to the discipline of stylistic features of particular genres (see
Dolan 2005 as well as Chapter  11 in this volume). Equally, interdisciplinary
collaboration is shown to offer fruitful ground for innovation and the devel-
opment of new work and insights (see Irwin, King and Parry 2005; Marwood,
Boonham and Garland 2005).
The social and interactive nature of the learning process in music is fore-
grounded in Gaunt and Westerlund’s (2013) edited volume, Collaborative
Learning in Higher Music Education. This is evidenced in terms of empirical
research in relation to theoretical frameworks and through case studies of prac-
tice demonstrating ways in which teachers are evolving their work with students.
In one of the constituent chapters, for example, Hakkarainen (2013) investi-
gates the relationships between expertise development, collective creativity and
shared knowledge practices in a range of discipline contexts, with considera-
tion of the ways in which these may be applicable to music. The characteristics
and possibilities for collaborative approaches in contexts ranging from inter-
disciplinary and intercultural projects to masterclasses, aural skills classes and
one-to-one tuition are then explored. Overall, the potential of peer learning,
communities of practice and a range of pedagogical strategies is more explic-
itly connected to creativity here than in Jørgensen’s (2009) book. Nevertheless,
although creativity is broached in relation to innovation and generating new
knowledge, including how this may be nurtured within the intersubjectivity of
a one-to-one student–teacher relationship, as well as within networks dedicated
to expertise development, the focus of Gaunt and Westerlund’s (2013) volume
xxvi Preface

is on educational process, and performance itself and ongoing professional

artistic practices receive less consideration.
Educational process is also the overriding focus of the twenty-one chap-
ters in Papageorgi and Welch’s Advanced Musical Performance (2014), which
provides a wide range of material on the education and training of advanced
musicians. The essays in this anthology consider learning and development
among western classical, jazz, popular and folk musicians; they also explore
the challenges of transitioning from educational environments into the music
profession. Of the existing literature in this area, Papageorgi and Welch’s
volume perhaps comes closest to Musicians in the Making, although one
significant difference has to do with the predominantly educationalist per-
spective of the precursor volume—hence the statement in a recent review that
Papageorgi and Welch’s book will be useful ‘for college and university curric-
ular committees, teachers, and administrators responsible for the education
and training of music students and future professional musicians’ (Woznicki
2015: 214). Nevertheless, areas of overlap do exist between Advanced Musical
Performance and the present volume, concerning such issues as the learn-
ing and teaching of musical performance in higher education and beyond,
‘musical journeys and educational reflections’, and developing expertise and
Musicians in the Making itself is divided into three parts, focusing in turn
on Creative learning in context (Part  1), Creative processes (Part  2) and
Creative dialogue and reflection (Part 3). The first part investigates some of
the qualities that inform the ways in which musicians employ and exploit
creative processes, including intrapersonal and environmental catalysts
(Chapter 1), empowerment (Chapter 2), interpersonal dynamics (Chapters 3
and 4), assessment and self-assessment (Chapter  5), and openness to new
performance experiences (Chapter 6). Places and activities where such qual-
ities are developed, refined and tested are then explored in Part 2, which in
turn considers solo performers in the practice room (Chapter 7), small and
large ensembles in rehearsal (Chapters 8 and 9), and diverse activities such as
‘self-regulated performing’ and improvisation (respectively Chapters 10 and
11). Finally, Part  3 looks at the types of dialogue and reflection in which
musicians engage, whether in the context of culture in general (Chapter 12),
through academic studies (Chapter  13), in respect of musical expression
(Chapter  14), or through interactions with co-performers and audiences
(respectively Chapters 15 and 16).
As noted previously, the ten ‘Insights’ are relatively informal and accessible.
Living up to their name, they offer pertinent observations about the individual
authors’ experiences over many years of learning and, in some cases, relearning
to perform. Apart from John Wallace’s ‘journey’, which serves as a springboard
for the entire volume, the ‘Insights’ appear in groups of three at the end of each
main part.
Preface xxvii

Although the list below is by no means exhaustive, some of the overarching

conclusions to emerge from the successive chapters and ‘Insights’ in Musicians
in the Making are that:

• Creative learning is a lifelong process which tends to be complex and

far from linear.
• The learning processes in which musicians engage involve
convergences between thinking and doing, between musical and social
aspects, between deliberate and nonconscious parts of learning, and
between planned and spontaneous musical activities (e.g. formal and
informal types of performance).
• Convergence also occurs between those involved in creative
performance, namely in the relationships that develop between
students and teachers, between performers and audiences, and among
peers, including of course other performers.
• The fact that making music is an essentially social activity has
implications both for the pathways to creative performance that
individuals follow and for the communities of practice that may
support them.
• Creative performance involves and indeed requires a strong sense of
identity—whether individual, collective or both.
• Creative processes engender risk, requiring individual musicians to
move outside their ‘comfort zones’ into unknown, often unexpected
• The fact that performance can take any number of forms requires
consideration of where it is located, how it is motivated and fostered,
and the meaning and value that derive from engaging in it.
• When investigating the processes undertaken or experienced by
‘musicians in the making’, it is important to determine who is doing
the making—and how.

Despite the breadth of material on offer and the expertise and world-class
excellence of the authorship, this volume ends up only scratching the surface
of what the ‘making’ of musicians involves and of the creative pathways that
they follow. This is by no means a shortcoming, however: it serves to indicate
just how rich and complex the topic in question is. We nevertheless hope that
the twenty-six essays here will add to the debate, shedding light on the theory
and practice of music-making as well as on the art and science of performance
more generally.

It is pleasing to extend our gratitude to a number of individuals who have

contributed to this project. Thanks are due first of all to the team at Oxford
University Press, including Suzanne Ryan (who commissioned the book and
significantly contributed to its conception and development), Adam Cohen,
xxviii Preface

Andrew Maillet, Jessen O’Brien and Jamie Kim. Further credit is due to
Cheryl Merritt and Thomas Finnegan for their expertise and input as the vol-
ume made its way through production. We also appreciate the contributions of
Karen Wise and Mirjam James to the planning of the book, of the anonymous
readers who made valuable comments on the proposal and the first draft alike,
and of a number of colleagues at our respective institutions who offered sug-
gestions as the material was taking shape or who assisted in the production of
illustrative material. Finally, we gratefully acknowledge the support that the
Arts and Humanities Research Council provided both directly and indirectly
to CMPCP in general and to the ‘Creative learning’ project more specifically.


Amabile, T. M., K. G. Hill, B. A. Hennessey and E. M. Tighe, 1994: ‘The Work Preference

Inventory:  assessing intrinsic and extrinsic motivational orientations’, Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology 66/5: 950–67.
Beghetto, R. A. and J. C. Kaufman, 2007: ‘Toward a broader conception of creativity: a
case for “mini-c” creativity’, Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 1/2: 73–9.
Beghetto, R. A., J. C. Kaufman and J. Baxter, 2011:  ‘Answering the unexpected ques-
tions: exploring the relationship between students’ creative self-efficacy and teacher rat-
ings of creativity’, Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 5/4: 342–9.
Boden, M., 1992: ‘Understanding creativity’, Journal of Creative Behavior 26/3: 213–17.
Boden, M., 1994: ‘What is creativity?’, in M. Boden, ed., Dimensions of Creativity
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), pp. 75–117.
Burnard, P., 2012: Musical Creativities in Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Cook, N., 2001. ‘Between process and product: music and/as performance’, Music Theory
Online, (accessed
15 February 2017).
Creech, A. and S. Hallam, 2011: ‘Learning a musical instrument: the influence of interper-
sonal interaction on outcomes for school-aged pupils’, Psychology of Music 39/1: 102.
Deliège, I. and G. A. Wiggins, eds., 2006: Musical Creativity: Multidisciplinary Research in
Theory and Practice (Hove: Psychology Press).
Dolan, D., 2005: ‘Back to the future: towards the revival of extemporisation in classical music
performance’, in G. Odam and N. Bannan, eds., The Reflective Conservatoire: Studies in
Music Education (Aldershot: Ashgate), pp. 97–131.
Gaunt, H., 2008: ‘One-to-one tuition in a conservatoire: the perceptions of instrumental
and vocal teachers’, Psychology of Music 36/2: 215–45.
Gaunt, H. and H. Westerlund, eds., 2013: Collaborative Learning in Higher Music Education
(Farnham: Ashgate).
Glück, J., R. Ernst and F. Unger, 2002: ‘How creatives define creativity: definitions reflect
different types of creativity’, Creativity Research Journal 14/1: 55–67.
Green, B. and W. T. Gallowey, 1987: The Inner Game of Music (London: Pan).
Preface xxix

Hakkarainen, K., 2013:  ‘Mapping the research ground:  expertise, collective creativity
and shared knowledge practices’, in H. Gaunt and H. Westerlund, eds., Collaborative
Learning in Higher Music Education (Farnham: Ashgate), pp. 13–26.
Hennessey, B. A. and T. M. Amabile, 1988:  ‘The conditions of creativity’, in R. J.
Sternberg, ed., The Nature of Creativity:  Contemporary Psychological Perspectives
(New York: Cambridge University Press), pp. 11–38.
Hennessey, B. A. and T. M. Amabile, 2010:  ‘Creativity’, Annual Review of Psychology
61: 569–98.
Irwin, M., M. King and N. Parry, 2005: ‘Isambard Kingdom Brunel: toward an industrial
opera’, in G. Odam and N. Bannan, eds., The Reflective Conservatoire: Studies in Music
Education (Aldershot: Ashgate), pp. 151–76.
James, M., K. Wise and J. Rink, 2010: ‘Exploring creativity in musical performance through
lesson observation with video-recall interviews’, Scientia Paedagogica Experimentalis
47: 219–50.
Jørgensen, H., 2009: Research into Higher Music Education: An Overview from a Quality
Improvement Perspective (Oslo: Novus Press).
Kaufmann, G., 2003:  ‘What to measure? A  new look at the concept of creativity’,
Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 47/3: 235–51.
Lehmann, A. C., J. A. Sloboda and R. H. Woody, 2007a:  ‘Composition and improv-
isation’, in A. C. Lehmann, J. A. Sloboda and R. H. Woody, eds., Psychology for
Musicians:  Understanding and Acquiring the Skills (New  York:  Oxford University
Press), pp. 127–44.
Lehmann, A. C., J. A. Sloboda and R. H. Woody, 2007b: ‘Expression and interpretation’, in
A. C. Lehmann, J. A. Sloboda and R. H. Woody, eds., Psychology for Musicians: Understanding
and Acquiring the Skills (New York: Oxford University Press), pp. 85–106.
Marwood, A., M. Boonham and S. Garland, 2005:  ‘Caprice:  music and movement
research and development project’, in G. Odam and N. Bannan, eds., The Reflective
Conservatoire: Studies in Music Education (Aldershot: Ashgate), pp. 137–50.
Odam, G. and N. Bannan, eds., 2005:  The Reflective Conservatoire:  Studies in Music
Education (Aldershot: Ashgate).
Papageorgi, I. and G. Welch, eds., 2014: Advanced Musical Performance: Investigations in
Higher Education Learning (Farnham: Ashgate).
Runco, M. A., 2004: ‘Creativity’, Annual Review of Psychology 55: 657–87.
Sawyer, R. K., 2003: Group Creativity: Music, Theater, Collaboration (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
Sawyer, R. K., 2006: ‘Group creativity: musical performance and collaboration’, Psychology
of Music 34/2: 148–65.
Sawyer, R. K. and S. DeZutter, ‘Distributed creativity:  how collective creations emerge
from collaboration’, Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 3/2: 81–92.
Tierney, P. and S. M. Farmer, 2002:  ‘Creative self-efficacy:  its potential antecedents
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mance over time’, Journal of Applied Psychology 96/2: 277–93.
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ity, and value in music performance’, in I. Deliège and G. A. Wiggins, eds., Musical
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A musician’s journey
John Wallace

I am still a musician in the making. I remember the day learning musical perfor-
mance started for me, when I was seven. Dad brought me home a cornet from
the band. Pete Michie the ragman used to come round the housing scheme on
his pony and trap, blowing his bugle to attract trade. I imitated him: toot-e-root-
e-root! Aural transmission in the raw. But when my dad came home from work,
informal clashed with formal. He soon set me straight, showing me there was
a right way as well as a wrong way. I then joined the Tullis Russell Mills Junior
Band and, along with forty other kids, played music like the Balfegar March
in big group lessons. The solo cornetist, Geordie Baxter, took the Juniors and
used to go red in the face with his passion for music. We loved him, but he
scared us too. Later on I went to the Band at the TR paper mill in Cadham two
nights a week. I played rugby and football and hockey, ran the mile, threw the
discus and did cross-country; even these activities were like music to me—all
part of the big performance. Pulsating Weber threw me through the finishing
tape. Music creates pulse, pulse creates tempo, and tempo motivates time. At
that age, my time seemed limitless and brimmed over with school, sport and
musical performance.
There were 1,600 kids in our school. In my first year we did Gluck’s Orfeo.
Then we did Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle, Smetana’s Bartered Bride and
Bizet’s Carmen. This was an ordinary Fife state school where Mr Ritchie,
the woodwork teacher, played the fiddle and made the sets with his classes;
Mr Brown, the art teacher, led the orchestra, and his students designed and
painted the sets; and Mr McGillvray, the commercial teacher, designed and
constructed the costumes with his classes. It was an underground arts factory
filled with a powerhouse of inspired individuals who were catalysed by the
music teacher Albert Cochrane, who is himself still a musician in the making at
the age of ninety. Most schools are full of people like this to this day—if only
you can unlock their collective potentials through the unifying purpose of a
passion for the arts, or indeed a passion for anything.
2 Musicians in the Making

My only regret was that by my secondary school years I’d become typecast
as a trumpet player and had to play in the orchestra instead of singing a main
part or being in the chorus on stage. When I was eight back at the mill, I’d grad-
uated from the Juniors to the Senior Band. I performed in my first brass band
contest in the Usher Hall that year, playing Wuthering Heights in short pants
on third cornet sitting next to Jock Campbell, who was sixty-five. In a band you
learn by osmosis. You play music like you play sport. Brass bands stimulate a
child’s natural competitiveness. I  started on bottom third cornet, and by the
age of ten I had graduated to top cornet, sitting next to John Miller, almost
the same age as me and now Head of Brass at the Royal Northern College of
Music. My two uncles, Dave and Charlie, played bass in the band, and my dad
the horn. My mum kept her made-in-Czechoslovakia Stradivarius under the
bed and played Scots songs on it. My granddad sang 104 ballads with all the
verses. Music suffused everything: it was part of our family, it pulsated through
the veins of our community. It wasn’t a polite, civilising add-on: it was the glue
of society. It held us together.
That’s where I came from, and that’s what made me who I am. This musician
is a product of an instinctive, informal learning community of closely inter-
acting humans with asymmetric age groupings. My early experiences of the
effectiveness of multiplicity—playing the piano, the viola and the cello, and
composing and conducting the choir and orchestra at school as well as play-
ing the trumpet—added to the kaleidoscope of subjects that were thrown at
me. This showed that, for me at least, diversity wins over convergence. Think
of all those hundreds of millions of neurons languishing for lack of stimulus.
Humans are essentially multitrack: it takes more than one furrow to plough the
field of your life. And to be self-reliant, you cannot be a one-trick pony.
I needed that self-reliance later in life. I went on to become a self-employed
trumpet player working all over as a jobbing musician and doing everything
under the sun. Eventually I gained a full-time salaried position in Glasgow at
the age of fifty-two—and I learned that it is more challenging for a musician to
work for an institution than it is to work for oneself. Salaries suck self-invention
dry. Self-employment can give you better personal rewards and the consequent
self-determination, as well as much more personally satisfying music-making.
Now my job is to work for everybody else—and I  make work and play-
make in one of the most amazing working environments in the UK—that of
one of our conservatoires.1 Making work and play-making in a conservatoire
like Scotland’s means being surrounded by musicians, actors, dancers, techni-
cal designers, scenic artists and film makers every day, at every age and stage.
Immersion in a conservatoire reminds me of the society I grew up in. We weave
an artistic web that helps form the essential fabric of the UK and helps to dif-
ferentiate us from the other seven billion people on the planet.
I suppose you could say that my life in music—developing and refining
my individual voice over time, and learning musical performance through
Insight: John Wallace 3

interaction with all sorts of inspiring human beings—has made me socially

mobile, taking me from my beginnings in the working class to an artistically
aware section of the middle classes. However, I find the concept of social mobil-
ity confusing and irrelevant. Where are we supposed to travel to?
When forced to dwell on my own trajectory as a musician, looking over
the horizon at what remains of my third age, I would dearly love to finish my
journey in an informally formal learning environment similar to the one where
I  started learning musical performance all those years ago. Whether or not
this ends up being possible depends on where the pathways ahead happen to
take me.

Creative learning in context

Learning to perform
Jane W. Davidson and Gary E. McPherson

This chapter focuses on the catalysts evident in learners who pass from a
casual or partial interaction with music, through to the highly commit-
ted and intensely focused engagement stereotypically associated with the
highly successful young classical musician. These catalysts include material
provisions, milieu and key individuals; also intrapersonal factors such as
traits, personal awareness, motivation and volition. In order to contextual-
ize the discussion, an initial exploration of terms such as ‘gifts’ and ‘talents’
highlights the way in which blanket concepts have tended to be overempha-
sized to account for the acquisition of musical abilities, especially those
that are achieved quickly and that lead to high-level accomplishment. This
analysis reveals that many of the ideas generally held about musical abil-
ity have, in part, been entwined in our western social and cultural opera-
tional and belief systems, with ‘gifts’ and ‘talents’ being at best vague and
often poorly defined concepts adopted to overcome shortcomings in theo-
retical and reflective insights. With these social and cultural preconceptions
highlighted, case-study examples are used to outline some of the complex
and detailed ways in which learners progress to high-level competency by
acquiring and refining performance skills.

Defining giftedness and talent

In western societies, music is often characterized by a stark contrast

between a very small cohort of exceptionally able young musicians and the

8 Musicians in the Making

masses of youngsters who either dabble in or typically fail to learn music to

any degree of competency. When critically examined, the logic behind this
bipartite characterization proves to be culturally determined and intellec-
tually flimsy. First, and significantly, in these contexts exposure to learning
opportunities and engagement with music performance are known to be
piecemeal and variably supported within social groups, so that where high
achievement is observed, it is reported as being exceptional. Second, those
who do achieve very high standards in early childhood (often referred to
as musical prodigies) are always well introduced to and nurtured through
their music learning (Davidson and Faulkner 2013). Thus, there are envi-
ronmental catalysts contributing to the learning processes that are highly
influential on progression.
Historically, the discourse on giftedness and talent shows three distinct
trends: a theological perspective, in which children who displayed special abili-
ties were regarded as ‘heavenly’ or a gift from God; a metaphysical phase that
emphasized individual aptitudes but which also fostered many myths such as
the stereotyped ‘crazed genius’ portrayed in films even today; and finally a
contemporary empirical approach that attempts to focus on domain-specific
training, the interaction of genetic and environmental factors, educational
measures and individual differences, and how these differ between cultures
(Stoeger 2009).
However, even in the current empirical phase of enquiry, the terms ‘gifted’
and ‘talented’ are often used interchangeably or inconsistently. This is found
not only in research studies but even more vividly in descriptions from educa-
tion agencies such as Ofsted (2009) in the UK, where the term ‘gifted’ is used
to describe learners with high ability or potential in the academic subjects, and
‘talented’ for those with high ability or potential in the expressive or creative
arts or sports. ‘Giftedness’ is used by other educational authorities to indi-
cate excellence of a higher order than talent (e.g. Ross et al. 1993). Because
these usages of the terms do not adequately explain the difference between
human potential and actual achievement, they lead to confusion and a num-
ber of misunderstandings within the public and even by researchers. Another
problem is that conceptions of the two terms are inevitably culture-specific.
Shin´ichi Suzuki’s (1898–1998) Talent Education method for training young
violinists and pianists, for instance, is based on the principle that all children
can develop requisite musical skills provided they are exposed to the ‘right’
education (Suzuki 1983), thereby representing a way of thinking that is solidly
based on Japanese societal values, in which hard work is often respected above
Our preference is to differentiate between the terms ‘giftedness’ and ‘talent’
according to how they are most commonly used in educational systems around
the world. In line with Gagné’s (2013) view, we prefer to distinguish between
Learning to perform 9

domains of ability (gifts) and fields of performance (talent). ‘Giftedness’ there-

fore can be used to describe individuals who are endowed with natural potential
to achieve that is distinctly above average for their age group in one or more
aptitude domains. These aptitudes are natural abilities that have a genetic
origin and that appear and develop more or less spontaneously in every indi-
vidual. The mix of these aptitudes explains the major proportion of differ-
ences between individuals when the surrounding environment and practice are
roughly comparable. It is important to note, however, that aptitudes do not
develop through maturation alone: environmental stimulation through practice
and learning is obviously essential. In contrast, ‘talent’ can be used to describe
someone who demonstrates superior performance (or superior skills) as a result
of some type of systematic training in a specific field. With reference to music,
this can include a range of competencies that encompass defined talents such as
performing, improvising, composing, arranging, analysis, appraising, conduct-
ing and teaching (Gagné 2013).
Gifts and talents have been clearly defined and modelled in the work of
Gagné (2013) and elaborated in respect of music by McPherson and Williamon
(2016). This work presents a differentiated model of the various forms of gifts
and musical talents, which offer explanations of underpinning catalysts that
shape talent. Figure 1.1 shows the model and outlines the physical and mental
resources utilized in music-making (referred to as ‘natural abilities’) and the
various forms of musical competencies necessary for this activity. The model
also offers an account of the developmental processes and the environmen-
tal and intrapersonal catalysts required for musical learning. It seems, then,
that according to this approach, all elements need to be stimulated if musical
skill is to be attained. This stimulation will happen in a differentiated manner,
sometimes occurring as the product of chance; the abilities and competencies
of some individuals will place them in the top 10 per cent of a cohort where
they can be specifically labelled (for those who choose to do this) ‘gifted’ or
The plethora of factors interacting to produce different abilities and
competencies seems logical enough, but it leaves ‘giftedness’ and ‘talent’ as
rather crucial constructs without detailed explanation of causation. Gagné’s
concept of chance might be more successfully accounted for in recent
work by Davidson and Faulkner (2013) on syzygies, which is explored in
this chapter as a different theoretical explanation of the factors that move
individuals from basic skills acquisition and competency through to very
high-level achievement. With Davidson and Faulkner’s explanation, we are
able to develop the argument that pathways to such achievement comprise
resourceful and inventive alignments for productive learning outcomes; in
other words, there are creative and typically highly motivating routes to


GIFTS (G) = top 10% MILIEU (EM)
TALENTS (T) = top 10%
Physical, cultural, social, familial
DOMAINS Parents, family, peers, teachers, mentors

INTELLECTUAL (GI) Enrichment: curriculum, pedagogy (pacing)
General intelligence (’g’ factor) Administrative: grouping, acceleration
Fluid, crystallized reasoning
Verbal, numerical, spatial INTRAPERSONAL (I)
(RADEX) Performing

Memory: procedural, PHYSICAL (IF)
declarative Appearance, handicaps, health

Inventiveness (problem-solving) Temperament, personality, resilience

Imagination, originality (arts) Composing
Carroll’s ‘retrieval fluency’ AWARENESS (IW)

Self and others; strengths and weaknesses
Perceptiveness (manipulation) Values, needs, interests, passions
Interacting: social ease, tact
Influence: persuasion,
Autonomy, effort, perseverance Analysing
eloquence, leadership, courting,
PERCEPTUAL (GP) Appraising
Vision, hearing, smell, taste,
touch, proprioception


MUSCULAR (GM) Access Stages
Power, speed, strength,
Music teaching
Content Place
endurance Formal Turning points
Speed (reflexes), agility,
coordination, balance

FIGURE 1.1 Differentiated model of musical giftedness and talent (adapted from Gagné 2009: 64; see also McPherson
and Williamon 2016)
Learning to perform 11

Social and family perceptions of musical potential and ability

A key point in the discussion so far is that the acquisition of musical talent,
particularly in western learning contexts, results from a great deal of hard work
by successful musicians who have practised for significant amounts of time
using broadly similar, systematic strategies that encourage learning. Growing
research in neurology shows that all humans have the capacity to perceive and
generate musical information, with a hard-wired impulse for music-like inter-
action apparent in infancy (see Hodges 2016; Malloch and Trevarthen 2009).
Also, evidence abounds in many other social contexts that high achievement
in music is the norm. Making a cultural shift from the western classical music
context, there are myriad cultures in which children are encouraged from birth
to engage with music. Often, if the cultural conditions permit, expectations can
be created that result in high levels of achievement being acquired. The Venda
of Limpopo Province in South Africa present a useful example of a cultural
group for whom daily life involves creative musical experience and practice,
and with musical performance skills being represented in all members of soci-
ety at a high level of competency (Emberly and Davidson 2011). In this specific
context, some people are regarded as possessing more or less individual skill,
and this perception is recognized as being based as much on their investment
and specialization as it is on any natural ‘gifts’ which might have shaped their
potential to achieve. For example, from a very young age, children can be seen
imitating adults and experimenting with music and dance outside the typical
adult ‘circle’ of activity, and it is when these efforts have generated enough
focus and basic familiarity with the artistic form that children are then moved
inside the ‘circle’. While all will learn and perform as a matter of course, some
will experiment more and for longer, creating their own variants on songs and
dances; thus their creative effort distinguishes them from their colleagues.
Other examples of the complexity of this issue pervading western social
contexts include cases where public conceptions of ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’ result
in self-fulfilling prophecies of both success and failure. For instance, Borthwick
and Davidson (2002) investigated a family within which there were very strong
‘scripts’ about resemblances in physical appearance, temperament and abilities
between children, parents and grandparents. These ‘family scripts’ have been
shown to have powerful influences over the ways in which families treat one
another and also how individuals within those families progress (Byng-Hall
1996). In the case study presented by Borthwick and Davidson, one child was
strongly identified as the musician and given a script that linked him at many
levels to his professional musician father—same physique, temperament, facil-
ity to make music and intellectual connection to music—while another child
said to resemble the maternal grandmother was given her ‘visual artist’ identity.
In this case, the script worked negatively against the second child in his efforts
to learn a musical instrument, for ‘it just was not in his make-up’. In other
12 Musicians in the Making

words, he was perceived by his parents as possessing no natural gift for music
and certainly no musical talent.
To take further the discussion above, we need to understand how musical
competency is attained, focusing on the evidence that embraces mental and
physical abilities, environmental and personal catalysts, and developmental
processes that stimulate the acquisition of musical skills. Such a detailed and
argued case must account, of course, for what stimulus pushes the individual
beyond the threshold of competency towards eventual high-level attainment—
that special 10 per cent to which Gagné (2013) alludes.

Musical competencies and their emergence

During the early 1990s, the current authors conducted separate research proj-
ects that focused specifically on the biographical factors contributing to the
emergence of musical skills. Davidson and her colleagues worked in the UK
with young learners of different backgrounds, ranging from those with min-
imum and unsuccessful learning experiences to those who were considered to
display prodigious abilities (see Davidson, Howe and Sloboda 1997 for a sum-
mary). The study revealed that children who became highly successful musi-
cians had extremely similar biographical profiles that were very different from
those whose engagement with music either was casual or ended in a failure
to learn. The biographical ‘musical success’ factors included reports of early
spontaneous singing activity occurring six months before the rest of the child-
ren studied; four times the amount of practice accumulated compared with
other groups of children in the study; rapid progress through examinations
(music grades); highly distinctive and stimulating family dynamics, with sib-
ling support in the form of either role models or forms of rivalry that were
positively framed by the learner; distinctive and very high levels of parental/
caregiver involvement in lessons and practice; and inspirational role models,
especially teachers.
Several interpretations of these conclusions require discussion. First, the
finding that parents reported their musical children as singing a good six
months earlier than their counterparts could be explained in a number of ways.
One account is that these infants were truly self-engaging in their early music-
related creative activities and did sing sooner than their peers and siblings.
Alternatively, the parents consciously engaged with these specific children ear-
lier through music than they did with other children. Another possibility is that
since the interviews undertaken were inevitably retrospective, the parents—in
the light of their children’s current musical successes—reconstructed their
memories of early musical engagement, recalling these high-achieving musi-
cian children as being more precocious in singing than their siblings. This last
explanation, though possible, was controlled for when collecting data by asking
Learning to perform 13

parents to match perceptual qualitative judgements against factual events and

to look for as much hard evidence as possible.
Second, these children amassed four times the amount of formal practice
(scales, technical exercises, etc.) compared with peers who either sustained
a passing interest in music or had given up playing after a minimum of one
year of formal study. This specific finding has stood up in the literature
over a number of decades, with the quantities of practice discovered as
being consistent with some of the data collected in other studies of profes-
sional musicians (see Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Römer 1993). The fig-
ures include a daily average of thirty minutes in the first year of learning,
with an exponential growth so that by the age of twenty-one years, these
competent musicians have achieved more than 10,000 hours of accumulated
practice. This quantitative ‘fact’ has been somewhat over-represented in the
literature, with the popular press translating it into ‘practice makes perfect’;
nevertheless, this was a robust finding, suggesting that this high quantity of
practice had a positive impact on development of skill for high achievement.
Indeed, when examination achievements were correlated with quantities
of practice, a startling result was revealed:  all the cohorts studied (high-
achieving musicians as well as those who had given up) progressed through
their examination grades at a rate that was proportional to the amount of
practice they had done. For instance, a child in the high-achieving musician
group might have attained Grade 1 in one year if the average practice was
thirty minutes a day. A child in the ‘given up playing’ cohort might also have
achieved Grade 1 but after six years of playing, yet the total number of min-
utes of accumulated practice would be identical to that of the participant in
the high-achieving group.
The parents/caregivers of the high-achieving group were also much more
engaged in practice and lesson activities. These parents typically kept practice
diaries with their children and attended lessons, taking notes and then assist-
ing the child with his or her practice. None of the other participants had any-
thing like this level of engagement or involvement. But note that the musical
backgrounds of this cohort of children were no more extensive than those of
the other children studied:  rather, these parents seemed to invest more time
and effort in their child’s music-making. Often, the parents would become
involved in activities such as the school band committee or assist on music
trips and so on.
The overarching family dynamics were consistent within this high-achieving
group and very different from those relevant to the other participants. Even
where a sibling was teased or bullied by another sibling, such feedback was
employed by the successful music learner to advantage. Negative comments
or threats were used as a positive reinforcement towards practice, providing a
motivation to prove the sibling wrong. There were also families where all sib-
lings were learning music, and this generated a supportive dynamic. Indeed, in
14 Musicians in the Making

one successful family studied, the children had been given instruments so that
classical piano trio and string quartet repertoire could be played between them.
Support was also garnered from other people such as teachers, who were
seen as major inspirations for what could be achieved. The most successful stu-
dents had on average 2.5 teachers over the period between eight and eighteen
years of age, whereas those who ceased playing often had a rapid succession
of teachers. Those who persisted with their music learning typically reported
their first teacher as being warm and supportive, seeing their parental qualities
of care and nurturance to be much more important and relevant than musical
expertise. As the child’s skill and interest persisted, however, personal qual-
ities were superseded by a need for musical expertise and for the teacher to
stretch the student. In addition to teachers, famous musicians also presented
role models, their masterclasses and summer schools having a huge influence
on the learner’s motivation to continue.
Overall, the work by Davidson et  al. highlighted the importance of the
establishment of specific quantities of practice, and the role of other people
and environmental catalysts to stimulate and sustain engagement. These find-
ings account to some degree for the role of physical and mental skills in the
development of control of the musical work; for the role of milieu, individuals
and provisions; and for the activities and investments required to achieve the
skills. But the picture remains incomplete, for the research did not deal with the
considerable variation in individual attainment, which was generally attributed
to categories such as ‘chance’, ‘gift’ or ‘talent’ as described in Figure 1.1. The
work also concentrated on student responses rather than educational inputs,
and it did not engage in any depth with the opportunities afforded by the envi-
ronments in which the children developed.
McPherson’s work in Australia focused on how children developed musical
skill efficacy, and this helped to demystify the study of the educational con-
tent required for musical competencies to develop. McPherson noted that all
children receiving instruction developed better music skills when their lessons
included a balance between visual, aural and creative forms of performance,
and that this served as a foundation for successful learners who were more
ready to understand notation, cope with memorizing music, play by ear or impro-
vise (McPherson 1995a, 1995b). From his analysis, McPherson was able to
model young instrumentalists’ ability to perform music creatively (improvise),
aurally (play from memory and by ear) and visually (perform rehearsed music,
sight-read). Using path analysis, he demonstrated that the ability to improvise
was strongly related to the skill of playing by ear, and sight-reading related to
the ability to perform rehearsed music. In other words, it was being allowed
to trial and develop skills that encouraged inventiveness, thus stirring the musi-
cal imagination and in turn contributing to the development of skills relevant
to the performance of notated music. As shown in the simplified version of
the path relationships depicted in Figure 1.2, the ability to play by ear was
Learning to perform 15

Length of study Quality of study Early exposure

Sight-read Play by ear

Play from

Perform Improvise
rehearsed music

Re-creative performance Creative performance

FIGURE 1.2 McPherson’s (1993) model of relationships between musical skills and conditions of
study (with simplified arrows to demonstrate the strength of paths between the variables)

strongly related to sight-reading, while both playing by ear and sight-reading

were related to the student’s ability to play from memory.
This interrelationship of skills was a new finding that challenged many com-
monly held beliefs, even though it provided empirical evidence for what many
music educators had been advocating. For example, for years teachers had
maintained that playing by ear was a distinct skill unrelated to sight-reading,
but the investigations revealed that those learners who played by ear and impro-
vised were also among the best sight-readers. The reverse was also often the
case. In fact, having a strong aural representational map provided an obvious
foundation on which to translate this skill to the symbolic written and read-
ing forms of music. This principle is certainly common practice in learning to
write language: we develop high-level skills in speech before we develop skills
in reading and writing. Allied to this, and perhaps not surprisingly, those who
had been exposed to musical experience primarily through visually oriented
(notation-based) learning were typically weak at the aural elements of music.
Figure 1.2 also shows the precursor input underpinning the ability to use
auditory and visual representations. McPherson found that early exposure
to music had a relationship with creative experience and that it assisted with
enriching activities such as musical games and exercises. Also, the quality of
the study was found to be a prerequisite to both sight-reading and playing
16 Musicians in the Making

by ear, with specific kinds of detailed work within the practice assisting in
these musical capacities. Like Davidson and her colleagues, McPherson also
found that the length of study had a direct impact on the capacity to per-
form rehearsed music and an indirect effect on the other four skills, thus dem-
onstrating that enhanced performance resulted from a balance between the
development of creative, aural and visual skills. McPherson’s work revealed
a series of interlocking subskills necessary for the development of musical
knowledge and that these were most likely to impact positively on the acquisi-
tion of various music performance skills if learned in a specific order.
In addition to the technical aspects of music-making such as the capacity
to sight-read or play by ear, musical performance expression—long regarded
as a matter of individual artistry and as the defining ‘natural gift’ at the
heart of the overarching ‘talent’ myth—is also a systematic skill. To play
with expression, musicians require clear knowledge based on the rules of
expressivity (which relates to specific musical structures). These rules need to
be systematically applied by the student in order to communicate structural
features. And while the rules are stable and can be systematically reproduced
over time, some flexibility is required in the case of expertise whereby experts
are able to hold back or exaggerate the expressive profile of a work to high-
light different features. Indeed, data from informal learners rather than for-
mally taught musicians revealed that several biographical and environmental
conditions led to expressive skill development. For instance, Sloboda and
Davidson (1996) saw in the biographies of a range of musicians the virtually
limitless opportunities afforded to these individuals for trial and error and
for positive reinforcement, used in order to develop their musico-emotional
links. Their own studies of children coupled with detail from the biographies
of high-achieving musicians revealed that had these individuals not strongly
engaged with these musico-emotional aspects of playing, their efforts to
practise might well have diminished. Those who succeeded in their musical
learning found it engaging, motivating and personally rewarding. They com-
mented that basic practice was often tedious and boring, but that ‘messing
around’ and ‘having fun with the rules of music’ through imaginative play
gave them access to very positive experiences.
Further to experiencing music’s emotional affect as a positive motivation
for learning, those students in the study by Davidson et al. who gave up
music often found the routine and the hard work of practice overwhelming,
especially as for them it offered no personal rewards. It seems that they had
not developed a connection to the emotional features of musical structures
and had not learned how to manipulate these to self-rewarding ends. Indeed,
these students did not engage in the sort of playful music-making where
trial and error were permissible and motivating to learning. Over the last
fifteen years, music educators have begun to realize the value in these sorts
of informal learning spaces for musical development (see Green 2002, 2008;
Learning to perform 17

Folkestad 2006; Chapter 6 in this volume). Referring again to the example

from Venda culture, being immersed in an appropriate nonthreatening and
cultural milieu seems crucial to giving value to the musical activity of the
Thus far, we have established that there are some appropriate and necessary
pathways required for musical competencies to flourish. But the studies out-
lined above do not in themselves pinpoint what specifically enables learners to
cross the threshold from casual engagement to deep involvement, or conversely
from initial casual engagement to a disinterest in continuing to study music.
In the sections that follow, we pursue this idea of the threshold for immersion,
engagement and progression, drawing on data from our more recent work and
on theoretical insights developed from emergent research on academic home-
work and on school and study activities.

Attaining the threshold for musical engagement

Detailed insight into the threshold necessary to engage in and develop musical
competencies was achieved by undertaking a fourteen-year study of students
from their very first school experience of learning a musical instrument through
to achievement as young adults (McPherson, Davidson and Faulkner 2012).
Of the 157 participants interviewed as seven-year-olds, 88 per cent were still
learning at the age of twelve and 82 per cent at the age of thirteen, with a dra-
matic reduction to 37 per cent by the age of sixteen and 23 per cent by the age
of eighteen (see Evans 2009). Of the 23 per cent still playing, only one went on
to study music at tertiary level, whereas another who studied graphic design
also worked on developing musical performance, eventually winning a highly
esteemed national classical music solo competition and achieving a casual con-
tract in the brass section of a symphony orchestra. The remaining seventeen
players were actively engaged in performance, ranging from casual playing of
a keyboard for personal reasons through community bands and choirs to uni-
versity orchestras. Inevitably, the authors lost contact with a proportion of the
participants over the years, and although this left a gap in the data it is interest-
ing that after eleven years of study, contact was retained with 66 per cent of the
original sample, which is a good statistic for longitudinal work. Of those who
had given up playing, all were highly engaged music listeners, making up live
music audiences and being active music consumers; their general regrets about
giving up tended to focus on not having sufficient motivation to prioritize music
in their lives, even those who had persisted to significant levels of competence.
Self-determination theory was a powerful framework drawn upon by the
researchers in analysing the motivation of this cohort to persist and engage
with music (see McPherson et al. 2012 for an overview; see also Evans 2009).
By applying this theory, which focuses on the fulfilment of psychological needs
18 Musicians in the Making

and thus accounts for motivation to continue learning (see Deci and Ryan
2002), the researchers found that of those who played musical instruments and
performed during their high school years and beyond, some were involved in
as many as fourteen categories of musical engagement, clearly demonstrating
that music occupied the bulk of the time spent by these learners in school and
out-of-school activities, and that it provided significant opportunity for artis-
tic expression. Importantly, all of these activities were closely associated with
strong peer ties. These activities also ranked highly in terms of personal enjoy-
ment, which relates strongly to the musico-emotional link proposed by Sloboda
and Davidson. In fact, it became apparent that for those who were progressing
well in their learning, the musical activity was used as a self-regulating mechan-
ism as well as for external connection.
Along with self-enjoyment and social focus, there was an emergent picture
of increasing independence as learners persisted and progressed in terms of
works selected to play and approaches to practice. The students engaged in
learning also received tuition from teachers who might be described as less
authoritarian and more facilitative, thus encouraging students to be more crea-
tive and increasingly independent and reflective in their learning. Overall, these
emergent data offered a more finely grained view of how learning was being
motivated and developed than in previous work (see Evans, McPherson and
Davidson 2013). The close relationship to positive opportunity, self-concept
and strong connection to others fitted well with Deci and Ryan’s (2002) notion
of self-determination as a crucial element in learning. According to this theory,
in order for learning to be motivating and sustaining, three main psychological
needs must be met: competence, i.e. a need to be effective in one’s efforts; relat-
edness, i.e. a need to be integrated into a social group; and autonomy, i.e. a need
to feel that activities are self-governed and of one’s own free will. The logic of
this approach for music learning is evident: if the learner feels in personal con-
trol of the learning environment, then engagement, enjoyment, progress and
satisfaction are likely outcomes.
Data from the fourteen-year study confirmed that the fulfilment of psycho-
logical needs was critical, for when it did not occur, the students were most
likely to give up their music learning, even when they had as much as eight
to ten years of successful experience behind them. For example, students felt
least competent, ‘related’ and autonomous at the point at which they quit their
instrumental playing. This is supported by qualitative material collected from
the participants, including the following statement: ‘I quit the trombone in year
8 because the music we were playing was not challenging and crap, along with
the fact that I wasn’t noticed for my skill, didn’t have many friends doing it, and
the instrument wasn’t used in the music I listened to at my leisure’ (McPherson
et al. 2012: 88). This single example reveals that music-making was considered
by the participant not only to be socially irrelevant but to have impeded his
social life; furthermore, his ability was not valued. In the light of this negative
Learning to perform 19

experience, it is no wonder this participant ceased playing. The statement also

indicates how powerful and affecting these memories of the learning context
were at the point of giving up.
Self-determination theory has strong resonances with the tripartite model of
experience and beliefs for ongoing learning and success proposed by Burland
and Davidson (2004), whose work revisited the original cohort studied by
Davidson et al. Burland and Davidson undertook detailed qualitative inter-
views with students who had crossed the threshold from serious school-student
involvement in music into tertiary education and beyond, with their careers as
young adults being developed as elite musicians. An emergent thematic analysis
of transcript data revealed material identical in concept to relatedness (referred
to as ‘positive experience with others’; Burland and Davidson 2004: 241) and
autonomy (Burland and Davidson’s description was ‘music as a determinant of
self-concept’; ibid.: 241). Although the concept of competence was not paral-
leled in Burland and Davidson’s data, there might be a common core. The third
part of their interlocking model (see Figure 1.3) is ‘methods of coping’. This
refers to the fact that all of those who turned the corner in terms of developing
an increasingly positive motivation and then succeeded in their performance
were also able to cope with many of the challenges raised by such a lifestyle. In
some respects, having a sense of competency might have enabled them to cope.
For instance, one participant interviewed by Burland and Davidson
explained that although he was a competent pianist in his mid-teens who was
making some progress, he realized that in order to be more competitive and find
a personally positive and empowering niche, it would be better to change to the
harpsichord. Having made that strategic decision, he then began to cope with
the specifics of the harpsichord as well as issues surrounding baroque perfor-
mance practices, and he began to conduct from the keyboard. He explained: ‘I
was [then] on my own as a harpsichordist, so I got to do everything, I got to play
things, I got to organise groups… So, I made some huge mistakes, but I had

Methods of

Music as Positive experi-

determinant of ences with others
self-concept and within

FIGURE 1.3 The Tripartite Model of Success (adapted from Burland and Davidson 2004: 241)
20 Musicians in the Making

some great successes’ (2004: 237). The theories in general and the specific data
here indicate that high-achieving musicians typically result from nurturance
that satisfies their psychological needs by building self-confidence, autonomy
and relatedness. Such motivation supports and encourages the development of
psychological resources that enable a musician to invest in the long hours of
practice required to attain technical skill and that provide a foundation for the
musico-emotional resources required to engage with musical expression.
Further to these ideas, Davidson and Faulkner (2013) have adopted the
concept of ‘syzygies’—a construct from astronomy—to develop a model of
how the components of abilities (including physical characteristics, personality
traits, general intelligence and domain-specific abilities), catalysts, developmen-
tal phases and competencies align. As shown above, Gagné (2009) has used
the concept of chance as a means of accounting for differences in experience
and outcome. Syzygies is a more complex concept, exploring and accounting
for permutations of personal, social, cultural and other environmental factors
that lead to the emergence of achievements. Davidson and Faulkner’s theory
postulates how multiple features become interrelated products of the worlds
we inhabit. They propose that these products create gravitational systems that
pull individuals towards motivated and positive achievement, not just in a par-
ticular discipline on the whole but in a particular area within that discipline.
Referring to the biographies of significant musical achievers, they demonstrate
how key life events align to help these artists first acquire skills in childhood
and then attain exceptional levels of achievement across the lifespan. Like self-
determination theory, syzygies acknowledge the key role of autonomy as well
as relatedness.
Let us pursue the case for syzygies more fully by drawing on the examples
cited by Davidson and Faulkner. One of them was the jazz trumpeter, band
leader, singer, composer and arranger Louis Armstrong, who moved the
boundaries of what was possible in his day. Despite his humble beginnings,
a remarkable series of pathways opened up to him, thanks to alignments,
competencies and opportunities that enmeshed. In brief, Louis accompanied
a junk cart on its round as a very young child, using a cheap tin horn to call
for rags and bones. He also had ample musical opportunity during his very
early childhood, singing at street corners in a vocal quartet while begging for
money. In this milieu he was exposed to the gatekeepers of New Orleans jazz.
Another aligning factor was that at seven years of age, Louis was taken into
the home of a Jewish family who gave him money to buy his first real instru-
ment, and although this arrangement did not work out and he ended up in
the Waifs’ Home for Boys, he was then nurtured by the institution’s music
instructor. In early teenage years, after hanging out with various bands and
experienced musicians in the back streets of New Orleans, Armstrong was
taken into the Kid Ory Band, where he learned the fundamentals of his craft,
trialling and experimenting. A  next key marker of his performance and
Learning to perform 21

creativity occurred when he joined the famous Marable Band on the

Mississippi paddle steamers, where he not only improved his abilities in
improvisation but was also forced to learn to read music and develop his
skills in scat-singing to relieve his sore, tired lips from the high-pressure
trumpet solos that he was developing.
This brief and somewhat cursory exploration of the meetings, reinforce-
ments and supporters in Armstrong’s complex early life begins to show how
alignments bring creative depth, focus and concentration to skill development
and motivation in order to continue engaging and learning. While the align-
ments will never be identical for any two individuals, this example reveals how
different yet interconnected experiences of relatedness can manifest and then
possibly amass to become a critical determinant in how as well as how much
an individual will feel motivated to continue with his or her focused musical
The study of syzygies first became relevant to the current authors when
investigating their cohort of students over fourteen years, in particular when
undertaking detailed case studies of some who persisted with musical engage-
ment into their twenties, but who engaged in very different ways (McPherson
et al. 2012). With the capacity to take soundings at frequent intervals, it was
possible to generate detailed insights into the musical lives of many students.
One particularly noteworthy case was Tristram. While his school reports
revealed him to be creative and conscientious, the playing itself evinced no spe-
cial qualities in the earliest days. Success would not necessarily have been pre-
dicted. But the niche in which Tristram grew up was favourable: his mother was
a primary school teacher, whose caring and structuring influence facilitated her
son’s musical engagement. Added to this, his brother and sister played in the
school concert band. There was a family script that supported all the children’s
participation in music: the brother played trumpet and the sister learned the
flute, and Tristram diversified the script even further by learning timpani.
A move to high school, an inspiring school music programme and a sup-
portive teacher offered Tristram the opportunity to learn bassoon—a further
development of the script. Tristram was flexible, often experimenting with
music and finding new musical opportunity for himself. He was positively
charged and motivated by his relatively quick progress on bassoon, which was
regarded as a difficult first woodwind instrument. The alignment that led to his
playing an unusual instrument, coupled with praise of Tristram’s interaction
with it, motivated him to practise with alacrity. Besides the orchestral oppor-
tunities afforded by learning both timpani and bassoon, his excellent school
music programme also allowed further musical diversification and growth in
his reputation as a student who could play many instruments. These configura-
tions led to musical skill development within appropriate social networks in
which Tristram flourished as a collaborative musician. It seems that his tem-
perament led him to these social contexts. Indeed, given his characteristic ‘give
22 Musicians in the Making

it a go’ attitude, it was unthinkable that he would refuse an opportunity to

learn the vibraphone and join the school jazz band. So, by thirteen years of
age, Tristram had a rich and constantly developing identity as a highly creative
musician within the school context. By sixteen, this scope had expanded even
further, when he was also performing as a singer/actor in school musicals. His
investment was considerable, and the rewards were the unfurling successes as a
musical learner, collaborator and ensemble performer.
Many syzygies contributed to Tristram’s musical development. His teachers
were particularly influential. When reminiscing about them, he was able to tease
out the skills that each person had helped him to develop. There was particular
focus on the creativity and stimulating intellect as well as personal warmth of
each person. His parents were extremely influential—his mother in the primary
school context and his father as a jazz aficionado. Each parent offered exper-
tise that contributed to Tristram’s emergent musical self. There was even some
transference of experience in that Tristram’s mother was so stimulated by her
son’s musical life that she retrained as a music specialist to work in the primary
school context.
Tristram continued successfully through to age seventeen, hitting many of
the markers of musical achievement, but within a very short period of time he
decided to study architecture at university and gradually gave up playing. There
seemed to be two principal alignments that resulted in his ceasing to invest
in his musical learning. The first was meeting a student four years his junior
who was at a much higher level of musical expertise. The result was a critical
appraisal of his situation:  ‘It just seemed like, oh my god, this is … ok …
you can do it, but I can’t… Why am I doing this? Am I really good enough
to do this, particularly with the bassoon[?]’ (McPherson et al. 2012: 163). The
second alignment had a strong connection to this first one. In order to achieve
a very high standard of bassoon performance, he was advised that he would
not be able to persist with jazz, improvisation and music-making; rather, he
would have to invest in more repertoire-focused practice on the bassoon. This
trade-off was one that Tristram was not prepared to make. He had attained the
core skills for fluency, enjoyment and artistic expression, but was not willing to
put in the work required to ‘stay there’ at a level sufficient to achieve ongoing
professional status limited to one instrument. Indeed, he had always resisted
formalized assessments in his music-making or committing to a single instru-
ment or a single musical style.

Developmental phases of musical attainment and excellence

The discussion throughout this chapter has highlighted the positive environ-
mental and intrapersonal factors to support the engagement and discipline
required to achieve musical competencies while also reflecting the theoretical
Learning to perform 23

ideas offered in self-determination theory and syzygies. Work from sports psy-
chology has characterized the key phases through which the learner’s behaviour
and beliefs pass in the progression towards high achievement. Because many
of the findings in sports literature are similar to those in music learning, the
framework shown in Figure 1.4 was adapted for music to depict the pathway
along which many students proceed in order to attain and sustain high levels of
musical engagement and achievement (McPherson et al. 2012).
Consonant with both the findings of Davidson et  al. (1997) and Louis
Armstrong’s early biography, the representation in Figure 1.4 reveals that sam-
pling in the earliest years is vital to aligning intrapersonal with environmental
factors. This creative opportunity present in all our data is not perhaps suffi-
ciently emphasized in this model. Also, although the model refers to a posi-
tive family, we know from the case of Armstrong that this ‘family’ might be
an assumed one, such as the Jewish people who fostered him. Additionally, in
some instances it could be that the family need not use direct encouragement
but simply must not impede the young learner’s progress. It seems, however,
that encouragement in a nonthreatening and supportive environment is crucial
for subsequent engagement; this is borne out by the overarching research find-
ings and is consistent with our brief case study of Tristram.
Once this musical identity is formed, it seems that a specialization focus
is required, where more and more specific, musically focused activities are
encouraged within a context in which the music learning is positively endorsed.
These focused activities include understanding and engaging music’s expressive
structures and functions in an ongoing manner. With all of these alignments
in place, the learner is able to proceed to a transitional stage where music starts
to be prioritized. Recall, for example, that in the fourteen-year study, those
individuals who persisted across the entire study period were often engaging in
as many as fourteen musical activities a week. In other words, for these indi-
viduals music was the highest priority in their lives. Once these sampling and
specialization stages are attained, it seems that the learner then moves into an
investment stage. Data from our fourteen-year study reveal that this investment
is not just for the learner, in that parents often make significant adjustments in
their own lives to accommodate and support the child’s growing interest and
specialization. The most extreme case that we have reported is of a musical
prodigy whose mother moved with her from Hong Kong to New York so that
she could study at a prestigious music school (McPherson and Lehmann 2012).
It was also commonly reported by Davidson et al. (1997) that the parents in
the study joined the school band committee or took on other significant, life-
changing routines in order to accommodate their child’s learning. In the case of
Armstrong, who did not have this specific parental support, many role-model
teachers were nevertheless active, and his own early life changed so rapidly
that music-making offered the single mechanism through which his identity
was expressed, enabling him to work with highly supportive teacher/role-model
Consistent level of musical performance
Musical expertise at professional level
Sampling Stage Specialization Stage Investment Stage Maintenance Stage

Macro Transition:

Macro Transition:

Macro Transition:

Macro Transition:
Musical identity formation
Participation Technical and musical Parents make lifestyle Maintains best

Musical prioritization
opportunities development changes to support performance focus
Positive family Family support learning Develops an
support and Recognition of talent High-quality effective system for
encouragement and achievement experiences and dealing with
Caring music Increasing music- training increasing demand
teacher specific experience Collaborative (e.g. performance
Emphasis on fun Involved with similarly (student–teacher) stress, public
leading to skill minded peers decision-making performances)
development Forming identity as a


FIGURE 1.4 Stages for musical development (adapted from sports-related model by Abbott and Collins 2004)
Learning to perform 25

figures. The learners themselves certainly reap the benefits of high-quality expe-
riences, such as attending music camps or specialized masterclasses, touring
with their regional youth orchestras, or, again, as Armstrong’s case reveals,
working with professional musicians from early on in contexts where high-level
investment in music is achieved. For us, this is the most critical of the tran-
sitions, given that the vast majority of children who learn instruments cease
instruction before reaching this investment stage.
Figure 1.4 also accounts for Tristram and other cases in the research data of
students who despite every positive early and midstage experience and compe-
tency in performance give up after only a short period in the more elevated area of
expert performance, where the desire to maintain skill seems to diminish rapidly.
In Tristram’s case, the requisite singularity of focus seemed to elicit concern, rob-
bing him of the enjoyment associated with improvisation. According to the model
of Abbott and Collins (2004), it appears that a mechanism needs to be in place
to sustain and develop the increasing demands brought by professional life, and
if this is not present, the learner will cease, sometimes in a rather dramatic way.
As pointed out by Burland and Davidson (2004), the extremely talented young
professionals in their study were acutely aware of this and developed personal
strategies to cope with a range of factors affecting their lives. In the framework of
self-determination theory, as mentioned earlier, this might be regarded as being
able to keep a focus on competency and be ever flexible to deal with new and emer-
gent circumstances demanded by the context of professional engagement.

Our musical lives

Throughout this chapter, evidence has been triangulated from biographical

case studies and large-scale longitudinal studies of young learners proceed-
ing from first learning through to adult professional expertise, in addition
to a number of other studies undertaken with highly engaged music learn-
ers, including one of a musical prodigy. Theoretical models from educational
and sports psychology have assisted in showing the specific factors that are
required to offer appropriate catalysts and the sustaining of investment to
follow a pathway necessary to achieve musical excellence. By using these con-
ceptions and drawing on research findings across the past twenty-five years, it
is only now that a comprehensive picture can frame some of the even more
complex questions that researchers will need to address in the decades ahead.
In particular, it is suggested that new insights would be obtained by explain-
ing creative expression in terms of the gravitational pull of a number of
other circumstances and characteristics within a syzygistic model (which typ-
ically is micro-personal, factoring in social alignments) of an individual’s
musical development. While these micro routes to achieving excellence will
26 Musicians in the Making

always be highly personalized in any domain, it is evident from the data encoun-
tered in this chapter that several fundamental psychological and developmental
needs must be satisfied and underpin macro-level music learning and progres-
sion. Increasingly, we realize through our research that the key to an enjoyable
and fulfilling musical life lies in the degree to which an individual’s psychological
needs are fulfilled at every stage of his or her learning. The fact that much can
be done to meet these needs has significant implications for the refinement and
updating of educational systems that could be employed to support musical


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Apprenticeship and empowerment

Helena Gaunt

The making of a performing musician in the West is the result of

events that transpire between student and teacher in the privacy of
the studio lesson… Teachers are the musical agents, the models,
the motivating forces for their students.
—Campbell (1991: 276)

The development of expertise in western classical music almost always involves

one-to-one interactions between a student and a teacher. Such interactions are
highly prized, both by students and by teachers, and often they are character-
ized in terms of apprenticeship. There are prevailing expectations that path-
ways to creative performance will be embedded within them.
It is essential to recognize, however, that individual learning processes typ-
ically draw on a rich array of experiences from numerous contexts, and devel-
opment emerges through the ability to integrate these effectively. Furthermore,
the nature of learning environments varies across cultures and musical genres,
and one-to-one lessons are by no means universal, however prevalent they are in
the western classical sphere. In many aural traditions, for example, people learn
predominantly within ensemble contexts and start to take responsibility for cre-
ative decisions at an early stage as an inevitable part of learning to sing and play
alongside more experienced musicians (Schippers 2010). In the field of popular
music, the power of collective creativity within informal group contexts is now
well established (Green 2002; Lebler 2007; Westerlund 2006; see also Chapter 6 in
this volume).
Focusing mainly on western classical music, this chapter considers the
ways in which one-to-one lessons support creative pathways to performance
and may be conceptualized to reflect these. It begins by considering the rela-
tionship between one-to-one lessons and creative performance for classical
musicians, examining in particular historical traditions of apprenticeship
and more contemporary understanding of socially constructed creative
Apprenticeship and empowerment 29

processes, including collaboration in professional duo partnerships. This

discussion concludes by identifying the need to develop a multifaceted and
nuanced conceptual framework for one-to-one lessons to reflect evolving
practices in the twenty-first century. The chapter then considers two theo-
ries that may contribute to such a framework, in addition to reviewing the
research literature on one-to-one lessons. Finally, based on this analysis, a
provisional model for understanding the collaborative process in one-to-one
lessons is proposed, designed both to illuminate and to support the potential
to develop creative pathways to performance.

Apprenticeship in music performance


The significance and nature of creative performance as a central part of profes-

sional practice for western classical musicians have been hotly debated, not least
within contexts of evolving discourses and practices of ‘authenticity’. At the same
time, empirical research into musical creativity has tended to be preoccupied with
the domain of composition (Deliège and Wiggins 2006; Lehmann, Sloboda and
Woody 2007). More recently, attention has been given to the many ways in which
musicians may be creative (Burnard 2012), and interest has grown in the nature of
performance and how instrumentalists and singers develop their practices.
For performers themselves, there is little question that establishing a sense of
creative engagement with performance is vital to sustaining a fulfilling career, and
that this is becoming increasingly important in contexts where, for example, the
recording industry has contributed to growing expectations of flawless technique
and to greater homogeneity in perceptions of what constitutes excellent sound
quality. This need for creative engagement has plenty of historical resonance. In
his treatise On Playing the Flute, Johann Joachim Quantz was adamant about the
need for instrumentalists to develop the characteristics of a composer, which he
described in terms of ‘a lively and fiery spirit, united with a soul capable of tender
feeling; a good mixture, without too much melancholy, of what scholars call the
temperaments; much imagination, inventiveness, judgement, and discernment; a
good memory; a good and delicate ear; a sharp and quick eye; and a receptive
mind that grasps everything quickly and easily’ (Quantz [1752] 1966: 13).
In our own era, the pianist Imogen Cooper has similarly connected perform-
ing and composing. Going further than Quantz, she underlines musicians’ own
need for catharsis through creative performance as well as for producing satis-
fying performances for listeners:
I suggest that the need to compose and the need to perform publicly are
intertwined in their energies. It stems from the language of music having
30 Musicians in the Making

a quite extraordinary power to pinpoint and localise both the numinous

and the dark shadow areas of the human soul, and to give them voice.
Such voicing brings wonder, pain, relief, performing a role that is quite
uniquely cathartic. Great composers have needed catharses no less than
any of us, to survive solitude, poverty, ill health, professional humilia-
tion, social injustices… What was their solution, apart from drinking,
smoking, opium, and whoring? They worked. They went inside them-
selves and plucked sounds from their imagination to string together into
magic and moving chains, chains which told stories, the stories that were
relevant to them, and in turn speak to us. So what do we performers do,
all these years later, when we feel destabilised, alienated, disenfranchised,
uprooted, and alone? We work. We go inside ourselves and pick up these
chains which tell our story in turn… (Cooper 2013)

Ronan O’Hora, pianist and pedagogue, has drawn attention to the impor-
tance of ‘inner suggestion and imagination’ for performers, and of creative
performance being released through ‘essential humanity’, connecting ‘what is
genuinely true and authentic with what is true and authentic in an audience’
(O’Hora 2013). These perspectives unanimously locate dimensions of creative
performance at the heart of what it is to be a performer, and go further to iden-
tify striking qualities required to achieve success: energy, sharp faculties, intense
emotions and readiness to become immersed in transformative experiences.
In contemporary contexts, an important counterpart to musicians’ per-
sonal motivations in developing creative performance lies in prevailing trends
where some conventions of performance are being challenged by falling audi-
ence numbers, and diversifying tastes in experiencing music are foregrounding
concepts of reciprocal exchange and co-creation between artists and audiences
(Kenyon 2012). These issues are inevitably having a significant impact on how
performers develop their practice (see Chapter 16 in this volume). While per-
formers in western classical cultures have tended to think about creative per-
formance in terms of the relationship between musician and score, with more
marginal attention given to the performance context itself (for example, manag-
ing particular characteristics of venues or audiences), contemporary practices
increasingly invite more balanced relationships between performer, score, con-
text and audience. Such developments offer the potential to strengthen connec-
tions between artists and audiences, not least, perhaps, between their respective
creative processes as performers and listeners, in ways that may enhance their
experience as active or even collaborative participants in performance.
What kinds of role, then, do one-to-one lessons play in developing path-
ways to creative performance for emerging musicians? Pianist and pedagogue
Boris Berman suggests that with advanced students ‘the teacher’s main role is
to help them find their own musical voice’ (2000: 198). He goes on to distin-
guish between young artists’ performances ‘containing faithfully memorized
Apprenticeship and empowerment 31

directives from the teacher’, and those where an artist has been able to ‘digest
and absorb those suggestions and make them his own’ (ibid.: 200). In the devel-
opmental process Berman is adamantly against students adopting a passive
approach to their teacher, desiring to be spoon-fed; instead, he advocates that
‘the student needs to offer the result of his creative work, thoughts, and ideas
for me to be able to respond’ (ibid.: 200).
From a historical perspective, Quantz was equally at pains to highlight the
importance of curiosity and imagination driving development rather than sim-
ple mimicry and repetition, concluding: ‘Anyone who only cares to devote him-
self to music haphazardly, as to a trade rather than an art, will remain a lifelong
bungler’ ([1752] 1966: 19). In a contemporary context, O’Hora emphasizes that
his own creative process demands acute attention to the discovery of musical
detail as well as to the broad sweep of a score:
I was a good sight-reader. I was very good at covering my tracks and cov-
ering up, sort of faking. And I went to a teacher, a serious Russian teacher
when I was about 14. And finally I sort of encountered someone who’d
say, ‘Again, I can’t hear what you’re doing, it’s not clear, that rhythm is
not even.’ And at first it was a real year or 18 months of going nowhere
because I didn’t bother practising. I would try to frantically get something
in order the night before. Of course he would know and that would be bad
luck for me. And then … at some moment I perceived the beauty of the
details… The thing is that even though I was scared of him that wasn’t
enough to make me… [T]he lure of reading through operas was still big-
ger than actually sitting down… [I]t was only when I got a sense of the
absolute beauty of inner detail and the sort of beauty of detail that can’t
even be heard except in relation to something else… (2013)

These perspectives underline a central challenge in the developmental proc-

ess:  navigating the relationships between detailed honing of stylistic expres-
sion and technique on the one hand, and personal expression, spontaneity and
risk-taking on the other, while also pursuing and exploiting possibilities for
co-creation and experimenting with audience interactions. A key question con-
cerns the ways in which musical apprenticeship may facilitate the exploration
and development of these relationships.


The concept of apprenticeship to a master craftsman in developing music

performance has a long tradition dating back at least to the medieval trouba-
dours. The establishment of musical guilds in the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries in larger European towns led to the formalization of apprentice-
ships, with musicians typically spending six years apprenticed in such a guild
(Loges and Lawson 2012). Equally, many leading musicians, including J. S.
32 Musicians in the Making

Bach and W. A. Mozart, developed through long apprenticeships across both
social and religious contexts, in some cases within their own family and with
musical training integrated with other subjects. Such apprenticeship provided
an environment for instruction, personal practice and performance in which
the requisite attention could be paid to the subtle detail of the craft. It also
created an environment in which the whole approach to being a musician
could be absorbed, including underlying principles and values, habits of
mind, and elements of daily practice. Polanyi (1962) has noted the many tacit
dimensions of craft transmission, some not even explicitly known by the mas-
ter, and the dynamics of students imitating the master and seeking approval
that underpin apprenticeship. More recently, Berman has also highlighted
complexity in the relationship, emphasizing the commitment required and
noting that ‘a teacher is much more than a provider of useful tips. To learn
what a teacher can give, a student must be ready to subscribe to the teacher’s
Weltanschauung [i.e. world view], his general musical and aesthetic principles’
(2000: 199).
Within contemporary theories of education, apprenticeship has tended
to be perceived as a process close to direct transmission of knowledge, with
less concern for and engagement in empowering personal agency. For exam-
ple, in the field of instrumental tuition, Hallam (1998) proposed a series of
possible models of one-to-one teaching, derived from Pratt (1992):  engi-
neering (delivering content), apprenticeship (modelling ways of being),
developmental (cultivating the intellect), nurturing (facilitating personal
agency) and social reform (seeking a better society). Hallam emphasized
that these models represented stages along a continuum from a teacher-
dominated (engineering) approach to a much more student-centred or
socially transformative approach. She suggested, however, that apprentice-
ship reflected the most common practices of instrumental teaching. This
positioning crystallizes potential tension between notions of apprenticeship
and personal agency, as well as signalling the possibility for student–teacher
interactions to extend right across the continuum rather than being limited
to a particular area.
Furthermore, in the last decades, higher education in particular has
increasingly emphasized the importance of personal agency, creativity and
resilience for all graduating students in order to meet new challenges and
rapidly changing professional landscapes. Key dimensions involved in devel-
oping these qualities include critical reflection, collaboration and self-regu-
lation (Bologna Employability Working Group 2009; QAA 2013; Butcher et
al. 2011). In the field of music performance, this has led to a broader under-
standing of education and the ways in which students may be adequately pre-
pared for professional life. Such understanding has often been accompanied
by the addition of professional skills courses alongside the main instrumental
or vocal discipline (dominated by one-to-one lessons), usually involving a
Apprenticeship and empowerment 33

mixture of collaborative performance work, reflection and academic engage-

ment, and work-based opportunities linked to professional integration. These
developments have promoted exploration of a wide range of pedagogical
approaches, including collaborative learning and reflective practice, which
previously had rarely featured in formal curricula. The relationship between
these approaches and the interactions of one-to-one lessons, however, has
been complex and at times controversial, with concerns raised about how stu-
dents’ best interests can really be served. While a broad range of experiences
and learning interactions is clearly invaluable in some respects, anxiety has
been expressed that the profound craft of a musician may be compromised
if one-to-one lessons are reduced as a result of introducing new elements
within curricula, or if individual practice time devoted to craft development
is diluted.
These issues raise powerful questions about the traditional characteriza-
tion of one-to-one lessons in terms of apprenticeship, and the developmen-
tal environment that is needed in contemporary contexts. What are the ways
in which lessons may offer ‘potential for transformational rather than repro-
ductive learning—learning that equips the learners with critical, creative and
self-regulatory skills’ (Creech and Gaunt 2012:  707)? How can students and
teachers effectively navigate the need for intense personal practice to develop
detailed craft and, through this or in addition to it, also to open up pathways
to creative performance?

One-to-one lessons: developing theory

While instrumental tuition has traditionally been conceptualized predom-

inantly in terms of apprenticeship in order to model established practices
(Hallam 1998; Jørgensen 2000), some studies have begun to reexamine the
concept, emphasizing a creative collaboration between participants more akin
to a mentoring relationship (Barrett and Gromko 2007; L’Hommidieu 1992;
Presland 2005), and as an environment able to stimulate a creative and reflective
practice that supports students in taking ownership of their artistic voice (Burt
and Mills 2006; Gaunt 2008, 2010; Kennell 2002; Purser 2005; Schmidt 1989).
These findings have some resonance with Gholson’s (1998) study of Dorothy
DeLay’s violin teaching of advanced conservatoire students. Extending beyond
a traditional framework of apprenticeship, Gholson emphasized the reciproc-
ity of the relationship and characterized interactions in lessons as conver-
sational and holistic rather than didactic. She identified five key features of
DeLay’s teaching that contributed to this one-to-one context:  high levels of
functioning in both teacher and student, reciprocity through mutual feedback,
developmental cycles, a protective and nurturing context, and the benefit of the
relationship to both participants.
34 Musicians in the Making



In many ways, DeLay’s approaches to one-to-one student–teacher interactions

align with insights from Vera John-Steiner’s work on creative collaborations
in established duo partnerships across a range of disciplines in the arts. John-
Steiner charted common features of successful artistic partnerships, which
included shared vision, mutual trust, a profound respect for each other’s work,
and the ability to engage in creative and critical dialogue about it. She noted that

A fierce belief in the work of one’s ‘significant other’ as well as a willing-

ness to criticize it characterizes most accounts of artistic and intellectual
partnerships. Whether the two people actually paint, write, or choreo-
graph together, or are engaged in each other’s work less directly, their
joint commitment and the ability to sustain a generative dialogue are cru-
cial to successful partnerships. (2000: 16)

John-Steiner identified complementarity as a frequent characteristic of genera-

tive dialogue, with different artistic styles providing ‘revealing mirrors for each
partner … [and] a deeper view, [in]to their knowledge of themselves’ (ibid.: 63).
She also suggested that generative dialogue opens up new options for each part-
ner in both solo and joint work. This combines with the power of collaboration
to facilitate shared risk, with both partners taking more risks than when alone
(ibid.: 20); this allows them to become more expansive in their exploration and
to give freer rein to their creativity.
John-Steiner also stressed the integrative collaboration possible in artistic
partnerships such as Braque and Picasso or Stravinsky and Balanchine. These
partnerships transformed both the field of collaboration (for example, through
the development of cubism) and the people involved in them. She went on to
identify some of the fragility in such partnerships, emerging from the profound
emotional needs of the artists and their interdependence in sustaining self-
belief. Trust, for example, has to be nurtured and renewed over time: ‘it cannot
be taken for granted. It needs nourishing. It may require honest confrontations
of problems between the partners and a willingness to adjust a relationship that
has lost its original intensity’ (ibid.: 83).
As for music, O’Hora talks about the essential importance of collabora-
tion between performing colleagues and, particularly for the solo performer,
internally with themselves. He thus gives some clues about the ways in which
experiences of important partnerships may become internalized to inform an
individual musician’s practice and to influence his or her approach to perfor-
mance. For O’Hora, a particular aspect of this internal collaboration relates
to inner perception and dialogue about the nature of making music and the
place of expecting and embracing ‘mistakes’ as a natural part of the creative
Apprenticeship and empowerment 35

the psychological act of preparation is different … without that psy-

chologically supportive sense of collaboration [when playing chamber
music]… [A]nd that’s why it’s so important to learn to collaborate with
yourself in every sense. … [A]s a solo pianist you play chamber music with
yourself. You support yourself in the same way as in chamber music…
We’re all human and nobody likes to be seen to make a mistake … but you
have to learn that you will make mistakes… I say to students, people are
obsessed with wrong notes if the pitch is wrong. They’re not bothered if
the articulation is wrong or the colour is wrong or the character is wrong.
Our definition is so limited, because you know it’s the easiest thing to iden-
tify. But in fact, … once you realize the innumerable ways … how many
wrong notes you play when the pitch is right, then it loosens you up …
particularly pianists, because there’s a particular demand… [E]verything
is equally hard to do really really well, but for pianists there’s that demand
of being alone, you know, when you’re playing solo. And there’s no doubt
about it—that is a particular psychological demand. (2013)

Although the partnerships and intrapersonal experiences discussed by John-

Steiner and O’Hora take place between professional artists as peer collaborators,
they offer insights into key dimensions of a creative process within a duo that may
be, and arguably need to be, nurtured in student–teacher relationships in order to
support emerging musicians as they develop pathways to creative performance.
Another feature highlighted in John-Steiner’s work is that these duo part-
nerships benefited from porosity and from being situated within wider profes-
sional and developmental communities. She drew parallels between duo and
small-group collaborations and alluded to the significance of ‘communities
of practice’ (Lave and Wenger 1991; Wenger 1998; see also Chapter 4 in this
volume). In the wider field of theories of creativity, innovation and expertise
development, much recent work has moved away from concepts of individual
genius and creative process towards formulations of cooperation, collabora-
tion and interaction in groups as a source (Hakkarainen 2013; Sawyer 2007;
Tidd and Bessant 2009; Kotter 2012). Within this literature, some attention
has been given to ensemble practices in the arts as important models of sophis-
ticated collaboration that open up pathways to creativity and innovation and
provide insights for work in other disciplines where innovation is an explicit
aim. Examples of such models include studies of how jazz groups, chamber
ensembles and orchestras work (Sawyer 2003; Bennis and Biederman 1997;
MacDonald and Wilson 2005).
These developments in understanding how musicians acquire skills in creat-
ing pathways to expression make a compelling case for deeper consideration
of communities of practice and group processes within formal educational
environments, integrated alongside one-to-one lessons. The significance of col-
lective engagement and collaborative learning is increasingly being recognized
36 Musicians in the Making

(Gaunt and Westerlund 2013). Consequently, many conservatoires and spe-

cialist training institutions are currently exploring ways to locate one-to-one
lessons more explicitly within a rich environment of ensemble work, interac-
tions with a wide range of professionals and a supported community of peer


Some of the qualities and features identified by John-Steiner as well as by

Gholson and others have distinct similarities with formal frameworks of
mentoring and coaching. These merit further consideration in relation to one-
to-one lessons, although they have not tended to be closely associated with
musical development. From a theoretical perspective, definitions of mentor-
ing and coaching vary, and there are differences between these activities on
the one hand and counselling, advising and instructing on the other. A key
issue, however, is that mentoring and coaching often involve consideration
of an individual’s long-term as well as short-term development. Rather than
paying attention to an immediate challenge and the skills needed to meet this,
the whole person is taken into account. A mentor thinks about a mentee in a
broad context, recognizing the interdependence of personal and professional
development (Brockbank and McGill 2009; Megginson and Clutterbuck
2009), and aiming to ‘assist the learner to integrate as a fully functioning per-
son within the society they inhabit’ (Garvey, Stokes and Megginson 2009: 21).
Interestingly, O’Hora emphasizes his concern with how students are going to
play in ten to fifteen years’ time as much as how they develop from week to
week. Equally, he talks about a musician being a learner throughout his or
her life, and the amount of time it takes to find one’s voice: ‘it is only at about
forty that you sort of begin to feel comfortable in your own skin as a pianist’
Mentors and coaches typically prioritize the creation of an environment of
trust as the basis of their work. Mentors, for example, then seek out commit-
ment and active involvement from their mentee and are concerned to remove
fear of failure by building the person’s confidence and experience of making his
or her own decisions. Mentors have credibility and experience in their partic-
ular field and also the ability to be self-reflective and self-aware, transcending
their own ego and working with a wide repertoire of language to frame appro-
priate questions and interventions (Renshaw 2009:  66). Both mentoring and
coaching interactions tend to be characterized by layers of dialogue, and they
can move fluidly between social exchange, discussion of specialist craft skills,
transformative exploration of artistry, consideration of both professional direc-
tion and development of self-insight, strategic career planning, and integrative
illumination of personal and professional identity. Critical to the methodol-
ogy behind these levels and layers of dialogue is that there is a significant shift
Apprenticeship and empowerment 37

from an approach of transmission or ‘telling’ a mentee to one of facilitating

the mentee’s own thought process and discovery, with interactions underpinned
by the mentor’s open and nonjudgemental approach, empathy and listening
skills (Megginson and Clutterbuck 2009). This shift can be modelled in the
form of the framework shown in Figure 2.1. This framework1 is resonant with
Gholson’s (1998) study, for example, and it provides a powerful way to begin
to consider a more multidimensional and sophisticated conceptualization of
one-to-one lessons.
A second framework that sheds light on a more developed concept of
apprenticeship identifies three types of approach that a teacher may take: ‘gate-
keeper’, ‘midwife’ and ‘fellow traveller’ (Jones 2005). This model particularly
opens up the potential for multimode interactions that move between the three
approaches, thus embracing both the transmission of expertise and collabo-
rative enquiry. In each of the approaches, a different alignment is generated
between the three elements of teacher, learner and subject material. These
are described in detail in Chapter  3. Essential to this framework is that one
approach is not privileged above the others as being more desirable or effective.
Rather, each needs to be appropriately matched to context in order to support
learners’ development, and a teacher’s success depends on the ability to flex
between the approaches.

Listening for facts,

feelings and what
are the key drivers
and barriers

Summarizing what
Giving advice and
you’ve heard and
sharing meaning

Modelling and Noticing and offering

demonstrating feedback

Asking questions to
Making suggestions prompt new ideas
and insights

FIGURE 2.1 The mentoring and coaching continuum (adapted from the School of Coaching and
Linden Learning)
38 Musicians in the Making

Empirical research into one-to-one lessons

Drawing on these theoretical concepts to help illuminate one-to-one develop-

mental interactions, the following sections examine insights from empirical
research into one-to-one lessons in more detail.


Research studies have more or less universally acknowledged the significance

of the personalized learning that is possible in one-to-one lessons, including the
intensity of close personal interactions and the continuity that can be achieved
through a sustained relationship over time (Gholson 1998; Barrett and Gromko
2007; Presland 2005; Burt and Mills 2006; Purser 2005; Heikinheimo 2009).
This context provides scope for detailed musical and technical expertise to
be developed and refined, almost as it were by physical and mental osmosis,
through teacher modelling and description, students’ repeated attempts with
feedback from their teachers, shared exploration and so on. One-to-one lessons
provide direct access for the student to the embodied and partly tacit expertise
of the teacher. Persson (1996) drew particular attention to intuitive approaches
to interpretation that are made possible; the importance of nonverbal commu-
nication between students and teachers has also begun to be explored (Kurkul
2007; Burwell 2011).
Seeking to develop theory in relation to effective one-to-one tuition, Kennell
(1992) proposed a framework based on Vygotsky’s zone of proximal learning,
which identifies six specific strategies used by teachers in scaffolding students’
work: recruitment to a task, reduction of degrees of freedom, direction main-
tenance, marking critical features, frustration control and demonstration.
Although the relationship between these elements and the development of cre-
ative performance was not explicitly discussed, Kennell’s work clearly draws
attention to a sophisticated mixture of playing and talking that characterizes
this context.


Various studies have sought to quantify aspects of playing and talking in one-
to-one lessons, and the results largely indicate that students tend to do the
playing while teachers do the talking (Karlsson and Juslin 2008; Duke, Pricket
and Jellison 1998; Hepler 1986). A few studies have gone further by specifically
analysing the degree of focus in verbal interactions on technique and musical
expression; whereas two studies found that c. 50 per cent of the time was ded-
icated to technique (Laukka 2004; Young, Burwell and Pickup 2003), an even
greater focus on technique was observed in three others (Karlsson and Juslin
2008; Zhukov 2008b; Koopman et al. 2007).
Apprenticeship and empowerment 39

In an interview study of undergraduate musicians, Woody discovered that

the majority (61 per cent) felt that their teachers taught expressivity verbally,
while 39 per cent believed that their teachers approached it through model-
ling (Woody 2000). Not surprisingly, then, Mills and Smith (2003) found that
instrumental teachers regarded key attributes of effective teachers to be a com-
bination of technical and musical understanding, wide knowledge of reper-
toire, and support for developing an individual voice. These aspects were also
evident in a study examining conservatoire student perceptions of their own
development (Gaunt et al. 2012). Participants had high expectations of teach-
ers being excellent musicians, able to open their expertise to their students. As
one wind player suggested, an ideal teacher was ‘someone who demonstrates
well what they want me to do and learn, someone who advises and is a great
musician’ (ibid.: 37).
In Gaunt et al.’s study, some participants clearly perceived a predominantly
linear progression to their development, pinpointing acquisition of technical
skills before going on to focus on musical and professional aspects. One string
player suggested: ‘I prefer to have a teacher who really understands how to play
the instrument and the physics behind it as well. … I think the main thing is
to really ground yourself with technique, and then maybe at postgrad level go
more into the music and the inspiration into that…’ (ibid.:  37). In contrast,
James, Wise and Rink (2010) noted a more reciprocal relationship between
technique and creative interpretation, with evidence of technical progress liber-
ating interpretative possibilities and, equally, a focus on creative interpretation
helping to solve technical issues.
Relatively little research has been done into the subtleties of language use
within student–teacher interactions, including, for example, the influence
of metaphor and narrative in developing creative pathways to performance.
A tendency for vocal teachers to use more metaphors than instrumental teach-
ers do has nevertheless been noted (Burwell 2006). Nerland and Hanken (2002)
have also drawn attention to the ways in which teachers’ diverse use of lan-
guage reflects their own cultural practices and approaches to being a musician,
for example evidencing a more pragmatic approach or one deeply involved in
developing personal and professional identity.
Overall, these insights tell us little of direct relevance to pathways to
creative performance, but they do confirm that the one-to-one context
offers myriad possibilities:  playing together, teacher modelling, student
performance or experimental playing, shared exploration of new material,
and so on.


A number of studies have looked at the nature of the relationship between stu-
dents and teachers in one-to-one tuition and at its impact on learning. Several
40 Musicians in the Making

types of relationship have been observed, all of them having a profound impact
on how learning takes place (Koopman et al. 2007; Gaunt 2011). Collens and
Creech (2013: 151) suggest that ‘The “meeting of minds” (Aron 1996) between
teacher and student can be experienced as creative, collaborative, inspiring and
filled with possibility for both participants. Equally, one-to-one tuition can
develop into a site of interpersonal conflict and high anxiety where the rela-
tionship itself can become an obstruction to learning.’ A critical element con-
cerns the degree of trust that builds between student and teacher, providing the
foundation for a learning space in which a student is able to take risks (Presland
2005; Gaunt 2006; Perkins 2010).
In a study of 263 UK violin teachers and their pupils aged eight to eighteen,
Creech and Hallam (2010) measured the impact on learning of grade results
in examinations alongside self-reports of degrees of self-efficacy, satisfaction,
enjoyment, motivation and self-esteem. They found that across all these ages,
students’ relationships with their teachers had a significant impact, as did rela-
tionships between students, teachers and parents. They proposed a model of
six interaction types between the latter three groups. The findings from their
study showed that no single type of interaction consistently produced the
best outcomes for teachers, pupils and parents alike; ‘harmonious trios’, how-
ever, appeared to produce some of the most effective learning. These relation-
ships were underpinned by mutual respect, with participants demonstrating a
sense of common purpose and reciprocity in their communication. They con-
trasted strongly with situations characterized by psychological remoteness in
the student–teacher relationship, where detrimental effects on learning were
observed (Creech 2009). This evidence has some clear connections to the frame-
work of mentoring and coaching outlined earlier in the chapter, in particular
the foundation of listening and empathy required by the teacher in establishing
trust and mutuality in the relationship.



An important issue that arises within the intimate context of one-to-one tuition
concerns the relationship between a teacher’s responsibility to offer expertise
and direct learning on the one hand and, on the other, students’ ability to make
their own creative decisions, develop autonomy as learners and explore an indi-
vidual or collective artistic voice (Carey, Lebler and Gall 2010). Berman quotes
the Chinese proverb ‘Give a man a fish, that is dinner for the night. Teach the
man how to fish, that is dinner for life’ (Berman 2000: 210). The issue relates
both to discovering creative pathways to performance and to sustaining these
practices over time. Koopman et  al. (2007) found that while teachers often
stated that one of their aims was for students to develop artistic independence,
Apprenticeship and empowerment 41

students were not aware of this. In another conservatoire study, Gaunt (2008,
2010) observed that while teachers typically aspired to supporting students in
taking responsibility for learning, students showed less concern for this. As sug-
gested earlier, several other studies have indicated that, perhaps unwittingly,
teachers either dominated the activity in lessons, leaving little space for the stu-
dents’ own emerging ideas and expression (James et al. 2010), or encouraged a
passive approach to learning and overdependency on them as teachers, making
it difficult for students to nurture their abilities to work creatively and autono-
mously (Jørgensen 2000; Persson 1994; Wirtanen and Littleton 2004).
Burwell (2005) analysed video recordings of nine instrumental lessons in a
university in the UK. She predominantly observed high proportions of teacher
talk devoted to technique (thus echoing the results of other studies referred to
above), and when teachers asked students questions, these were largely rhetor-
ical, apparently used as an alternative form of instruction or to check agree-
ment. There seemed to be little motivation to promote students’ own critical
thinking. In addition, the most talented students in particular seemed to be
engaged in a process of transmission from teacher to student rather than learn-
ing to take responsibility for their own interpretation.
In contrast, James et al. (2010) found that students who appeared passive
during parts of lessons were nevertheless proactive in building on what they
had learned in the lessons and in taking responsibility by further developing
their newly acquired insights in their own practice. This resonates with the
findings of Koopman et  al. (2007), who discovered that student participants
in their study believed they had taken more initiative in their learning proc-
ess than the researchers had observed from lesson interactions (ibid.). Creech
and Hallam, however, demonstrated evidence of a small but positive impact on
learning where students had some influence over setting objectives in lessons
(2010). The different perspectives emerging from these studies confirm the need
for further research in this area, and they also underline a critical relationship
between one-to-one lessons and individual practice (see also, e.g., Nielsen 2009,
2010) and how the transition between them may serve or impede the develop-
ment of pathways to creative performance (discussed further in Chapter 7 in
this volume).
A last consideration to do with these issues relates to students’ stage of
development and learning, and perhaps even their personality preferences.
The nature of responsibility that younger musicians are able to take in their
learning changes over time, evolving along with their musical accomplishment.
Musical identities are also fluid and may go through several transition periods
(Juuti and Littleton 2010). It is clear, therefore, that individual responses are
demanded according to the situation, and teachers need to be able to flex their
approach accordingly and to prepare students carefully if they are to encounter
new teaching methods. This point was reinforced by Brändström (1998), who
researched the impact of giving conservatoire students considerable freedom
42 Musicians in the Making

in determining the timing and content of their one-to-one lessons. While the
intervention had many positive outcomes, it also showed that some students
felt uncomfortable and disempowered by the extent of responsibility suddenly
offered to them. It was unclear, however, how the students had been prepared
for this radically different approach.
In addition, as indicated in the discussion of mentoring and coaching,
ownership of the learning process and artistic development also relates to a
longer-term perspective and career trajectory. When Mills (2002) analysed stu-
dent responses to one-to-one tuition, three types of interaction were identi-
fied:  transmission, collaboration and induction (the last of these relating to
the process of learning how to be a musician). However, the frame of reference
evidenced in the studies above was relatively narrow, focusing on the specific
music in hand and apparently tending to ignore or take for granted an indi-
vidual’s longer-term aims and engagement in society. This particular issue is
increasingly important in contemporary contexts, given that what it is to be a
classical musician and to sustain a career as such is changing rapidly and, in
itself, is likely to require greater adaptability and ingenuity than previously. For
example, Lebler (2007) has noted the importance of being able to engage with
emergent creative and business practices that may well differ from current prac-
tices. In the context of one-to-one lessons, this depends in part on the nature
of the reflective processes used, the degree to which they combine reflection-in-
action and reflection-on-action (Schön 1987), and whether reflection-on-action
over a longer time frame is also included (Gaunt 2006).


That students admire and are even in awe of their teachers has been well docu-
mented (Maidlow 1998; Hanken 2011). There is also plenty of anecdotal evi-
dence of this. Vengerov, for example, talking about Rostropovich, reported:
He would say, ‘Drink with me’, as if we were buddies with no boundaries.
I felt ashamed—I always addressed him as ‘maestro’. In Russian, as in
German, there is a difference between the formal ‘you’ and the familiar
‘you’. Where I come from, the teacher is somewhere between a saint and
a holy statue. (Clark 2012)

Abeles (1975) saw this in terms of a ‘halo’ effect: students idealizing their teach-
ers and therefore exaggerating the gap between them, or even becoming unable
to discriminate about their teachers’ abilities as performers. Something of a halo
effect was corroborated by Gaunt (2010). In this study, conservatoire students
tended to be in awe of their current teacher while being more willing to be critical
of previous teachers. Motivation to ‘do the right thing’ in relation to a teacher
was also shown to be amplified in some cases when a teacher was either in a
position to offer the student professional work or involved in formally assessing
Apprenticeship and empowerment 43

the student. An additional issue emerged relating to the development of social

relationships alongside formal student–teacher interactions: students tended to
embrace the validity of the social boundaries suggested by their teacher, even
though these varied considerably from no social contact to regular socializing.
These perspectives provide initial evidence of differences in power between
student and teacher, with the balance usually held by the teacher and often
remaining implicit. The ways in which dynamics of power influence the learning
process and the creative development of a musician have not been researched
in this context. However, drawing on Lukes’ (2005) conceptualization of three
dimensions of power, it is clear that teachers may be in a position to set agendas
in the learning process in relation to both immediate and longer-term goals. In
addition, there is the potential for power to operate invisibly, possibly in both
positive and negative ways, for example through shaping students’ perceptions
of their aspirations or best interests. The most problematic situations in this
context arise when a student is completely unaware of invisible power dynam-
ics, has no choice over their outcomes and ends up with misperceptions of his
or her best interests.
Collens and Creech (2013) have also suggested that mutuality in a student–
teacher relationship may be affected by unconscious power relations initiated
from either side, leading to a position of locked oppositional dynamics that
then stifles freedom and risk-taking in learning. The potential for ‘collabo-
ration, trust, and a mutually enhancing experience’ is jeopardized as a result
(ibid.:  161). Most unfortunately, there is some evidence of wilful misuse of
power, at extreme levels leading even to sexual abuse. This has been discussed
by participants in one research study (Smilde 2009). In some notable instances,
criminal charges and convictions for sexual abuse have demonstrated the imper-
ative to review policy relating to one-to-one student–teacher interactions and
to clarify the relationship and boundaries between appropriate confidentiality,
privacy and secrecy.


A related issue concerns the nature of feedback in one-to-one lessons and how
this affects students. Musicians inevitably need to be deeply attentive to and
critical of all the details of their playing. There is a danger, however, that a
highly critical stance can become paralysing, entrenched to a point where it
overwhelms basic self-efficacy and self-esteem, and limits individuals’ ability
to imagine themselves playing well or to allow their creative energies to flow.
O’Hora mentions the potentially negative power of self-criticism and therefore
the importance of being able to accept oneself within the developmental process:
accepting yourself actually makes it, paradoxically, easier to demand
more of yourself. Because it comes back to this point …, how do you
44 Musicians in the Making

encourage students to be creative[?] And encouragement is the right

word. … [M]ost people treat themselves far worse than they would treat
other people. They speak to themselves, as it were, in a way they would
never dream of speaking to other people. (2013)

This clearly offers teachers an important role in supporting students to

develop self-awareness of their internal dialogues and to nurture construc-
tive ones, and the nature of feedback that takes place within lessons is likely
to have some influence. Some studies have revealed significant differences in
how particular personality types and individuals receive and give feedback
(Schmidt 1989; Atlas, Taggart and Goodell 2004). Duke and Simmons (2006)
found that lessons tended to be characterized by more negative than posi-
tive feedback, but a smaller study in Australia found tendencies for greater
approval compared with negative feedback in lessons (Zhukov 2008a).
Further research on feedback within one-to-one music lessons is undoubt-
edly needed. Nevertheless, considerable literature is available on feedback
more generally (see e.g. Gibbs 2006, and Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick 2006),
and a common theme within this is a move away from a simple opposition
between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ feedback towards more sophisticated prin-
ciples of constructive feedback.
Finally, technological developments provide opportunities for learners to
source unmediated feedback, which they can engage with in their own time
and use to support self-assessment and increasing autonomy in learning. James
et al. (2010), for example, discovered through their research methods that
recording lessons on video and then using stimulated recall independently with
students and teachers had a significant impact on both sets of participants.
Teachers were able to analyse interactions and their teaching approach in rela-
tion to a student’s response in detail. Students reported the value of gaining a
more objective understanding of their playing, ‘especially noticing when they
did something well and better than they thought at the time of the lesson. [One
student] explained how the video footage gave her a more holistic view, and her
playing proved to have a better sound quality than she had perceived during the
lesson’ (ibid.: 239). For both teachers and students, this process appeared to be
motivating and to yield new insights. The interconnections between feedback,
taking ownership of learning, and nurturing intrinsic or extrinsic motivation,
mastery and performance goals are becoming increasingly clear.

Towards a framework of collaboration in one-to-one lessons

The evidence presented in this chapter has demonstrated the complexity of

one-to-one music lessons, including potentially paradoxical relationships
Apprenticeship and empowerment 45

between different demands, the multiple dimensions that may affect pathways
to creative performance, and the need to work towards a more sophisticated
conceptualization of this learning environment than that afforded by appren-
ticeship. Further research will be required to develop this systematically. As
a starting point, however, a dynamic framework is provisionally proposed in
Figure 2.2.
This framework situates the context of a one-to-one lesson within the wider
ecology of musical development experienced by student and teacher. It imme-
diately acknowledges that the learning environment of one-to-one lessons
connects, for example, to the individual practice that a student undertakes,
rehearsal contexts and broader communities of practice. Within the one-to-one
lesson itself, the framework proposes four domains: vision and purpose; artistic
materials, focus and outputs; leadership roles and approaches to interactions;
and interpersonal dynamics. Each of these domains contains several dimen-
sions, articulated as continua, with a nuanced range of choices available along
each continuum. An indicative sample of how the dimensions of the frame-
work draw on the literature reviewed in the chapter is provided in the Appendix
to the chapter. As shown in Figure 2.2, the student and the teacher may share
some goals and perceptions of their work within a continuum, but equally they
may hold some goals independently. These may not all be aligned: for example,
the student and the teacher may have differing perspectives on the degree to
which they are focusing on a developmental process or a specific performance
An essential point is that neither end of a continuum provides a definitively
more effective approach to interactions in lessons. Rather, varying positions
within each one may be appropriate at different times, depending on an individ-
ual student’s stage of development, prior experience and learning preferences.
Thus, there is potential for the significance of goals within any continuum
to change over time, either within a single lesson or as part of a longer-term
approach to lessons. This is shown in Figure 2.3.
Teachers and students are constantly making choices (explicitly or implic-
itly) in how they approach a lesson, which in turn may have an impact on the
process of enabling pathways to creative performance. For example, as sug-
gested in Figure 2.3, over a period of time (either within a single lesson or over
a series of lessons) a student’s preoccupation with a particular performance
product may overtake a shared focus on development process. In ‘Lesson A’ in
the figure, the student perceives product and process to be equally significant.
Later, as shown in ‘Lesson B’, the student perceives product to be more sig-
nificant than process. The shift from Lesson A to Lesson B also indicates that
during this period short-term goals become foregrounded and long-term goals
lose impetus. Thus, the significance of either end of a continuum (or any posi-
tion within it) may change over time.
FIGURE 2.2 The dimensions of one-to-one lessons
FIGURE 2.3 Change in the significance of continua over time
48 Musicians in the Making

The way in which goals within each continuum change over time may not
always be the same for both the student and the teacher. This divergence is
shown in Figure 2.4. Here, for example, in ‘Lesson A’ student and teacher begin
by not being well aligned on either short- or long-term goals. The student has
a stronger focus on short-term goals but has not really shared these with the
teacher. The teacher is wanting to focus on long-term goals, but these are rather
different from the student’s long-term goals, although the student perceives his
or her long-term goals to be shared at least in part with the teacher. At a later
stage (‘Lesson B’ in Figure 2.4), however, they have come to a position where
their long-term goals are closely aligned and their short-term goals have been
shared, even though not all of them are the same.
Lastly, there may also be interconnections between the continua, such
that shifting choices along any one continuum affect others. This may be
the case with continua from different domains. For example, as shown in
Figure 2.5, moving from realizing notated music to composing and play-
ing one’s own music may stimulate greater collaborative discovery between
the student and the teacher, or it may encourage greater risk-taking and
exploration of new territories. Equally, progressing to open questions and
a mentoring/coaching approach may invite a student to take more owner-
ship of the learning environment and to be proactive in bringing his or her
agenda to the lesson.
Taking these elements of the framework together, a key issue that becomes
evident is that the success of lessons depends on the teacher’s agility to respond
appropriately to the context and the individual. It depends equally on both the
student’s and the teacher’s awareness of where they are and are not aligned in
their approach, and also on their ability to navigate the dynamic movement of
the continua while working together.
This framework—which is provisional in the sense that it results from previ-
ous research and has not yet been empirically tested—reflects ongoing attempts
to enhance approaches to one-to-one lessons, and to enable curriculum devel-
opment that promotes greater integration for students between their different
learning experiences. It is hoped, therefore, that it can be tested in practice by
teachers and their students and used as a stimulus for reflection in develop-
ing skills both as learners and as teachers, and also in developing approaches
to one-to-one lessons. In particular, it is also hoped that the framework may
enhance awareness of a range of pathways to creative performance.
In addition, the framework immediately raises many questions that call
for further research. Much remains to be discovered about each continuum,
the part it can play in individual artistic development, and the impact that
various approaches to learning and teaching along a continuum may have
on the overall development process. Promising lines of enquiry have already
been identified in the literature, for example exploring the interaction and
FIGURE 2.4 Differing approaches of student and teacher to each continuum
FIGURE 2.5 Interactions between continua
Apprenticeship and empowerment 51

interdependence between nurturing imagination and fostering technical skills

in classical musicians, or illuminating the impact of power dynamics on learn-
ing and how these may change over time in a student–teacher relationship.
Further focused research will undoubtedly help to refine understanding of
the continua identified in this framework and to investigate whether addi-
tional ones should be included. Moreover, research is also clearly needed to
explore the interrelationships between the continua. It will be critical to gen-
erate insights into the ways in which inflections in the learning and teach-
ing approaches along one continuum may stimulate other changes within the
overall dynamic system of one-to-one lessons.

TABLE 2.1 Indicative sample of literature reviewed in the chapter relevant to specific dimensions
of the framework

Dimension Relevant literature

Short-term goals ↔ Long-term goals Gaunt 2008; Nerland and Hanken 2002; QAA
2013; Smilde 2009
Focus on musical/performance values ↔ Cooper 2013; Hallam 1998; Jørgensen 2000
Focus on learning and human interaction
Developing technique ↔ Exploring expression, James et al. 2010; Laukka 2004; Koopman et al.
interpretation and style 2007; Quantz [1752] 1966
Working from notation ↔ Exploring new terri- Burnard 2012; Lebler 2007; MacDonald and
tories, materials, contexts Wilson 2005; Sawyer 2003; Woody 2000
Transmission of knowledge/skills ↔ Barrett and Gromko 2007; Hallam 1998;
Collaborative discovery/student-led enquiry Jones 2005; John-Steiner 2000; Jørgensen 2000;
Mills 2002; Zhukov 2008a
Playing solo ↔ Playing together Burwell 2006, 2011; Gaunt 2006; Heikinheimo
2009; O’Hora 2013
Instructing, closed questions ↔ Mentoring/ Garvey et al. 2009; Hallam 1998; Megginson
coaching, open questions and Clutterbuck 2009; Presland 2005;
Purser 2005
Corrective feedback ↔ Generative feedback Berman 2000; Duke and Simmons 2006;
Gibbs 2006; Karlsson and Juslin 2008
Separation, distance, surface listening ↔ Collens and Creech 2013; Gaunt 2006
Embodied exchange, intimacy, mutuality,
deep listening, interpersonal creative flow
Routine/predetermined expectations ↔ Presland 2005; Gaunt 2006; Perkins 2010
Encouragement to take risks, embrace the
unexpected and learn from this
Power imbalance (‘power over’) ↔ Shared Collens and Creech 2013; Hanken 2011;
power (empowerment) Smilde 2009
Student dependent on teacher in Burwell 2005; Brändström 1998; Carey et al.
decision-making ↔ Student autonomous 2010; Creech and Hallam 2010; Jørgensen 2000;
in decision-making Wirtanen and Littleton 2004
Avoiding conflict ↔ Embracing conflict and Collens and Creech 2013; Creech and
its creative possibilities Hallam 2010
52 Musicians in the Making


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Facilitating learning in small groups

Andrea Creech and Susan Hallam

In recent years there has been an increasing recognition that group work of var-
ious kinds provides a powerful context for learning and creativity in music with
numerous benefits (Creech and Long 2012; Kamin, Richards and Collins 2007;
Kokotsaki and Hallam 2007; Patrick et al. 1999). Collaborative group working,
in particular, can lead to empathetic creativity where musicians take risks and
develop novel musical interpretations challenging previously rehearsed ones
(Sawyer 2006b; Seddon and Biasutti 2009). Although musical performance is
an inherently social activity, groups nevertheless require support in develop-
ing negotiation and collaboration skills, which are key aspects of a creative
process that generates cohesive and convincing musical performances. Those
facilitating group work need to understand the perceptual and social skills that
underpin group music-making, the roles found in ensembles of varying types
and sizes, and the ways in which essential skills, such as knowing when to lead
and when to be led, are developed. This chapter considers how group work
offers the potential for deep, creative engagement; peer learning; and social and
emotional development. In particular, we focus on the role of the facilitator,
looking at some principles and strategies for meeting the challenges associated
with learning and creating in groups.
Our definition of ‘group’ is wide-ranging. We draw upon guidance from
Jaques and Salmon (2007:  6), who propose that clusters of people may be
conceptualized as groups when they are ‘collectively conscious of their exist-
ence as a group’, and when they have shared needs and aims. Within this def-
inition, groups are also characterized by shared and accepted perceptions of
within-group social norms relating to roles and power relationships, as well as
by interdependent and interactive within-group relationships. It is this inter-
dependence, interaction and mutuality that undergird the creative potential of
groups. Creative ensemble performance, according to Seddon (2012), involves 57
58 Musicians in the Making

collaborative verbal and nonverbal exchange. At the highest levels of ‘intersub-

jective engagement’ (ibid.: 134), groups adopt each other’s perspectives and are
open to spontaneous musical variation and unpredictability in performance.
An overall aim of the chapter is to enable the reader to develop a reper-
toire of practices that will enhance creative participation in and facilitation of
groups. The chapter begins by setting out what we know from research about
learning in and facilitating groups at a general level with reference to how this
might be applied in musical contexts, moving on to research which has been
undertaken specifically in a musical context.

Groups as a powerful context for learning

Groups, and in particular small groups, have the potential to be a rich context
for learning (Biggs 2003; Moore 2000) and for development through creative
activity (Seddon and Biasutti 2009). They offer a space where group mem-
bers can explore new ideas and build upon each other’s insights, developing
teamwork, leadership, confidence and social skills. According to Biggs (2003),
formally structured and/or spontaneous interactions can enrich learning out-
comes. When people learn together, working cooperatively and in dialogue with
others, they can achieve elaborate and deeper understanding of the activities
that they undertake.
The words ‘collaborative’ and ‘cooperative’ are sometimes used interchange-
ably to describe the way in which groups function (Dolmans et al. 2003).
Adams and Hamm (1996) used the term ‘cooperative learning’ to describe
learning situations where individuals take personal responsibility for reaching
group goals. From their perspective, cooperative learning occurs within a con-
text of positive interdependence, requiring attention to the interpersonal proc-
ess, time for reflection and a focus on developing interpersonal skills. Dolmans
et al. (2003) referred to similar principles, describing ‘collaborative’ learning
as involving mutuality in working towards a shared goal. They added that in
collaborative learning, individuals articulate their own views but also take on
the perspectives of other group members, leading to new understandings and
reframing of ideas. Other researchers (e.g. Springer, Stanne and Donovan 1999)
distinguish between collaborative and cooperative learning, the key difference
lying in the role of the teacher. From this perspective, cooperative learning is
structured with goals set by teachers, while collaborative learning is relatively
unstructured and characterized by groups negotiating their own goals and pro-
cesses. Adopting a similar perspective for musical ensemble work, Seddon and
Biasutti (2009) defined cooperation in terms of the structure of the interaction,
involving discussion and planning of the organisation of rehearsal to achieve a
cohesive performance, while collaboration involved the ongoing evaluation of
performance to develop interpretation, the latter sometimes resulting in new
Facilitating learning in small groups 59

and creative musical variation. Similarly, Sawyer (2006a) highlighted collab-

orative group work as being characteristic of emergent creative phenomena.
In practice, as will be explored later in this chapter, many of the practical and
interpersonal issues arising in relation to group work are the same whether it is
conceptualized as collaborative or cooperative.
The learning that occurs in collaborative and cooperative groups alike can
be understood as a process involving interaction among individuals, the social
context and the content. One framework, offered by Illeris (2003), sets out three
dimensions of learning:
1. the ‘incentive dimension’, which demonstrates how motivation to
engage deeply with learning is integrally linked with the content
as well as with the interpersonal, social context in which learning
takes place
2. the ‘content dimension’, which offers insight into the importance
of the design of small-group tasks (content, materials and activities
need to be well structured and relevant, in order for small groups to
learn together effectively; Dolmans et al. 2003)
3. the ‘interaction dimension’, comprising the social environment and
the interpersonal dynamics among group members and facilitators;
these can support or constrain personal engagement with learning

These three dimensions of learning—incentive, content and interaction—

provide a foundation for learning in groups, where individuals bring their own
cognitive, practical and emotional experiences and interact with their peers in
working towards shared goals. Musicians also communicate nonverbally with
each other in what might be considered conventional ways, through eye contact
and gestures but also musically. When musicians are playing, this communica-
tion can lead to their being ‘empathetically attuned’ (Seddon 2004) or in a state
of ‘group flow’ (Sawyer 2006b), or ‘striking a groove’ together (e.g. Monson
1996). Promoting this level of musical communication is particularly difficult
for facilitators: to some extent, it depends on the degree to which group partici-
pants have been provided with structured opportunities to become socialized
into musical communities of practice (Sawyer 2006a).

Group dynamics, learning and creativity

Theories of group dynamics help in understanding facets of the interaction

dimension of learning (Illeris 2003). Groups can be thought of as having a
personality of their own, one defined by but transcending those of individual
members. Similarly, the interactive and creative learning processes that occur
within collaborative groups have been referred to as collective phenomena
where ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ (Sawyer 2006a: 148).
60 Musicians in the Making

Interaction in small groups can be focused on the content, the task itself,
or the interpersonal processes and maintenance of the social aspect of the
group. In music, group cohesiveness is predominantly task-focused in that it
centres around creative processes and performance. However, theories of group
dynamics (e.g. Jaques and Salmon 2007) and learning (Illeris 2003) would sug-
gest that musical processes and outcomes, even in the short term, may be inte-
grally bound up with the interpersonal, social context, while in the long term
musical ensembles must be based on strong social frameworks if they are to
continue to work together (for a review see Davidson and King 2004).
Broadly, group processes and interpersonal dynamics may be understood
within psychodynamic or systems frameworks. Awareness of these perspectives
can help group facilitators or coaches to understand and address problematic
issues relating to group dynamics and to support collaborative learning. The
psychodynamic perspective is concerned with what has occurred in individual
lives beforehand (Jaques and Salmon 2007). From this perspective, the earliest
experiences within family groups are believed to have a profound effect on sub-
sequent functioning in groups. For example, through a process of transference,
whereby feelings are unconsciously redirected from one person to another,
unresolved conflict with parents may be redirected to other group members or
facilitators. Angry or antagonistic feelings, for example, can be projected onto
another group member or the facilitator and interpreted as emanating from
those individuals. In music, where groups work together over long periods of
time, such dynamics may lead to dysfunctionality and the breaking-up of the
group, even when this may have spectacularly negative artistic and financial
consequences for group members.
In contrast, systems theory explains group processes in terms of the here
and now (Tubbs 2011). Groups are conceptualized as a fluid system, character-
ized by reciprocity. Circular communication processes develop which not only
consist of behaviour but also influence behaviour (van Tartwijk et  al. 1998).
An individual’s interpersonal style within a small group can cause and result
from a web of complex interaction. Systems theorists place emphasis on under-
standing the constituent parts of a system in relation to the dynamic properties
of the whole unit (Pianta and Walsh 1996). This suggests that entrenched or
unproductive patterns of group behaviour can be changed if one constituent
in the system—a group member or facilitator—chooses to consciously reframe
his or her own strategies or interpersonal responses.

Group processes

According to Tuckman (1965), groups go through distinct stages starting with a

‘forming’ stage, followed by ‘storming’, ‘norming’ and ‘performing’. Tuckman
proposed this as a sequential model, but others have suggested that in real-life
Facilitating learning in small groups 61

contexts groups may shift from one phase to another in a nonlinear fashion
(Light, Cox and Calkin 2009; see also Chapter 7 in this volume).
During the forming stage, group members may be cautious, establishing
ground rules, testing norms of behaviour and establishing a foundation for
working together. This is a crucial stage, where the foundations of the group
dynamic are defined (Cartney and Rouse 2006). Some participants may be anx-
ious about whether they will be able to do what is asked of them and whether
their input will be valued. Others may search for acceptance and approval.
Fostering group cohesion is important at this initial stage, as this will influence
the extent to which the group will be able to persevere and, in particular, will
form the interpersonal climate where it can engage in creative processes that
require divergent thinking and risk-taking.
The storming phase may reveal interpersonal conflict more explicitly than at
the forming stage. Participants may jostle for leadership roles within the group.
There may be individual disagreements over the direction that the group should
take, how tasks should be approached, and values that should be privileged.
There may also be resistance to the task and to the structure, directed at other
group members or the facilitator.
Commonly noted problems associated with the storming stage include
‘social loafing’, distraction from the task and dominance by one participant.
Social loafing describes a group dynamic that lacks cohesion, where some par-
ticipants stay unengaged and allow their peers to take the initiative and do
all the work (Maiden and Perry 2009). Typically, when confronted with ‘free-
riding peers’, other group members lose motivation and the whole group loses
a sense of purpose and shared commitment (ibid.).
Distraction from the task occurs when group members or the facilitator
are side-tracked, engaging in dialogue that is not relevant to the task at hand.
This can happen when the task is misunderstood or not clear, or when there
is anxiety about the task, leading members to engage in avoidance strategies.
Similarly, dominance by one group member can be related to anxiety or to a
lack of clear roles and shared purpose among the group. It may also be related
to other group members feeling intimidated, reinforcing beliefs about unequal
ability or status differences (Micari and Drane 2011).
While it is tempting to avoid conflict, avoidance is not generally an effective
strategy in responding to these issues, as opportunities will be missed for collab-
orative problem-solving. Facilitators can support groups during the storming
stage by ensuring that everyone is heard, validating individual contributions,
checking that there is clarity over objectives, framing any conflict as an opportu-
nity for creative problem-solving, and at all times adhering to ground rules that
should include trust and respect (Stetson 2003). Creative resolutions to conflict
can be generated through dialogue that is characterized by listening together,
respecting differing perspectives, suspending judgements and giving voice to
individual messages (O’Neill and Peluso 2014). These four principles of dialogue,
62 Musicians in the Making

according to O’Neill and Peluso (ibid.: 117), serve as the basis of a ‘shared lan-
guage for collaborative creativity and expansive learning opportunities’.
At the norming phase of a group’s life cycle, the group will demonstrate
some cohesiveness, working together towards shared goals and united by a
common purpose. Implicit and explicit norms of behaviour are established. If a
facilitator is working with a group, he or she can act as a resource when needed
while allowing learners space in which they may take ownership of the learn-
ing process. Facilitators reflect back ideas and provide summaries of emerging
themes or approaches to the task. Stetson (2003) suggests that facilitators can
support groups in the norming stage by modelling active listening, fostering
an atmosphere of trust and facilitating groups in functioning as teams and in
reaching consensus rather than compromise.
Finally, at the performing stage the group flourishes. Morale is generally high,
and groups work creatively and productively. Attention is focused on achieving
goals and group performance. Individual members take responsibility for the
success of the group as a whole, and there is a sense of strong interdependence.
Where temporary setbacks occur, the facilitator can offer support by provid-
ing feedback as well as interpersonal support where needed (Stetson 2003). At
this stage, the facilitator’s role might also include promoting and representing
the group. Groups will have established clear, shared goals and a sense of pur-
pose. Working towards these goals, they will, within an informal yet trusting
atmosphere, engage in dialogue and active listening, taking on each other’s per-
spectives and respecting differences. Group members will have reached some
consensus with regard to norms and shared values, and there will be a sense of
commitment and accountability on the part of individual members.
Some researchers in group dynamics have added a final stage to Tuckman’s
model of the life cycle of a group. This has been variously referred to as ‘mourn-
ing’ (Heron 1999) and ‘adjourning’ (Stetson 2003). As groups approach the end
of their time together, individuals begin to think about how they will feel when
they are no longer part of that group, typically experiencing sadness at the
prospect of separation. Facilitators can support their groups by signposting
progression routes and allowing time for planning how group members may
take forward their learning from the group into new contexts.

Facilitator style

Effective facilitators have a range of leadership strategies that they may adopt
when appropriate, ranging on a continuum between facilitation (learner-
centred) and transmission (directive, top-down, teacher-centred).
One useful framework identifies three overarching styles: ‘gatekeeper’, ‘mid-
wife’ and ‘fellow traveller’ (Jones 2005), with expert facilitators moving between
these styles during sessions with a given group.
Facilitating learning in small groups 63


When adopting this transmission style, the teacher delivers content to learners.
The leader is the gatekeeper to the material being learned. The participant, or
learner, is expected to absorb this material and then be able to reproduce it.
Although participation in music involves practical skills and active engage-
ment, research has shown that ensemble leaders frequently adopt a gatekeeper
approach, dictating the curriculum, selecting repertoire and making decisions
as to how it will be played both technically and musically (Creech 2012). Music
sessions led by gatekeepers tend to be dominated by teacher talk or model-
ling interspersed with group performance, with little variety. Essentially, the
participants play and the facilitator talks or models the desired performance,
with little evidence of fostering the shared language of collaborative creativity
advocated by O’Neill and Peluso (2014).


The midwife acts as a facilitator, enabling participants to discover the con-

tent and processes for themselves. Although this is to some extent a learner-
centred approach, the midwife selects the material and constructs activities in
order to maximize positive learning outcomes. This style of leader typically
makes extensive use of ‘scaffolding’ (Creech et al. 2013), whereby participants
are supported in appropriate ways to achieve challenging yet attainable goals.
This approach requires the leader to take into account the needs of the learn-
ers when choosing or creating the material and activities. The midwife style
may be thought of as being related to an apprenticeship model of teach-
ing,1 which focuses on the development of knowledge and ways of being. The
apprentice is inculcated into the ways of thinking of the master craftsman.
Skills are developed as the apprentice is drawn into increasingly more active
challenges. Sawyer (2006a) points out that learners benefit particularly from
scaffolds that guide the learner into collective musical practices. This perspec-
tive shifts the focus away from teacher support towards a view of scaffolding
as a structured collective activity through which learners are socialized into
creative practice.


The ‘fellow traveller’ style sits within a conception of teaching as being the
facilitation of learning. In this approach, teachers and students focus their
energies on discovering new material together. The fellow traveller encourages
egalitarian relationships between leader and participants. As a result, the latter
may feel more able to contribute their own ideas and sometimes will take on
leadership roles within the group. The group may become a learning commun-
ity, characterized by collective exploration. The life experience and insights that
64 Musicians in the Making

all participants bring to the group are acknowledged and valued by the fellow
Jones’s three facilitator styles resonate in some respects with another model
proposed by Heron (1999). According to Heron, facilitators interact with their
groups in either hierarchical, cooperative or autonomous modes. In hierarchi-
cal mode, the facilitator directs the learning process, doing things for the group
such as setting objectives and providing structures for learning. The cooperative
mode differs in that the facilitator guides the group but shares ownership of deci-
sions relating to the learning process. Here, the facilitator prompts, demonstrates,
models and provides scaffolds for learning. Finally, in the autonomous mode, the
facilitator’s role is to create the conditions within which group participants can
take full ownership and responsibility for self-directed learning. Group members
negotiate their own path, with minimum intervention from the facilitator. What
people learn and how they learn it are influenced to a great extent by whether the
facilitator adopts a hierarchical, cooperative or autonomous stance.
Effective facilitators, according to Heron (1999), move from mode to mode
in response to the changing characteristics, dynamics and stages of the group
experience. Box 3.1, describing the facilitator’s perspective of leading a jazz
group comprising conservatoire students working alongside professional musi-
cians, demonstrates how the facilitator style moved from gatekeeper (choosing
the repertoire, modelling specific musical points) through midwife (support-
ing students in developing their own musical ideas) to fellow traveller (co-
constructing musical interpretation and performance).

BOX 3.1 A facilitator’s perspective, leading jazz students and professionals working together

The group consisted of myself as leader on cajon, three other professionals

(bass, guitars) and three conservatoire student musicians on saxophone, violin
and piano. We had four rehearsals and a festival performance, over a period
of a month. The input of the professional musicians was very strong, purely by
the way they played and approached the material. They added a very authentic
energy to the music, being expert in the styles we were playing. For the younger
musicians, watching the professionals learning the tunes alongside them, asking
pertinent questions and discussing approaches to playing them was a very
valuable learning experience.
My job was to choose music to bring to the group, and lead the rehearsals
and performance. I tried to treat everyone as professionals equally, interacting
with all the musicians in the same way, although I acknowledge that I may have
talked in a slightly different way to younger, less experienced musicians.
I ran all the rehearsals in as close to a circular seating pattern as possible.
In this way all of the musicians could feel that they were fully participating,
or alternatively having a leadership role. Initially, I introduced each piece of
music, talked about its background and got the group to read through the
Facilitating learning in small groups 65

written passages. I suggested ways of approaching the piano parts, which were
not written—I mainly brought lead sheets, so that we could develop our own
interpretations and also suggested bass lines. At times I asked for suggestions
of backing riffs from the ‘front line’, who were both young musicians, and gave
them encouragement and advice on how to approach ‘soloing’, in terms of what
scales could be used, and stylistic suggestions, when necessary. I also played
cajon, which was the only percussion instrument in the group, which enabled
me to lay down a foundation groove, and influence tempo and dynamics
After the group learned the basic tunes, we turned our attention to deciding
forms, including who would solo where, and how ‘feels’ would change among the
sections. To support the students in getting used to playing the different patterns
and chord sequences, I sang individual lines and demonstrated voicings on the
keyboard. Apart from this instruction, I ran the rehearsals just like any rehearsals
I might run with professionals, for example, playing patterns on the cajon and
deciding together with the others how specific passages would be played.
The young musicians didn’t yet have a great ability to follow the forms and
play the right sections or get into the right ‘feels’ at the correct moment. That
needed lots of repetition going through the transitions. At some points students
participated with simple and low-risk tasks, for example playing backing riffs
to a solo, playing an obbligato pattern behind a melody, or ‘comping’ behind a
solo. However, the young musicians also took lead roles during their individual
improvised solos. In fact, during the early stages of the rehearsals, they were
immediately thrown in at the deep end, and were learning the music along with
the rest of us.
With a festival gig to prepare, this was a task-oriented group, but the social
element was quickly present. We got straight down to rehearsing and getting to
know each other’s sound and musical personality. Over time, all of the musicians
became more comfortable with the music and with one another. In the final
stages of rehearsal everyone (young and older) had internalized the music,
playing the melodies, ‘soloing’ and getting around the forms. This happened (as it
always seems to) just in time for the performance!

Interpersonal climate

Whether the style adopted is that of gatekeeper, midwife or fellow traveller,

certain facilitator characteristics can influence the ways in which students
interact within their groups. Rogers and Freiberg (1993) suggested that the
interpersonal conditions that characterize effective small-group teaching
include warmth, trust and approachability. These characteristics are reminis-
cent of the underpinning principles of creative dialogue (O’Neill and Peluso
2014), where there is a focus on dialogic interpersonal conditions that privilege
respect for contrasting perspectives, inclusivity, recognition of interdependence
and encouragement for group participants to voice individual thoughts. Such
66 Musicians in the Making

interpersonal contexts are fostered when facilitators are honest with learners
about who they are and what they know; when they listen carefully to learners,
noting both verbal and nonverbal signals; when they empathize with learners;
and when they believe in the possibility that all learners have the capacity to
progress and to contribute to shared group goals (Cartney and Rouse 2006).
An example from a community opera context demonstrates the importance
of interpersonal style (Box 3.2). Here, the facilitator (chorus master) adopts a
‘gatekeeper’ approach, yet fosters an interpersonal climate where the group and
their leader are united in overcoming the musical challenges.

BOX 3.2 The facilitator’s perspective in a community opera context

As the chorus master, my remit is to make sure that the chorus sings all the right
notes in the right style, being sympathetic to everything that’s going on around
them. So that’s what I was trying to achieve, in sort of cold calculated terms, for
them to be singing it correctly. That’s the role of the chorus master. But, I’m the
person that they’ve spent the most time with, so I knew that I also kind of had to set
the tone for the way that the rehearsals would feel, for the project as a whole.


It has been an enormous challenge for me, to work out a way of delivering to
people, some of whom have never held a music score in their lives, who’ve got no
idea of what the notation means, trying to deliver this very rhythmically complex
music, and harmonies that don’t seem intuitive when you first sing them, and
you think ‘no I’ve got to be doing this wrong’, and actually it’s right. It’s to get
them singing accurately when the music is so far beyond what most people will
have ever encountered before.


Working out a way of putting it into language that everybody will understand.
So, you can’t use some terms, you can’t talk about legato or anything to do with
technique in any jargon at all, you have to boil it right down to very straightforward,
simple English instructions. And try and work at a speed which doesn’t go straight
over the heads of the least experienced ones but doesn’t patronize the most
experienced. Finding that balance is something that I hope I managed to do, and
finding ever more creative ways of trying to do that, to engage everybody, regardless
of how much assumed knowledge they already bring to the process.
Almost everybody in the chorus … [has] just got such a deeply rooted wish
for it to be right and to not rest until it is right, no matter how hard it is. And it just
makes the job really easy, when you’re working with people who have that approach.
You don’t have to settle, as I never settle, for ‘oh that will do—that’s probably good
enough’. It’s really nice to have people who share that. It felt like ‘everybody versus
the piece’, rather than ‘them versus me’. It was everybody all pushing in the same
direction—‘us versus the music’. Everyone is united by the music.
Facilitating learning in small groups 67

A facilitator’s repertoire for supporting learning in groups

Light et  al. (2009) highlight the important role that the facilitator plays
with regard to influencing how learners engage with their learning. In some
instances, the approach adopted by the facilitator is more important than the
content itself. Light et al. suggest that expert facilitators have a well-developed
repertoire of strategies and approaches and are able to reflect in the moment,
in action (Schön 1983), adapting flexibly to the needs of individual groups in
order to offer support through phases of their development. A range of strate-
gies relating to the task as well as the interpersonal dynamics may be required.
These strategies might, for example, include validating individual input, reflect-
ing back to the group, summarizing, using questioning to promote deep think-
ing, allocating roles to specific group members, refining or adjusting the task,
and setting appropriate assessment strategies that require involvement from all
According to Stetson (2003), facilitators can support effective learning and
creativity in small groups when they structure activities that include:

• a clear mission
• an informal atmosphere
• lots of discussion
• active listening
• trust and openness
• an understanding that disagreement is acceptable
• criticism that is issue-oriented, never personal
• consensus as a norm
• effective leadership
• clarity of task assignments
• shared values and norms of behaviour
• commitment

The perspective of one advanced conservatoire student reinforces the impor-

tance of Stetson’s twelve facets of learning in small groups and demonstrates
the range of skills, interpersonal qualities and facilitation techniques required
of ensemble coaches (Box 3.3). The student advocates a coaching style that is
reminiscent of the ‘fellow traveller’ described by Jones (2005), yet also privi-
leges the importance of guidance and inspiration.
Research undertaken at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) and
the International Centre for Music Studies (ICMuS) at Newcastle University
(Ginsborg and Wistreich 2010) explored students’ perceptions of coaching and
tutoring and demonstrated a range of practices that could be interpreted within
Jones’s (2005) framework. For example, students at RNCM were strongly aligned
with the material, as in ‘midwife mode’, whereby ensembles arranged their own
rehearsals and requested coaching when they felt that they needed it. Similarly, at
68 Musicians in the Making

BOX 3.3 A student perspective on chamber music coaching

Musically, I would want and expect that a chamber music coach would:

• Teach the group as a whole and not focus on one player. For example, I have
had many experiences when bringing a piano group to a piano teacher where
they just talk to the pianist the whole time, and it is a complete waste of time
for the string players.
• … Talk about musical points and not offer any technical advice, except
maybe in how to achieve a particular musical idea. I mean, they don’t take
over the job of your personal teacher in the coaching. In one coaching session,
the coach started giving me tips on bow posture which was completely
irrelevant to the Beethoven quartet we were playing, completely irrelevant to
the other players, and completely irrelevant to me as she was not my teacher
and after the session was over I was going to disregard what she had to say.

I can barely think of an example of a coach giving a piece of technical advice

that was relevant. One exception was being coached on a Tchaikovsky piano trio
where we were told that we had to do vibrato on every note in one section until
the very end. And telling me to use fourth fingers and do vibrato on them and
things like sustaining notes. I guess these are all technical tips, but [they are] totally
relevant to the music and they all helped to achieve a particular musical idea.
I always go into a coaching session expecting in some way to be inspired.
Chamber coaching has a sort of freedom about it—unlike private lessons and
study. It is often arranged out of choice, with a teacher of choice, playing a piece
of music of choice, and this combination means that it is something outside your
regular study that you really look forward to and you really want to be there. So
I expect that the teacher will give me something, musically. And I can definitely
say that in the coaching that I have had where the teacher has been a member
of the ensemble, this have always given me much more inspiration than when
they sit on the side. This was probably because the teacher was able to give more
ideas through playing than through words… Anyway, I expect an inspiration
of some kind, and when I come out of a chamber coaching having gained
NOTHING I feel a huge sense of loss, sad, angry, disappointed.
Of course I would always expect the coach to know the piece! I have been
disappointed in this and not just this, but to know the editions, know the history
and the story, know the chords—the harmony. What can they teach us if they don’t?!
Having said that, I would expect them to always be open to new ideas, not stuck in
THEIR way which might be old-fashioned. They should give us what they know and
we can take what we want, and they should respect that we also have ideas.
Nonmusically I would expect:

• that they are HAPPY and EXCITED and WILLING to coach us! I hate the
feeling that we have cornered them into doing the coaching and they are
checking their watch every two minutes.
• that they more or less treat us as equals. Especially at conservatoire level.
I can’t stand teacher superiority. Of course we have to respect them, and there
is a certain code of politeness, but they shouldn’t make us feel like ‘stupid
Facilitating learning in small groups 69

students’. We are all musicians here, and definitely the best coaching I have
had is where there is a whole mix of ideas coming from everyone and the
teacher listens to us as much as we listen to them. Then it is fun for everybody.
I love it when a teacher asks me what I think! Generally lots of questions from
the teacher are great—loads of questions so lots of discussion, lots of sharing
ideas, coming up with different things…

ICMuS, the bands had timetabled rehearsal slots when tutors might visit. Some
groups asked for coaching when they were approaching a performance, some
asked for help earlier in the process, and others took advantage of opportuni-
ties for coaching when they arose. There was a sense that within the coaching
sessions a gatekeeper approach may have prevailed. The groups commented that
the coaches provided specific guidance relating to the music being prepared; the
students perceived advantages and disadvantages of having the same coach con-
sistently (which may have reinforced a teacher-directed approach) or having a
variety of coaches with different perspectives (which may have required students
to take a higher degree of responsibility for their own creative decisions).



While successful groups require responsive facilitation that comprises a number

of approaches, some broad principles underlying really effective practice can be
identified. If a fundamental goal of small-group work is to encourage learners to
engage in deep learning, to collaborate, to debate, to explore together, and to con-
struct new interpretations, knowledge and understanding, then a shift is required
from a teacher-centred approach (didactic and controlling, geared to transmis-
sion) to a learner-centred approach, where learners take ownership and responsi-
bility for their learning and creativity. In this model, the learner’s prior knowledge,
skills and individual needs are built upon through democratic active collaboration.
This shift may necessitate a fundamental change in the values that the facilita-
tor holds. For facilitators to function effectively and to do more than didactically
transmit information, they must reconsider and in some cases even relinquish the
power that accompanies the role of fact-giver, information provider and judge
of product. In this vein, Moore (2000: 19) stressed the importance of encourag-
ing ‘dialogue rather than monologue’, a view elucidated in detail by O’Neill and
Peluso (2014) in their model of dialogue that supports collaborative creativity.
A learner-centred approach requires facilitators to recognize the central tenet
of student ownership of their own learning. It also requires facilitators to remain
flexible enough to support learning in a variety of ways. For example, first-year
music conservatoire groups may require more structure and direction than groups
of postgraduates, who may benefit most from being encouraged to develop their
70 Musicians in the Making

own practices and to reflect upon group processes as they work together. Similarly,
within the lifetime of any group, there may be times when either hierarchical or,
alternatively, cooperative or collaborative approaches are more effective.
Small groups provide a forum where learners can together lessen depend-
ency on the facilitator, take ownership of learning and develop metacognitive
skills. This is particularly so when learners have the opportunity to assume dif-
ferent roles within the group, recognizing the challenges that other group mem-
bers may be experiencing and collectively taking responsibility for overcoming
those challenges (Light et al. 2009).
Table 3.1 sets out some practical strategies that can be adopted by facilita-
tors of small musical groups to scaffold deep learning and creativity. There is
also a role for musical modelling which may be adopted in conjunction with
any of the strategies set out below.

TABLE 3.1 Practical strategies for facilitators

Task-based strategies

Set the agenda • Convene a group if not already formed

• Suggest or provide repertoire or stimulus for creative activities if necessary
(if the activities involve improvisation, instigate a discussion about the basis
for it)
• Ask exploratory questions (knowledge of composition, interpretation, ideas
for the basis of improvisation)
• Suggest a starting strategy (playing, discussion)
• Discuss what role you will be taking ( facilitator, participant)
Promote the • Draw out students’ ideas
development of • Encourage contributions based on previous experiences
deep learning • Bounce questions back
• Make links with other music and musical activities
• Listen carefully to ideas being proposed
• Check for understanding
Clarify ideas • Summarize emerging outcomes
• Ask questions
• Identify differences of opinion
Refocus • Reiterate aims
attention • Draw attention to time constraints (session length, performance deadlines)
Challenge • Question the approach being adopted
• Disagree
Evaluate • Be constructively critical
• Encourage self and group evaluation
• Allow time for reflection
• Suggest alternatives
Strategies for supporting the group

Support • Encourage
• Approve, agree with ideas
• Praise
Encourage • Provide the guidance and structure for dialogue
inclusive • Ensure that all group members have the opportunity to contribute to discussions
participation • Value all contributions
• Describe individual contributions
Release tension • Use humour to defuse tense situations
Facilitating learning in small groups 71


Learning how to monitor progress, reflect on and draw conclusions from expe-
rience is essential for musical ensemble members and facilitators. Two key
elements have been identified in relation to reflecting on learning: reflection-
in-action and reflection-on-action. Reflection-in-action can be described as
‘thinking on your feet’. It relates to situations that are unfolding, connecting
with feelings and building new understandings of situations to inform actions
(Schön 1983). Reflection-on-action is carried out after the event and enables
exploration of particular actions that were undertaken, what was happening
in the situation and how things might be changed for the future. Musicians
typically use both types of reflection as a matter of course in their work. Such
reflective processes are especially important in ensemble playing, where indi-
viduals need to respond to one another in the moment, adjusting their own
actions in relation to what they hear, see and feel. There may also be discussion
during rehearsals or post-performance to evaluate what has happened and to
consider how to develop further. The facilitator of small groups can provide a
stimulus for this in order to develop these skills.
What are referred to as ‘critical incidents’ (i.e. significant events) can pro-
vide an important focus for reflection (Tripp 2012). These are events that raise
questions and can lead to change in beliefs, values, attitudes or behaviours.
For musicians working in small groups, critical incidents might be related to
aspects of performance that went particularly well or badly, or to incidents
within the group involving conflict or criticism. To learn from a critical inci-
dent requires asking questions about it; examining perceptions, assump-
tions and feelings; considering whether events could have been interpreted in
another way or behaviours changed; and evaluating what might be changed
for the future.
For reflection to be effective, it has to change behaviour. Kolb (1984) devel-
oped the Experiential Learning Cycle, which can be used as a model for acquir-
ing evaluative skills. The cycle comprises four stages and can be accessed
through any of them, although the stages must be followed in sequence for suc-
cessful learning to take place. It is not sufficient to have an experience in order
to learn: instead, it is necessary to reflect on the experience, to make generaliza-
tions from this, and to formulate ideas which can then be applied in the future.
Such learning must then be tested out in new situations. The key elements of
the cycle are ‘concrete musical experience’, ‘reflective observation’, ‘abstract
conceptualization’ and ‘active musical experimentation’. For musicians, ‘con-
crete experience’ might include practising, rehearsing with others, perform-
ing, teaching and so on. ‘Reflective observation’ (reviewing or reflecting on the
experience) involves analysing and making judgements about the experience;
these reflections need to be sufficiently systematic so that what has been learned
is remembered for future use. ‘Abstract conceptualization’ (concluding or learn-
ing from the experience) involves drawing some general conclusions about what
72 Musicians in the Making

has been learned. Finally, ‘active experimentation’ (planning and trying out
what one has learned) involves acting on the conclusions that have been drawn,
and planning and implementing strategies, techniques or approaches that will
change and improve on previous practice. This active experimentation then
feeds into new experiences, and the whole cycle begins again.


Small groups have been shown to be a powerful context for learning and crea-
tivity. Within this context, the role of the facilitator is vital in ensuring that the
potential for deep learning and creative intersubjective engagement is realized
within groups. In order to meet the challenges of group work, teachers need
a wide repertoire of strategies in order to support students in truly collabo-
rative and cooperative practices. At various stages in group work, effective
facilitators will need to position themselves on the continuum from hierarchi-
cal to collaborative, although this is always likely to be most effective within
a student-centred rather than teacher-centred paradigm. Awareness of group
dynamics and interpersonal processes can empower facilitators, offering val-
uable ways of fostering an interdependent and collective commitment to
shared goals.
Much of the research drawn on in this chapter has not been directly con-
cerned with facilitation in developing creativity in small musical groups. There
is a dearth of research about how best to facilitate small musical ensembles,
and even less is focused on promoting creativity and collaborative approaches
in such groups. Issues such as how to support interdependent peer learning
in creative music-making remain underresearched. There is clearly a need for
research which explores the perspectives of facilitators and learners on what
approaches are most effective for enhancing performance, creativity and the
skills required for working in small musical groups.


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The role and significance of masterclasses

in creative learning
Ingrid Maria Hanken

Students aiming to become professional musicians in the western classical tra-

dition typically follow a core study programme comprising weekly one-to-one
lessons with a regular instrumental or singing teacher. In addition to these ‘pri-
vate’ lessons behind closed doors, students also often take part in masterclasses
in a more ‘public’ context, in which learning and teaching take place in full view
of an audience. In some cases, masterclasses taught by renowned musicians
are even broadcast on television. But how useful are masterclasses in helping
young musicians in their musical development? On the basis of his experiences
of masterclasses, Lalli (2004: 24) states, ‘For better or for worse, masterclasses
can be life-changing events.’ Anecdotal evidence confirms that masterclasses
can provide important learning opportunities, but they can also be of little use
to students or, even worse, prove detrimental. Given that masterclasses play
such a significant role in the education of future musicians, it is somewhat sur-
prising that the music education research community has shown only limited
interest in investigating this particular method of learning and teaching. There
is, for example, no reference to ‘masterclasses’ in the index of either volume
of The Oxford Handbook of Music Education (McPherson and Welch 2012).
Recently, however, interest in investigating and exploring masterclasses has
been growing, and this chapter highlights some of the findings and discussions
in the literature. It also draws on demonstrations, reflections and discussions by
participants at an international symposium on masterclass learning and teach-
ing (reported in Hanken and Long 2012). The focus of this chapter is on how
masterclasses might benefit music students, and on how master teachers and
students can make the most of them.

76 Musicians in the Making

What is a masterclass?

The term ‘masterclass’ is used rather broadly and is traditionally employed both
to describe public events at which a renowned musician coaches advanced-level
students in front of a (paying) audience, and regular classes at a conserva-
toire where invited musicians and/or members of staff teach students in front
of other students. The term is also commonly used to describe performance
classes where a principal study teacher’s students play and are taught in front
of the other students. Masterclasses may be instrument-specific or style-spe-
cific. In a research study by Long and colleagues (2011), a typological mapping
of masterclasses revealed that they may also vary in terms of content, rang-
ing from what the authors call artistic-based classes, where the focus is prima-
rily on the realization of the music, to work-based ones, which concentrate on
developing work skills, such as mastering auditions or orchestral excerpts. The
study also revealed some new approaches to masterclasses, such as when two
master teachers with different specialisms co-teach. This mapping study shows
that while the term ‘masterclass’ is used to describe many forms and formats
of learning and teaching, there is a common denominator in that it involves
teaching a student or an ensemble in front of an audience, large or small. The
presence of an audience will in itself offer learning opportunities both for the
student performing and for the audience, but it also poses some challenges
which are not present in one-to-one tuition.

Styles of interaction

There are obviously many approaches to teaching a masterclass, and these

will result in differing patterns of interaction. Schön (1987) made a classic
distinction between two contrasting approaches based on case studies. One is
characterized by mutual experimenting and problem-solving. Master teacher
and student discuss and try out solutions together—for example, different
fingerings or phrasing—and work together as what Schön labels ‘partners in
inquiry’ (ibid.: 176). The master teacher’s role is primarily to ask the questions
needed to frame and focus the problem, rather than to present solutions and
give instructions. The other approach (ibid.: 182) is labelled ‘follow me’. This
implies a more teacher-directed approach, where the master teacher gives clear
models through instructions and demonstrations. The teaching is concentrated
on helping the student approach this model through imitation. Interestingly,
Long et  al. (2011) made a similar distinction almost twenty-five years later
based on observations of twenty masterclasses at the Guildhall School of
Music & Drama in London. They found a type of masterclass characterized
by a more collaborative style of interaction which they labelled ‘collaborative
student-centred’ masterclasses. This style of teaching was more common in
Masterclasses in creative learning 77

nontraditional, work-oriented masterclasses. In contrast, traditional, artistic-

based masterclasses were characterized to a larger extent by what they labelled
a ‘master-dominant’ approach, which is similar to Schön’s ‘follow me’. They
concluded that the two approaches can be viewed as complementary, as ‘both
offer the students important arenas for musical and professional development’
(ibid.:  15). However, according to Long et  al. (ibid.), the learning outcomes
seem to differ in accordance with the style of teaching. A  student-centred
approach appears to be particularly conducive to developing self-reflective and
cooperative skills. A master-dominant approach, on the other hand, will pro-
vide the student with a powerful model of artistry, especially when the master
is a well-respected authority in his or her field.
It is fair to say that the master- or teacher-dominant approach has come
into discredit in general pedagogy, with a typical argument being that it ‘stifles
creativity and encourages passivity on part of the student’ (Long et al. 2011:
18). The frequent use of demonstration and imitation in masterclasses has
been questioned in particular. It is certainly relevant to ask whether a proc-
ess designed to lead to artistic originality can be prompted by such powerful
teacher-directedness. Schön (1987: 119ff.) claims that in the beginning of the
process, the students themselves often do not understand what they need to
learn, and they can begin to learn only by doing what they do not yet under-
stand. The master teacher must therefore ask the students to relinquish their
autonomy and temporarily submit to becoming dependent. It is not always
easy for the master teacher to ask the students to put aside all their doubts
and accept being led, says Schön (ibid.: 93ff.). Nor can it be easy for the stu-
dents to postpone their assessment of the teaching and put aside any doubts
that they might have of its effectiveness. But the students must trust the mas-
ter teacher to lead the way, in addition to trying out the teacher’s suggestions
even if they do not as yet understand them (ibid.: 120ff.). In the research liter-
ature on the education of performing musicians (see e.g. Nielsen 1998: 129ff.;
Nerland 2004: 219ff.), such trust in the principal study teacher is described as
a fundamental prerequisite: the student must trust his or her teacher if the
teaching is to be successful. It can therefore be argued that an implicit contract
exists between the (master) teacher and the student: one will lead and the other
will be led. This means that a deliberate choice has been made to teach and to
learn, through demonstration and imitation respectively. Schön (1987: 119ff.)
emphasizes, however, that imitation is only the first step in the process: the stu-
dent gives up his or her freedom in order to gain the freedom that new insight
and control can provide.
The psychologist Albert Bandura (1977, 1986), who has studied learning
through observing and imitating models, warns against conceptualizing mod-
elling as ‘simply response mimicry’ (1986: 48). He claims that the learning that
takes place through demonstrations and instructions from models encom-
passes much more than imitating the model’s concrete behaviour; the learner
78 Musicians in the Making

also learns concepts and rules for what behaviour suits which aims and circum-
stances. One also learns standards for assessment and problem-solving strate-
gies. The model’s informative function therefore extends much further than the
specific example, and the knowledge can be applied to new situations and for
new aims. Bandura (ibid.: 104ff.) emphasizes that imitation must not be seen as
the antithesis of innovation. Rather, imitation can aid in the development of the
cognitive and behavioural tools needed to become innovative. He also points to
the potential for creative synthesis and development when combining observa-
tions and modelling from different models, such as various master teachers in
this case. From these discussions, it is clear that traditional, master-dominant
masterclasses can themselves contribute greatly to developing the student’s cre-
ativity, although this might not be obvious at the time.

The benefits of masterclasses

The widespread use of masterclasses in educational programmes for perfor-

mance students indicates that masterclasses can provide some benefits not
obtained to the same degree through one-to-one teaching. Research studies
among students (Creech et al. 2009; Stabell 2010; Long et al. 2011, 2014) and
experienced master teachers (Hanken 2010; Long et al. 2011) give some indica-
tion as to what masterclasses can offer. Here, the focus is mainly on the benefits
for the students performing during masterclasses; possible benefits for those in
the audience are addressed in a later section.


The masterclass implies that the students performing are being taught by some-
one other than their regular instrumental or singing teacher. This might be
beneficial in itself. First, the master teacher can assess the student’s potential
with a fresh and unbiased eye and ear, and for that reason several of the mas-
ter teachers in Hanken’s (2010) study stated that they prefer not to know very
much about the student in advance. Some of them compared their role in giving
masterclasses to the one that they have when teaching their regular students in
one-to-one lessons, commenting on how refreshing and motivating it can be for
both master teacher and student to be able to focus on the performance and the
situation in that moment, and not be influenced by a shared history.
Secondly, a different teacher can provide new perspectives and ideas on
interpretation or technical solutions. Judging by the responses to the survey
among students at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama (Creech et al.
2009), this is an explicit expectation from students:  when asked what they
wanted to learn from masterclasses, twenty-one of the thirty-seven students
responded that they hoped to gain new ideas and ways of thinking about
Masterclasses in creative learning 79

the piece. However, new ideas need not be restricted to the specific piece
of music studied in the class. Long et al. (2011) found that master teachers
also modelled new ideas as to how the students could think when practis-
ing, planning and improving their performances. Especially collaborative,
student-centred masterclasses appeared to be associated with broader learn-
ing outcomes, whereas master-dominant masterclasses primarily contrib-
uted to the performance of the specific piece of music studied in the class.
Because the relationship between the principal study teacher and the stu-
dent tends to be long-term in nature, it could be beneficial to students to be
confronted with alternative perspectives during their studies, as this would
stimulate their curiosity and enable them to become reflective practitioners,
making independent, deliberate and well-informed choices. One of the stu-
dents in Stabell’s study (2010: 42) expresses this view:
one thing that I think is very good with masterclasses is that you get to
play for other teachers and have the experience that there are other ways
to play than just what your principal instrument teacher says. It is very
good for us to get different views on things, and I think you learn a lot by
trying out different ways of playing.

By attending a number of masterclasses, both the students performing and

those in the audience will be confronted with ideas that might challenge, com-
plement or confirm what is learned through regular one-to-one tuition.
Thirdly, another teacher/master might be able to ‘get through’ to a stu-
dent where the regular teacher has difficulty in providing help. One of the
master teachers in Hanken’s study (2010:  152)  exemplified this when she
said:  ‘during a long life I  have gathered information and experience, and
I can often trigger something which the regular teacher has tried to explain
many times, and with my “accent” or my approach I somehow manage to get
through to this student’.
No matter how skilled the principal study teacher is, there will be a limit
to the methodological, musical and technical perspectives and suggestions
that he or she can put forward. Gaunt’s study (2006) illustrates this point.
Meeting a new teacher, with an unbiased mind and with other ideas and solu-
tions to technical or musical problems that the student is facing, can therefore
promote both inspiration and understanding. In the many cases where mas-
terclasses are taught by highly respected invited musicians, there is very good
reason to believe that the quality of the demonstrations, coaching, feedback
and instruction, and not merely the novelty of the perspectives, will play a
role in the student’s learning. This is supported by the findings from the stu-
dent survey by Creech et al. (2009): receiving relevant advice from an expert
on their own instrument was the reason most frequently cited by the students
(thirty-one out of thirty-seven respondents) as to why the masterclass was
80 Musicians in the Making


The beginning of a masterclass for each student participant is usually staged as

a ‘concert’ where the student performs his or her piece in front of a live audi-
ence which responds as an audience tends to—with applause. One of the main
benefits observed by the musicians in studies by Stabell (2010), Creech et al.
(2009) and Long et al. (2011, 2014) stems from precisely the concert-like nature
of the event. Some even see the concert practice as the main reason for per-
forming in masterclasses and are less concerned with what can be learned from
the master teacher. The students represented in these studies perceive master-
classes as a very useful arena for developing coping strategies needed to per-
form under stressful conditions. The master teachers in Hanken’s study (2010)
also acknowledged the learning effect of the performance part in itself for the
students. They point out that the concert-like nature of the masterclass is con-
structive in that it provides a realistic framework which mimics an authentic
work situation for a musician: knowing that one will be playing for an audi-
ence triggers a better focus and direction for the students’ practice and prepa-
ration than a regular one-to-one lesson. Moreover, it generates more intensity
and energy in the performance itself. The student will therefore reveal more of
his or her actual potential in this situation. The master teachers also under-
line that the ‘concert’ and the resulting feedback on how the ‘concert’ situation
is handled provide a learning opportunity that cannot be achieved in one-to-
one tuition. This includes learning how to deal with performance anxiety, how
to communicate with the audience and how to project in a large concert hall.
One of the master teachers interviewed by Hanken (2010: 153) puts it as fol-
lows: ‘What is also very valuable is how [the masterclass] can train the student
to become tough, but also to think about projection: “Do you think the audi-
ence in the very back could hear that detail? Maybe we should…”.’
We can therefore conclude that the concert-like nature of the masterclass
creates a unique possibility for the student to test his or her mettle and to obtain
feedback and coaching on the performance in what is the authentic work situ-
ation for a musician: playing for an audience.


Another benefit of masterclasses is that they serve as an arena for gradually initi-
ating students into the profession. Drawing on Lave and Wenger (1991), one can
view the music profession as a community of practice. From this perspective, the
education of a musician can be understood as a gradual initiation into the com-
munity of professional music practice. To become a member of the community,
one has to take part in the social practices of that community, such as con-
certs, rehearsals and individual practice. Through participation in these prac-
tices, the apprentice musician gradually learns what is needed to become a full
Masterclasses in creative learning 81

member of the community (Hanken 2008; Long et al. 2012a; see also Chapter
2 in this volume). The masterclass is an arena where the apprentice musician,
through a concert-like performance, is confronted with the standards of the
community. These standards are personalized through the master teacher, an
acknowledged member of the profession, with high legitimacy. One of the mas-
ter teachers in Hanken’s study (2010: 155) was very clear that she sees her role
as being a representative of the profession: ‘you have to be all right as a human
being, but you also have the right to be demanding in your role as a guardian
of the standards that are there’. Aspiring musicians need to understand what it
takes to be acknowledged as a professional musician. In the masterclass, these
standards are demonstrated through the demands and expectations the master
teachers communicate when assessing and coaching the students. It is therefore
the master teacher’s position as a highly respected musician that gives legiti-
macy, rather than his or her role and ability as a teacher. As Nerland (2004)
points out, principal study teachers in conservatoires teach by virtue of their
positions as musicians and artists; how good they are as teachers is secondary
in this context. Their authority and legitimacy stem from their central position
within the profession; they can give the student access to the traditions and stan-
dards of the profession. The same can be said about masterclass teachers.
Arenas such as masterclasses also offer students the opportunity to par-
ticipate in the community of practice with differing degrees of responsibil-
ity and exposure. Lave and Wenger (1991) demonstrate how newcomers and
apprentices first participate in the periphery. Gradually apprentices are given
more demanding tasks, such as, in our case, performing in masterclasses of
increasing status and importance. Lave and Wenger (ibid.) underline that even
a peripheral position is a legitimate position in the community; it is where all
members start. It is also a protected position: the students are protected from
the demands placed on full members. This saves the apprentice musician, the
audience and the community of practice from embarrassment caused by lack
of proficiency. At the same time, a peripheral position also gives vital access to
the learning resources in the practice; masterclasses offer the student a possibil-
ity to observe and listen to those who know more.
Viewing the masterclass as an arena for initiation might also shed light on a
phenomenon that is sometimes observed in masterclasses, i.e. the rather rough
treatment that some students receive. From this perspective, the masterclass
is a way of testing whether the student is on his or her way to becoming a
worthy member of the community of practice. Upholding the standards of
the profession is vital, and this can necessitate some ‘brutality’. Long et  al.
(2011:  136)  claim that ‘Many musicians regard this ruthless form of cul-
tural selection to be entirely justified’. This is also supported by Kingsbury
(1988: 105), who comments on his observations of life at a conservatory: ‘The
fact is that the culling of students perceived as less talented, less accomplished, or
less “musical” is generally accepted as necessary and inevitable in conservatory
82 Musicians in the Making

life, even if this is accomplished in an unpleasant fashion’. Both students and

the teachers in Kingsbury’s study (ibid.) said ‘It has to be done’ when comment-
ing on this rather brutal ‘winnowing’ of the less successful students.
Such merciless demands and selection mechanisms become more under-
standable if the masterclass is perceived as an initiation into the community
of professional music practice. It demonstrates the conventional standards in a
profession where the public concert represents the moment of truth. Students
who cannot do justice to the music and meet the expectations of the audience
must be told that they do not measure up to standards. One of the functions
of the masterclass is therefore to test whether the student has the potential to
become a full-fledged member of the community of music practitioners.
Successful students who are given the opportunity to play in prestigious
masterclasses with prominent masters will build up their ‘cultural capital’,
to use Bourdieu’s (1977) term, by mentioning it on their résumés. One of the
younger master teachers in Hanken’s study (2010: 156) had used this strategy
himself: ‘This is only about status, it has nothing to do with knowledge. I also
write on my CV that I have had masterclasses with [a world-famous musician],
but I have actually learned more from a lot of other people… But he is such a
big name that I signal that I would like to be associated with him.’
It is also well known that ambitious students use masterclasses with pres-
tigious musicians as a means of advertising themselves and advancing their
careers: if a student is perceived as very talented, the master teacher might ask
him or her to come and study. The masterclass then serves as a way to gain
access to a high-ranking teacher who consequently might open many doors
to the profession for the student. Masterclasses thus serve as a useful means
not only for initiation into the profession but also for gaining status—for the
students who succeed.

Challenges in masterclass learning and teaching

A masterclass can be very demanding for the student on stage because it is

part concert and part tuition. He or she has to perform in front of an audi-
ence, which in itself can be challenging, especially since fellow musicians are
often present. There are indications that performing for an audience of fellow
students is particularly stressful. Several of the informants in Stabell’s (2010)
study claim that this is a much more difficult situation than playing a regular
concert with a ‘normal’ audience. One of the students explains why: ‘Playing
for fellow students is the worst, because they are the least sympathetic. Fellow
students are rarely tolerant of the fact that you are in the process of developing’
(ibid.: 43). The stress is amplified by having to subject oneself to corrections
and even criticism in public and by having to try to change well-rehearsed ways
of playing then and there, in full view of an audience assessing the progress.
Masterclasses in creative learning 83

A study by Raeder (2000) demonstrates how performance anxiety in music stu-

dents can be triggered by playing for an audience, but even more so by having
to deal with instructions and corrections in front of others. In a masterclass
context the effects of performance anxiety can clearly be devastating:  in her
research review, Hallam (2002) concludes that performance anxiety causes
physical changes such as stiffness and muscle tension. It also leads to cognitive
changes, such as lack of concentration, memory lapses and lack of sensitivity
in the performance. It is obvious that such reactions will have a negative impact
on the ability to perceive and understand instructions and demonstrations, as
well as on the ability to perform accordingly. Students react differently to this
type of pressure, and the master teacher must therefore be able to regulate the
demands made on individual students in keeping with their ability to cope with
the situation.
The challenges facing the master teacher are equally demanding when trying
to assist the student in handling interwoven cognitive, psychomotor and affec-
tive learning tasks in front of an audience. It is challenging because he or she
must make assessments and decisions on the spot and ‘plan’ the lesson in the
moment. The master teacher often has no indication beforehand as to what kind
of problems the student will need help solving. Furthermore, in the course of
a masterclass session, the master teacher is expected to have helped the student
improve the performance to such a degree that it is noticeable to both the stu-
dent and the audience. The master teacher must first be able to diagnose quickly
the cause of a specific problem, such as lack of expressivity in the performance,
and to determine whether it is caused by too little musical imagination, by inad-
equate attention to performance markings in the score, or by lack of technical
control. Once the problem has been framed, the master teacher must quickly
devise methods for solving it. He or she must also assess on the spot which
aspects should be dealt with in the masterclass, and which should instead be
deferred to other arenas such as the practice room or individual tuition. In their
research into masterclasses, Ruhleder and Stoltzfus (2000) conclude that a mas-
ter teacher requires a well-developed ability to improvise methodically because
the students’ problems are so unpredictable. On the same note, Schön (1987)
underlines the need to be proficient in what he calls ‘reflection-in-action’ (see
Chapter  3 in this volume):  the master teacher must be able to decide how to
frame a problem that is revealed and how to address it methodically, while at
the same time continuing with the instructions, demonstrations and so on. The
master teacher cannot stop and ask for ‘time out’: instead, he or she must con-
tinuously plan and adjust his or her teaching while teaching.
One of the key factors in achieving a fruitful learning environment in a
masterclass is the ability to establish mutual trust between the master teacher
and the student performing. This was apparent during the demonstration mas-
terclasses and the discussions that followed at an international symposium in
2011 on masterclass learning and teaching (see Hanken and Long 2012). The
84 Musicians in the Making

renowned singer and master teacher Håkan Hagegård stressed how establish-
ing a trusting relationship with the student is fundamental in his approach to
masterclass teaching: ‘The technique is to make the student safe, of course, not
putting myself in the centre, but [indicating that] I am here, I’m your friend’
(ibid.:  13). During the demonstration masterclasses, the master teachers and
student performers endeavoured to appraise each other initially, relying on a
heightened awareness of body language, tone of voice and facial expression.
The trust between them was established in these first few moments but was also
strengthened by the integrity of the master teacher’s professional judgement
and intuition. As highly experienced and successful master teachers, they were
able to ‘read’ the student performers’ levels of composure, competence, respon-
siveness and self-confidence, and tailor their approach to the needs of individ-
ual students. When such trust was established, the students also became more
willing and able to move out of their ‘comfort zones’ and be challenged. As one
of the students performing in Hagegård’s class expressed her experience: ‘He
shows you very early on that you can trust him. So you don’t have to be afraid.
And he sees you, so you have to be honest. You cannot hide. And then it is
okay that he pushes you’ (ibid.: 15). Unfortunately, as indicated by anecdotal
evidence as well as a survey among students at a UK conservatoire reported by
Long et al. (2014), not all master teachers manage to establish such a trusting
and safe environment.
If one has a reputation as a respected ‘master’, a masterclass is obviously
a very challenging teaching arena, and the stakes are high. It can be argued
that teaching masterclasses is an especially complex and demanding task, much
more so than one-to-one tuition. The master teachers interviewed in Hanken’s
study (2010) stated that it had taken them a long time to learn the skills they
needed to become adept in the masterclass format and that they had learned
these the hard way.

Learning opportunities for the audience

In conservatoires, masterclasses are commonly viewed as a learning arena not

only for the students performing but also for those in the audience. Attendance
at masterclasses is therefore also expected, if not compulsory, for students who
themselves are not performing. The latter students do not always agree, how-
ever, that they learn much from being in the audience; research by Creech et al.
(2009) and Stabell (2010) indicates that students sometimes do not see the point
of attending masterclasses if they are not going to perform, and there is plenty
of anecdotal evidence indicating that students might not prioritize attending
masterclasses (only) to listen to their fellow students being taught. This raises
some issues about how fruitful masterclasses actually are for students in the
audience and about what can be done to ensure their effectiveness.
Masterclasses in creative learning 85


Bandura (1977, 1986, 1997) has written extensively about observational learn-

ing, which he describes in terms of modelling. He also defines preconditions
that facilitate learning (1986:  51). The first is that the observer is motivated
to learn from the master teacher (in Bandura’s terms, the model) and focuses
his or her attention on what is being modelled. Research reported by Bandura
(ibid.: 53) indicates that motivation is most easily achieved when the model is
known to be competent and to produce good results. This is also illustrated by
results from the research studies by Creech et al. (2009) and Stabell (2010), who
found that students were more motivated to attend masterclasses where the
teacher was well respected and when the students performing were advanced.
The focus and motivation will also be strongest when the teacher is perceived
as interesting and holds the attention of the observer.
According to Bandura, focus and motivation alone are not enough for learn-
ing by observation. A second precondition is that the observer must remember
and be able to execute what is being taught (1986:  55). Of course, receiving
corrective feedback will enhance the memory of student participants as well
as their ability to execute the music effectively. While those students in the
audience do not receive feedback, since they themselves are not performing,
Bandura (ibid.: 12) claims that observers will receive what he calls ‘vicarious
reinforcement’. Students in the audience will observe the feedback provided
to the performing student and consequently learn from it, reinforcing many of
the visual, auditory and kinaesthetic representations necessary for performance
itself. This is substantiated by Latukefu’s study (2009) of group teaching of
tertiary voice students. Those in her study reported that they learned from lis-
tening to the feedback given to the student performing; Latukefu explains this
effect by referring to Bandura’s theory on vicarious reinforcement.
How much the audience members will be able to learn is clearly dependent on
the way in which the masterclass is being taught. Research by Long et al. (2012b)
indicates that some master teachers might not sufficiently consider the needs of
the audience. The authors report that students have criticized master teachers
for speaking too long or too softly, or for turning their backs on the audience.
Learning is also dependent on the students’ own levels of proficiency as per-
formers. The higher their level, the more they will be able to perceive and hence
learn from subtle nuances in the demonstrations, instructions and performances.
Having prior experience as a performer in a masterclass might also subsequently
enhance the ability to learn from observation as an audience member (ibid.).


It is not only the master teacher who can serve as a model: in some ways
the student performing can potentially be a more effective model than the
86 Musicians in the Making

master teacher, because he or she has more in common with the students in the
audience. According to Bandura (1997), such student models will have an even
greater influence on fellow students’ perceived self-efficacy. Bandura (ibid.: 95)
claims that perceived self-efficacy is ‘uniformly a good predictor of subsequent
performance attainments. The higher the perceived self-efficacy, the greater are
the performance accomplishments.’ It is therefore vital that students develop
not only their musical skills, but also their sense of self-efficacy. Comparisons
of one’s own attainments with those of others play an important role in this
process, but according to Bandura (ibid.: 87), beliefs of personal self-efficacy
will not be much influenced if the model is perceived as very different from
oneself. In that respect, observing a fellow student might be more effective than
observing a master teacher, who is presumably on a much higher level. This is
also supported by Latukefu’s study (2009) on group teaching of voice students.
The students taking part reported that listening to others being taught gave
them a sense of their own level within the group.
Bandura (1997: 90) warns, however, that simply exposing people to models
does not necessarily improve their beliefs in their own efficacy. It is important
to structure modelling in ways that enhance a sense of personal efficacy while
avoiding negative and unfavourable effects of comparisons with the model.
This can be achieved by focusing on the instructive function of the model and
minimizing the comparative evaluative function. Translated to the context of
a masterclass, this means that the class should be framed as a learning oppor-
tunity for the students in the audience, where the focus is on developing their
knowledge and skills through observing proficient models, rather than on
comparative evaluation. This way of understanding masterclasses is expressed
clearly by one of the master teachers interviewed by Hanken (2010:  155):  ‘I
wish to maintain the aspect of competition among the students, but I differen-
tiate between what I consider competition as a positive challenge (“Oh, I want
to be able to do that too”) and the negative aspect which involves envy… So
I definitely try to maintain the positive aspect.’
Framing the masterclass as a learning opportunity in which students in
the audience can be inspired and motivated by their more proficient peers
enables students to interpret their present level of proficiency as ‘work in prog-
ress’ rather than as an indication of their basic capability or ‘talent’ (Bandura
1997: 92). This effect can be enhanced if the modelling being observed is what
Bandura (ibid.: 99) labels ‘coping modelling’. This means that the student can
observe the model while working his or her way through difficulties, gradu-
ally overcoming them through determined effort. Observing how perseverance
and focused effort can lead to improvement in musical performance during
the course of the masterclass can demonstrate to the students in the audience
that hard work is the key to success. Drawing on Bandura’s theory, we can
conclude that masterclasses have the potential to enhance students’ perceived
self-efficacy when they observe their fellow students’ coping efforts.
Masterclasses in creative learning 87

It might be assumed on the basis of Latukefu’s research on group teach-

ing that audiences gain a better awareness of assessment criteria by observing
masterclasses. The students in her study (2010) reported that they developed
an understanding of assessment criteria through listening to how the teacher
assessed their fellow students’ performances. However, it is not only the master
teachers who are carrying out assessment during masterclasses: the students in
the audience will implicitly assess the performance and will also do so explic-
itly if invited to participate. Feedback from fellow students can prove useful
for those asked to assess as well as for the students performing. On the basis
of a research review, Falchikov (2007: 133) concludes that both students who
have participated in peer assessment and those who have been assessed by peers
tend to achieve better results at exams than those who lacked this experience.
Although the studies reviewed by Falchikov did not involve musicians, the
results have been substantiated for music students: in Latukefu’s study (2010),
tertiary voice students reported that taking part in peer assessment helped
improve their own performance. The students could subsequently use these
criteria when monitoring and assessing their own performances. This is also
supported by Hunter and Russ (1996: 77), who emphasize that students learn
to listen more critically to the performance of their fellow students when asked
to assess, and as a result, they will listen more critically to their own playing.
Lebler (2007: 207) underlines that it is vital for music students to learn how to
monitor their own progress and develop self-evaluation skills, since ‘the ability
to be self monitoring [is] a characteristic of professional practice’.
Several researchers point out that peer assessment can also contribute to
more generic, lifelong learning skills. Daniel (2004), Falchikov (2007), Lebler
(2007) and Latukefu (2010) all emphasize that being involved in peer assess-
ment, and consequently improving the capacity for self-assessment, can help
students to develop a sense of ownership of learning and a feeling of control
over the learning process. Vocal and instrumental tuition is often charac-
terized as a type of master–apprentice relationship (Nielsen 1998; Burwell
2005; Nerland 2004, 2007; Gaunt 2008; Gaunt et al. 2012; see also Chapter 2
in this volume). The apprenticeship tradition certainly has many dynamic
aspects, but there are also potential limitations, such as teacher dominance
and student dependence both being excessive (Persson 1994; Jørgensen 2000;
Burwell 2005; Gaunt 2010). Taking part in peer assessment helps students to
internalize assessment criteria that they later can apply effectively to them-
selves. This enables them to take responsibility for their own learning and to
become self-directed and independent of their teacher. Furthermore, other
generic skills can be developed through peer assessment, such as an abil-
ity to negotiate (Hunter and Russ 1996)  and diplomatic skills (Falchikov
2007: 133). Wöllner and Ginsborg (2011: 302) point to the fact that because
most music students will not end up as soloists, they therefore need to learn
to communicate with colleagues from diverse backgrounds with different
88 Musicians in the Making

opinions. They also need to acquire collaborative skills and learn to engage
in a critical dialogue (ibid.). Giving musicians the opportunity to communi-
cate and provide constructive feedback to their fellow students during mas-
terclasses could help to build these necessary lifelong skills. Blom and Poole
(2004: 123) also point out that being engaged in peer assessment will prepare
students for other roles in musical life, such as those of examiner or music
Students in the audiences of many masterclasses are not explicitly asked to
give feedback to those who are performing. Consequently some of the skills
described above might not be fostered. However, one should not underesti-
mate the potential of masterclasses for developing peer and self-assessment
skills in students who are physically somewhat detached but who neverthe-
less might be quietly observing the proceedings. The learning potential of
masterclasses for the students in the audience is pointedly summarized by
one of the master teachers interviewed in Hanken’s study (2010: 154), who
is responsible for arranging weekly masterclasses for all the string players in
his institution:
I see them [masterclasses] as an arena for creating a learning environ-
ment, for developing a spirit of cooperation, for learning what kind of
feedback you don’t give, absolutely! … The fundamental realisation [is]
that you learn from each other, that you are all in the same boat, that
everyone is struggling with something.

Conclusions and implications for practice

Judging from the research on masterclasses described here, as well as a vast

body of anecdotal evidence, we can see that masterclasses have an important
role to play in preparing musicians for their future careers. There are many ben-
efits to be gained by both the students performing and those in the audience,
benefits that are unique to this particular learning and teaching arena. The stu-
dents performing can gain new perspectives through the master teachers’ guid-
ance; moreover, the concert-like situation mimics life as a performing musician.
The masterclass can thus give the aspiring musician access to a community of
professional practice, where he or she can participate with varying degrees of
responsibility and exposure. There is also a great learning potential for stu-
dents in the audience, since learning by observation is a very effective strategy
which itself also can enhance the students’ sense of self-efficacy. Furthermore,
when observing their peers perform, those in the audience can gain a better
understanding of assessment criteria and, consequently, develop their ability
to assess themselves.
These findings underline how important it is that institutions of higher
music education provide masterclasses on a regular basis and that these classes
Masterclasses in creative learning 89

offer a range of challenges to meet the needs of students at different levels of

proficiency. Considering the benefits of masterclasses, all students should be
given the opportunity to perform because this experience will also enable them
to learn more from such classes when they are not on stage themselves.
The principal study teacher has an important role to play in enabling stu-
dents to get the most out of a masterclass. First of all, advice can be given to
the student who will perform about selecting repertoire that reflects the master
teacher’s expertise. The principal teacher can also help the student prepare for
the class during regular lessons. In addition to working on the repertoire, this
could include guiding the student on how to handle the stress of the situation
as well as providing tips on taking notes and/or recording the session. The prin-
cipal study teacher can also support the student’s learning outcomes from the
masterclass afterwards by discussing what was learned and helping the student
follow up issues that arose during the class, whether in the studio or in the prac-
tice room. In this way the teacher can assist the student in making sense of the
masterclass experience and establish a connection between learning arenas. The
masterclass will then not be an isolated event but will function as an integral
part of the study programme.
The principal study teacher also plays an important role when it comes to
enabling students who will not be performing to become aware of the learning
opportunities inherent in masterclasses. Highlighting forthcoming classes and
the merits of the master teacher can motivate such students to attend. Advising
them to bring scores, take notes and ask questions will help improve their focus
during the masterclass. As Hatton (2014) underlines, principal study teachers
can enable students to focus better by discussing with them how and what to
observe during a masterclass.
The skills of the master teacher, however, will obviously be the key factor as
to the benefits for students performing or attending as audience members. It is
taken as given that the musical quality of the teaching must be of an excellent
standard if the masterclass is to be maximally helpful for students. If the teach-
ing is at the highest artistic level, one would expect students to benefit no matter
how inadequate it might be from a pedagogical perspective. Being in the pres-
ence of and able to observe and listen to a great musician can be informative
and inspiring in itself. Nevertheless, teaching masterclasses is challenging, and
there is always a risk that the student performing might leave feeling confused,
dispirited or humiliated. Ideally, the master teacher should therefore also have
the pedagogical skills needed to adapt his or her teaching to the situation at
hand. This includes creating a trusting relationship for the student performing;
choosing which, and how many, issues to address in order to help and not over-
whelm the student; appraising the student’s reactions and responding to them;
and creating the proper balance between challenge and support.
The pedagogical skills also encompass the ability to include and involve the
audience by acknowledging and communicating with them, choosing issues to
90 Musicians in the Making

address in the performance that can be of more general interest, and presenting
them in terms that are more broadly relevant. There is reason to believe that
the full potential of peer learning and peer assessment is not always realized in
masterclasses. Involving audience members by asking them for comments and
feedback can benefit both the audience and the student who is performing in
many ways. The masterclass teacher, therefore, needs to have the requisite skills
for conducting and monitoring such processes to ensure that they are positive
and constructive.
A majority of the masterclasses offered in conservatoires can be catego-
rized as master-dominant and artistic in nature. The mapping study by Long
et al. (2011) illustrates that other types, formats and styles offer further learn-
ing opportunities compared with this more traditional approach and that each
approach has its own merits. This should be taken into consideration when pro-
gramming masterclasses in conservatoires, or indeed elsewhere. Further explo-
ration and documentation of such innovative approaches could help realize the
full range of benefits that the masterclass can offer musicians in the making.


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Evaluating progress and setting directions

Don Lebler and Scott Harrison

The role of examinations and assessment in music learning

The words ‘examination’ and ‘assessment’ are often used interchangeably. In

common usage, ‘examination’ would more likely refer to a process designed
to make summative judgements about the degree to which the predetermined
learning objectives of a course of study have been achieved. The term ‘assess-
ment’ is frequently employed with regard to a wider range of activities, includ-
ing formal processes designed to provide feedback to learners that are often
referred to as ‘formative assessment’. The testing of a student’s declarative
knowledge where there is only one correct answer for each question would
probably be called an examination, and assessing the quality of open responses
that require the exercise of judgement on the part of the examiner is likely to be
described as an assessment. Even though performances for assessment might
be referred to as ‘performance exams’, they would logically fall more comfort-
ably towards the assessment end of this continuum, demanding the exercise of
expert judgement to assess the standard of the work in a more holistic manner
than simply counting the number of correct elements.
The focus of this chapter is on how assessment processes can enhance the
making of musicians, and we cite a number of practices that provide examples
of positive assessment practices that strive to achieve these goals. Formal assess-
ment is often undertaken to measure the achievement of learning objectives at
various stages of a learning process, such as at the end of a period of study, to
certify the student as being ready to progress to the next stage of the learning
programme or to exit the programme with a particular qualification. Less for-
mal processes occur frequently in music learning, particularly in performance
tuition when the provision of highly customized feedback is one of the central
94 Musicians in the Making

features of learning. This is perhaps most evident in the dominant mode of

learning, the one-to-one lesson (see Chapter 2 in this volume). Assessments also
occur as one of the aspects of the communications among the members of music
ensembles as described in Chapters 8 and 15. Rather than being thought of as
separate from learning, informal assessments of various kinds are embedded in
the learning of music in many ways. When the primary or sole purpose of an
assessment is to provide feedback rather than make a judgement about the level
of attainment demonstrated, that process is described as being formative (as
noted earlier), but when the assessment is primarily a measure of the student’s
achievements, it is referred to as being summative, even if feedback is also given.
Summative assessment tasks often provide goals for learners to aim for and
milestones to record their achievements, thereby acting as important motiva-
tors. Students will usually have to engage in systematic learning processes to
achieve success in their performance assessments, identifying those aspects of
the performance that need particular attention and finding a means to develop
the required skills and abilities, typically in collaboration with their teacher. As
discussed later in this chapter, performance examinations are often conducted
at the end of each learning period, usually one semester long with two semes-
ters being undertaken every year. However, there is increasing adoption of the
trimester model in higher education in some parts of the world, which may
mean three performance exams every calendar year. Some question the useful-
ness of even the commonplace two major assessments per year, arguing that
this limits opportunity for the slow learning that is beneficial for music perfor-
mance,1 so the frequency of summative assessment will need to be taken into
account as institutions consider variations to their delivery models.
Formative assessment and the provision of feedback through less formal
means have widespread support in the literature, but some caution is needed even
here. As is evident in the work of the eminent scholars cited in this chapter, the
development of effective self-assessment abilities has many benefits—including
the ability to monitor the quality of work in progress independently—and
therefore should be a core goal. Frequent transmissive feedback consisting
primarily of the evaluative comments of the teacher might create dependency
on external judgements in the learner, which would be problematic for con-
tinuing independent learning. The provision of feedback through processes
such as those described below (Boud 1995b; Lerman and Borstel 2003; Partti,
Westerlund and Lebler 2015)  avoids any risk of creating dependency in the
learner, and develops abilities in self-assessment that will be useful in an inevi-
tably complex creative career.


A written report is common in performance assessment processes, and this

can be of value as a means of recording different stages of a music student’s
Examination and assessment 95

development; it is also a requirement at many institutions to fulfil regulatory

and compliance expectations. Aside from offering a degree of permanency,
written reports also enable students to reflect on their performances and
thereby to enhance their understandings of the strengths and weaknesses that
were demonstrated in the performance assessment; this is particularly valuable
if students have access to a recording of the examination performance, as it
enables them to cross-reference their recollections with the views of the exam-
iners and the evidence of the recording. This kind of formal assessment will not
usually be available after students graduate, so they need to develop the ability
to reflect effectively on their own work if they are to continue to learn and prog-
ress along a pathway to creative performance.
There are also benefits in a verbal feedback process, such as Liz Lerman’s
Critical Response Process2 (Lerman and Borstel 2003), because it is carried out
in person and demands the active engagement of both the assessor and the stu-
dent. Verbal feedback can be an important feature of performance assessment;
in the Folk Music Department of the Sibelius Academy, for example, feedback
on performances takes a dialogic form and is considered to be an important
contributor to the development of the learning community, which is highly val-
ued in this context (Partti et al. 2015).
Participatory assessment (ibid.) involves the active participation of students;
one example is peer assessment, in which students assess each other, often in
highly structured processes. These assessments sometimes contribute to the
grades or marks awarded to the student and might involve a mark or grade for
those conducting the assessment. Self-assessment is another kind of partici-
patory assessment and is arguably the most important of all assessment types,
whether or not it is included as part of an official process, because it is the form
of assessment that will serve the student for life (for more details, see Boud
1995a, 2000; Boud and Associates 2010). The ability to make well-founded
judgements about work while it is in progress is a core skill for the kinds of con-
tinuing development inherent in the lifelong learning that is claimed by many
places of higher education as a characteristic of their graduates (Sadler 2013).
Considering that musicians typically practise alone, they must be able to self-
assess as they progress towards their creative performance goals, and they must
be able to respond in constructive ways to any weaknesses that they identify.
The assessment landscape for higher music education also includes assess-
ments that occur in an ensemble setting; these are not uncommon. Ensemble
assessment takes many forms, as reported by Ginsborg and Wistreich (2010)
in their study of twenty-six higher education institutions in the UK: ‘assess-
ment practices vary insofar as ensembles are assessed at different stages of
their degree courses, process may or may not be assessed alongside product and
while more than half the respondents reported that students are assessed as a
group as well as individually—sometimes by themselves—it is not always clear
how this is achieved’ (ibid.: 4).
96 Musicians in the Making

Harrison et al. (2013a; see also Harrison, O’Bryan and Lebler 2013b) draw
attention to the complexities of assessing ensemble work, particularly the issues
around the degree to which the process should be assessed along with the prod-
uct. In these studies, students and teachers shared a range of views about such
assessment activities as self- and peer assessment, and the degree to which peer
feedback processes should be formalized. A sense of tension was evident between
assessing for compliance with institutional regulations and assessing as prepa-
ration for future professional music-making. Nevertheless, there was a strong
affirmation by both students and teachers of the value of ensemble participation
in the making of musicians. Many undergraduate performers will be active as
ensemble performers outside their programmes of study, and ensemble work will
be a common outcome for graduates, so ensemble performance is an important
aspect of students’ progression along the pathway to creative performance.


Any discussion about assessment begs four questions: assessment of what, by

whom, for what purpose, and how? The authors of this chapter are located in an
Australian conservatoire, part of a large multidiscipline university, and so this
case study and other practical examples embedded in each section of this chap-
ter draw primarily from the Australian context. In times of increasing regulation
of higher education (Lebler et al. 2015), the ‘what’ that should be assessed has
been defined by the regulatory authorities, and thus students’ achievement of
predetermined learning outcomes is mandated in the Australian Qualifications
Framework (2013). Educational institutions must also be able to demonstrate
the rigour of these processes and the validity of the grades awarded to the sat-
isfaction of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Tertiary
Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011), which is charged with the
regulation and monitoring of all higher education in Australia, including both
private and public providers in all contexts.
The answer to the ‘by whom’ question is that each Australian higher edu-
cation institution is able to conduct assessment itself, with no requirement for
examiners to come from outside the institution although the use of external
examiners is not uncommon. This does not relieve the individual institutions of
the obligation to ensure that the grades they award are comparable with those
awarded by other similar Australian and international institutions, and a num-
ber of national projects have been funded to develop processes and protocols
for ensuring comparability of grades between institutions.
The ‘how’ of assessment in the Australian context has been clarified by a
sequence of federal government reviews and the development of a strength-
ened regulations framework. The Bradley Review of Australian Higher
Education (Bradley et al. 2008) recommended the development of a set of
indicators and instruments to directly assess and compare learning outcomes
Examination and assessment 97

and the development of a set of formal statements of academic standards by

discipline along with processes for applying those standards. The Australian
Government’s Office for Learning and Teaching (formerly the Australian
Learning and Teaching Council) then funded a process through which dis-
cipline sectors developed statements as to the characteristics of threshold
learning outcomes for graduates of various levels of qualification, includ-
ing Threshold Learning Outcome statements for Bachelor’s and Master’s
by coursework programmes in the creative and performing arts (Holmes
and Fountain 2010). The means by which these learning outcomes can be
assessed has become the focus of a number of discipline-specific projects to
ensure that assessment processes in common usage in each discipline are able
to assess validly and reliably the achievement of these discipline cluster out-
comes. In the Australian context, norm-referenced assessments (where pre-
determined proportions of submissions are assigned predetermined grades)
are no longer acceptable practice. Assessments are now required to be made
against predetermined standards regardless of the proportion of the student
body achieving a particular standard.


In addition to meeting any regulatory requirements, the ultimate purpose of

assessment in music should be not just to certify students’ achievement of
learning outcomes, but also to contribute directly to their learning. This can
be effected through the provision of constructive feedback that will inform and
direct the future learning of the student, but it can also be achieved by pro-
viding assessment tasks that are sufficiently complex and authentic (i.e. not
contrived but realistic in nature) to produce learning as a consequence of the
assessment tasks themselves. Musical performances are authentic assessment
activities for students of musical performance because they replicate the kinds
of musical activities that most students would hope for as an outcome of their
studies. The preparation needed for a recital assessment is essentially the same
as that required for any other recital, so these assessments are important devel-
opmental steps.
While recitals or other performance activities are commonly used as assess-
ment tasks in musical performance courses, the incidence of participatory
assessment is less common, and this is one area in which higher music educa-
tion might serve its students better. Tasks that involve the students as assessors
of their own work or that of others will develop students’ abilities to make valid
and systematic judgements about the quality of their work while it is in prog-
ress, which is a core skill for autonomous professionals in all fields.
The question of what to assess frequently includes considerations of whether
craft or artistry should be the focus of assessment. For example, performance
course profiles at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University in
98 Musicians in the Making

Australia routinely include a statement indicating that in early years greater

weight is given to ‘Basic Craft’, whereas in later years musicality and artistry
are accorded increasing importance. Here, the focus of assessment gradually
moves from technique and execution to more artistic considerations, includ-
ing matters of expression and interpretation, as students develop their creative
skills. In this instance, the teachers who conduct the assessment discuss these
considerations in advance of each round of assessments, to reach a consensus
as to what the focus of their judgements will be.

Criteria and standards

References to criteria and standards in assessment are common in the education

literature, and as noted elsewhere in this chapter, major research projects have
been undertaken in Europe and Australia that have focused on these aspects of
assessment.3 The Oxford English Dictionary (OED online) includes ‘standard’
in its definition of ‘criteria’ and ‘criterion’ in its definition of ‘standard’, which
is hardly elucidatory. For the purposes of this chapter, criteria are defined as
the characteristics of an assessment item that will be assessed, while standards
are measures of the degree to which students are able to demonstrate their mas-
tery of those characteristics (Sadler 1985). Communicating standards has been
a challenge for those interested in maintaining consistency in assessment, and
various approaches have been used, sometimes in combination. The method
in widespread use in the higher music education context is the construction of
quite detailed verbal descriptions of the characteristics of various standards
of achievement, usually resulting in at least several sentences being employed
to describe how each category of achievement differs from the others. Sadler
(2007) points out some of the difficulties with this method, and he suggests that
it alone is not likely to serve us well. When this approach is taken to the degree
that the learning objectives are atomized, i.e. broken down into their constitu-
ent parts, the result is a list of micro-competencies that are sometimes assessed
as being either present or absent. This approach is used widely in the voca-
tional education sector, for example. Sadler’s view is that holistic judgements
of assessments where ‘the appraiser … makes a qualitative judgment as to its
overall quality’ are more effective than those where ‘the teacher makes separate
qualitative judgements on each of the preset criteria’ (2009a: 161).
Sadler (2010a) also recommended the process of consensus moderation as
an appropriate strategy when multiple assessors are involved in marking stu-
dent responses to a single assessment task. Consensus moderation would have
all assessors grade a representative sample piece of work, compare marks, and
engage in focused discussion on what constitutes quality and on the standards
to be used to assess the work of the remaining students in the course. Only ele-
ments that relate directly to achievement are relevant, not extraneous factors
Examination and assessment 99

such as attendance or participation. The meaning of various levels of student

achievement can be communicated among examiners through collections of
examples of responses to assessment tasks that have been judged to be of par-
ticular standards, and this is more likely to produce a consensus as to standards
than written descriptors alone (Sadler 2010b, 2010c).

Indicative practices

While a range of assessment activities is available in most higher music edu-

cation contexts for aspects of programmes that are not musical performances
(such as exams in theory or musicology), the assessment of musical perfor-
mances tends to be based on a much narrower range of practices. Such forms
of assessment, which are largely limited to music programmes, arguably present
the greatest challenge to the sector. The intensive study of performance is the
defining characteristic of conservatoire education, and assessment in this area
is often of particular interest to researchers. It is also an increasingly important
part of undergraduate and postgraduate curricula in university music depart-
ments around the world, many of which offer practice-led research opportuni-
ties in performance at Master’s and doctoral levels.
Various summative assessment practices of individual performance are
present in higher music education, sometimes undertaken every term or semes-
ter, sometimes annually, and sometimes only at the point of graduation from a
degree programme. For example, in the thirteen higher music education institu-
tions included in Monkhouse’s (2010) study, formal performance assessments
took place during all semesters of study, whereas at some institutions, perfor-
mance courses are two semesters in length, with a major performance recital
assessment occurring at the end of the year of study, supplemented by technical
assessments and reflective writing assignments at other stages of the year. This
mix of assessment activities is common to all of the institutions included in the
Monkhouse study.
A variety of processes are employed in higher music education institutions
to ensure valid and reliable assessment of musical performances. In some loca-
tions, external examiners are used (as noted above), and the EU’s Polifonia
Working Group on Assessment and Standards found that ‘external examin-
ers help institutions reflect on their assessment procedures and standards in
addition to making assessment more reliable and providing external meas-
ures against which to measure standards of student achievement’ (Polifonia
2014:  30–31). While this would seem logical, Bloxham and her colleagues
have found that in their UK study, ‘the potential of experienced peers in a
subject discipline to provide the assurance of standards is limited’ (Bloxham
et al. 2015: 1). The Polifonia Working Group recognized in their final report
100 Musicians in the Making

‘the potential of the consensus moderation approach in working towards the

goal of inter-institutional consensus on standards in European HME [higher
music education]’ (Polifonia 2014: 19). Consensus moderation has been found
to be effective at our own institution, where performances are assessed by at
least two or three teachers, not always including the teacher of the student
being assessed, and sometimes including a teacher who is not a specialist in
the instrument being assessed. All markers will typically be familiar with the
standards that are applied through the consensus moderation process described
above, and although each marker works independently, the panel will discuss
their views before finalizing the assessment, ensuring the maintenance of con-
sensus as to the standards represented by the grades awarded. A bank of video-
recorded exemplars has been developed as reference points for assessment, and
these are available to students as well as teachers from all departments so that
consensus occurs across departmental boundaries (Lebler 2013a).


According to Ginsborg and Wistreich (2010: 6), ‘the development of music cur-

ricula in university music departments and conservatoires has been dogged by
the inability to address the assessment of group performance’. They note that
while musical process can be assessed by a variety of means (including self- and
peer evaluation), a musical product is usually assessed by tutors using criteria
prepared for individual principal study assessments. This type of assessment
model is noted as being particularly inappropriate for jazz musicians. Citing
Barratt and Moore’s (2005) work, they observe that an emphasis on individual
marking has been shown to inhibit students’ musical expression ‘such that they
are less likely to interact freely and spontaneously, and to take risks in perfor-
mance’ (Ginsborg and Wistreich 2010: 6). If assessment practices are intended
to assist students as they develop, anything that might stifle creative processes
should be discouraged, particularly when assessing performances in jazz or
other improvisational forms of music.
Alternatives to the assessment of ensemble performance by teachers them-
selves have been reported for some time, including in the work of Hunter (1999),
Blom and Poole (2004), Daniel (2004) and others (for example, Lebler 2006,
2010, 2012; McWilliam, Lebler and Taylor 2007; Harrison et al. 2013a; Denson
and Nulty [n.d.]), though the established mode of the individual assessment of
individual performers in ensembles by teachers remains firmly entrenched. One
interesting alternative approach to the assessment of individuals in an ensem-
ble setting has been explored at our workplace, in which jazz instrumental stu-
dents were assessed while playing with an ensemble of their teachers rather
than an ensemble of their peers. This enabled the immediate provision of ver-
bal feedback from the teachers which closely resembled the kinds of discus-
sions that often occur among players in jazz ensembles, where feedback among
Examination and assessment 101

colleagues is not at all unusual. While this process had considerable value in
terms of offering authoritative feedback in a manner that emulates the infor-
mal feedback common in jazz ensembles, it was unsustainably expensive and
has been discontinued.


Monkhouse reports that in the Australian context, ‘technical exams, teacher’s

[sic] reports, recital exams, concert practice performance/s, ensemble activities,
and reflective journals’ (2010:  5)  all contributed to a student’s overall results
in performance courses, though not all tasks contributed to his or her grade.
All of these are included in one form or another at our workplace, and even
the recitals associated with performance courses now include a Performance
Studies Portfolio (PSP) worth 15 per cent of the overall mark, including such
material as reviews of concerts that students have attended and reflections on
workshops and individual lesson activities. PSPs are marked by teachers whose
assessments are subjected to intra- and interdepartmental consensus modera-
tion processes.


The most obvious consequence of assessment, and certainly summative assess-

ment in particular, is the impact that it will have on a student’s grades, which
in turn will potentially affect future study options and possibly future employ-
ment options. It has to be said that while excellent conservatoire results might
influence a person’s likelihood of getting to the stage of a professional audi-
tion, the presence or absence of a qualification will not necessarily have any
influence on his or her employability as a performer; for example, neither of the
authors has ever been asked about his education when being considered for a
performance position. This does not imply that assessment is benign, however.
Just as well-framed constructive feedback can inspire students to greater
focus and application, poorly framed feedback can sour the learning experience
and even alienate learners from future engagement with the formal learning
process. Clearly this can have a potentially negative effect on their development
as creative musicians. Boud (1995b) provides effective guidelines on how to
construct (and receive) feedback, and anybody interested in providing feedback
in ways that will enhance the likelihood of its being acted on would benefit
from reading them. In brief, his advice is to be realistic, specific, sensitive to
the goals of the person for whom feedback is being given, timely, descriptive,
consciously nonjudgemental, noncomparative, diligent, direct, positive and
aware of one’s own perspectives (ibid.: 204–5). If having a positive effect is the
goal in providing feedback, it follows that the feedback should be constructed
so as to maximize the chances of the recipient acting on it. These guidelines
102 Musicians in the Making

have proven particularly helpful in inducting students into the act of giving
feedback to their peers. In turn, this will enable graduates to interact with their
colleagues constructively because much music-making is done collaboratively,
and providing constructive feedback to colleagues is an important aspect of
developing creative skills as a musician.

Assessment narratives

As noted above, there are convincing arguments for the development of self-
assessment abilities in students as a means of enhancing continuing progres-
sion towards creative performance outcomes. While such developments are not
exclusive to these examples, it is instructive to compare the approaches to par-
ticipatory assessment in two particular contexts: the Bachelor of Popular Music
(BPM) programme at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, and
the Folk Music programme at the Sibelius Academy at the University of the
Arts Helsinki in Finland. In both cases, the assessment processes are intended
to involve the students as active participants, thereby adding learning value
to what might otherwise be purely summative assessments. There are differ-
ences in the methods employed, however. For instance, BPM students conduct
a criteria-referenced self-assessment of their recorded creative works, which
they submit online at the same time as the recordings. Although each student
submits a portfolio of recordings as an individual, the work in question is often
created collaboratively, with students contributing in multiple ways including
songwriting, performance, and audio engineering and production. The self-
assessment informs discussions that take place in assessment panel meetings,
where seven or eight students and a teacher meet to discuss their responses to
the submissions they have each been assigned and have provisionally assessed
through an online system in advance of the panel meetings. In this instance, the
process uses online technologies at all stages of the assessment process, accom-
modated in a sophisticated bespoke online application called the Bachelor of
Popular Music Assessment Tool (BoPMAT);4 this is especially appropriate in
the popular music context, where technology is prevalent.
In the case of the Sibelius Folk Music programme, the assessment occurs
in authentic public concert situations before an audience including fellow stu-
dents, teachers and others from the Academy as well as members of the general
public. Students explain their musical choices in a written statement that is
provided to the jury charged with conducting the assessment. The statement
is the result of a semester-long process during which students reflect on their
learning as they work towards achieving the goals that they have set in consul-
tation with their teachers. Following each performance, the student’s teacher
Examination and assessment 103

provides his or her perspective on how the learning process has unfolded during
the semester, and the student also has an opportunity to talk about the perfor-
mance. Finally, the jury ask questions of the student to encourage further self-
reflection, without pre-empting what the student might say by expressing his or
her opinions first (Partti et al. 2015).
Despite the differences in musical genre and procedures, both of these
assessment processes are intended to serve the making of musicians by devel-
oping students’ abilities to monitor their own work while it is in production,
which is vital for their future and continuing development (Sadler 2007, 2010b).
In neither case are the responsibilities of teachers abandoned:  instead, their
actions are focused more on the development of assessment abilities in students
than on the expression of their own evaluative judgements.


Harrison, Sabey and O’Bryan (2014) implemented and evaluated a process

of continuous assessment in musical theatre in which staff members provide
detailed feedback about student progress on a weekly basis. Marks are awarded
for up to twenty subactivities within the broad areas of acting, dance (with
jazz, tap and ballet subcategories), performance project, singing and speech.
This assessment process is embedded in a degree structure that has adopted
a sliding scale of formative and summative assessment across the three-year
programme: the first year is marked almost entirely on progress, and the final
year almost entirely on performance. The notion behind this system is to help
ensure ‘industry-ready’ graduates in an effort to embrace ‘the kinds of evalua-
tions we would like our students to be able to employ after graduation’ (Lebler
2008: 196). Through focus-group interviews with participants, the efficacy of
this assessment process has been documented. Assessment is only part of the
process through which this occurs, but the findings from the project indicate
that continuous assessment offers the motivation, consistency and levels of
feedback required to provide students with authentic learning experiences that
stand them in good stead for life beyond the institution.


The assessment of performance has been a topic of interest to researchers for

some time. For example, Wrigley ‘investigated ways to improve the quality of
musical performance evaluation in an effort to address the accountability imper-
ative in tertiary music education’ (2005: i). He developed ‘an instrument-specific,
criterion-referenced rating scale for empirically measuring music performance
outcomes that demonstrated levels of standards in music performance’ (ibid.:
i). Even though most members of the performance faculty had been actively
involved in the development of this method, their preference was for more
104 Musicians in the Making

holistic assessment, and therefore the model was not adopted. This preference is
still current at the site of Wrigley’s research, and there are no predetermined cri-
teria sheets in use for performance assessment at the time of writing. The absence
of predetermined criteria aligns with Sadler’s most recent thinking (2015), which
supports the forming of a holistic judgement and then expressing that judgement
using criteria that are derived from the strengths and weaknesses of the assess-
ment item as it was presented, commenting on the noteworthy aspects of the per-
formance. The approach advocated by Sadler is not uncommon in the assessment
of performance, and provided that assessments are referenced to appropriate pre-
determined standards, it appears to be unproblematic in practice.

The importance of alignment

It is known that assessment not only directs students’ learning to what it is that
will be assessed, but also shapes the way in which students undertake and cus-
tomize their learning to be effective in the context of the assessments they will
experience (Biggs 1999, 2016). Consequently, assessments should be designed
so that they are capable of measuring the achievement of the learning objectives
of the course of study, and assessment tasks should be sufficiently authentic to
encourage the attributes and abilities that we intend our students to develop.
In the instance of higher music education, a primary consideration should be
the efficacy of assessment processes for the preparation of students to progress
effectively and efficiently along the various pathways to creative performance
that they will encounter on their musical journeys. Many would argue that the
ability to be self-monitoring after graduation should be one of these abilities
(see e.g. Sadler 2009b, 2010b, 2013).
The current international context provides teachers with an opportunity to
review assessment practices to ensure that they are likely to produce the out-
comes they intend for their students, in ways that are academically defensible
and able to achieve the goals of their educational programmes as well as sat-
isfying external regulations. For example, the importance of assessment and
standards in the European context is demonstrated by the Polifonia Assessment
and Standards project. Generic learning outcomes are also mandated in the
Australian context, as is the obligation to ensure that assessment processes are
rigorous. Comparability between various higher music education institutions
and consistency of standards within and between courses and programmes of
study are no longer optional.
As noted above, the making of musicians is a lifelong process: good results
in a training institution might enhance the audition capabilities of a performer,
but with the laws of supply and demand heavily weighted to the former, many
other factors come into play. This is not to imply that assessment and exam-
ination are unimportant or that assessing for compliance and assessing as
Examination and assessment 105

preparation for future professional music-making are incompatible. On the

contrary, investigations into examination and assessment can only enhance our
ability to assist our musicians-in-the-making to be as well prepared as possible
to take their place in the world.


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Informal learning and musical performance

Tim Smart and Lucy Green

Introduction: the formal-nonformal-informal continuum

The concept of informal learning in music tends to be largely associated with

the practices of popular and other vernacular musicians.1 Yet as we hope to
show in this chapter, it may be beneficial to widen the scope to include informal
learning in relation to the experiences and perspectives of musicians working
also in various aspects of western classical music. We analyse research on a
cross-section of professional and amateur musicians across popular, jazz, tra-
ditional and classical music, concerning how they acquired those aspects of
their skills and knowledge that they value the most. Through the discussion, it
becomes clear that many, indeed perhaps most, of those skills and much of that
knowledge have been acquired informally, rather than as a focused or conscious
part of formal education. A further thread running through the chapter is the
notion that many of these areas relate in various ways to creativity—through,
for example, musical expression, spontaneity, and individuality or originality
in performance.
People learn everywhere, all the time, as is neatly expressed in the adage
‘you live and learn’. Werquin (2010: 14), writing outside the field of music,
recently noted that there is growing interest among educationalists and oth-
ers in learning that takes place outside the formal arena. Attention has been
directed to the recognition of this learning, the ways in which the learning
takes place, and how it is or could be valued both at a macro level in society
and at a micro level by the individuals who are engaged in it (ibid.: 17–19).
Werquin summarizes the current position whereby forms of learning are con-
ceptualized as occupying areas on a continuum, with formal and informal
learning at the poles and nonformal learning between the two (see also, in
the field of music education, Green 2002, Folkestad 2006, Smilde 2012 and
108 Veblen 2012).
Informal learning and musical performance 109

Briefly and in general terms, ‘formal’ learning tends to be defined as the kind
of learning that takes place in institutions such as schools and universities, as a
direct result of teaching. It is largely intentional, and learners are consciously
aware of learning or attempting to learn. It occurs under the tutelage of a rec-
ognized and usually accredited teacher and is often guided by an approved and
structured curriculum or syllabus. In music, this would also encompass private
or institutionally provided instrumental or vocal tuition, especially when linked
to graded examinations or other accredited assessment (Green 2002:  3–5;
Finnegan 1989: 133ff.; Smilde 2009: 74).
‘Nonformal’ learning is a staple term in the wider educational literature.
It usually refers to learning that happens as a result of intentional and struc-
tured provision taking place outside institutions offering accredited qualifica-
tions (Schugurensky 2000). In the music literature, the term refers to a range of
community and youth music programmes as well as some practices that occur
in school classrooms (see e.g. Green 2002; Renshaw 2005; Mak et  al. 2007;
Higgins 2012; Smilde 2012; Veblen 2012). Some instrumental tuition, partic-
ularly where it is not linked to a syllabus or exam accreditation, and possibly
where the teacher has no related qualifications, may in this sense be regarded
as nonformal.
‘Informal’ learning finds its fullest expression outside both of these contexts,
although it may take place within them. Most especially, informal learning refers
to learning that occurs at an individual or group level in contexts unrelated to
institutional provision, such as the proverbial bedroom or garage of the young
rock musician. It also includes many aspects of the unsupervised practice of
a young classical learner. Informal learning is usually defined as spanning the
conscious, intentional and structured, as well as the nonconscious, uninten-
tional and unstructured (see e.g. Finnegan 1989; Green 2002, 2008a; Folkestad
2006; Smilde 2012). By ‘conscious’, we mean here the extent to which learners
intend to learn, structure their learning or are aware of their learning; by ‘non-
conscious’, we mean the extent to which they either learn without intending to
learn or without realizing at the time that they are learning, or learn in a cha-
otic or haphazard manner rather than a planned route. The former, conscious
type of informal learning would include various self-teaching methods such
as playing along with a recording, studying online media, inventing technical
exercises, or going to a music library and sifting through scores. The latter,
nonconscious type would include learning by ‘osmosis’ or enculturation, by
listening to music and by watching other musicians, as an ongoing process that
informs the ‘rhythms, tonal patterns and combinations, preferred timbres and
performance modes’ of a culture (Mans 2009: 84).
Despite these broad definitions, there is little general agreement about how
the terms ‘formal’, ‘nonformal’ and ‘informal’ are differentiated at a more
detailed level, or about the nature of the interactions and overlaps between
them. However, as Werquin (2010:  24)  suggests, defining terms too rigidly is
110 Musicians in the Making

likely to be of limited value. Instead, he proposes flexibility so that key terms

can be determined locally. We agree with this stance. As such, differentiating
the terms can be seen as involving an interaction of multiple elements along the
continuum. Factors in this differentiation include perceived levels of control,
oversight and quality assurance on the part of educators or state; perceptions
of ownership of knowledge; explicit structure within the learning; awareness of
degrees of intentionality to learn; conscious awareness when learning has taken
or is taking place; and nonconscious learning which may or may not be brought
to consciousness at a later time.
In order to consider how learning can include several of these factors at
any one time, it may be useful to posit a hypothetical example of a rehearsal
in a garage, where a band of young musicians is learning a new song. The
band members have differing levels of skill, and the abler members are sharing
competencies with their band mates. In general terms, this scenario would be
categorized as involving informal learning, but the activities that take place are
likely to encompass many subtle and overlapping elements. In the music educa-
tion literature, Green (2002) distinguishes between ‘group learning’ and ‘peer-
directed learning’. The former concerns largely unintentional or nonconscious,
co-operative learning, whereas the latter includes one or more peers explicitly
teaching, sharing knowledge or demonstrating to others. In relation to a set-
ting such as this, Schugurensky (2000: 3) defines ‘self-teaching’ as learning that
is intentional and aware, in which help may be provided from what he calls a
‘resource person’ (possibly a peer or older sibling) who has greater skills or
knowledge but, critically, does not see himself or herself, and is not seen by
others, as an ‘educator’. The learning that is taking place may become more
structured as the processes of learning are sequenced, but there is no overarch-
ing syllabus or curriculum in play other than those supplied by other musicians
and the material itself. Other differentials as listed above can also be applied to
this environment, for example, elements of perceived control and ownership
over the activities.
In addition, a number of types of learning may occur in quick succession
or simultaneously (Green 2002; Werquin 2010). An individual from the band
just described may be sitting in a school classroom and seem to be learning
by listening to what the teacher is saying, though in fact she is not listening at
all but is instead thinking through some pitch relations pertaining to the song
on which the band is working. In this sense, the learning is still going on ‘out-
side’ the formal education context, but ‘outside’ is to be taken metaphorically
rather than literally. The same individual may, in the informal comfort of her
bedroom, consciously decide to prepare for the band rehearsal by learning her
part for the song using an audio or video recording, or indeed applying some
techniques that she has learned in her lessons. After trying things out and play-
ing along, she feels that she has learned the song to her own satisfaction and
then puts the instrument away. However, alongside the process of learning the
Informal learning and musical performance 111

song consciously and intentionally, she may have also unconsciously and unin-
tentionally developed her aural discrimination, aural memory, output transfer
from the sound she hears to the sound that she plays, and knowledge and feel
of style and form, along with myriad other developments that may be difficult
to articulate, even if she was aware of them at the time. After engaging in such
activities, it is possible that progress may become retrospectively apparent, for
example with the realization that she has developed skills and abilities that are
valued by her friends, audiences or fellow musicians.
Overall, usage and conceptualization of the terms ‘formal’, ‘nonformal’ and
‘informal’ require that they reflect awareness of the complex nature of the dif-
ferentials relating to learning; how, where and why learning is taking place; the
people and institutions involved; and how all of these factors are perceived by
the individuals who are learning.
We have briefly considered how increased attention to the range of factors
that differentiate learning types may be helpful; how informal learning—our
focus in this chapter—can be broadly and flexibly defined; and how it may take
place across a range of musical styles and contexts. We have also considered
how the level of conscious intention cuts across the formal-nonformal-informal
continuum. In a nutshell, by informal learning we largely mean learning that
can be either conscious or nonconscious, but that takes place autonomously
from any intended effect or context of formal provision as outlined above, and
with the provisos that we have suggested.
The literature on informal learning in music has, as in other subject areas,
highlighted and recognized a range of learning outcomes, as well as environ-
ments and learning practices that have led to these outcomes. This has also
raised the visibility of learning in these ways, as well as the value systems
attached to them. As noted earlier, informal learning in music has been asso-
ciated mainly with the practices of popular and other vernacular musicians.
This is indeed a highly relevant population to study, since their learning has
tended, at least until very recently, to fall entirely or almost entirely within the
clearly informal arena, and to some extent the nonformal one. Many important
insights have come from the area, including issues related to outcomes, learning
practices and motivational aspects (for some early examples, see Becker 1963;
A. Bennett 1997; H. S. Bennett 1980; Berkaak 1999; Berliner 1994; Björnberg
1993; Cohen 1991; Finnegan 1989; Green 2002; Lilliestam 1996; McCarthy
1999). The value systems associated with informal learning in music also mir-
ror wider issues in the field, in that knowledge, skills and abilities learned in the
informal realm by popular musicians across many substyles have often been
undervalued relative to those associated with formal learning.
However, this is not to presuppose that the impact of informal learning ends
with this population or these musical styles. The concept of lifelong learning is
strongly linked with the impact of informal learning, through ‘living and learn-
ing’, and as such it seems that informal learning serves as the basis of much
112 Musicians in the Making

learning in music over the lifespan, irrespective of context or musical style (see
Veblen 2012; Smilde 2012), even if it is not necessarily universally valued by
stakeholders and the public (Werquin 2010: 18).
An inclusive grasp of the range of skills relevant for musicians is crucial for
the visibility and recognition of the environments and the learning practices that
support their development. Thus, we present below a brief overview of the range
of musical skills that are required and most highly valued in the eyes of musi-
cians themselves, with regard to both their own abilities and those of others, as
individuals and as a sociomusical group working across various musical styles.
What, in musicians’ eyes, makes a ‘good’ musician? That is the anchor of our
discussion in the next section. This is followed by a consideration of the extent to
which these highly valued skills seem to have been acquired informally, including
both conscious and nonconscious learning in various contexts. In this process, we
also note the links and support that this skill set provides, or is seen to provide, in
proceeding along one or more pathways towards creative performance.
There is an increasing body of research into musicians’ self-perceived
approaches to informal learning. Here we review a small selection of the lit-
erature and also add new data from interviews with twenty-eight professional
musicians in London.2 Among the musicians cited, both from previous studies
and from new data, most are professional freelancers who regularly work in a
number of musical contexts, styles and genres, in many cases fluidly moving
between major symphony orchestras, chamber ensembles, the recording studio,
the theatre pit, the big band stage, the small jazz ensemble and other settings.
We have also at times added the perspectives of younger or amateur musicians
which have many synergies with those of their more experienced counter-
parts. Thus, our discussion ranges across musicians involved in diverse styles
of music, across amateur and professional arenas, and across experienced and
novice players, although with most emphasis on professionals.3

Skills valued by musicians

Unsurprisingly, many musicians highlight technical mastery over an instru-

ment (including voice) as a crucial element in musical performance. However,
extensive technical ability alone is rarely regarded as sufficient to ensure musi-
cal success. For example:
If you play it technically well, with all the dots and dashes where they
should be, but don’t actually engage your audience then you haven’t done
anything very musical. (Professional musician, cited in Cottrell 2004: 35)
You can get to a massively high technical standard and be useless.
(Composer/arranger/trumpeter/pianist, cited in Smart n.d.)
Informal learning and musical performance 113

Instead, tallying with Green’s findings in relation to popular musicians

(2002:  107ff.), many classical musicians also point to the need for a balance
of technical and other attributes which may be difficult to name or pin down,
but which are often labelled ‘musical’ or have something to do with ‘spirit’,
‘meaning’ or other nebulous terms: ‘They can come and play a concerto and
they might be superficially very efficient players, great facility. I think there’s a
great concentration on facility, on notes in other words, rather than the musical
aspects’ (professional musician, cited in Cottrell 2004: 35).
We would argue that the skills of being ‘musical’ referred to here are guided
in significant ways by what can be conceived as the ‘internal workings’ of the
individual musician. A good ‘internal musician’ possesses the ability to take in
a wide range of information, make sense of the musical world around him or
her (especially as it is audiated internally), and then make decisions to react in
ways that are musically appropriate within the context. The internal aspects
of being a musician, and the development of these aspects through a variety
of learning experiences, are highlighted as a central focus by many musicians
in their ongoing development. For example:  ‘I think that most of the work
I would like to do with my instrument and my musicality is internal, definitely,
at this stage, 100 per cent’ (guitarist/composer/producer, cited in Smart n.d.).
Internal skills are reported to underpin aspects such as tuning, time and sub-
division; blending and ensemble tightness; stylistically relevant playing; inter-
pretative choices; and the like. The good ‘internal musician’ is also one who is
fully aware of both the musical demands of the situation and the other musi-
cians with whom he or she is playing, in the pursuit of a meaningful, creative
performance which, at best, can add something new and original:

If I can sum it up, it’s about striving for musical awareness; a profound
awareness of the room and an ingrained connection with the people
around you; the people you are making music with, those who are lead-
ing, those you are leading; constantly listening to, and feeling the presence
of, their contributions. There is an eye on the material at the same time
as an ear on all these elements, and at any point in time an ability and
willingness to react and adapt your own contribution in order to create
something articulate, perhaps beautiful, and if you’re lucky, maybe even
discover a new and wonderful musical experience. (Conductor/orchestra-
tor/arranger, cited in Smart n.d.)

The emotional output of a musician is also highly valued:

I don’t know what it is but [with] certain players, when they do things,
you get that—all I can call it is a tingle factor. And there are certain peo-
ple who’ve got that, and other people who are brilliant musicians, have a
great sound, but, we could say, no soul. There’s no tingle factor, there’s no
magic there. (Professional musician, cited in Cottrell 2004: 37)
114 Musicians in the Making

In addition to specifically musical skills, the more global human element of

empathizing with the people around one is recognized as an important element
and a positive effect on the quality of the music itself and is thus connected
with creativity. This is echoed both by a classical musician at a professional
level and by a seventeen-year-old amateur pop drummer:
There is a huge human element to being a musician, and it’s absolutely
crucial to me, and something that is very important as I get older, and it
is that you want to be playing music and surrounded by people that you
feel a close affinity to. I really feel that takes the music on to an extra level.
(Pianist/composer, cited in Smart n.d.)
The most important thing to me in, well, in pop music certainly is empathy
with the rest of the band. And my band I play in we’re very empathetic. …
Having played with the guitarist for five years of course it helps that. Like
occasionally from time to time I’ll think, ‘Triplet run coming up here’, and
I’ll play a triplet run and the guitarist will also play a triplet run without hav-
ing communicated beforehand, and that—I think that’s absolutely excellent
when that happens … because we feel that there needs to be a triplet run or
a bit of syncopation there and we all do it together and I, I love it when that
happens—that’s really great. (Drummer, cited in Green 2002: 116)

The relevance of particular skills is also strongly linked to the context in

which a musician is operating. Certain contexts require the musician to behave
or react in particular ways, both musical and extramusical, demanding in turn
relatively specific constellations of skills. For example, when an Irish traditional
musician enters a pub as a stranger and picks up his fiddle to join in a session,
there are certain behaviours that would be deemed inappropriate—such as play-
ing too loud, too fast or too slow; starting up a new tune of his own accord as a
newcomer; and so on. On the one hand, some of these behaviours may relate to
musical skill: if he plays too slowly, perhaps it is because he finds it beyond his
technique to keep up with the speed, for example. On the other hand, the very
same issue may have more to do with interpersonal skills: he thinks the tune
should go slower because of simple preference, so he purposefully tries to slow
everyone else down, without sensitivity to the convention that as a newcomer
he should perhaps take more of a back seat. Similar issues would apply to a
string player turning up for his or her first rehearsal in an established quartet,
or to a member of a small ensemble improvising jazz, a symphony orchestra, a
musical theatre show, a pop/rock gig, a brass band, a wedding covers band, a
big band or a similar ensemble, even if many of the skills used in these differing
contexts may overlap (see e.g. Cottrell 2004; Becker 1963; H. S. Bennett 1980;
Green 2002; D. Bennett 2008; O’Flynn 2009). Also, the contrasting contexts of
a live studio recording and a recording of a performance highlight the different
skill sets that are required:
Informal learning and musical performance 115

It’s context-dependent… [T]aking a few examples, if it’s studio work, then

more often than not the context will dictate that time is money, money is
a factor, you need the environment to be at a pace where things are done
quickly, so that the pace of the session is kept alive. Subsequently, tech-
nical ability, reading skills, quite quantifiable ‘chops’,4 let’s say, to me are
essential at that point. They come to the forefront, because somebody
not having those but oodles of energy, that energy can be lost, because
nothing ever gets done in that environment. So for me in that scenario,
for example, those quantifiable, tangible skills are what I look for in a
musician, where are the reading, chops, blah blah, because we need to get
ten tracks down. [By contrast, if it were a] live gig in front of 500,000 peo-
ple, they could be the same musicians but not have any body language or
aura on stage, and then the performance would be a failure, potentially.
(Composer/arranger/pianist, cited in Smart n.d.)

Of course, some musicians are and wish to remain specialists, developing

skills which are finely honed to a limited range of specific contexts, but they
may not necessarily have the skills to operate outside these contexts. The nature
of the professional music industry, however, generally requires that profes-
sional musicians are as employable as possible, meaning that they usually have
to be capable of operating in multiple contexts (see e.g. Bennett 2008).
Also, to craft an enduring career as a professional performer requires an
additional host of nonmusical skills, including personal organization and
social abilities. Indeed, social skills can sometimes be the differentiating factor
between being booked to perform or not. This area includes diverse aspects
such as a musician’s friendship base, buying a round in the bar, conversational
topics or volunteering petrol money when sharing lifts. But, more than that:

beyond the actual skills of what you need to do, if you are going to be
working you have to have all the social stuff right as well, and that is a
huge part of it now. There’s not enough work around, and even if you are
completely brilliant there are so many completely brilliant people around
that they are going to choose the completely brilliant person who is nice.
(Oboist, cited in Smart n.d.)

Among amateur performers too, similar issues apply. As a fifteen-year-old

developing popular musician observes: ‘With my friends [what I value is] not
being amazingly good—they’ve got to be, you know, good enough to play, but
with them it’s listening to your ideas; and that’s not just the musical side of it
but that you’ve got to be part of the band’ (guitarist, cited in Green 2002: 114).
These constellations of skills, and indeed many more suggested by other
contexts, form some of the foundations for music-making in ways that musi-
cians themselves consider the most valuable. It will already be apparent that
many of these are linkable to concepts of creativity. For example, the ability
116 Musicians in the Making

to play or sing ‘musically’, above and beyond getting all the notes right, can be
seen as an important aspect of creative output; the ability to express oneself
emotionally through music and to engage an audience also transcends ‘mere’
skill and necessitates a more creative approach; bringing something new and
original to a performance connects with the concept of creativity as original-
ity; and the ability to respond appropriately to the demands of the context is
one that will rest on fine judgement demanding a spontaneous response and
in that sense requiring creativity on the spot. Yet, many of these skills are not
addressed explicitly in formal educational settings, nor do they appear in the
syllabuses or assessment criteria of music exams. Despite this, they may have
a crucial implicit influence (see in particular Kingsbury 1988 and Nettl 1995).
Other studies of professional musicians and of music education provision have
also found that the range of knowledge, abilities and skills required is inad-
equately addressed by formal education (see e.g. Green 2002; Rogers 2002;
Odam and Bannan 2005; Bennett 2008; Smilde 2012). How, then, are such
skills developed? We now turn to that question.

Learning and developing these highly prized skills

Musicians across the pop-rock-jazz-classical-traditional spectrum recognize,

accept and value both the processes and products of informal learning, and
informal learning settings themselves, without necessarily applying those terms
directly. Many believe that early informal experiences shaped their develop-
ment in crucial ways, from a very young age right through adolescence.5
Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, such informal learning does not necessarily
take place outside school or other institutions, but instead can occur alongside,
or in the interstices of, the formal setting:
It’s just doing it, I think, and experimenting. I mean, all the piano playing
in breaks and lunchtime at school, I swear that was where I learnt most of
the stuff, that’s how I learnt about chords and harmony and what works
with what, and how to do cheesy key changes. (Composer/arranger/trum-
peter/pianist, cited in Smart n.d.)

For many musicians, particularly in vernacular styles and traditions, disaffec-

tion with the formal education on offer leads to seeking alternatives elsewhere:
‘I didn’t come across any teacher who inspired me. I was never given the chance
because, at that age, I knew that I was good at percussion. Then, I started to
separate myself from the music lessons; I started approaching Indian society
and playing those kind[s] of instruments’ (Indian traditional musician, cited in
Baker and Green 2017: 63).
Some musicians feel that there is no institution which would accept them on
the one hand, or which would meet their particular needs on the other: ‘Nobody
Informal learning and musical performance 117

had ever taken me by the hand, because there was no conservatoire where
I could study. I had to teach myself what I needed…’ (jazz singer and teacher,
cited in Smilde 2012: 183).
Other aspects of informal learning that takes place alongside formal stud-
ies highlight that the environment and the influence of the people within it are
more important than the formal learning of skills and knowledge itself:

Doing a degree to me was pretty much worthless. It was more the envi-
ronment that you were in, and you were exposed to people and different
types of music and different people’s opinions on music. (Guitarist/com-
poser/producer, cited in Smart n.d.)
My formal training meant training my ear, [my] eyes, or my hands to do
what you had to do to get by when jumping through hoops. I am pleased
that I did it. It has been a gateway into other things. … [But] the impor-
tant framework for me was that I could be creative and was encouraged.
There were always one or two people who were good for me and who
were pushing me in the right direction… (Professional musician, cited in
Smilde 2009: 196)

It is worth noting in the citation just above how the musician casts ‘jumping
through hoops’ as different from ‘being creative’.
After leaving formal education, musicians adopt a range of conscious,
focused practices which largely lie beyond the realm of formal education. One
of these concerns the maintenance of technique. It falls upon the individual to
do this through conscious self-teaching and self-evaluation, which can happen
in various informal environments:
What most people do as a warm-up I do when I get home from my gig,
because it’s the sort of stuff I can do unconsciously while I watch TV, and
do the chops stuff, and it makes sense. I’m nice and loose, I don’t really
have to concentrate, I have a metronome going and I can spend an hour
watching something and doing the chops thing, technique development.
(Guitarist, cited in Smart n.d.)

It is well known that popular, jazz and, nowadays, other vernacular musicians
habitually use recordings as the main means of ‘getting notes’ (Bennett 1980;
Finnegan 1989; Green 2002). However, as we mentioned earlier, increasing
numbers of classical musicians also report playing along with and copying
recordings (Smart n.d.). This can be a considerable learning experience in the
formative years, but it is also used as a strategy for ongoing musical develop-
ment informing musicians’ current work base. It seems realistic to surmise that
such practices provide a strong basis for skill development in relation not only
to pitch, rhythm and harmony but also to other more ephemeral aspects of
music-making. Through these practices, musicians play better by being able
118 Musicians in the Making

to ‘feel’ where the notes sit on the instrument, not necessarily through ‘know-
ing’ in the sense of having propositional or analytic knowledge or being able
to name the notes. Yet, as expressed below, engaging in this practice while at
school can be accompanied by a feeling that it is ‘not approved of’ by formal
education: ‘Well, I did a fair bit of [playing along with CDs], as I used to like
mucking about with the instrument. I think I tended to conceptualize it as
“mucking about” because of the educational crap in the background’ (flautist,
cited in Smart n.d.).
This notion that ‘playing along’ is a type of ‘mucking about’ stems from
longstanding educational attitudes (for discussions see Green 2002: 187ff.,
Mills 2007 and Hallam 1998; see also the teachers’ attitudes reported in Green
2008a and Vulliamy 1977). As Green points out (2002: 187), many classical
instrumental teachers even at the end of the twentieth century argued that lis-
tening to recordings or even live performances can spoil individuality in inter-
pretation and should be avoided—and such attitudes may still be prevalent.
Yet for many musicians, copying others in the first instance is the very path to
developing their ‘own voice’ and, through that, to creativity and individual-
ity. Many feel that listening to music and playing along with it can provide an
essential bank of knowledge needed to make musical decisions regarding stylis-
tic performance, for example. This body of knowledge is then used not merely
to ‘slavishly’ copy other musicians, but as the basis for internalizing the music,
‘making it your own’ and then using it in the process of creative performance.
(See Chapter 7 in this volume.) For example: ‘There is listening and [copying]
it and there is listening and genuinely understanding why that person has done
that in a phrase, by feeling it, and it’s the feeling of it that separates people who
can genuinely play from people who simply copy’ (trumpeter/arranger, cited in
Smart n.d.).
Many musicians also further this practice by transcribing from recorded
performances, developing a close and internalized connection with the musi-
cal material, as well as informing creative output, particularly in relation to
improvisation:  ‘So hearing a solo that I  am really enthusiastic about, and
then transcribing it and learning it and being able to take a little bit and put-
ting it through the keys, and then hopefully in the process it becomes part
of you and you find it coming out in your solos’ (violinist/pianist, cited in
Smart n.d.).
Additionally, simply listening to a range of music is valued as having a pos-
itive effect; as one guitarist put it (Smart n.d.), it is a way of ‘widening your
experiences, like travelling to a different country’.
At an amateur level, one large area of activity where recordings are increas-
ingly being used as learning resources is choral singing. A number of websites6
provide audio learning materials for standard choral works, usually played
electronically rather than sung. They highlight individual parts within the
Informal learning and musical performance 119

texture by making them louder, so singers can hear their part clearly while sing-
ing along in the comfort of their home. Many conductors of such choirs now
habitually send out links to such internet sites for their members to use. Some
companies also provide a service of creating vocal parts for singers to learn,
and in the amateur field these are used by soloists too.
It is generally agreed in the literature (e.g. Bennett 2008; Burnard 2012;
Smilde 2012; Cottrell 2004) that most musicians have a strong, shared dedi-
cation to ongoing improvement as musicians. For professionals, this is not an
option since there are always others waiting to get work if one’s own technical
or musical standards decline. But it is about more than just staying in work, for
it involves conceptualizing progress as a lifelong process and often describing
this drive as the basis of their love and appreciation of music, not only further-
ing their career. Here again, the desire to constantly improve is shared by many
amateur musicians.
Learning by experience is a major part of any musician’s development. Some
experiential learning is forged in the musical environment of the professional
workplace or in amateur activities in which individuals ‘learn on the job’, as it
were. However, experiential learning in this way also requires that musicians
are aware enough to take advantage of the learning on offer in these situations,
for experience can also lead to learning not just specifically musical skills and
knowledge, but such attitudes and attributes as how to be confident and how
to handle a range of situations. Much of this can come from interaction with
other musicians, as this trombonist describes:
I remember doing this very high-profile gig a few years ago and sitting
next to this fantastic trumpet player, and I can remember going to the gig
thinking that ‘Oh my God I have to sit next to this guy’, and he came and
didn’t play that well at all, and it didn’t bother him in the slightest. And
then we did the same thing the next night and he was absolutely fantas-
tic. And it made me realize that those players aren’t perfect, they make
mistakes, and that gives you confidence, the confidence that if you make
a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. (Trombonist, cited in Smart n.d.)

Although we have noted that musicians value conscious practices and learn-
ing environments that fall predominantly within the realm of music-making
itself, many of them—including professionals above all—also recognize and
highly value learning that takes place away from music altogether, through
‘life in general’. This may be termed ‘learning by experience’, but experience
that goes beyond that of ‘the musician’ to embrace more general experience
as a ‘human being’. Sometimes it is difficult to articulate exactly what it is that
can improve musically along such paths or how it improves, yet many musi-
cians strongly believe that improvement can happen simply as a consequence
of ongoing engagement, experience and maturation as a person, without any
120 Musicians in the Making

particular structure, sequence or awareness of what is being learned at any

moment. For example:

I got to music college and I just found that I actually couldn’t get any fur-
ther without stopping, putting the cello away, ignoring music and going
around London drinking coffee, as part of a learning process. But it was
that whole wider experience and how does it all fit in with everything,
which is still going on. That’s a good thing and I’m really glad that I do
that. (Cellist/bass player, cited in Smart n.d.)


In line with the general interest in raising the visibility and profile of informal
as well as nonformal practices, this chapter has considered musical knowledge,
skills and abilities that have been described as important by musicians. The
range of these is potentially huge, as shown through the examples reported here,
going beyond what is normally conceived as part of formal musical education.
The knowledge, skill and ability base is developed partly with the aid of formal
education, but musicians also highlight a range of environments and ways in
which these are learned in the informal realm. Jaffurs (2006: 2) wonders whether
the two systems of formal and informal may one day consolidate into one. Our
discussion here suggests that the interface may be more closely aligned than
is sometimes suggested in the literature, and this situation is rapidly changing
even as we write. Many of the informal practices commonly associated with
vernacular musicians, such as playing along with recordings and thereby copy-
ing and making musical material ‘their own’, may be seen as informing practice
across a range of formal educational contexts and musical styles. Professional
and amateur musicians accept and highly value these informal and nonformal
learning practices, including unintentional and nonconscious practices along-
side those that are intentional and conscious, and they actively recognize and
seek out situations in which these processes can occur. Listening to music and
transcribing it are both seen as important practices in the process of ‘making
music your own’ to be drawn upon in process of creative performance. There is
also an acceptance that merely by ‘doing it lots’, improvement of some sort will
follow, and that by growing as a person one grows as a musician. The recogni-
tion of the importance of creativity for musicians in performance, interpretation
and improvisation is supported through informal learning in a number of ways.
A crucial element concerns the value systems associated with the learning
that takes place in the informal arena—not only the values of the individuals
and the sociomusical groups involved themselves, but also through the media,
the education system and audiences. That there is now extensive research on
both informal learning in music and the adaptation of a variety of informal
Informal learning and musical performance 121

learning practices within formal music education settings is a testament to their

increasing recognition.7 In and beyond these contexts, current researchers are
well placed to look more closely at the fine grains of informal learning. The
existing literature often makes polarized usage, by default, of the terms ‘formal’
and ‘informal’, referring to learning, teaching, education or all of these. This
polarized usage also applies to definitions of ‘formally trained’ musicians and
those who have no accredited training or qualifications (see e.g. Vitale 2011: 3),
and also to conceptions of ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ musicians (see Keene
2015). Such usage has occurred not usually because the authors in question
regard learning practices as polarized or simple, but as a default function of the
terms themselves. The inclusion of the middle ground of nonformal learning,
an awareness of the range of differentials that are in play along a continuum
that is flexibly and locally applied to each situation, increased recognition of
the degree to which learning is either conscious and intentional or noncon-
scious and unintentional, and the extent to which it is acquired individually or
as part of a group are all valuable aids to researchers in using terms sensitively.
This field will undoubtedly require further development to probe how all
musicians learn informally and nonformally alongside, and beyond, formal
musical education across different musical styles. The wider range implied by
this may seek to encompass lifelong learning elements and an inclusive con-
ception of the knowledge, skills and abilities relevant to musicians and musical
performance irrespective of the context, or contexts, in which they operate.
Importantly, greater awareness of informal learning practices, and recognition
of them, could be of use to amateur musicians who may not realize that their
professional counterparts place such emphasis on this kind of learning. By the
same token, providers of formal and nonformal music-making opportunities,
community music leaders, the conductors of amateur choirs and orchestras,
and other musical leaders or animateurs may benefit from the process of mak-
ing such knowledge more explicit, and more valued, for musicians and learners
in all fields.


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The creative voice in artistic performance
Jane Manning

Singers, uniquely, carry their instrument with them wherever they go. The clas-
sical singer, trained to refine and amplify the sound without artificial means,
has to be constantly aware of both the dangers of wear and tear caused by
overuse of the voice in everyday situations, and the physical and psychological
dilemmas arising from this.
It is the voice, of all instruments, that undergoes the most spectacular
transformation in the course of training. A sound that in teenage years seems
unpromising can develop out of all recognition under expert tutelage. The
vocal teacher helps the singer to utilize the frame of the body for maximum
resonance, and to activate and strengthen support muscles in order to cope
with long phrases. Smaller muscles of the tongue and palate, even the lar-
ynx itself, can be trained to react quickly and flexibly. As technical hurdles
are surmounted, the physical sensations change, and these must be recog-
nized. The ultimate goal is to acquire habits that are so deeply ingrained that
they become automatic and can be applied to all musical styles and gestures,
including use of the speaking voice. A reliable technique breeds confidence;
without it, hoped-for interpretative subtleties are destined to remain in the
The singer’s special task is to articulate a text while simultaneously produc-
ing a musical sound. Fifty years of performing Schoenberg’s Sprechstimme
masterpiece Pierrot lunaire (1912) has given me heightened awareness of the
micro rhythms and inflections of syllables, and how these influence a musical
line. If one were to notate exactly the trajectories of ‘normal’ speech, the result
would be extremely complex. This is reflected in singing, where for example
‘liquid’ consonants (‘mm’, ‘nn’, ‘ll’, ‘zz’ and so on) can be vocalized to achieve
a seamless legato, whereas percussive syllables (‘p’, ‘t’, ‘k’ and ‘ch’) can have
the opposite effect. Control of these minute details within the vocal flow is a
feat for which credit is rarely given, although it makes a crucial contribution to
rhythmic accuracy, precision of intonation and expressive potential.
Insight: Jane Manning 127

The voice responds well to being used to full capacity, and stamina can be
built up by spanning long phrases. Pierrot lunaire contains many strenuous
examples. It was some while before my voice had developed sufficiently to sur-
mount the instrumental texture, and this was frustrating. But cutting my teeth
on such a multilayered work was invaluable. I was entirely on my own as far
as the vocal aspect was concerned (the experienced instrumentalists lacked the
relevant expertise), and I therefore had to adopt a detailed analytical approach
myself. Even now, the piece yields new insights every time I  perform it:  the
music takes on fresh life according to the individual circumstances of each
occasion. The audience’s response is an integral part of the experience.
An analytical approach, engendered initially by the challenges of Pierrot,
has proved vital in tackling a vast array of contemporary works over my career.
Plunging into the uncharted waters of a brand new piece, rather than an estab-
lished classic, can be daunting and stimulating by turn. I have found that the
freedom of being a pioneer is liberating, but also that responsibility to a liv-
ing composer can weigh heavily. It may lead to rewarding future collabora-
tions, however: composers, especially those who have no experience of singing
themselves, may welcome some inside knowledge of the voice’s capabilities. The
relationship that develops between the living composer and the singer is often
highly sensitive, not least where the vocal demands are unusual. In the 1960s,
some influential works featured the female voice in extremes of ecstasy or suf-
fering, and there is still a fondness for writing very high soprano parts. This
approach can render a text inaudible, and the singer may unfairly be blamed.
I have occasionally asked for a passage to be transposed down: Edward Harper,
for example, had set the phrase ‘With all the policemen in the world’ as a series
of high Cs. This was for the premiere of an orchestral setting of an e e cum-
mings cycle. Once he heard how shrill it sounded, he immediately agreed to
put it down a perfect fourth. Less sympathetic composers have occasionally
asserted that a ‘strained’ quality was what they had in mind.
Faced with an unfamiliar score, I have discovered that a great deal of valua-
ble work can be done in advance without using full voice. Matters of ambigu-
ous notation, misleading glossaries and badly aligned syllabic underlay must all
be identified and addressed as soon as possible. At the start, I mark in beats and
highlight special expressive nuances. I also isolate problem passages to work on
in detail: there is no point in continually running through without stopping if
the same stumbles occur every time. And I take the opportunity to plan phras-
ing at an early stage. It is not necessary to take a breath at every rest or punctua-
tion mark. Too many short breaths encourage gustiness, and indeed one poorly
chosen intake can result in a whole sequence of phrases collapsing in turn like
a pack of cards.
When I was asked to perform Peter Maxwell Davies’ large-scale monodrama
The Medium (1981), I knew that this would be something of a marathon. Vocal
capacity, musicianship, dramatic ability and staying power would all be put
128 Musicians in the Making

under the closest scrutiny. The work lasts almost an hour, and the singer is given
virtually no props. Despite obvious theatrical elements, it is the music that car-
ries the work. Only a few movements distract the audience from the extremes of
vocal display required, which range from low growling (including the Ds and Es
below middle C) to high screaming, alongside many variants of Sprechstimme
as well as ‘normal’ lyrical singing, religious chanting and coloratura. The singer
impersonates a prodigious parade of characters, from deranged clairvoyant,
genteel lady and Cockney maid, to rabid dog and poisonous crab, as well as a
menacing male priest. These roles alternate with dizzying rapidity, yet vocal and
musical discipline have to be kept throughout. When singing unaccompanied,
I found that it was critical to preserve a sense of pulse and momentum, and that
the gaps between bouts of frenzied activity had to be timed carefully. Too much
freedom would create an amorphous, formless impression, and a constant bar-
rage of crazed expressionism would have diminishing returns.
Written for the late, deeply admired Mary Thomas, the piece had not been
heard for a number of years. For this new production I was to work with the
director Robert Shaw, happily a trained musician, with whom I  enjoyed an
excellent rapport. The composer, tactful and of long experience, left us to it.
Perhaps there was a little more movement than he had originally envisaged, but
he seemed well pleased by the result.
First, I set to work on the score. I divided it into small sections, gradually
expanding them into larger chunks, recording myself all the time, to avoid
becoming fatigued by repetition. It swiftly became clear that some passages
were likely to be especially troublesome and elusive, and I  marked these in
coloured ink. Very gradually, over a period of several weeks, I was able to con-
centrate more acutely on the few sequences that still felt insecure. I realized that
I needed to be extremely well prepared and to give myself a large safety net.
Everything would have to be so deeply embedded in my physical as well as my
musical and verbal memory that it would all spring into mind in performance,
in spite of nerves, tiredness or untoward distractions. The rigorous technical
work that I have always made a priority stood me in good stead for the excep-
tional vocal and dramatic demands of the piece.
I did not attempt to rehearse from memory until all details had been thor-
oughly absorbed. After such intensive study, it was good to have time to stand
back and let the piece seep into my unconscious. One should be wary of teasing
out so many details that the overall essence is lost. Leaving it for a while, and
then returning to it afresh, was often revelatory. I realized that I had begun to
identify with the protagonist in her many guises, sensing her touching vulner-
ability. (It was helpful to have performed Maxwell Davies’ Miss Donnithorne’s
Maggot, which displays many similarities on a smaller scale.) It would have
been all too easy to project a cruel caricature, based around twin poles of
nun or harlot. As a female performer, however, I  sought to promote a more
Insight: Jane Manning 129

rounded, sympathetic portrayal of femininity and to dig a little deeper, allow-

ing something of myself into the characterization.
Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle and Pierre Boulez have all proved
agreeably pragmatic about their own works, without imposing personal agen-
das that make performers feel intimidated by their presence. I have discovered,
unfortunately, that other composers can be difficult to work with, particularly
if they find it hard to stand back and allow performers some space for creativ-
ity. In my experience, presenting a wad of critical notes at the final rehearsal is
unlikely to prove productive.
Pieces written specifically for particular artists, especially ‘iconic’ ones, can
be a little off-putting to future performers. Cathy Berberian, the wife of Luciano
Berio, was the instigator of a number of works, conceived for her exceptional
abilities; for example, the graphic score of Cage’s ARIA gives details of her par-
ticular interpretation. As a different performer, one has then to choose between
using her ideas or being deliberately different.
Judith Weir’s one-woman mini-opera King Harald’s Saga, for solo voice, writ-
ten for me in 1979, has deservedly found its way into the repertoire of singers
worldwide. This is an ideal situation. The composer’s instructions are so clear that,
when the score arrived, I had hardly any questions for her. The flexibility of the
concept means that every singer is able to make a highly distinctive interpretation,
and the piece can be enjoyed by diverse audiences. By contrast, I worked closely
with Birtwistle on Nenia: The Death of Orpheus (1971) while he was still writing
it. Not only was the notation innovative (it is written on two staves), but he wished
me to try out certain timbres for special effects, including trills. His ear for colour
and dynamic is exceptionally acute, and it was an enjoyable and fruitful collabora-
tion. The work has subsequently been performed by other singers who have come
to me for advice. Since the composer’s notation does not cover all subtleties of
timbre or nuance, especially those involving trills and Sprechstimme, I have been
able to help with a few practicalities. However, I believe individuality to be the
vocal performer’s most precious asset. Every artist’s distinctive vocal and dramatic
attributes can contribute to a fresh interpretation. Singers should cherish their
idiosyncrasies and retain self-belief in gradually forging a personal style.
Early in a career, there may be a temptation to emulate admired artists. The
ready availability of recordings, now amplified mightily by the material to be
found on the internet, militates against finding one’s own niche. Listening to
different performances can be valuable in gaining an overview of a piece, but
I feel they should never be used to acquire a ready-made performance based on
someone else’s ideas. I have always resisted providing younger singers with such
instant short cuts to pieces that I have premiered. I find it much more construc-
tive for them to have the chance to work things out on their own.
Singers are, by the personal nature of the instrument, particularly vul-
nerable to criticism. It is hurtful to know that one’s timbre, manner or even
130 Musicians in the Making

appearance has not appealed. Unfortunately it is inevitable that some people

will react emotionally to a particular voice and come up with judgements
that are highly personal and have little to do with technical knowledge. The
direct communication afforded by texts can even divert attention from musi-
cal and vocal aspects of a performance, and I wonder whether superficiali-
ties of ‘presentation’ have perhaps come to assume more importance than
they merit.
Transcending all such considerations, the best-loved artists are those who
are able to allow a glimpse of their inner selves in performance, filtered through
the music, and to keep enough control to put into practice what they have
rehearsed. This tussle between detachment and involvement is especially rel-
evant to singers, who have to face their audiences full on, unprotected by an
instrument. Exceptional singers are able to transmit such compelling intensity
and concentration that the audience is caught up in the physical and mental
effort involved. They seem to illuminate and create each work anew, no mat-
ter how well known it might be. This is true artistry, something to which every
musician surely should aspire.
Expressive freedom in classical performance:
insights from a pianist–researcher
Mine Doğantan-Dack

The profession of the classical performer is one of the most demanding cul-
tural practices. Born of a passion for making music and a love for the artistic
possibilities, challenges and pleasures of one’s instrument, a lifetime commit-
ment to it involves a rigorous routine to maintain high-level technical expertise;
continuous emotional engagement with the music and with audiences when
one is performing; a meticulous discipline to widen one’s repertoire; and social
skills to be able to forge a career within the confines of a highly competitive
professional environment. More recently, the sustainability of the profession
itself has become an issue of concern as audience numbers for classical music
continue to shrink within an ever-diversifying multiplicity of musical genres
and practices. In no other period have musicians seeking to establish them-
selves faced such a variety of challenges and pressures; overcoming these will
no doubt require new institutional, pedagogical and even individual visions
and approaches.
In this Insight, I wish to emphasize the importance of one aspect of being
a classical musician that has become particularly challenging in our contem-
porary culture: this is the development of a personal artistic voice, the most
vital aspect of which is the cultivation of expressive freedom. As suggested
elsewhere in this volume, a personal artistic voice is the highest aspiration for
any performer who desires to express and communicate an artistic experience,
understanding, vision or truth through music-making. In what follows, I high-
light some of the pathways leading to expressive freedom and artistic voice
that I have encountered through the various twists and turns of my musical
journey, both as a pianist and as an artist–researcher. If I have attained any
wisdom during this journey, it is that there is no quick and easy formula for
achieving a personal artistic voice, and that, on the contrary, this is a gradual
process, a long-term pursuit requiring curiosity, patience and passion.
132 Musicians in the Making

Cultivation of expressive freedom is grounded in an ever-widening awareness

and understanding of possibilities for artistic interpretation and expression. It
requires the recognition that art-making—that is, the shaping of artistic materi-
als in form and content—is culturally and historically contingent, and that a
performer can arrive at aesthetically satisfying results through many interpreta-
tive and expressive means. There are complex factors that pose impediments to
the cultivation of expressive freedom in this sense, and that are responsible for
the decreasing artistic individuality among contemporary classical musicians.
In this connection, many have noted the impact of recording technologies in
creating an increasingly homogeneous performing style. There is also the ideol-
ogy of loyalty to the composer’s intentions, which still looms large and reduces
the performer’s role to that of a transmitter of a predetermined artistic message.
A less frequently recognized issue in this context concerns the model of learn-
ing in western classical performance (and indeed in most other musical genres
and cultures), dominated at least in its early stages—and arguably by neces-
sity—by processes of imitation and repetition, neither of which seems ideally
conducive to encouraging a plurality of interpretative approaches. I frequently
find in masterclass settings that when I ask student pianists to think of alterna-
tive interpretative or expressive options regarding a piece they already know,
they struggle to entertain artistically compelling possibilities. A certain learned
interpretation and performing style becomes their norm and sets aesthetic limits
to their creative skills. Although pedagogical discourses do value individuality
and creativity, there has been no systematic approach to determining either the
stage during the learning process when the student is supposed to move from
imitating to expressing a personal artistic view, or the means by which this might
be done. More often than not, the aspiring performer is expected to feel his or
her way towards a personal artistic voice; as pedagogues, we have yet to rigor-
ously address the question of how best to guide them in this process, possibly
by implementing alternative, and multiple, methods of teaching and learning.
In addition to these hindrances, I should also like to mention the ongoing
(negative) impact on our educational institutions of neoliberal socioeconomic
policies that pose further challenges for the classical performer who aims to
cultivate expressive freedom. Music schools currently face fierce competition
for ever-decreasing funds for arts and music education, and they are required
to demonstrate how they have an impact on society not only culturally but
also economically by delivering ‘value for money’. Since music education insti-
tutions are now regarded as part of the ‘creative industries’, many university
music departments and conservatoires are under pressure to make the provid-
ing of entrepreneurial, market(able) skills for purposes of competitive eco-
nomic advantage one of their explicitly articulated core aims. I am not the first
to note that behind a surface of highly individualized or innovative services, the
creative industries tend to favour growing standardization and compliance to
models that bring immediate, short-term commercial success and satisfaction.
Insight: Mine Doğantan-Dack 133

There is, consequently, a real danger that the cultivation of a personal artistic
voice could be given lower priority in institutional agendas. Within such a cli-
mate, further reinforced in our daily lives by the increasing influence of digital
communication technologies that impel and accustom us to a hasty and often
mechanized style of social interaction, it becomes difficult, if not impossible,
to sustain a willingness to engage in a long-term, patient cultivation of an artis-
tic voice through attentive engagement with the rich diversity of cultural and
artistic phenomena.
During my pianistic career over several decades, I  have constantly turned
to two resources in trying to deepen my understanding of possibilities for
artistic expression and motivating expressive freedom. One of these concerns
nurturing aesthetic sensibility; the other is related to advancing critical think-
ing. I  was very fortunate to grow up in a family environment in which par-
ticipation in the arts was highly valued, giving me the opportunity to engage
with and develop an enthusiasm for a number of art forms from an early age
onwards. My intense interest in the arts continued to receive support during
my studies at the Juilliard School, where I  had the privilege of experiencing
old-school Russian piano pedagogy which emphasized not only pianistic devel-
opment but also an all-round artistic approach by drawing from other art
forms in interpreting music. I recall a conversation that I had with my piano
teacher during one lesson about the poetic images of the snow-covered, des-
olate Russian landscapes in Andrei Tarkovsky’s films, which I came to know
while I was learning Rachmaninoff’s Moment Musical Op. 16 No. 3 and which
became an inspirational source for my developing interpretation of the piece.
Engaging perceptively and attentively with the sensuous and formal aspects of
nonmusical works of art provides an invaluable wealth of ideas, images and
new perspectives on the infinite variety of human experience and values, wid-
ening the aesthetic sensibility of the classical musician. A sense of wonder and
awe in the face of the marvellous diversity of the expressive means that artists
have employed throughout the ages in communicating their personal vision of
human experience can become a powerful motivation to move beyond what has
been learned through imitation and repetition, and to play creatively with the
learned rules and traditions of the art of musical performance.
During my musical journey, a second resource that has been just as vital as
my continuing fascination with the arts in nurturing expressive freedom and
a personal artistic voice has been critical thinking, driven by a deep curiosity
about why and how things are the way they are in nature and culture—and a
love for ‘the questions themselves’, as the poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke
wrote in his Letters to a Young Poet. Critical thinking concerns the connection
between the perceptual, sensual content of experience and the more abstract
understanding of the relationship between the constituents of that experience,
achieved through interpretation and conceptualization. In our daily lives, we
constantly engage in this kind of movement between the perceptual and the
134 Musicians in the Making

conceptual as we attempt to make sense of our experiences. In the process,

we typically rely on culturally learned concepts and discourses. Critical think-
ing emerges when we start questioning these received ways of interpreting the
world and entertain alternative means of connecting perception to conception.
This requires the realization that no single perspective can provide a complete
view of any phenomenon. An ever-widening awareness and understanding of
possibilities for artistic interpretation and expression, which I mentioned ear-
lier as the condition for developing expressive freedom, is very much related to
the cultivation of this capacity to move between the perceptual and the concep-
tual by widening one’s repertoire of concepts and terminology. Critical skills
in this sense can lead the performer to become aware of hitherto unnoticed,
novel relationships between the elements of a piece of music and to find ways
of interpreting these in a personal, potentially original manner.
The two areas that have provided me with the tools to develop this kind of
critical approach have been philosophy and music theory. Exploring different
philosophical traditions has taught me the importance and value of striving to
think about phenomena clearly, while providing exposure to the great variety
and diversity of human thought. I have also come to appreciate the patient
and, at times, painstaking care that is needed to communicate one’s ideas and
conceptualizations clearly. I find much in common between this ability and the
process of relating the details of a piece of music to a unified artistic concep-
tion in performance. Discursive clarity and accuracy, and a sharpness of artis-
tic vision that simultaneously beholds the fine experiential details of the artistic
materials and a personal image of their unity, grow from similar processes,
engaging critical thinking. There is, in my view, a wonderful continuity rather
than an opposition between theory and practice. It is on the basis of this conti-
nuity that music theory has become part of my pianistic journey, providing me
with terminological and conceptual tools to move beyond relying only on intu-
itive appreciation of musical parameters. As one example, I would like to note
here the inspiration that a clear understanding of the music-theoretical differ-
ences between the phenomena of rhythm and metre has offered me in opening
up unforeseen possibilities in interpreting the extraordinarily rich and complex
temporal aspects of the music of Brahms. I hasten to add that music-theoret-
ical and analytical concepts and knowledge become useful, and inspirational,
for the performer only if and as they are given personally meaningful practical
applications; merely possessing such knowledge is inconsequential unless musi-
cians entertain personal ways of exploring their interpretative implications in
practical contexts.
In the twenty-first century, as humanity faces unprecedented challenges
brought on by wars, global terrorism, diseases and a threatened environment,
is it sufficient for classical musicians to learn how to shape phrases beauti-
fully or to stun audiences with technical wizardry? Each aspiring performer
needs to find his or her own answer to this question. My own view is that a
Insight: Mine Doğantan-Dack 135

personal artistic voice is not something that develops in isolation from one’s
‘voice’ in other areas of life: to be able to attain a personal artistic voice, one
first needs to have something personal to say and the means to say it with
conviction. This requires, in my experience, developing personal stances in
relation to a wide variety of cultural phenomena, and involves a process of
growing self-awareness of one’s place and role in our contemporary culture
and society as a classical performer. Music education institutions can greatly
aid this process by making their priority the training of widely cultured clas-
sical musicians with the critical skills and broader awareness and curios-
ity that they will need to sustain them throughout both their professional
careers and their personal lives.
Transformation through music
Ricardo Castro (with Helena Gaunt)

Normally performers are not considered to be creative.1 We are supposed to

reproduce scores as well as possible: we are supposed to follow the rules. This
can kill your creativity, even though it is important to have some knowledge
about what’s going on before trying to be creative. What kind of language are
you expressing, what kind of emphasis does a composer have? There is no sense
in being creative with nothing. You have to consider the tradition and then
work with it. This takes time.
It is essential to give children and young musicians the feeling that they have
the right to be creative. Otherwise they become robots, repeating other people’s
work. And if they are only copying others, it becomes almost impossible for them
to feel necessary or relevant to the community. Music offers a unique tool that
enables us to say something personal. It is clear there is a two-way flow of infor-
mation that we need to open, from the score to a performer, and then from the
performer’s personal character to the music. The possibility to make this happen
lies in the way we teach and interact with other musicians. It is our creativity that
brings these interactions between people alive and makes them interesting.
As a teacher one has to have a sufficiently broad set of approaches to engage
everybody. There is no one method that works for all students. I try to work in
a manner that honours the fact that all of my students are different. They all
have to understand specific musical styles, but they do not have to understand
them in exactly the same way. They can perform differently. So with each of
them I have to change the way I teach.
The students in my class all play quite differently. At the same time they
develop a shared kind of behaviour as musicians:  generosity towards one
another and curiosity about music and its potential. It doesn’t always start like
this. Often young musicians seem to have difficulty in sharing what they know
because they are scared to give it away and perceive a risk that they will lose
it. Living in an atmosphere of competition, they hide what they know from
their colleagues. Unfortunately, without realizing it, this becomes an embedded
Insight: Ricardo Castro (with Helena Gaunt) 137

artistic attitude. The problem is that if you decide not to be generous as a per-
son in general, without knowing it you begin to do this on stage too.
Consequently, one of the basic principles in my class is that we rely on peer-
to-peer exchange, on genuine collaboration. I want the students to learn that
the flow of information is utterly essential when you are an artist—flow between
you, the other musicians and the audience; flow between you and the music.
It all goes together. You cannot build your personality on the basis of hold-
ing information locked away, hiding the secrets that you heard from teachers.
Keeping things to yourself means that you make no room for creativity. So I try
to change the way my students behave in their environment as professional—or
pre-professional—musicians. My experience is that in doing so, I  have much
happier people in my class, whether or not they succeed as musicians. It creates
a different feeling about what it means to succeed. You learn that you can help
as well as be helped yourself.
I do not believe in theories without practice. First and foremost, I have to
be an example of what I am talking about. For instance, I show the students
that I am not working with them simply to earn money. As a first-prize win-
ner of the Leeds Piano Competition, I do not need to teach: I could invest
all my energy in performing and earning my living that way. But the truth is
that I started to teach before winning this competition, and I haven’t stopped
since. I am happier working in this way. I don’t need to say anything explicit
about this to my students. The facts speak for themselves and young people
pick this up. The students are constantly watching, seeing their teacher set
an example.
A second issue relates to helping students develop independence and entre-
preneurship as musicians, provoking them to take charge of what comes next.
The fact that I am not there all the time is part of this: it shows the students that
you have to be the owner of your life. I also give students more freedom around
repertoire; I guide them, but they have to choose their specific pieces. This is
very important, because essentially it obliges them to carry out some research.
They cannot just come and say ‘I would like to play the Liszt piano sonata’
without having explored the difficulty of the piece. They have to research and
be able to make the case to me about why they should play the piece. This proc-
ess opens their minds, not only in how they approach repertoire and perform-
ing, but also in the way they organize their agenda and their future.
Planning your life as a musician requires research. We need to show young
musicians that they must take the initiative to do this. On a daily basis, research
becomes a starting point: Why are you practising today? What for? It is impor-
tant that musicians never take a musical instrument and start practising with-
out having an idea about what they are looking for. Nobody ever told me
about this; I don’t know why. The message was to just practise eight hours a
day and prepare a piece. This is not enough, because you have to have more
138 Musicians in the Making

As a pianist I  am no longer so interested only in preparing myself for a

concert, thinking only about who is listening and about not making mistakes,
or if it’s a recording about who the critics will be. When I  stopped focusing
my life only on performing, I had to become much more efficient in my prac-
tice. Instead of practising eight hours a day, I found I had only one-and-a-half
hours but I still needed to stay in shape: I would never accept letting my level
slip. So I needed special skills and concentration to be in the moment, to be
acutely focused on what I  am doing at any time. I  didn’t have this before. It
was very complicated for me to concentrate. In many ways, it’s very difficult to
concentrate on anything in our world now. You zap from your mobile to meet-
ings and then on to playing. So I have become much more disciplined, and I’ve
found that I can prepare myself for a concert much better.
Previously a concert would start for me only after the first twenty minutes.
Now I have realized that I can, if I so choose, turn things on as soon as I go on
stage: I can play with full attention from the start. The fact that I don’t need
massive preparation time for a concert doesn’t mean that I give less importance
to performing; far from it. I just have more of the skills to be present in each
thing I’m doing.
I strongly believe that music is a human necessity—for everybody. I don’t
believe I  have more talent than anyone:  I  have simply had more opportuni-
ties. So in my work in Brazil with the State Centre of Youth and Children’s
Orchestras of Bahia (NEOJIBA),2 I  know that I  can take any young person
and enable him or her to play on stage at a high level. Anyone, including those
with special needs, can play music well if they have the right opportunities. It’s
like talking: everybody can talk in music. Then it’s a personal decision whether
they want to do this as a professional musician. It’s clear to me that musi-
cians are not superhuman, and I  feel sorry for musicians who don’t believe
this, who think they are very special or have a gift from God. My experience
with NEOJIBA has changed my perspective on why we play music in the first
place: it is not about a ‘profession’—it’s a tool to allow people to communi-
cate at a different level. This affects the way you communicate in any situation,
whether with a conductor or with the person who cleans the concert hall. There
should be no difference.
Some people believe that the most creative people are those who have noth-
ing and can make something from it. One example is the Landfill Harmonic in
Paraguay.3 They put together an entire orchestra using instruments made from
recycled rubbish, with results that people found amazing. These instruments
are now in a museum in Arizona;4 the founders of the museum argued that
these young people deserved real instruments instead. This orchestra shows
how creative humans can be, but imagine how much more you can achieve if
you have the right tools.
So I  have developed a perspective on education, seeing it as a means of
creating freedom by providing the right tools and information without
Insight: Ricardo Castro (with Helena Gaunt) 139

discrimination. As teachers we have the power to change things—and as I sug-

gested before, our job is to detect the potential in each person and build on it.
You first need to detect the real potential in each person and invest in this. You
must value each person independently of the level they have reached, and this
enables them to become someone who can create. Then you can start to focus
on weak points also. Once you do this, you begin to see that creativity involves
respecting and empowering everybody with appropriate tools.
The process is risky, and of course you make mistakes. At NEOJIBA we rec-
ognize that we constantly need to adapt and allow young musicians to change.
For example, we experience some people switching instruments, moving from
playing to singing, or from singing to instrument-making and instrument
repair, as they explore where they feel most comfortable. It’s so important to
allow movement, to give opportunities, and to avoid creating barriers by defin-
ing steps that have to be followed rigidly. Each person has to follow his or her
own journey. In this sense we don’t need to ‘teach creativity’: we simply need to
enable creativity by providing the right tools.
What is equally important is to be able to share ideas within a network of
people. Every day you can pick up ideas and exchange them with others in ways
that can change your life. Sharing good ideas rather than keeping them to your-
self is essential to creativity. Normally we sell ideas and we sell time: I will give
you a report only if you pay me. But what I see is that if you give a fantastic idea
away to someone, it will come back to you in another form.
With NEOJIBA, what I want to show people is that it’s not so difficult to
make this kind of transformation possible. We therefore try to open doors all
the time. We don’t wait for perfect performances to happen: everything is open.
This is a risk too: there are always things that do not quite work yet, or where
you haven’t yet seen that your approach is wrong. Sadly, some people come
along with a preconceived intention to criticize. They look for the flaws rather
than at the totality of what is going on, how the journey is evolving, where the
potential is leading. When you decide to open up your knowledge, you take
risks, because you will inevitably make mistakes and some people will want to
attack them. You have to accept that you are not perfect, that people will crit-
icize you—but also that this will not kill you. In the end, your reputation will
not depend on it. It’s interesting to compare this with my experience in teaching
Japanese students. They can be so scared to make a mistake! One wrong note
and they start to cry. So my first aim is to change this, to help them find a place
where mistakes are a normal and creative part of the process of learning.
NEOJIBA is also great in that it gives an opportunity for people, often for
the first time, to work intensively with others from different social classes with
a means of interacting in a place of equality. We have discovered that the rich
children are often very disciplined and organized but not ready to allow them-
selves to fail. They cannot stand mistakes: they are filled with fear of doing
something wrong. Children from poorer backgrounds are absolutely the
140 Musicians in the Making

opposite. They may have no discipline, but they also have no fear: their attitude
is, ‘Let’s go! Play in London, perform in the Festival Hall? Okay, let’s do it!’
When you mix these two attitudes, you get a really creative soup and you can do
some great cooking. You establish a discipline of communicating without fear
and with trust between people, and then creativity can really spark.

Creative processes

Performers in the practice room

Karen Wise, Mirjam James and John Rink

Classical musicians generally spend long hours in practice rooms preparing

for performances. The fact that they tend to do this in solitude distinguishes
the practising of classical musicians not only from genres in which it is more
common to learn music and to prepare for performance by playing with oth-
ers rather than on one’s own, but also from activities such as sports, where
individuals typically train with coaches and/or in groups. Here we focus in par-
ticular on the more isolated practice experiences of classical musicians,1 with
a view to challenging current definitions of practice and seeking new ways of
understanding how it occurs and with what outcomes.
The private space of the practice room has a number of ambivalent asso-
ciations. On the one hand, many of the activities that musicians carry out in
the practice room are necessarily repetitive and can be dull—seemingly the
antithesis to creativity. On the other hand, practice rooms offer space for exper-
imentation, reflection and the development of interpretational ideas. Although
practice can be viewed and approached as a creative process (Klickstein 2009),
little is known about its role and significance in the development of the creative
musician, and how the activities in practice rooms might lead to performances
with creative qualities—whether the latter are defined in terms of their origi-
nality, interpretational insight, freshness, spontaneity, communication or other
This chapter explores the creative processes that take place in the practice
room; although the focus is on classical musicians, the discussion is likely to be
relevant to any musician undertaking individual practice as part of performance
preparation. We begin by investigating perspectives on practice and creativity in
the scholarly research literature and in writing focused on practical advice and
pedagogy. Although the literature on practice from both practical and scholarly
standpoints is extensive (thus requiring a selective approach here), relatively lit-
tle direct attention has been given to creativity in relation to individual practice. 143
144 Musicians in the Making

In fact, creativity has rarely been the explicit focus of either research studies or
pedagogical advice, and the insights that do emerge are largely tangential. We
argue furthermore that the way in which practice has often been represented and
understood gives limited scope for creative dimensions to emerge.
At the same time, the solitary nature of classical musicians’ practice means
that the processes involved can remain opaque. In order to illuminate the crea-
tive dimensions of solitary practice, this chapter goes on to describe a research
project which investigated advanced student musicians in the practice room as
they prepared a piece for public performance. A key feature of the project was
that it engaged the musicians themselves in identifying aspects of their prac-
tice that they considered important to the creative development of their per-
formance.2 The project therefore explored creativity in classical music practice
through the lens of musicians’ experiences, mental processes and the meaning
that they attach to their activities, rather than imposing a predefined set of cri-
teria for what counts as creative. Drawing on primary data from this project, we
describe the creative processes that are in operation on a local level (moment-
by-moment practice strategies) and on a broader level (creative development of
an interpretation and a sense of ownership). We then explore a set of further
key insights, which have implications for our understanding not only of the
nature of creativity in classical music practice, but also of what practice itself
entails. These insights relate to:

• Individual differences in musicians’ creative ways of working

• The interrelationship and integration of technical and expressive
• The nonlinear characteristics of creative processes
• The social dimensions of solitary practice, and a wider view of what
counts as practising.

The data yield a rich picture of individual practice as a creative process.

We argue that in order to understand how practice is related to the develop-
ment of musicians’ creative agency, both broader and deeper understanding of
what practice entails is required. As we demonstrate in what follows, a broader
understanding entails widening existing concepts of practice to include activ-
ities that are not necessarily seen by students, teachers and/or researchers as
‘proper’ practice, while a deeper understanding involves exploring how individ-
uals’ creative aims and outcomes are developed and realized in actual activities,
strategies and thought processes as practice unfolds.

Practice in scholarly research

The seminal work of the psychologists Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Römer

(1993) has shaped current understanding of practice and its role in the
Performers in the practice room 145

development of expertise. They articulated the notion of deliberate practice

as a ‘highly structured activity, the explicit goal of which is to improve perfor-
mance. Specific tasks are invented to overcome weakness, and performance
is carefully monitored to provide cues for ways to improve it further. …
Individuals are motivated to practice because practice improves performance’
(ibid.: 368). The three main features of deliberate practice—setting goals,
developing effective practice strategies and being motivated—have been the
focus of practice research and literature ever since, and they can be seen
as essential for successful expert performances in music (Platz et al. 2014).
Evidence has been adduced to show that experts differ from novices not only
in the age when they started to learn an instrument or the sheer amount of
time they have devoted to deliberate practice, but also in the strategies that
they employ. Such strategies have been investigated by Hallam et al. (2012),
who asked 3,325 musicians ranging from beginners to professionals about
their practising strategies, the organization of their practice and their motiva-
tion. The results indicated that the key to success is not necessarily the devel-
opment of a wide variety of effective practice strategies; rather, it is more
important to avoid ineffective strategies such as only playing through entire
pieces or returning to the beginning of a piece after making a mistake. In
an observation and interview study including expert performers and novices,
Gruson (1988) too showed that practice strategies changed with increasing
levels of expertise. For example, the greater the players’ level of experience,
the more they tended to focus on repeating small sections as opposed to
playing through the music, and the shorter their repeated sections became
in average number of notes. Experience also resulted in the ability to concep-
tualize practice behaviour and to use a larger number of practice strategies of
increased cognitive complexity.

General advice on practice

Notions such as deliberate practice and developing practice strategies feature

not only in academic research but also in the form of more general guidelines
issued by musicians for musicians. These can be found in an array of litera-
ture ranging from philosophical treatises and blogs to step-by-step guides and
practice diary templates for individual use. In one sense, musicians looking for
advice on how to practise are spoiled for choice. While the exact content and
tone vary according to the intended audience, practice advice usually centres
on the core issues of structuring and regulating one’s time and of practising
efficiently. Guidance is readily available on strategies such as setting goals,
breaking down tasks, establishing routines, practising mindfully and motivat-
ing oneself to put in the time and carry out sometimes dull, repetitive tasks.
One online source, for example, advises young singers that ‘effective practice is
146 Musicians in the Making

often boring and repetitive, so it is important that you remain mindful of your
actions’.3 A passage from the blog of Noa Kageyama4—taken from just one of
many thought-provoking and well-informed articles on the site—typifies much
of the prevalent discourse around practice: ‘It doesn’t matter if we are talking
about perfecting technique, or experimenting with different musical ideas. Any
model which encourages smarter, more systematic, active thought and clearly
articulated goals will help cut down on wasted, ineffective practice time. After
all, who wants to spend all day in the practice room? Get in, get stuff done, and
get out!’
While it cannot be denied that an essential function of practice is to develop
the core technical and musical skills necessary for performance, it is striking
that many of these descriptions of practice do not move much beyond the
notion that its primary purpose is to give musicians the building blocks. That
is, the focus is generally on strategies to improve technical skills and fluency and
to increase the reliability of one’s musical output, with the relevance and appli-
cation of such strategies to creative aspects more or less tacitly implied rather
than explicitly articulated.

Creativity in existing practice literature

In the sources described so far, there is little explicit information about how one
might go about practising in order to become a more creative musician or to
maximize one’s chance of producing a performance perceived by audiences as
exciting and novel. It is therefore far from clear which practice strategies might
enable more creative aspects of performance, such as developing one’s own
interpretation of a piece, or how strategies in the practice phase might relate
to creative processes during performance, such as risk-taking and adjusting to
unforeseen circumstances.
In order to better understand the link between practice and creativity, we
need a broader conception of what practice entails and how that feeds into the
development of the ‘creative musician’. Some authors have explored practice
along these lines, and examples can be found in practical pedagogical litera-
ture as well as empirical research (e.g. Klickstein 2009; Sloboda 1985; Hallam
1995; Prior and Ginsborg 2011; Jørgensen 2004). What all of these contribu-
tions share is a view of practice as the process of preparing for a performance.
On the one hand, this seems unremarkable, given that one of the main activities
of musicians in the western classical tradition is to perform pieces they have
practised to an audience, and practice strategies are therefore used to improve
the next performance. On the other hand, research and general practice advice
often isolate the two.
Sloboda (1985) distinguishes between the acquisition of instrument-specific
skills and performance skills. With regard to the former, he refers to the three
Performers in the practice room 147

phases of skill acquisition proposed by Fitts (1964): cognitive stage, associa-

tive stage and autonomous stage. For example, the first steps in holding a bow
in the right hand in order to produce a sound on a stringed instrument must
be taken consciously, whereas such actions are executed almost automatically
after a certain amount of practice even as the left hand carries out difficult
moves on the fingerboard. Sloboda regards performance as a continuum from
sight reading to expert performance, with rehearsal in between these extremes.
Noting that the rehearsal stage involves practice strategies such as those studied
by Gruson (1988), Sloboda observes that more is needed to perform music than
the ability simply to play through a piece. Performers must develop and inter-
nalize their mental representation of a piece on multiple levels: musical phras-
ing, dynamics, understanding of harmonic progressions and musical structure,
and so forth.
While Sloboda’s discussion of rehearsal is similar to that in some of the
practice literature, the fact that he contextualizes practice differently and
sees it as one stage of developing a performance helps to reconceptualize
it. A similar view of practice underpinned Hallam’s (1995) investigation of
musicians’ approaches to the learning and interpretation of music, in which
she interviewed twenty-two freelance professional musicians about their indi-
vidual approaches. Applying Pask’s (1976) model of learning styles, Hallam
found that some of the musicians adopted a holistic strategy by initially
undertaking an overview of the entire piece, whereas others adopted a serial
strategy by looking at a smaller section first before moving on to the next.
In addition, some musicians took an analytical approach to interpretation,
while others preferred an intuitive method. The majority of the musicians
in the study combined a preference for an intuitive approach with the serial
strategy. Using a theoretical framework by Perry (1970), Hallam argued
that the intuitive/serialist approach was likely to be associated with lower
levels of musical intellectual development (such as being concerned only
with playing correct notes). By contrast, musicians using an analytic/holis-
tic approach or a combination of approaches were more likely to achieve a
higher level of intellectual development (the highest level being represented
by those musicians who develop their own personal style of performance).
Individuals also differed in their preferences for the extent to which inter-
pretative decisions were made in advance or left to spontaneity during the
performance. Thus, Hallam’s study points to a combination of factors con-
necting the process of practice with an individual’s performance creativity
and artistic development.
While Hallam investigated what musicians said they did in general in their
practice, Chaffin, Imreh and Crawford (Chaffin and Imreh 2001; Chaffin, Imreh
and Crawford 2002; Chaffin et al. 2003) took a detailed case-study approach to
examine how an expert musician actually prepared for a recording. Focusing on
the work of the pianist Gabriela Imreh, Chaffin et al. outlined four stages of
148 Musicians in the Making

practice, from the first encounter to a ‘maintenance stage’: (1) establishing an

aural idea of the piece by playing through the music, analysing it or listening to
recordings; (2) developing an interpretation while working through the piece in
sections; (3) polishing sections, joining them together and refining interpreta-
tive details; and (4) maintaining the interpretation, which might involve making
slight modifications over an extended period of time.
In his research into instrumental practice and music education, Jørgensen
(2004) characterized four types of strategies: planning strategies, strategies
for the conduct (execution) of practice, strategies to evaluate practice, and
meta-strategies (Jørgensen and Hallam 2009). One important aspect of plan-
ning strategies is the musician’s plan for how to develop the interpretation.
According to Jørgensen, a number of approaches are possible, e.g. develop-
ing the interpretation alongside mastering the technical challenges, or mas-
tering the technical side first before developing interpretational ideas for a
performance. Practice execution strategies discussed include mental versus
actual playing strategies, practising smaller parts versus the whole piece, and
facing and combatting performance anxiety during the preparation period.
Jørgensen’s evaluation strategies focused strongly on correcting errors, but he
also suggested working with aural or visual models, preferably combined with
evaluating recordings of one’s own performances. The last group—meta-strat-
egies—deals with the knowledge of oneself, the process of practising or the
effectiveness of strategies. While the strategies in themselves are not explic-
itly described as creative (and indeed are not necessarily so), it is easy to see
how they could be employed as such, with a creative approach or intention.
The examples presented later in this chapter illustrate how the types of strate-
gies to which Jørgensen refers can be extended to accommodate more creative
These holistic views of practice and musical advancement are not con-
fined to the scientific-empirical literature: they can also be found in a handful
of publications aimed at aspiring professional musicians. One such publi-
cation is Madeleine Bruser’s The Art of Practicing (1999), which combines
physiological and meditative principles (the latter deriving from mindfulness
meditation). Bruser’s book was one of the inspirations for Klickstein’s The
Musician’s Way, which argues that practising does more than develop tech-
nical and musical mastery: ‘the decisive aim of practice is to prepare perfor-
mances because, as an art form, music centers on the interaction between
performer and listener. In a few words[,] then, practice is the deliberate, crea-
tive process of improving musical ability and of mastering music for perfor-
mance’ (Klickstein 2009:  4; italics added). This introduces the notion that
practice itself can be a creative process. Moreover, Klickstein asserts that per-
formances reflect the manner of practice: only by engaging with practice as
a creative activity can one bring a sense of that creativity into performance,
however one defines it.
Performers in the practice room 149

Creative processes in practice

It seems evident that multiple approaches, strategies and pathways can be

adopted in developing a creative performance, but much work remains to
be done to explore, identify and clearly articulate these. In the next sections,
we draw on some of the findings from our own work to develop a view of prac-
tising which potentially has theoretical validity, reflects what musicians actually
do (even if they do not always realize it), and might shed light on what creative
music-making entails and indeed requires.
In the study from which much of the following material in this chapter is drawn,5
we explored advanced students’ experience of creativity in the development of an
individual interpretation of a solo piece. Through this we were seeking a better
understanding of the relationship between creative processes in practice and in
performance, and the link between the two. Details of the five participants can be
seen in Table 7.1. These students kept practice diaries over a period of up to five
months and made audiovisual recordings of three consecutive practice sessions at
three stages during that process, i.e. at the beginning, in the middle and at the end
of the preparation period. This yielded a total of nine recorded practice sessions
for each participant. After performing their chosen piece in a public performance,
the individual participants reviewed the videos of these practice sessions and of the
filmed performance, and they identified passages that they considered important
to their creative development of the piece; these passages were then discussed in
an interview with one of the researchers.6 This allowed us to identify ‘creative epi-
sodes’7 in the students’ practice sessions and to analyse the interview data along-
side the video content, in order to characterize creative processes in their practice.
The thematic analysis of interview data took an inductive approach (follow-
ing Braun and Clarke 2006); this involved systematically coding similar state-
ments and recurrent ideas throughout the interviews and forming first-level
themes, which are the scaffolding for more interpretative second-level themes.
The aim in forming first-level themes is to stay close to the semantic content
of participants’ accounts, and in this case the themes represent moment-to-
moment strategies and processes described by the participants. The second-
level themes were arrived at by focusing the analysis on the broader functions

TABLE 7.1 Participants

Gender Instrument Stage of study

1 Male Horn Postgraduate (MMus)

2 Female Violin Postgraduate (MMus)
3 Male Percussion (vibraphone) Postgraduate (MMus)
4 Male Organ Postgraduate (MMus)
5 Female Double bass Undergraduate (BMus year 3 of 4)
150 Musicians in the Making

served by those strategies in participants’ development of their own interpre-

tation of their piece.8 This particular focus on one’s own interpretation was
chosen because a sense of ownership9 emerged as a key part of students’ expe-
riences of creativity in our earlier observations of one-to-one lessons (James
et al. 2010). In the following discussion, second-level themes are described first.
For all participants in our project, developing their own interpretation
seemed to involve making decisions about what they wanted to communicate,
deciding explicitly what their ideas were, and having a sense of that over the
whole piece as well as in shorter passages and sections. Three interactive pro-
cesses, expressed in the second-level themes in Figure 7.1, were fundamental to
the overall process:
1. Developing an overarching concept of the piece that makes sense
at different levels of structure, i.e. holistically as well as in shorter
passages and sections;
2. Establishing focused intentions which guide both the performer’s aims
at any one moment as well as for the whole piece, and the performer’s
conscious attention;
3. Making it ‘feel right’ in two respects, i.e. physical comfort (or at least
control) and making musical sense to the performer.

These elements, which can be understood as interactive processes, are under-

pinned by a number of smaller-scale processes represented by the first-level
themes, which were present across all participants’ interview data (see Figure
7.1). The most important themes are listed in Table 7.2 with illustrative quota-
tions from the interview data.
The majority of creative episodes identified by our participants involved
problem-solving on multiple levels, including integrating and negotiating ele-
ments of musical intention, emotional expression and technical realization. In
relation to the last example shown in Table 7.2, the participant later articulated
the technical and attention strategies that he eventually used to find a crea-
tive solution to the problem: focusing on the top note and treating the down-
ward notes like a string ‘ricochet’ which, according to the student, was both
novel (‘most people don’t do it that way’) and satisfying (‘the ricochet makes
it cool’). This involved deliberate effort to find and revise solutions rather than
resorting to mere intuition. Although the literature on musical practice has
noted the importance of problem-solving (see e.g. Chaffin and Imreh 1997),
its role in creative processes has not been explicitly acknowledged or system-
atically investigated. This is remarkable, given that problem-solving has else-
where been called the ‘most obvious function’ of creativity (Runco 2004: 658);
without problem-solving, solutions to challenges cannot be found (Mumford
et al. 1991; Torrance 1988; Wallas 1926). Equally important are locating and
identifying problems, i.e. the ability to notice a problem and then frame it in a
way that makes it approachable.
Making it ‘your own’

Second-level themes

a concept

Making it Establishing
‘feel right’ intentions

First-level themes

Looking for and/or naming different characters in a piece

Finding and emphasizing contrast and variety
Experimenting and exploring
Clarifying own ideas and opinions
Identifying and solving problems
Revising ideas over time

FIGURE 7.1 Processes in forming one’s own interpretation and making it ‘your own’. The first-level
themes represent reported practice strategies that operate as micro processes in support of the macro
processes expressed in the second-level themes, which in turn are incorporated in the overarching
concept of ‘making it “your own” ’.

TABLE 7.2 First-level themes and select participant comments

Theme Participant comments

Looking for and/or nam- … then you’ve got other things you can work on in the bottom line,
ing different characters in and kind of giving them characters like ‘I’m not in a rush’, ‘cheeky’…
a piece (Vibraphonist)
The need to emphasize or I started working on … how to make it more interesting by
to find contrast and variety emphasizing the accents and the difference, because the music, as it’s
in the piece written[,] … actually does have different accents… (Horn player)
Experimenting with and … experimenting with different contact points and attacks of the
exploring ideas bow to achieve different characters… (Violinist)
Clarifying one’s own ideas … the way I viewed it was … I thought that’s the melody and this
and opinions right-hand thing is just something that’s kind of going along like a
machine… (Vibraphonist)
Revising ideas and deci- I had kind of a very focused sound which I ended up changing later
sions over time on… (Violinist)
Identifying and solving I started to realize that the arpeggios were very cool but … there
problems needed to be an emphasis on some, and, whether the beginning or
the end, there needed to be an emphasis on one of the points of each
one in order for it to make a musical phrase. I was thinking … how
you can link from one, I could link from that to the next with the
next one with the repeated notes, so that then the arpeggio … [is]
no longer … vertical but horizontal… (Horn player)
152 Musicians in the Making


While the key elements of the creative process in forming an individual

interpretation—developing a concept, establishing intentions and making it feel
right—were common to all of our participants, we gained further insight into
their individual creative pathways by considering their specific ideas and inten-
tions, the language in which these were articulated, and how participants talked
about their interpretative decisions in relation to the sense of ‘feeling right’.
Taking all of this into account, we discerned initial themes related to individual
differences that we have broadly characterized as two ways of working, termed
‘musical parameters-led’ and ‘emotion/narrative-led’ (summarized in Table 7.3).
Participants whose predominant way of working was ‘musical parameters-
led’ tended to express their evolving ideas in terms of the musical structure as
gleaned from the score. Their intentions were characterized in terms of seeking
balance between, and an effective understanding of, different musical elements
in relation to the whole. In making interpretative decisions, these musicians were
also concerned with the immediate sound of a given feature, such as whether a
particular line or musical element might be perceived clearly. The vibraphonist
and the organist in our study showed the strongest tendency to work in this
way. In this interview excerpt, the organist describes a creative episode in his
practice when he experimented with registrations for the piece by Bach that he
was playing, and making an interpretative decision about which to use:
Before, I was using a different sort of trio sonata registration having the
right hand on an eight-foot on the lower manual and the left hand trans-
posing down an octave on the other manual at a four-foot—the four-foot
stop, so that the sound is very very similar, which is fun but … if there isn’t
enough interest in … both sounds, you can’t tell what part’s doing what…
[The different registration allowed me] to hear all the parts more clearly.

The vibraphonist also talked about developing a concept of the piece in terms
of the relationship between small structural details and the whole: ‘It’s just like
these panels of music that go on for quite a long time and then they just [clicks
fingers] change, and within those there are certain micro details that are quite

TABLE 7.3 Characteristics of ‘two ways of working’

Musical parameters-led Emotion/narrative-led

Concepts Expressed in musical structural terms Expressed in emotional terms,

stories, expressive images
Intentions Seeking/communicating clarity, form, Seeking/communicating emotional
balance of elements in relation to whole narrative or effect
Focus Immediate sound (what can be perceived) Emotional impact (what can be felt)
Performers in the practice room 153

important but … it feels like there’s a big picture which is the most important
thing not to mess up’.
Participants whose predominant way of working was ‘emotion/narrative-led’
expressed their intentions in terms of seeking emotional meaning or effect. They
devised stories and conjured up expressive images to characterize a number of
musical elements as well as the whole piece, and their aim in doing so was to
heighten the emotional impact of the piece. The violinist, the double bassist and
the horn player typified this way of working. For example, this comment of the
horn player refers to a passage in his rehearsal footage where he is experiment-
ing with types of singing while conducting himself, using a specific cultural refer-
ence: ‘I thought, this was the kind of singing that you would do … in, um, like a
night time with a guitar—very … Spanish …, guitar and the moon’. Similarly,
the double bass player describes her evolving concept of the piece as an emo-
tional narrative: ‘What’s going on now [is] something incredibly weird and mad,
and then it starts slowly, slowly picking up a lot of tension growing somewhere,
somewhere really … intensively, but … with this steady pulse … it’s a scary piece.
The whole piece I felt was … very … scary and mad and … mentally not stable’.
These two ways of working reflect the participants’ tendencies rather than
mutually exclusive approaches. For example, emotional or narrative ideas were
sometimes used as part of a learning process primarily characterized by a musi-
cal parameters-led way of working; this can be seen in the explanation of the
organist in our study as to why he plays the opening of the piece as he does:
‘It is a happy piece!’ Equally, analytical work sometimes formed an important
part of an otherwise emotion/narrative-led way of working. For instance, the
double bass player was able to engage with her challenging contemporary piece
only after she had discovered a key feature of the piece’s melodic structure:

suddenly I  realized that the whole piece is build up on the intervallic

motive of BACH. A semitone down followed by a minor third up and a
semitone down again. This motive is hidden behind almost every passage
or element but taken from all other pitches. I feel that this is a great step-
ping stone, although I’m not sure how it will benefit my playing that I’ve
at least found a key foundation to this piece.

She then gradually developed her concept of the piece as an emotional narra-
tive, drawing on some powerfully resonant aspects of her personal history.
These two ways of working recall the styles—analytical and intuitive—to
which Hallam (1995) referred in her study of musicians’ approaches to interpre-
tation. They are also reminiscent of Bahle’s (1939) analysis of creative develop-
ments and principles in respect of composers. Bahle described two approaches to
recognizing and resolving musical problems, which he regarded as a key means
of generating new musical material. He referred to these in terms of ‘work-
ing’ (Arbeitstypus, literally ‘working-type’) and ‘inspiration’ (Inspirationstypus,
154 Musicians in the Making

i.e. ‘inspiration-type’), characterizing the handling of musical problems differ-

ently for each type. For the ‘working-type’, the musical problems emerge while
one is working with musical material, whether actively studying one’s own or
others’ compositions or experimenting with existing material. Conversely, for
the ‘inspiration-type’, the musical problems arise indirectly, e.g. through conver-
sation or listening to other compositions, amounting to a less deliberate form of
‘conception’ which might seem like sudden inspiration. The nature of the prob-
lems is also described differently for each type: the working-type focuses initially
on the form and content of compositions, whereas the inspiration-type is more
concerned with the emotional content or impact of a piece. In these respects too,
the parallels with our ‘two ways of working’ are striking.
Bahle showed how the two types serve to resolve compositional problems.
Although both involve experimentation, improvisation and building possibili-
ties, the working-type approach seems to feature a conscious, deliberate process
while composing a piece, whereas with the inspiration-type, material tends to
develop less directly (e.g. through improvising, drawing analogies and repro-
ducing existing material, whether one’s own or others’) and away from the
drawing board, which makes putting ideas on paper seem relatively effortless.
Both of Bahle’s types involve hard work, but the activities leading to specific
outcomes are different in each case.
The similarity between Bahle’s analysis of how composers work and the
pathways of developing individual interpretations as identified in our study is
obvious, suggesting that the creative processes involved in composing on the
one hand and developing a performance interpretation on the other might be
closely related. Of course, there might be other ‘ways of working’ in addition
to the two that we identified. What we cannot tell from our study is how far
these ways of working reflected individual preferences (consider in this respect
Hallam’s 1995 identification of individual differences in learning styles) and
how they were related to other factors such as instrument, piece, musical style
or participants’ unique backgrounds, knowledge and training. All of this
needs further investigation, as does the critical relationship between practising
approach and the quality of performance produced. What we do know is that
our participants followed a number of pathways to reach a common goal: an
individual and engaging performance.



The relationship between technical and expressive elements is of particular

interest when considering creativity and performance, not least because in
everyday discourse, as well as in the research literature, these are often pitted
against one another as competing priorities. In our own research, conservatoire
teachers were ambivalent about the status of technical excellence in relation
Performers in the practice room 155

to expressivity—and indeed creativity—in performance.10 Some observed that

technique was fundamental, conferring on the performer the freedom and flex-
ibility to express his or her vision of a piece. From this standpoint, technical
fluency is a necessary condition for expressivity; it might even have to be estab-
lished before a performer can be expressive. However, a more cautionary view
was also articulated, namely that musical expression and creativity could be
‘hampered by the millstone of technical excellence’ (James and Wise n.d.) such
that the relentless pursuit of technical perfection could stifle musical explora-
tion and ideas. Both of these viewpoints position technical aspects as being
rather separate from expressivity, and this dichotomy is also seen in existing
research literature. Observational studies of instrumental teaching (e.g. Zhukov
2008; Young et al. 2003; McPhee 2011) tend to interpret and categorize activ-
ities or verbal exchanges in a way that separates the technical from the expres-
sive. Seen in this light, one-to-one teaching often appears to focus on technical
aspects and notation, with relatively little attention to expressive performance
(Karlsson and Juslin 2008). Looking through a creativity lens, by contrast,
reveals the ways in which technical and expressive elements are intercon-
nected. In our own research on one-to-one lessons (James et al. 2010), video-
recall interviews with students and teachers illustrated the constant interplay
among technical issues, creative problem-solving, and interpretational shaping
and reshaping. Commenting on important moments during one-to-one les-
sons, participants explained how overcoming a technical problem, such as stiff
shoulders, enabled musical expression. Conversely, examples also showed how
working on musical understanding or generating a particular interpretational
intention helped overcome a technical problem.
We were able to see the continuation of this interplay in the practice studio
as students developed their interpretations. The horn player’s goals for his prac-
tice, noted at the start of each of his recorded practice weeks, suggest a linear
progression from technique through interpretation to consolidation:

• Week 1: Technical issues—‘I am looking to begin solving some of the

technical issues (stopped ports, trills, and fingerings)’.
• Week 2: Finalize technical issues and define musical intentions—
‘Resolve finally all technical issues and define my musical
• Week 3: Resolve last technical issues and make sure not to lose the
musical side of things—‘I want to avoid a complete separation of
the two’.

However, his detailed diary entries and his interview commentary on creative
episodes tell another story, much like the expert performer in Chaffin et al.’s
studies, who was concerned with interpretational decisions from the start but
was not aware of the extent of this while concentrating on (as she thought)
more technical issues. Right from the first session, according to his diary,
156 Musicians in the Making

the horn player in our study was aware of, and was exploring, the ‘contrast
of lyricism vs. percussive music’ in the piece, and this had interpretative and
technical ramifications. At the start of the first practice session, he was work-
ing on the twenty-nine-bar opening section of the piece. His diary entry for
this section of the work refers to aiming for ‘a clear beginning that impacts
the listener’ and wanting the whole opening section to ‘make sense as a unity’.
He also wanted to attain a rhythm precisely as it was notated and to portray
the bell-like nature of the opening. There is no direction in the score that the
opening should be ‘bell-like’, however, and it is not clear whether the horn
player formed that image from his own interpretation of the score, from other
written or recorded sources, or from previously hearing others’ ideas about
the piece. But his diary states: ‘Bells from a church in my mind. I try to sing
first to get an idea of what I may strive to sing with my instrument. I try to
bring my inner Spanish musical feelings into the piece’. At the same time, he
reports working on technical execution in terms of breath support and trills.
His first creative episode emerged approximately five minutes into this sec-
tion of his practice, and it involved carrying out a breathing exercise without
the horn. The significance of this was that he had realized he was not joining
notes musically but instead was thinking of them as too separate, and this was
causing fatigue which in turn resulted in a technical problem towards the end
of the section (‘I know how to play trills, but every time when I  will get to
here, I wasn’t capable of doing it’). He also realized that his visualization of
the expressive image (‘it’s supposed to be someone hitting the bells of a church
in Spain’) was contributing to this lack of phrasing. So the task became one
of determining how to achieve this expressive element (‘pgong, pgong, very
percussive’) without wearing himself out—and the solution was support and
connected phrasing between notes.
As with many of the creative episodes that we identified, it is clear that
the process described here involved problem-solving in which the goal is the
balancing and integration of technical and expressive aspects. Furthermore,
closer examination reveals that this process of balancing and integration
often encompassed psychological dimensions too:  attentional focus, emo-
tions, self-efficacy, confidence and integrity are all important in find-
ing one’s own way to play a piece. The horn player’s reports of the local
problem-solving exhibited in his first creative episode—how to produce a
percussive sound without losing the line and getting tired—contained the
seeds of his eventual conceptualization of his ‘own’ piece. First, it was
the start of an ongoing concern with managing the expenditure of energy
through the piece for the sake of stamina. This meant that issues of breath-
ing, pacing and articulation had to be connected and integrated with the
horn player’s navigation through the whole piece, which is to say, his mental
representation of the piece’s structure and how its sections were related to
Performers in the practice room 157

each other. Secondly, his ‘inner Spanish musical feelings’ were expanded
from the initial bells into a range of expressive images, such as a bullfighter
(a suggestion from his teacher) and a lover singing a serenade with a guitar
by the light of the moon. These enabled him both to feel a strong sense of
personal ownership and to find ways of uniting the percussive and lyrical
aspects of the piece that he identified in the diary record of his first practice


The processes of problem-solving and the interplay and integration of mul-

tiple elements described above involve—and indeed require—cycling between
practice strategies and structural levels of a musical work. Other literature, by
contrast, suggests a progression in practice from ‘start’ to ‘finish’ (i.e. perfor-
mance)—e.g. Chaffin et  al.’s four stages (see discussion above). While these
stages might be represented in other dimensions of music learning, such as
familiarization, memorization and reliability of execution, the creative pro-
cesses that we describe are much less linear.
A number of examples in our data show that when solutions to a problem are
reached, they are for the moment and not final. For instance, the violinist com-
mented, ‘I had kind of a very focused sound which I ended up changing later
on’. The horn player, too, after describing a series of interpretative changes in
one section of his piece, observed, ‘That’s how I wanted to do it back then and
… now we change, it’s fine’. He also recorded ways in which his interpretation
evolved between the first performance of his piece in his end-of-year examina-
tion recital and a later public performance recorded for the research project. This
challenges any notion that a given performance is an end point or that an inter-
pretation is ‘finished’ and final at this point. In another study that we carried out
(James and Wise n.d.) to investigate conservatoire teachers’ concepts of creativ-
ity, one teacher talked about how students could be paralysed by the thought that
they had to establish ‘their’ version of a famous piece, and how as a teacher she
attempted to foster a more provisional approach—that an interpretation is ‘for
now’. She tried to encourage students to take the view that ‘this is how I’m look-
ing at it at the moment and in this particular context, and I will change, my ideas
will change, and then the production and the other people I'm working with, …
so [I am] not fixing things down as if it has to be my permanent opinion on these
pieces’. The modelling of the nonlinear aspects of creative practice therefore has
the potential to help free students from this kind of restrictive thinking. Indeed,
the horn player found that through recording and reflecting on how his interpre-
tation changed, he became more aware of the possibility of different versions:
‘watching these videos now I realize that [there are] so many things you can do,
… why not change things up a little bit maybe next time’.
158 Musicians in the Making


Throughout the period of practising given works, individual ideas are influ-
enced by a musician’s environment. One important influence that our partici-
pants mentioned during their interviews and in their diaries was other people
who had directly or indirectly shaped their decisions about how to develop an
interpretation of a piece. Given that we were working with conservatoire stu-
dents in our research, it is not surprising that ‘teachers’ were cited most often
in this respect, and indeed by all participants. Three of them referred to the
‘composer’ at various times of the recorded practice period, whereas only two
students described the influence of a ‘friend’, although these references were
nevertheless interesting.
Teachers were described as someone who either had given advice (e.g. ‘my
teacher’s few suggestions have definitely helped me to unfold the piece in my
head’) or could be approached for guidance (e.g. ‘I will ask my professor what
he thinks about the role of the grace notes’). They were seen as trustworthy
authorities, and when teachers suggested a particular solution students tended
to change their way of playing accordingly (e.g. ‘[I took a] consciously slower
performance speed, based on what my teacher had said to me in my lesson’).
The rejection of teachers’ suggestions was rare and in one case was even
described as ‘betraying the teacher’.
The second group of people referred to by participants as giving guidelines
was composers. Although they were really referring to the score, participants’
comments indicate that they invoke a sense of the composer’s presence and inten-
tionality when making interpretative decisions. For example, one participant
talked about ‘making a decision as to what the composer meant by lento’, and
another commented, ‘I am trying to reconcile the way [the composer] intended
this part with my own feeling’. In this respect, one participant’s decision to ‘fol-
low my own musicality’ in interpreting a passage in a manner different from its
appearance on the page felt to him like a violation of the composer’s wishes.
This chimes with our observation in previous research (James and Wise n.d.) that
there is a tension between, on the one hand, the respect that performers often feel
they must have for performance traditions and the score—as somehow enshrin-
ing the composer’s intentions—and, on the other hand, their own personality
and individuality, factors which can be seen as essential to creative performing.
Friends were mentioned in a working relationship, as pianist or as a con-
sultant, and they served as what might be called a ‘mirror’ or ‘witness’ (James
and Wise n.d.) to these students’ artistic communication. In that way, the other
person acts as a substitute audience and is used to test ideas. A similar func-
tion was described by Gabriela Imreh when playing passages to a friend dur-
ing her own practice period (Chaffin et al. 2002). Despite the fact that most
decisions are made by musicians during solitary practice, whether or not their
solutions work might be easier to establish when someone else is present, which
Performers in the practice room 159

makes the practice session more like playing in front of an audience than play-
ing in isolation. Only one student in our project reported that he had actively
looked for someone other than his teacher to play to in order to gain feedback
on an interpretational idea. Seeking multiple performance opportunities in
order to build confidence for performances is suggested by Hallam and Gaunt
(2012: 66); however, playing to friends or in other informal situations was not a
practice tool effectively used by the students in our study. The benefits of such
a tool can only be surmised, as there is no current research indicating the extent
to which regular, informal performances help musicians form interpretational
ideas and learn to respond to performance situations.11

Widening concepts of practising

The last part of this chapter looks at specific types of practice or practice activ-
ities that are considered important for establishing an individual interpretation
and to prepare for creative performances.
The practice diaries and video-recall interviews used in our study shed light
on specific practice activities undertaken by participants to develop an individ-
ual interpretation. The most telling example is again the horn player. During
his video-recall interview, he discussed thirty-five creative episodes in total, of
which only twelve involved playing the instrument. Otherwise, he engaged in a
range of activities but without actually playing: most of these episodes featured
singing either the piece or other material, including improvising words to the
music. Other activities included playing the piano, conducting, tapping, snap-
ping fingers and self-talk. When comparing these creative episodes as revealed
in the video-recall interviews with the entries in the student’s practice diaries,
it is noticeable that singing is mentioned in only six out of forty diary entries,
whether as an image (six occasions) or as a practice activity (three occasions).
In three other passages, the student uses the phrase ‘singing on the instrument’.
The prevalence of practice ‘away from the instrument’ in the horn player’s
creative episodes suggests that this was very important in developing his own
interpretation. He recorded more of these nonplaying activities than any other
participant, yet it is interesting that he himself was apologetic about work that
might not be seen as ‘proper practice’. This suggests that time spent away from
the instrument is not a common or accepted practice feature. However, experi-
menting with ideas away from the instrument was also seen in the case of the
two string players, albeit to a lesser extent.
The double bassist, who recorded the fewest creative episodes, reported
undertaking much of her creative work outside the practice room altogether:
I’m not incredibly creative when I practise… I feel more creative when
I’m not playing … like actually thinking of the piece and then thinking,
160 Musicians in the Making

oh what I would like to achieve here, walking home and thinking, think-
ing of the melody and then trying … by just singing it in my head …
what might work … or at home before going to sleep or coming before
my practice for example before going to the practice room. … [N]ow I do
it more in my playing as well…

She realized that her practice had the potential to be more interesting and valu-
able if she brought that kind of work into the practice room instead of regard-
ing practice as necessarily dull and routine.
Whereas most participants chose an unaccompanied piece for the study, the
violinist worked with an accompanist,12 and some of her most significant activ-
ities ‘away from the instrument’ occurred through this collaboration:

we decided to come up with a story to help make it more fluid and give
each section kind of a very specific character, and all of a sudden it was
so much more fun to play and even though it was still hard and challeng-
ing and frightening to play some of those double stop bits, it didn’t really
matter because I’d kind of given them the character being really angry
and crazy, so if I  messed something up or didn’t quite play it the way
I wanted, it didn’t seem to matter as much.

Practising away from the instrument is not a new idea:  for example,
Jørgenson (2004:  88)  recommends that ‘playing practice’ should be balanced
with ‘nonplaying practice’ ‘in a single session or over a period of time’. He con-
tinues: ‘Focused, nonplaying practice will give more time for mental rehearsal
and reflection and prevent overuse of muscles’ (ibid.). Hallam et al. (2012) also
include in their inventory of practice strategies activities that can be carried
out away from the instrument, although most involve reading the score (with
no particular aims being specified). Hallam and Gaunt (2012: 50) do mention
‘improvisation’ as one route to enhancing aural skills, but in their ‘musical
practice checklist’—the focus of which is on setting goals, planning, mental
rehearsal and thinking about the interpretation of a piece (ibid.:  55)—there
is no mention of trying things out or of experimenting with different ideas or
ways of playing, either with or without the instrument.
The idea of practising away from the instrument raises the question of how
our findings fit with prevailing concepts of mental practice. In so far as men-
tal practice has been defined as ‘cognitive or imaginary rehearsal of a physical
skill without overt muscular movement’ (Connolly and Williamon 2004: 224),
mental practice might easily be seen as just mentally rehearsing aspects of
technique and execution. However, many researchers agree that mental prac-
tice involves several types of imagery (Clark, Williamon and Aksentijevic
2012; Lehmann 1997; Holmes 2005), including auditory imagery, visualiza-
tion (of the score or performance situation) and emotional imagery (of the
expressive aspects of performance), as well as motor and kinaesthetic imagery.
Performers in the practice room 161

One recent study of performing musicians’ concepts of mental practice found

that as well as including all of these types of imagery, mental practice was
characterized by real-time imagining of both the music and the process of
performing it (Fine et al. 2015); the aims associated with mental practice nev-
ertheless seemed to be focused on execution and realization according to the
demands of the score. Like physical practice, mental practice is not necessarily
‘creative’. What our students reported perhaps broadens the notion of mental
practice, since in their away-from-the-instrument practice they were accessing
a number of routes to engaging with the music in order to develop aesthetic
ideas, personal integrity and fluency of execution. The integration of those
elements into a whole might in itself become a creative process, as Klickstein
(2009) has proposed.


This chapter has explored evidence for the ways in which creative processes are
manifested in musicians’ solitary practice, revealing insights that can challenge
some of the more restrictive received notions about practice and its purpose. We
suggest that practice—at least, practice that musicians identify as in some sense
serving creative aspects of their work—involves the dynamic and purposeful
integration of technical, musical, expressive, interpretative and psychological
dimensions, all of which are part and parcel of achieving a personal concept
of a piece and a sense of ownership. Performers, researchers and teachers alike
might benefit from thinking outside current dominant notions of practice to
include this broader notion.
There are some practical implications in adopting this view. Musicians
might want to experiment with various issues raised in this chapter while prac-
tising: these include integrating an analytical approach as suggested by Hallam
(1995), allowing time for experimenting with the piece in various ways away
from instrument, and using friends and colleagues as a ‘witness’ or practice
audience during the preparation period to test and reflect ideas. Teachers might
find that when helping students to access new pieces, different approaches and
a change of language would enable them to connect with a student’s preferred
way of working for a specific piece or at a particular time in their musical
development. Given students’ tendency to defer to their teachers, they might
need active encouragement to experiment with and develop their musical ideas
through a range of strategies and to explore new ideas when coming back to a
piece at a later stage.
In order to gain a better understanding of how these activities are linked
to performances that are individual and engaging, collaboration between per-
formers, teachers and researchers needs to be intensified so that the process of
practising—the mainstay of classical musicians’ development—is not primarily
162 Musicians in the Making

perceived as boring and repetitive, but instead is seen as purposeful, enjoyable

and constructive.


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Small ensembles in rehearsal

Jane Ginsborg

In this chapter I consider the making of performances by musicians working

in groups over time, and the extent to which both the ‘making’ and the ‘perfor-
mances’ involve creative activity rather than the mere re-creation of the ideas of
others such as composers and conductors. For every musician, one of the most
crucial aspects of the context surrounding performances, and the most influen-
tial on the experience of performing, is preparation. Whereas solitary practice is
investigated in Chapter 7, the focus here is group (or ‘small ensemble’) rehearsal.
First, I look at a range of possible goals for performance, including the pleas-
ure of preparation for its own sake, without a performance before an audience
necessarily following. Second, I consider several kinds of small ensemble and
their lifetimes, from temporary pairings for the purpose of a single performance
to long-term partnerships. Third, I note that the time needed for a performance
to take shape inevitably varies with the lifetime of the group.1 Fourth, I look at
what groups actually do when they rehearse together, drawing on observations
of nonverbal and verbal communication between performers in single rehears-
als, and then, in more detail, over the course of a series of individual practice
sessions and joint rehearsals. Fifth, I compare the approaches to preparing for
performance revealed by the practice and rehearsal diaries, maintained over the
course of an academic year, of two student quartets and a quintet. Finally, the
implications of the findings for small ensembles are discussed.
I refer in the chapter to the outcomes of research by King and Ginsborg
(2011) with the participation of small ensembles, for the most part between two
and five musicians who on the whole perform western classical music. Where
appropriate, I  also draw on examples of research with performers of music
in other genres, since ‘classical’ musicians have much to learn about pathways
to creative performance from the rehearsal activities of pop, folk and jazz
musicians. Some of the performers were students when they took part in the
164 research, while others were professionals; some had worked together for many
Small ensembles in rehearsal 165

years, whereas others had only just met each other; and some were observed
on a single occasion, while others agreed to the observation of their rehearsals
over extended periods of time.

Rehearsal goals

Not all practice and rehearsal leads to public performance: many people learn
to play instruments, practise regularly and make music for their own pleasure,
whether alone or in groups. Music offers the opportunity for social interaction
and a sense of ‘togetherness’ (Rabinowitch, Cross and Burnard 2012)—hence
the use of the French word ensemble for small groups of musicians. It has even
been shown to promote empathy (Cross, Laurence and Rabinowitch 2012). In
her research on amateurs’ experiences of music-making throughout the lifes-
pan, Lamont quotes informants for whom rehearsals are clearly more impor-
tant than performance: ‘I sing with my family for fun’; ‘I’ve met some brilliant
people. I think I needed the break from it in my late teens and early twenties
to come back to it purely for the love of it’; ‘Now I’m in four different choirs,
I’ve got some good friends and I’m very busy’ (2011: 379–80). Similarly, music
performance students may form groups not because chamber music is a com-
pulsory part of their studies but for the experience of playing together and
learning new repertoire. One student wind quintet enjoyed ‘learning to think
creatively and critically about the music that they are playing, and to express
these opinions to other musicians’ (Burt-Perkins and Mills 2008: 30). Once it
was decided that their performance should be assessed, however, and espe-
cially as the examination date approached, their goals and identities—initially
shared—began to diverge, and the group split up at the end of the academic
year. A similar rise and fall occurred in a study of school pop groups, one
respondent commenting: ‘the first three times it was excellent, it was just really
good cos it was just a major jamming session … and we sort of got together
through fun, like having a laugh… [G]radually now more people come, that’s
[the trust between us] sort of gone’ (MacDonald, Miell and Wilson 2005: 328).
Some professional musicians, too, describe their goals in terms of rehearsal
rather than performance. Two respondents to a survey of twenty professional
wind quintets said that they wanted to ‘work with friends who have honest
exacting standards’ and to ‘improve my ensemble playing by working with
other excellent musicians’ (Ford and Davidson 2003: 58). Musicians may hope
to improve not only their ensemble playing in the context of group perfor-
mance but also their individual expertise, which has the potential to enhance
creative performance. As one member of a regular jazz workshop explained,
When I first started and I, I wasn’t into it, I knew that it was a way for me
to become better on my instrument. So I thought ‘well I’ll stick with it
166 Musicians in the Making

because I could see that I can grow from this’. So I stayed with jazz, I was
a reluctant jazzer at the beginning, but I knew was a useful tool for me.
(MacDonald and Wilson 2006: 10)

While the goal of rehearsal is not necessarily performance, most rehearsals will
culminate in performances of some kind, even those involving only a complete
run-through of a piece of music before agreement is reached that it needs no
further rehearsal and the decision is taken to start working on a new piece.
Nevertheless, the goals of preparation for performance differ, from one individ-
ual to another, and between and even within groups of musicians. Sometimes
these differences are problematic and lead to the break-up of the group, but
in other cases they are inherent to the nature of the group and simply require
appropriate strategies to be adopted in rehearsal.

Groups and their lifetimes

The smallest group possible is the duo.2 At one extreme, a duo may consist of
two musicians committed to a long-term musical relationship. This does not
have to exclude musical partnerships with other performers, although it often
does: Paul Simon performed and recorded only with Art Garfunkel between
1965 and 1970; Peter Pears performed works for tenor and piano only with
Benjamin Britten, and for voice and lute only with Julian Bream; and despite
recording duets in 1986 with the guitarist John McLaughlin, her partner at
the time, Katia Labèque performs piano-duo repertoire only with her sister
Marielle. Such partnerships are informed by familiarity. Sometimes this happens
literally, i.e. through kinship, as in the many examples of sibling partnerships
besides the Labèques (e.g. the pianist Peter and the singer Meriel Dickinson,
and other piano duos such as Rosina and Josef Lhévinne and the Pekinel sis-
ters) and, more rarely, parent–child duos (such as the violinists David and Igor
Oistrakh, pianists Helen and Harvey Davies, or folk singers Norma Waterson
and Eliza Carthy). In other cases, familiarity develops through shared expe-
riences of music-making over many years. At the other extreme, a duo may
consist of two musicians who come together for a single performance such as
an audition. Such a short-lived partnership might be conceptualized as that of
soloist and accompanist, the former having done the bulk of their preparation
for performance alone or (more likely) with the support of other musicians
such as teachers and coaches, the latter perhaps being employed solely for the
purpose of playing ‘for’ a succession of applicants for a particular position,
role or prize. They might have quite different goals: the soloist to pass the audi-
tion, the accompanist to facilitate the soloist’s performance and, perhaps just as
importantly, to ensure future employment in the same capacity. Nevertheless,
during the actual performance, they are playing with each other as well as for
Small ensembles in rehearsal 167

each other and attempting to create the impression, for the benefit of the audi-
tion panel, of unanimous agreement as to style, tempo, timing, intonation and
so on.

Preparation time

As I have noted, the performances of different ensembles and kinds of ensem-

ble take shape over varying lengths of time. In the case of the temporary,
short-lived duo described above, the creation of a convincing performance is
undertaken in a single rehearsal that can last from as little as a few minutes (if
that!) in the case of some auditions, to as long as three hours or more. Long-
established groups may prepare for the performance of some works over the
course of a lifetime. For example, in Blank and Davidson’s (2007) survey of
seventeen piano duos, 41 per cent (seven duos) reported rehearsing together
more than once a week, sometimes for six hours at a time; this proportion rose
to 70 per cent (twelve duos) as the day of the performance approached, and
several reported meeting daily in the run-up to a concert. Groups who perform
regularly together over extended periods of time—such as the Lindsays—may
prefer not to rehearse works with which they are very familiar, feeling that to
do so might in fact be counterproductive to creativity in performance (Robin
Ireland, personal communication, 8 December 2015).
In addition to differences between ensembles in terms of the frequency and
duration of rehearsals, there are also differences between the ways in which
they rehearse. The nature of rehearsal activities is likely to depend not only on
an ensemble’s goals for both rehearsal and performance, but also on the size
of the group, the genre of the music to be performed, the performers’ expertise
as musicians and ensemble players, and the length of rehearsal period available
to them.

Rehearsal activities

What do musicians actually do when they rehearse together? They play and/or
sing, of course, but their music-making serves a variety of purposes such as
warming-up, developing familiarity with the repertoire, making decisions as
to the way it should be performed and then communicating those decisions
to other members of the group, and developing a unanimity of approach that
could be described as cohesion or ‘attunement’ (Seddon 2005: 65). If they use a
joint warm-up routine, it might resemble that of the string quartet described by
Vikram Seth in his novel An Equal Music (1999).3 This fictional account reflects
what has been described as the ‘mutual tuning-in’ (Schutz 1951, 1976) that takes
place not only in the short term at the start of a rehearsal but also, ideally, over
168 Musicians in the Making

the course of the development of the relationship between co-performers. This

has been observed, particularly, among jazz musicians, since finding a ‘groove’
(Berliner 1994: 389) depends on players’ shared social as well as musical experi-
ences, assumptions and expectations (Bastien and Hostager 1988; Wilson and
MacDonald 2005); such a ‘groove’ also enables creative performance in pub-
lic as well as private (see Chapter 3 in this volume). Observing six rehearsals
undertaken by a jazz sextet, Seddon (2005) identified shifts between verbal and
nonverbal communication. At the outset, verbal instruction (when one player,
for example, suggested how the piece to be played could be divided into sec-
tions) was used most often. This gave way to verbal and nonverbal cooperation,
promoting cohesion between the players. Verbal communication was invalua-
ble when musical communication broke down, but when the groove was finally
struck and the musicians were at their most creative, their nonverbal commu-
nication represented ‘empathetic attunement’ (ibid.). Being perfectly ‘in tune’
involves listening, as Sicca (2000) has pointed out, and the ability to listen to
oneself and one’s fellow musicians simultaneously—which is as important in
classical music as in jazz—is a skill that can be developed only over time. Once
acquired, experienced musicians may well be able to use it even within single
rehearsals with new partners.


Evidence from observational research has shown that musicians playing together
move their bodies with increasing synchronicity (Goebl and Palmer 2009). For
example, two professional pianists with extensive experience of both accom-
panying and solo performance took part in research exploring co-performer
communication (Williamon and Davidson 2002: 63). Four rehearsals and the
ensuing performance were observed. The interaction between the musicians
was primarily nonverbal—they spent less than 10 per cent of their rehearsal
time actually talking—and the researchers noted that their ‘eye-contact and
gestural cues became gradually more synchronous over the rehearsal period,
with the performance itself reflecting the refinements that the rehearsal proc-
ess had brought’. Although the musicians who took part in this study were
acquainted with each other, they had not played together previously. A similar
observational study was undertaken with the participation of a student string
quartet, one member of which described the importance of being ‘conversa-
tional with the eyes’ (Davidson and Good 2002: 196)—the idea of ‘conversa-
tion’ emphasizing both the creative quality of their interaction, in that it was
unplanned, and the direction of gaze or glance. In addition, the researchers
noted not only the ways in which the performers used gesture to indicate exits,
entrances and dynamic changes, but also the use of circular body sway ‘to help
in establishing a wholeness in the music which was written in a manner that
Small ensembles in rehearsal 169

could have been very fragmented’ (ibid.: 198). The use of nonverbal communi-
cation is likely to develop over time, of course: echoing the student in Davidson
and Good’s study, quoted above, one piano duo interviewed by Marilyn Blank
reported that ‘early on in their career together they would discuss where they
were going to give [nonverbal] cues. As time went by and familiarity with their
musical repertory grew, the cues often did not occur as they had done origi-
nally, and new ones emerged’ (quoted from Davidson and King 2004: 114; see
also Blank 2013).
Prior to undertaking our 2011 study, Elaine King and I wondered whether
members of singer–pianist duos with long experience of working together
would look at each other more or less than the members of newly formed part-
nerships, and whether social familiarity and expertise would also affect the
use of gesture. We recruited two established professional duos and two estab-
lished student duos, and we asked them to rehearse two songs that were new
to them—the first song in their regular duo, the second one with a new partner
from the other same-expertise duo. Finally, we asked the members of one pro-
fessional and one student duo to rehearse a third song with a new partner who
not only was unfamiliar but also had a different level of expertise.
The gestures made by the singers and pianists who took part in the study
clearly fulfilled a range of functions that illustrate some of the general pur-
poses of rehearsal. First, they did not warm up together in the way that
Seth describes, although other ensembles may well do so. Their main con-
cern, since they were classical musicians working from notated scores, was
developing familiarity with the repertoire, and this is perhaps the most
obvious purpose of rehearsal, at least in the early stages of preparation for
performance. In each single rehearsal of a new song all the duos began by
sight-reading, attempting a complete run-through without stopping. As they
rehearsed, the pianists made gestures such as nodding their heads just before
the singers were due to sing a new phrase, lifting their hands—sometimes
exaggeratedly—to indicate the end of one section and the start of the next,
and leaning forward to emphasize a climax in the music. These gestures com-
municated the compositional structure of the song and its expressive content
both to the singer and to the putative audience. The singers also used their
hands for underlining both the semantic meaning of the lyrics of the song,
as most people do when they talk, and the emotional charge provided by the
setting of the words to music. They made ‘pulsing’ movements too, to ensure
that they maintained a regular beat, and gestures that seemed to support the
physical process of singing, in the absence of an external instrument. Such
gestures included pointing downwards to show that they were aware of the
need to lower the pitch of the note they were singing, and moving their hands
upwards as though to mirror the production of a high note. Observation of
the nonverbal communication of the two performers as they familiarized
themselves with the songs in this first rehearsal together suggested that they
170 Musicians in the Making

were responding creatively to the music and that an element of creativity is

therefore likely to be a feature of rehearsal generally.
In addition to meeting the technical challenges of performing, the members
of small ensembles must know their own and each other’s roles, since they take
it in turns, as soloists and accompanists, to support and be supportive of the
other. As they refine their initial responses to the music, it is important for them
to articulate and communicate to each other their understanding of the com-
positional structure and the composer’s expressive intentions, filtered through
their own individual interpretations; later in performance, they must communi-
cate their shared interpretation to the audience.
As for our comparison of duos that were more and less socially familiar with
each other, our findings echoed those of Williamon and Davidson (2002) in
that the behaviour of the newly formed same-expertise duos also became more
synchronous as they ‘[learned] to predict, read and respond to each other’s
auditory and motor imagery’ (King and Ginsborg 2011: 198). We also found
that the established duos used more gestures, and a wider range of them, when
rehearsing together than when rehearsing with new partners, and one profes-
sional duo exhibited what we called ‘something of a “combined rhetoric” of
gestures’ (ibid.). We were surprised, however, by how rarely the musicians—
other than the members of the newly formed student duo—were observed
looking at each other, but this may have been because the pianists were in a
position to use their peripheral vision to see the singers breathe, while the sing-
ers tended either to focus on the sheet music or to look out at an imaginary
audience. An alternative explanation that remains to be explored empirically is
that this is a function of familiarity, both between ensemble members and with
the repertoire. The Borodin Quartet, for example, two of whose members have
played together since 1996 while the others joined in 2007 and 2011 respec-
tively, is described as ‘so tightly knit … it is little wonder that in performance
they seem to listen to each other more intently—and look at each other less
obviously—than most quartets. Not so much four string players, the Borodins
are 16 living, breathing strings’ (Allison 2015).
Throughout this section I have referred to nonverbal ‘communication’. In his
study of performers’ phenomenological experiences of ensemble performance,
McCaleb (2014) is critical of the use of this term because of its language-like
connotations: it may be perceived to imply that information is conveyed from
one performer to another as though in speech.4 He proposes an ecological
model of ensemble rehearsal (Gibson 1977)  informed by procedural rather
than propositional knowledge (Ryle 1949), supported by evidence from action
research with a string quartet and an ensemble of improvising musicians. Space
precludes a more detailed account of his study, but it is worth noting the range
of ‘modes of representation’ observed in ensemble rehearsal, from the linguis-
tic modes (explicit and referential) discussed in the next section to vocalized,
performed and integrated modes (McCaleb 2014: 56).
Small ensembles in rehearsal 171


King (2012) revisited the impact of social familiarity on preparation for per-
formance by comparing verbal as well as nonverbal interactions within single
rehearsals undertaken by seven newly formed, ‘temporary’ cellist–pianist duos
(first studied by Goodman in 2000) and the four established singer–pianist duos
who had participated in the study outlined above (King and Ginsborg 2011;
Ginsborg and King 2012). The comparison confirmed the findings of previous
researchers on small-group behaviour:  typically, when small groups develop
working relationships, they form, storm, norm, perform and adjourn (Tuckman
1965; Tuckman and Jensen 1977; see also Chapter 3 in this volume). As they
formed their new partnerships, the cellists and pianists were likely to make
polite suggestions to each other; no ‘storming’ was observed, but ‘norming’
and ‘performing’ were exemplified by lack of disagreement and by what might
be described as recapitulative and permeable discourse (Fogel 2009)  through
the sharing of ‘preconceived “familiar” tactics about rehearsal as they worked
together for the first time’ (King 2012: 262). In the early stages of each session,
once each duo had run through the music to be performed all the way through
without stopping, both talk and playing took place in short bursts character-
ized by the author as ‘hesitant’; gradually, these became more ‘flowing’. The
content of the talk was mostly related to the task at hand, focusing on the inter-
pretation of the score—tempo, dynamics, rubato—as the two players recon-
ciled their individual insights with the composer’s expressive intentions. There
seemed to be more talking at the beginning, when the musicians were least
familiar, and therefore least comfortable, with each other; progress was not
necessarily smooth, and the duos who seemed the most content to adjourn at
the end of the session were those whose rehearsal remained hesitant for longest.
By contrast, the members of the established duos did not need to ‘form’, since
they were already bonded; they moved straight to norming and performing,
frequently expressing solidarity by offering each other praise. Their sessions
were flowing from the start as well as recapitulative, as the musicians drew on
their long, shared experience of rehearsing together.


Musicians’ shared experiences are, of course, not confined to music-making. As

we have already seen, bonds may well be familial; for example, one of the duos
that took part in King and Ginsborg’s study was a married couple. Another
duo in the study was a singer and a pianist whose verbal interactions and musi-
cal behaviours in rehearsing for a public performance over twenty-eight days
were analysed and discussed by Ginsborg, Chaffin and Nicholson (2006a) and
by Ginsborg and Chaffin (2011). This was a rare opportunity to consider how
a performance takes shape over time, given the length of the rehearsal period.
172 Musicians in the Making

The work performed was Stravinsky’s Cantata for soprano, tenor, women’s
choir and instrumental ensemble. The musicians’ preparation for performance
was investigated, however, for just one movement: the first Ricercar for soprano
and ensemble. The conductor also fulfilled the role of rehearsal accompanist
for the singer, playing from the vocal score arranged by Stravinsky for soprano
and piano.
Both the singer and the pianist provided verbal commentaries as they prac-
tised alone; each of their first practice sessions was observed, on the first and
fifth days of the rehearsal period for the singer and the pianist respectively.
Their discussions during two rehearsals were also observed, the first being their
first joint rehearsal, which took place on the thirteenth day, midway through
the preparation period, and the second being their final joint rehearsal on the
day of the performance itself. Content analyses were made of the musicians’
verbal utterances. These were coded using a framework derived from the find-
ings of research undertaken by Chaffin and colleagues (e.g. Chaffin, Imreh and
Crawford 2002) which suggested that the decisions taken during practice inform
a musician’s thoughts during performance (see Table 8.1).5 Furthermore, a sub-
set of these decisions—namely, those that are not implemented automatically,
without conscious awareness—serve as retrieval or ‘performance’ cues when the
musician plays from memory. In this study of the development of shared per-
formance cues, the singer and the pianist annotated multiple copies of the score
after they had given the public performance of the Cantata to indicate what
they were thinking while they were performing, and at which specific beat(s)
in the piece each thought occurred. This permitted a subsequent analysis to

TABLE 8.1 Coding of utterances

Code Topic

Basic (references to Dynamics, tempo, pauses, commas, phrases and phrasing, errors in score,
score, printed and duration of notes and rests, entries; word underlay, stress, pronunciation and
annotated) meaning; (singer’s) pitch, intonation, technical difficulties and location of
breaths; instrumentation, awareness of harmony and counterpoint,
maintenance of steady pulse (conductor only)
Structural Section boundaries and ‘switches’: repetitions or near-repetitions of musical
phrases at boundaries that might cause confusion such that the singer was
in danger of jumping, erroneously, from one location in the work to another
Interpretive Interpretation of the composer’s intentions, particularly sound quality (often
in relation to the poetic meaning of the words) and phrasing; relative lengths
of specific pauses and commas; shaping of rubato, and changes in tempo and
Expressive How to convey interpretation to audience, e.g. making the music ‘dance’ or
sound ‘yearning’
Memory Memorizing strategies; remembering and forgetting
Metacognitive Evaluations, requests for evaluation, goals, plans, reflections on rehearsal and
research process
Shared Need for and ways of achieving unanimity in performance
Small ensembles in rehearsal 173

TABLE 8.2 Utterances in each practice and rehearsal session (by number and percentage)

Session First practice First rehearsal Final rehearsal

Performer Singer Pianist Singer Pianist Singer Pianist

Utterances (no.) 93 131 159 97 81 83
Basic/structural 45 (48.3%) 97 (74%) 37 (23.3%) 36 (37.1%) 15 (18.5%) 14 (16.8%)
Interpretive 5 (5.4%) 14 (10.8%) 17 (10.7%) 24 (24.7%) 16 (19.7%) 30 (36.1%)
Expressive 4 (4.3%) 1 (0.8%) 2 (1.3%) 0 0 3 (3.6%)
Metacognitive 36 (38.7%) 19 (14.5%) 86 (54.1%) 30 (30.9%) 44 (54.3%) 35 (42.2%)
Memory 3 (3.2%) 0 12 (7.5%) 0 3 (3.7%) 0
Shared N/A N/A 5 (3.1%) 7 (7.2%) 3 (3.7%) 1 (1.2%)

be made of the relationship between their practice behaviours—starts, stops

and repetitions of musical material—and their mental representations of the
Ricercar by the time they came to perform it (Ginsborg et al. 2006b).
As shown in Table 8.2, both musicians were largely concerned at the start
with basic and structural aspects of the music and its performance. As they
became more familiar with the work, so they grew more concerned with its
interpretation and, to a lesser extent, how this would be conveyed to the audi-
ence. The degree to which their rehearsals were creative was reflected most
clearly by the utterances they made that were categorized as interpretive and
expressive; these utterances also predicted creativity in performance. In addi-
tion, the singer needed to ensure that she would be able to perform confidently
from memory, and both referred in their joint rehearsals to shared performance
cues. Nevertheless, a high proportion of their talk—just over half, in the case
of the singer during the joint rehearsals—was directly related not to the music
itself but rather to plans, goals, strategies, evaluations (i.e. statements express-
ing opinions) and requests for evaluations.


Having looked at how a performance takes shape over time in terms of the chang-
ing importance of the various aspects of music-making as revealed by rehearsal
talk, I now turn to practice behaviour: the way music is segmented for rehearsal.
This will inevitably depend on the piece, performer and purpose of preparation.
As a follow-up to the study discussed above, Ginsborg (2011) investigated the rela-
tionship of practice behaviour to performance cues and the sequencing of work on
different parts of the music by observing the singer’s individual practice sessions
1–3, 5 and 8, and her joint rehearsals with the pianist in sessions 6, 9, 12 and 15.6
The Ricercar is in three main sections: two verses with three refrains, a mid-
dle section that could be characterized as a fanfare, and a coda. In the first ses-
sion, the singer began with the first phrase and then worked her way through
174 Musicians in the Making

the piece phrase by phrase without much evident movement until she reached
the beginning of the fanfare. The second half of the first session was largely
devoted to work on the coda, broken into yet smaller segments, and the session
ended with a run-through of both fanfare and coda without a break. After
a brief attempt on the verse sections of the opening of the piece, the bulk of
the second session was again spent to a large extent on the fanfare; the coda
was once more practised in shorter sections, and the session ended with a final
attempt on the coda only.
The purpose of the third session was memorization: the singer started from
the beginning of the fanfare, then worked on the coda before singing from the
beginning of the fanfare to the end of the piece. Then she worked on the section
of verse before the fanfare and ‘backward-chained’, singing forward from the
beginning of each previous section as she gained confidence. It was not until
the very end of the session that she tried to sing the whole Ricercar from begin-
ning to end, and she did not succeed in doing so continuously.
Session 5 was a short individual practice session in which the singer checked
that she had memorized the whole Ricercar securely; after singing it through
once from beginning to end, she worked systematically on the first verse. When
the pianist joined her, they started at the beginning and worked through to the
end, phrase by phrase. They repeated both the beginning of the fanfare and
the beginning of the coda several times. Towards the end of the session they
attempted two run-throughs of the whole Ricercar, but the longest uninter-
rupted run lasted only until the beginning of the fanfare.
Session 8 was another individual practice session undertaken for the pur-
pose of solving technical challenges that had emerged in the joint rehearsal
and while rememorizing. Again, the singer worked on small segments, focusing
for most of the first half of the rehearsal on the end and the beginning of the
fanfare, combining them before starting work on the first half of the coda and
then the second half. Midway through the session, she returned to the begin-
ning of the piece, working systematically on the verses and singing through
the refrains. Session 9 began with more detailed work on the fanfare and coda,
but the second half was devoted to an attempt to sing the first long phrase of
the Ricercar in one breath, before working through the whole piece with fewer
and fewer interruptions. Session 12 began with an almost uninterrupted run-
through followed by a number of repetitions of the first part of the fanfare as
the musicians discussed the words that the singer would emphasize and why;
it ended with another—again, almost uninterrupted—run of the whole piece.
The final session was intended as a single run-through, but trouble-shooting
was required to solve an unexpected problem that arose midway; once this had
been addressed, a complete ‘practice performance’ could be given—and indeed
both musicians reported being satisfied with the final, hitch-free performance
in public that evening, in which they were both able to make unexpected dis-
coveries about the music. For example, reflecting on the performance of the
Small ensembles in rehearsal 175

final bars of the Ricercar that he had just conducted, the pianist remarked, ‘I
found that this rit[ardando] happens because of the weight of “eternally”, the
fact that [Stravinsky] placed the octave jump in the voice at that point, “eter-
nal-ly”, the “ly” goes down, and the upbeat “eternal” goes to the two cello open
strings at the bottom of the instruments—there’s a real point of emphasis on
the barline.’ ‘It’s binding it down into the earth’, replied the singer, ‘it becomes
In this study of a performance taking shape over the course of four weeks,
I have combined information from a range of sources—talk, musical behav-
iour, self-reports by the musicians obtained after the performance, and anal-
yses of the relationships between them—to provide a sketch of the process.
It would be unwise to try to generalize from this observation of one duo
to the approaches of all small ensembles to the task of preparing for per-
formance, but it nevertheless has the potential for outlining some possible
approaches that may or may not be adopted by other performers. In this
instance, the musicians’ priorities shifted from basic learning to interpre-
tation and expression within their individual practice; all of these needed
to be rethought when they came together in their first joint rehearsal, and
although interpretive decisions and their implementation in performance
became more important in the last rehearsals, opportunities were still taken
to improve even the smallest details. The analysis of practice behaviour
revealed two strategies that the performers clearly found useful: the identi-
fication of compositional sections and subsections, and working backwards
when appropriate. In other words, the strategies involved not always starting
from the beginning of the piece, and focusing on passages requiring partic-
ular attention. These underpinned both effective coordination between the
musicians and the freedom to respond creatively to what they heard and felt
during the public performance.

Approaches to rehearsal and performance: students’ diaries

I now turn from the analysis of one duo’s performance taking shape over time
to a comparison of the approaches to rehearsal and performance used by
groups of students at a conservatoire (Ginsborg 2010): two string quartets (one
newly formed by first-year students, the other made up of third-year students
who had been working together since the beginning of their first year) and a
newly formed wind quintet (comprising four students in the first year of their
course, and one in the second year). The students agreed to keep diaries for
two terms in the form of templates to be completed with brief entries after
each individual practice session and group rehearsal, although the first-year
string quartet actually kept them for all three terms of the academic year. The
members of the established quartet were clearly much more familiar with each
176 Musicians in the Making

other socially than the two newly formed ensembles were. They were also more
experienced not only as performers but also as ensemble musicians.
Retrospectively, it is possible to gauge the effectiveness (or otherwise) of
some of their strategies. The established quartet and the newly formed quintet
can be described as ‘successful’ groups, in that they won many prizes and gave
numerous concerts together during their years at the conservatoire. Although
the established quartet subsequently split up, all of the players are making
careers in new chamber ensembles. At the time of writing, the wind quintet
was still together, performing professionally and still winning prizes; we may
assume, therefore, that their approaches to rehearsal and performance worked
well for them. By contrast, the approaches of the newly formed string quartet
worked less well for its members:  they became increasingly dissatisfied with
their own and each other’s contributions to the group and agreed to disband at
the end of the academic year.
One factor that might well be associated with both social familiarity and
level of success is time spent on individual practice and group rehearsal. The
members of the established quartet reported, in total, more than 14 hours of
individual practice on the six works that they rehearsed as a group over the
course of twenty-two rehearsals including one coaching session (38 hours in
all). Although the newly formed quartet and quintet were rehearsing only
two and three works respectively, the quartet reported individual practice
time of just over 9 hours—more than the quintet’s 6.5 hours—but only eight
rehearsals including two coaching sessions with tutors (around 11 hours),
in comparison with the eight rehearsals plus nine coaching sessions (around
23 hours) undertaken by the quintet. This may of course be attributable to
the nature of the works that were to be performed (respectively, a Mozart
quartet and a piece of music written by a student composer to accompany
a dance project, versus quintets by Nielsen, Reicha and Verdi), or indeed
the relative difficulty of the music for string and wind players. Nevertheless,
evidence from the ratings that the students were asked to make of their own
and the other players’ focus, effort and enjoyment in practice sessions and
rehearsals suggests that the members of the quartet found rehearsals less
rewarding than individual practice, while the reverse was the case for the
The diary templates required the students to state the work or works prac-
tised, coached or rehearsed in each session and to specify up to five goals (on
the whole, no more than three or four were reported per session) along with cor-
responding strategies for achieving them and plans for the next session. They
were asked to rate each goal and strategy for ‘effectiveness’ on a scale of 1 to
10, and to reflect, when appropriate, on both ‘one thing that I was really happy
about in our performance today’ and ‘one thing I would like us to do better in
our next performance’. The members of the three ensembles submitted a total
of 1,044 goals, strategies, plans and comments on their performances in mas-
terclasses and concerts. A preliminary analysis suggested differences between
Small ensembles in rehearsal 177

TABLE 8.3 Early-stage individual practice: goals and corresponding strategies and plans

Goal Strategy Plan

Newly formed quartet Decide upon bow Practise Improve

stroke and vibrato
Newly formed quintet Practise fast scales Slow practice, in different Keep practising fast
rhythms passages
Established quartet Secure finale Slow practice with More of the same
passagework consistent rounded tone

TABLE 8.4 Late-stage individual practice: goals and corresponding strategies and plans

Goal Strategy Plan

Newly formed Play through music Metronome None

Newly formed Sort out the technically Played them slowly until they were Play them in
quintet challenging sections correct and then gradually increased the context of
the tempo, playing with a metronome the piece
Established Intonation of cadences Slow practice (checking where possi- The same
quartet in the first two ble with open strings) process

the kinds of goals, strategies and plans reported and the relationships between
them that could be attributable to the experience and familiarity of the group
(newly formed versus established) and to the stage of practice and rehearsal
(early versus late). As shown in Table 8.3, the students’ goals, strategies and
plans were similar, but it is clear from the sample entries presented in Table
8.4 that the goals of the individual members of the ‘successful’ ensembles were
more specific in terms of both the sections of the work to be practised (quintet
and established quartet) and the issues to be addressed in practice (established
quartet). Furthermore, they noted appropriate strategies for achieving their
goals and plans for their next practice session.
Differences between the ensembles’ approach to preparation were also evi-
dent in their diary entries for the first and last group rehearsals (see Tables 8.5
and 8.6). The goals, strategies and plans noted by one member of the newly
formed quartet for the first rehearsal revealed her approach to creative devel-
opment during the process of preparation (‘introduce some interest into work’
by ‘discussing different musical options’). She acknowledged, however, that
coaching the following day would be likely to influence the quartet members’
ideas. The diary entries of one of her fellow performers following their final
rehearsal are poignant (‘there will not be [a] next time’): although they did ‘per-
form well’, according to the examiners’ report, they knew by this stage that they
would be disbanding. By contrast, the goals, strategies and plans of the newly
formed quintet and the established quartet, reported after their first rehearsal
178 Musicians in the Making

TABLE 8.5 First ensemble rehearsal: goals and corresponding strategies and plans

Goal Strategy Plan

Newly formed Introduce some interest Played through whole thing Consolidate the
quartet into work—discussion first, all decided it was ideas we discussed
boring and loud, so broke although we will
it down into sections and probably have
discussed different musical changed them as we
options will have a lesson
tomorrow and that
will bring new ideas
Newly formed Play through the first Sectionalised the music [Work] on it more,
quintet movement of Nielsen and worked on each section get fast sections
together and then put them together
together to play through
Established Intonation, articulation Slowing the tempo— The 4th movement
quartet and flow of 4th movement working in groups of twos— should be rehearsed
of Schumann Quartet No. turning off the light to focus up to speed, focusing
1 and read-through of more on the sound on flow, articulation
Mozart quartet and intonation

TABLE 8.6 Last ensemble rehearsal: goals and corresponding strategies and plans

Goal Strategy Plan

Newly formed Perform well and enjoy it Rehearsed before the assess- There will not be [a]
quartet ment and just went in and next time
Newly formed Practise the 2nd We worked on linking up To play through the
quintet movement just in case the sections smoothly and movement with no
we have to play it in matching the articulation mistakes
the chamber music and tuning
Established Work on intonation, pulse We worked mostly in pairs Next time we per-
quartet and sound quality of open- without vibrato and dis- form this work we
ing two-part section cussed ideas about tone should take more
care over this

together, were once again more explicit in terms of what was to be rehearsed and
how; the entries of the established quartet member indicate clear focus on creative
outcomes (‘articulation and flow’) and strategies (‘turning off the light to focus
more on the sound’). Similar comparisons can be made between the ensemble
members’ diary entries following their last rehearsals. For example, the comment
‘we should take more care over this’ (i.e. ‘intonation, pulse and sound quality of
opening two-part section’) can be seen as representing a more sophisticated aspi-
ration for a quartet than ‘play through the movement with no mistakes’.
In general, goals, strategies and plans are important because they underpin
effective practice and rehearsal (Ginsborg 2003), and the ones reported here
Small ensembles in rehearsal 179

are no exception. More detailed investigation was made of the three groups’
approaches to one representative work each, as follows. First, relevant diary
entries were selected. The members of the newly formed quartet made 248
entries in all, of which 160 related to goals, strategies and plans for practis-
ing or rehearsing the Mozart quartet that they performed for their chamber
music assessment; the newly formed quintet made 247 entries in all, of which
148 related to their preparation and performance of the Nielsen Quintet; and
the established quartet made 549 entries, of which 187 related to the Quartet
by David Matthews. Thus, a total of 495 entries for all three ensembles, com-
prising nearly 4,000 words, related to respective goals, strategies and plans.
Second, the 495 entries were analysed to find out which terms—either nouns or
verbs—were most commonly used in relation to practice, coaching, rehearsal
and performance. There were 189 such terms that could be clustered to form
seven categories. Three of the categories were novel, representing references
to location in the piece of music (e.g. rehearsal letters and bar and beat num-
bers), generic and conceptual activities. The other four derived from those
used in previous research (Chaffin et al. 2002; Ginsborg et al. 2006a; Ginsborg
and King 2009), representing attention to basic, interpretive, expressive and
ensemble dimensions of the music or performance. Third, the 495 entries were
divided into a total of 590 ‘idea units’ (Brown and Smiley 1977) because—as
is evident from the examples given in Tables 8.3 to 8.6—a sizeable proportion
of entries referred to more than one goal, strategy or plan. Each idea unit was
then assigned to one of the seven categories (see Tables 8.7 to 8.9 for examples).
Fourth, the numbers of goals, strategies and plans identified in the cat-
egories of idea units by the members of each of the ensembles for practising,
coaching and rehearsing were compared. Generally, goals for individual practice
reflected attention to basic dimensions; after all, the purpose of practice, in the
present context, was effective preparation for playing in a group coaching ses-
sion or rehearsal. Goals for rehearsals were more likely to concern ‘ensemble’
issues such as role-playing or unanimity of sound. The same was the case for

TABLE 8.7 Idea units by category: goals (WQ1 = wind quintet; SQ1 = newly formed

first-year string quartet; SQ3 = established third-year string quartet)

Category Statement

Location Learn the 4th variation (WQ1 practice)

Generic Practise what I learnt in past lesson (SQ1 practice)
Conceptual Think of more ideas to input into next rehearsal (SQ1 practice)
Basic Shifting and intonation of solo passages and harmonics (SQ3 practice)
Interpretive Concentrate on phrasing and dynamics (WQ1 coaching)
Expressive Sound quality (SQ3 rehearsal)
Ensemble Playing as together as possible (WQ1 coaching)
180 Musicians in the Making

TABLE 8.8 Idea units by category: strategies (WQ1 = wind quintet; SQ1 = newly formed

first-year string quartet; SQ3 = established third-year string quartet)

Category Statement

Location We worked on bits of the 3rd mov[ement] (WQ1 coaching)

Generic Playing through (SQ3 rehearsal)
Conceptual Just thought about the things (SQ1 practice)
Basic Clapping the difficult rhythms and playing it slowly (SQ3 rehearsal)
Interpretive [Playing] with different bowing, articulation etc. (SQ1 rehearsal)
Expressive We played it all as if it was a performance (WQ1 rehearsal)
Ensemble Making sure the important voice was heard at all times (SQ3 rehearsal)

TABLE 8.9 Idea units by category: plans (WQ1 = wind quintet; SQ1 = newly formed first-year
string quartet; SQ3 = established third-year string quartet)

Category Statement

Location [To do the same but] with the last variation (WQ1 coaching)
Generic Spend more time on sorting it out (SQ1 coaching)
Conceptual Making a decision about this (SQ3 rehearsal)
Basic [To play through the same theme] and be in tune (WQ1 rehearsal)
Interpretive Faster tempo? (SQ3 rehearsal)
Expressive Focused again on sound world (SQ1 rehearsal)
Ensemble To take this approach successfully into the quartet rehearsal (SQ3 practice)

coaching sessions:  it might well be easier to resolve questions of balance, for

example, with the help of a tutor. The established quartet’s members reported sig-
nificantly more goals and plans, particularly for rehearsals, than the members of
the other ensembles did, whereas the newly formed quartet reported significantly
more strategies. The quintet members’ goal reports were most often categorized as
referring to location in the piece: they were aware of the sections of the music that
needed attention but relied on coaching sessions—of which they had many—for
ideas on interpretation. By contrast, the newly formed quartet set its own goals
in relation to interpretation, since its members did not feel that they gained much
from their (admittedly limited) experience of coaching sessions. Their reported
strategies related primarily to conceptual issues rather than interpretation, expres-
sion or ensemble, while those of the quintet suggested a focus on playing expres-
sively not only in coaching sessions but also in rehearsal. Perhaps because they
did less individual practice than the other groups, they seem to have treated their
ensemble rehearsals as practice sessions, resolving basic issues, while their coach-
ing sessions functioned in much the same way as the quartets’ rehearsals; this
might, of course, explain their relative success as an ensemble. (See Chapter 3 in
this volume for further consideration of the role and practice of coaching.)
Small ensembles in rehearsal 181

Fifth, an analysis was made of the practice and rehearsal strategies rated
by the students themselves as most and least effective. Arguably, the extent to
which the students were creative is illustrated by the highest-rated rehearsal
strategies, a sample of which is provided in Table 8.10.
Finally, each set of goals with its corresponding strategy and plan was evalu-
ated for ‘congruence’, that is, the extent to which the researcher considered the
strategy to be appropriate to its goal, the plan to its strategy, and the plan to its
goal. The strategies of the established quartet were found to be wholly appropriate
for all of their stated goals. This was the case to a lesser extent for the quintet, and
even less so for the newly formed quartet, more than a fifth of whose strategies and
goals were incongruent. Similarly, analysis of the congruence between plans and
strategies showed that while 90 per cent of the plans of the quintet and the estab-
lished quartet were wholly appropriate for all their reported strategies, this was the
case for only around 65 per cent of the newly formed quartet’s plans.
To summarize, the more experienced of the successful ensembles—the
established string quartet—reported the most sophisticated goals and strate-
gies for practice, focusing, for example, on expression. By contrast, the less
experienced but nevertheless successful newly formed wind quintet reported
relatively unsophisticated goals for strategies for practice and rehearsal (e.g.
those classified as generic and/or relating to location) while reserving inter-
pretive, expressive and ensemble goals for coaching sessions. The newly
formed string quartet’s use of conceptual goals, plans and strategies, mean-
while, suggests that they spent a great deal of time ‘discussing’ and ‘deciding’

TABLE 8.10 Practice and rehearsal strategies rated highest by students


Basic Metronome
Tried different fingerings
Slow practice of solo passage for intonation
Right arm/wrist/hand for string crossing and building up tempo to play up to speed
Conceptual Listened to a few different recordings while reading the score
Reading the score away from the violin
Work slowly, remembering everything we discussed in rehearsal

Interpretation Discussed what vibrato and articulation we wanted

Character and ff dynamics being a lot louder to create atmosphere
It wasn’t just about creating a mood, but also it’s useful to have a picture or story in
our heads. This makes the music come to life.
Ensemble Work through sections that we find difficult to play together
Discussion and experimentation with and without the melodic line
Playing in twos or threes and commenting
182 Musicians in the Making

issues that they neither practised nor rehearsed as effectively as they might,
with predictably disappointing results. On the one hand, it could be argued
that they failed to make use of opportunities that the other newly formed
ensemble found valuable:  to receive encouragement as well as advice from
tutors, not only on playing together but also on interpretation, expression
and managing the process of becoming an ensemble. On the other hand,
it might be that the quartet’s end-of-year performance—however unsatis-
factory the musicians felt it to be—was the product of their joint creative
imaginations to an even greater extent than that of the quintet, who relied
on suggestions from their tutors.

Conclusion: implications for small ensembles

This chapter has looked at how performances by ensembles take shape over
time and how this not only predicts their creativity in performance but also
reflects their creativity in practice and rehearsal. Performances take place in
different settings and contexts, but all are prepared in one way or another: in a
single rehearsal that might last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours;
during a series of individual practice sessions and joint rehearsals; or, in the
case of groups with extended lifespans, over many years. The goals of rehearsal
vary too, depending on the nature of the group as well as the kind of perfor-
mance to be prepared, the time available for practice and rehearsal, and the
particular point reached within the available timeframe. I have discussed the
activities undertaken by musicians when they rehearse together, involving non-
verbal and verbal communication, and considered how their form and content
are influenced not only by the musical expertise of the performers but also by
their familiarity with each other as they learn and develop a shared under-
standing of the music to be performed; the more comfortable they are with
each other, the freer they are likely to feel to experiment in performance as well
as rehearsal.
Research with duos and small ensembles—both student and professional—
suggests that practice and rehearsal strategies are likely to change over time,
and the members of every small group will have to negotiate those that ‘feel
right’ at each stage of the preparation process. This negotiation may well
form as important a part of the creative process as the decision-making
that musicians must also undertake, particularly in the rehearsal of notated,
western classical chamber music. As they explore different ways of under-
standing and playing the music in order to reach what they consider to be
a mutually satisfactory interpretation of the composer’s intentions, they are
likely to deploy talk, bodily movement such as gesture, and/or use of the
eyes. Creativity in performance that is communicated convincingly to listen-
ers depends, arguably, on creativity in rehearsal, which in turn arises from
Small ensembles in rehearsal 183

effective communication within the group. This can be achieved just as much
by experienced musicians who have worked together for many years, and for
whom that communication is more implicit than explicit, as by performers
coming together for the first time to share their discovery of the music with
each other and their audience.


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The creative work of large ensembles

Stephen Cottrell

Studies of creativity in musical performance have tended to focus on the work

of individuals,1 perhaps unconsciously mirroring the longstanding fascination
in western culture with the idea of individual creative genius. Much less consid-
eration has been given to ‘group creativity’2—that is, to the types of creativity
that are nurtured and manifested within large music ensembles, among oth-
ers. Such ensembles make particular demands on those involved in preparing
music performance events. Assembling large numbers of instrumentalists and/
or singers in one place, taking them through the series of rehearsals usually
necessitated by the musical complexity of pieces written for such forces, and
mounting a concert that generally involves an audience of a size commensurate
with the enterprise all pose significant musical and logistical challenges that
have an impact on the creative endeavours of the participants.
In many musical traditions around the world, these large ensembles are often
seen as the pinnacle of collaborative musical performance, around which, to
some degree, the traditions themselves become organized. Notwithstanding the
importance attached to concerts by, say, solo pianists, singers or string quartets,
the symphony orchestra remains the most high-profile ensemble in the western
classical tradition, and a particularly important icon of that tradition. This
iconicity has led to the orchestra ideal being deployed in a number of met-
aphorical constructs. As Ramnarine (2011:  329)  points out, such metaphors
often focus on power relationships within the ensemble and have ranged from
‘a late seventeenth-century model of subordination and divine-right authority
… to an early nineteenth-century one of ordered voluntary association’. But as
she further observes, the interaction between musicians and conductor has also
been taken by some to exemplify particular models of workplace relationships
and management strategies:
Faulkner describes the orchestra as an ‘exemplary model of collec-
186 tive action’ (1973: 156) that might instruct communications in work
The creative work of large ensembles 187

organisations because of its internal systems of control and negotiations

over authority between conductor and player… Atik similarly writes
about the interactive dynamics of leadership and followership within
the orchestra as a model for conceptualising styles of management and
the organisation of labour in consumer markets (1994). Christopher
Small (1994: 60–1) conceives the professional symphony orchestra as a
model of the industrial enterprise … in which a group of individuals (the
orchestra) is welded into a ‘productive unit’ by accepting the ‘superior
authority’ of the conductor. (Ramnarine 2011: 329)

Implicit in these characterizations, however, are rather different relationships

between the conductor and the musicians. Faulkner’s view of the ensemble as
a form of collective social action suggests a more egalitarian distribution of
power, or at least one that acknowledges that the input of all contributors in
some way shapes the final outcome; Atik sees the conductor as a leader whose
charismatic influence over his or her followers is ultimately what leads to a suc-
cessful and satisfying musical performance; and Small asserts a more causal
relationship between the two parties, with the musicians simply obeying the
instructions of an authoritarian figure who exerts total control over their
But do any of these models adequately capture the manner in which orches-
tras and other large ensembles actually function? And if so, do such models
represent the best way to stimulate creative behaviour from all participants in
the orchestral performance event? These questions are at the heart of this chap-
ter. It starts with a brief historical overview of the changing roles of musicians
and conductors in large ensembles before reviewing in more detail the specific
working relationships between the parties, including those found in groups that
choose to dispense with a conductor entirely. The chapter concludes with a
summary of what appears to be best practice in relation to stimulating creative
musical behaviour in these contexts.

History and context

Both the orchestra and the sophisticated forms of sociomusical interaction

that underpin it are relatively modern achievements. While the word ‘orches-
tra’ has its roots in ancient Greece, for many centuries it denoted a theatrical
space from which the music might emanate within a dramatic performance.
Not until the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries did the word come
to be used for an instrumental ensemble of the type that we understand today
(Carter and Levi 2003: 5). As these ensembles grew in size and sophistication,
higher levels of musicianship skills were expected of those who performed in
them. Whereas the smaller string bands or wind consorts of the renaissance
188 Musicians in the Making

brought together groups of musicians with similar dispositions, the amalgama-

tion of diverse instruments in the operatic, church and concert contexts of the
baroque and early classical periods necessitated the accommodation of more
disparate skills. This trend continued through the late eighteenth and partic-
ularly the nineteenth centuries. Ensembles expanded in line with the evolving
musical aspirations of orchestral composers, with larger numbers of string
players now matched by assorted wind and brass sections and accommodated
within ever larger concert halls.
Inevitably, the skill sets required of individual musicians in these larger
ensembles changed as the groups evolved. Whereas the viol player of the ren-
aissance string band would normally be in close proximity to his perhaps four
to eight fellow musicians, by the late nineteenth century a concertmaster might
be overseeing as many as fifty to seventy string players, with the orchestra fur-
ther comprising perhaps sixteen to twenty-five wind players and several percus-
sionists, keyboard players and/or harpists.3 The growing size of the orchestra
required not only larger stages, with concomitant increases in the distance
between musicians, but also changes to the ways in which the ensemble was laid
out, with particular hierarchies developing within given sections of the orches-
tra. Thus the modi operandi of orchestral musicians also necessarily evolved.
Whereas the physical proximity of musicians in smaller ensembles enables phys-
ical and cognitive empathies between players to be generated more easily, large
ensembles function differently: they require good sightlines and understanding
across the ensemble on a much greater scale, particularly between section princi-
pals, in order that the sections can cohere satisfactorily. As we shall see, this has
obvious implications for the creative process in such ensembles.
The greater difficulties in relation to coordination, tuning and interpretation
presented by more complex orchestral scores eventually required the inclusion
of a performer whose express role was to oversee the work of the other musi-
cians. Thus began, from the early nineteenth century, the seemingly inexorable
rise of the orchestral conductor. Again this led to some reshaping of musicians’
skill sets in large ensembles, along with a considerable shift in the social dynam-
ics that act as a foundation for orchestral performance. Musicians now had to
learn to work in several dimensions simultaneously: in addition to focusing on
their individual contribution, they had to relate their output to those in their
immediate section, to the performance of the orchestra as a whole, and to the
demands and expectations of the conductor. If musicians had previously relied
upon the interactions between themselves as the basis of ensemble creativity,
now they had to learn to accommodate the gestures of a musician who made
no immediate sonic contribution yet whose influence in rehearsals exceeded
that of the other musicians. As Adorno ([1962] 1976: 104–17) and others have
observed, the introduction of this overseer can be read as ‘industrializing’
orchestral performance, since it established a hierarchical, quasi-corporate
structure in which the conductor could be seen as analogous to the foreman on
The creative work of large ensembles 189

the factory floor, directing and constraining the actions of the other workers so
that a finished product emerged to his (rarely her) satisfaction.
The greater complexity of orchestral music also made it financially advan-
tageous to employ a conductor to rehearse large ensembles. While in theory
it is possible for such groups to work on complex pieces unaided, this usu-
ally requires many more rehearsals, since individual musicians need a deeper
understanding of both the score and the various contributions of those around
them. As musicians moved from being eighteenth-century craftsmen to union-
ized twentieth-century professionals, with concomitant increases in pay and
conditions, orchestral performance became an ever more expensive operation.
Employing a conductor was a way of reducing rehearsal time and thus costs,
at least until the very significant fees demanded by many conductors became
more commonplace from the mid-twentieth century, which once again chal-
lenged orchestral music-making as an economic practice.
The professionalization of musicians’ work was in part undergirded in the
nineteenth century by the creation of music conservatoires and other training
establishments along with an attendant infrastructure of performance exami-
nations and certification, all of which sought to legitimate performance stan-
dards. However, these establishments tended to focus on the performance and
interpretative skills at the heart of solo performance. Indeed, the development
of ensemble skills—specifically, orchestral performance skills—has often been
seen by educators as of subsidiary interest. In the past, this led to the somewhat
paradoxical situation that, although many people rightly or wrongly regarded
the symphony orchestra as the apotheosis of musical excellence, the music edu-
cation infrastructure supporting it was not focused on producing musicians
properly equipped to sustain it. As many of the contributors to this volume
argue, conservatoires today endeavour to develop more rounded musicians who
have a broader skill base and are therefore better equipped for a wider variety
of employment opportunities.
The performance standards expected of musicians in large ensembles have
risen over the past century or so, and this can be demonstrated empirically by
comparing recordings from different periods. Much greater emphasis is now
placed on ensemble precision, e.g. in relation to rhythmic coordination and tun-
ing. The ubiquity of near-flawless performances heard on recordings today has
brought additional pressures on musicians and conductors in both rehearsal
and performance. Errors seem to take on additional significance precisely
because of their rarity, yet fear of making mistakes can be a major inhibitor
of both individual and collective creativity. If left unchecked, such inhibition
can undermine the flexibility and suppleness in ensemble performance that are
now usually taken as indicators of aesthetic quality. The same holds for the
increased emphasis on ensemble precision.
It could be argued that the rise of conservatoires and examination systems
represents, as Foucault might have it, the promotion of orthodoxy and a form
190 Musicians in the Making

of social control, which permits certain types of interpretation while constrain-

ing others. And several scholars, for example Philip (2003), have argued that the
widespread dissemination of recordings and internationally itinerant conduc-
tors has led over time to considerable global homogeneity among orchestras,
in relation to both the nature of their sound and their musical interpretations.
How, then, might large ensembles mitigate these constraints upon creative

How large ensembles function

Previous research on orchestras has generally focused on either their histor-

ical development (Carse 1948, 1950; Spitzer and Zaslaw 2004; Carter and
Levi 2003) or the social and cultural contexts in which they are embedded
(Herndon 1988; Mueller 1951). In contrast, more recent studies have inves-
tigated the operational characteristics of large ensembles, while others have
considered how their leadership and management strategies may be applied in
different organizations. For example, Faulkner (1973) considered the nature
of social interaction in orchestras, particularly that between musicians and
conductor, noting that the prevailing authority structures arose not from a
static pattern of roles and statuses but rather from ‘a network of interacting
human beings, each transmitting information to the other, sifting their trans-
actions through an evaluative screen of beliefs and standards, and appraising
the meaning and credibility of conductor directives’ (ibid.: 156). Atik (1994)
also considered the interactive relationships between leaders and followers
in orchestras (see above), while Allmendinger, Hackman and Lehman (1996)
undertook a cross-cultural study of orchestral working practices, which
concluded that the most artistically successful were also those that achieved
long-term financial stability. Other recent research has considered leadership
strategies in orchestras, either from the perspective of management studies
(Maitlis 1997; Koivunen 2003) or from that of practising musicians who have
reflected on their own performing and conducting activities (Lewis 2012;
Logie 2012). More recently, Gaunt and Dobson have noted that the inter-
actions between orchestral musicians constitute a ‘community of practice’,
which the musicians construe as a ‘learning environment in which complex
interactions between individual and collective development take place’ (2014:
312; see also Chapters 2 and 4 in this volume).
This developing body of literature demonstrates the growing interest in
understanding how orchestral conductors and musicians come together for
often brief periods of rehearsal, how they arrive at shared understandings of
the unfolding of musical sound over time, and how they make evident those
understandings in the course of performance. In short, it seeks answers to
questions about how orchestras do what they do, and, potentially, how their
The creative work of large ensembles 191

working practices might be inflected to ensure maximum musical creativity on

the parts of both the individuals involved and the collective whole.
Such questions do not lend themselves to easy answers. Viewed from the
concert hall auditorium, the manner in which these ensembles function may
appear quite straightforward:  the music indicates what notes the musicians
should play and when, and the conductor directs the musicians in their playing,
linking together the various sections of the ensemble and shaping the overall
contributions of the musicians to form the ‘productive unit’ identified by Small.
But this simplistic and rather inaccurate assessment of the conductor’s role—
described by Hackman as the ‘leader attribution error’ (2005: 117)—obscures
some important points.
Although the conductor undoubtedly wields significant leadership influ-
ence, this is distributed in rehearsal and performance through other musicians
in the ensemble—section leaders in particular—who have some input into the
decision-making that leads to creative performance. String section leaders will
usually arbitrate on bowing patterns, wind principals on breathing points and
other aspects of phrasing, and all principals on almost indiscernible yet impor-
tant aural characteristics such as the quality of tone to be employed at a partic-
ular point. And while the execution of a ritardando, for example, may well be
asserted by the conductor’s baton—an obvious gesture from which the whole
ensemble endeavours or at least is expected to take its lead—its specific imple-
mentation is also dependent on those small but critically important gestures
that accompany musical performance:  for example, slight movements of an
instrument or another musician’s body, which musicians are attuned to and
which in part inform their understanding of how and when to play.4 Thus, while
some of the information that guides the actions of musicians may be expressed
verbally or through direct instruction, much of it is inferred through nonverbal
behaviour, careful listening or ‘on the job’ training, which is one reason educat-
ing musicians for successful orchestra performance can be difficult, and why
some musicians, notwithstanding their significant individual technical exper-
tise, may be quite unsuccessful as orchestral players (see Cottrell 2004: 103–21).
The working relationships between conductor and musicians are particu-
larly important. As already noted, one popular view of the conductor is that of
an authoritarian figure who directs the orchestra to recreate his or (less often)
her vision of the composer’s score. Seen in this way, conductors are the supreme
arbiters of musical interpretation, with little or no room for creative input from
the musicians under their command. Only they appear truly capable of unlock-
ing the score’s secrets, and thus the score is given a central and almost fetishized
significance in relation to orchestral performance. Such is the approach taken
by perhaps the most well-known modern discussant of the art of conducting,
Gunther Schuller, in The Compleat Conductor (1997). In his view, the score
awaits ‘realization’ from the musicians, and he quotes Ravel’s observation that
‘one should not interpret my music; one should realize it’ (cited in ibid., 7).
192 Musicians in the Making

Much of Schuller’s book is given to exhaustive analyses of recorded perfor-

mances in which, as he frequently asserts, conductors and musicians fall short
of the high standards of fidelity to the musical text that he expects.
Yet not only does this image promote an idealized view of the score that is
arguably falling out of fashion, but it also reduces the conductor’s role to that
of an individual slavishly reconstituting musical sound according to instructions
given by a perhaps long-dead creator, while simultaneously obviating considera-
tion of any creative contribution that the musicians themselves might make. As
Leslie Lewis (2012: 58) points out, Schuller’s approach implies that the conduc-
tor’s role is essentially that of a translator: the conductor interacts with the com-
poser through the score to determine what the composer meant to happen, and
the conductor then instructs the musicians accordingly. There is no suggestion
that the musicians might influence the conductor’s views, nor of any direct con-
nection between the musicians and the score. It could also be argued that such a
model risks appearing to infantilize orchestral musicians by implying that they
are directly controlled by a paternalistic conductor who makes all the decisions
for them. Schuller’s approach might be modelled as in Figure 9.1.
In reality, however, the relationships between the conductor, the musicians
and any musical text are more nuanced. Instead of conceiving conductor and
musicians as essentially being in a master–slave relationship, they are better
construed as having a mutually dependent and reciprocal association; at the
very least, this is more satisfying for the musicians, who are more likely to feel
that the creative individual voice that they have worked hard to develop is being
given some expression, however compromised this may be by the scale of the
enterprise and the input of many other similar voices. And since both conduc-
tor and musicians are reliant on the score, or on a part arising from it, all par-
ties may be seen to have views as to what that score represents and what musical
behaviour might flow from it. As Cook (2003) would have it, the score becomes
not so much a text to be realized but a script to underpin sociomusical inter-
action. Thus the performance itself is manifested not through the direct con-
sequence of authoritarian diktat, but through a collaborative venture in which
conflicting ideas may be negotiated and resolved, such that an effective musical
performance arises. This might be modelled rather differently, as in Figure 9.2.
The performance is shaped at the point where the three components intersect.

Score Conductor Ensemble Performance

FIGURE 9.1 Modelling Gunther Schuller’s implied relationships between musical score, conductor,
ensemble and performance
The creative work of large ensembles 193



Conductor Score

FIGURE 9.2 A more equitable model of the relationship between musical score, conductor, ensemble
and performance

This is not to imply that these elements are necessarily balanced or that the con-
tributions they make are always equally proportioned. But it does suggest that
there are dynamic relationships at play which need to be understood by those
taking part in orchestral performance and which, if harnessed appropriately,
can lead to increased satisfaction on all sides as well as more successful musical
and creative outcomes.
From this perspective, the leadership demands made of conductors are perhaps
more complex than those conventionally allocated to the traditional authoritarian
figure. Certainly conductors must fulfil the role of a strong leader, giving direc-
tion to the ensemble both in rehearsal and in performance. But they additionally
need to be skilled negotiators, mediating between competing demands while ensur-
ing that their own musical personality is communicated in terms which are both
understood and acceptable. As Christopher Warren-Green, erstwhile leader of the
Philharmonia Orchestra, observes, ‘What [the conductor] should really be is an
enabler. He should allow all those musicians to give of their best. There are very few
who can do that.’5 The next section considers leadership strategies that conductors
might employ to ‘enable’ the orchestra in the manner suggested by Warren-Green.

Leadership in orchestras

Leadership research has increased significantly over the past few decades. This
has resulted in the identification of a number of leadership styles, of which four
appear to be most relevant in considering the conductor–musician relationship:

1. Autocratic leaders make decisions alone, with little reference to or

input from the rest of the team; they exhibit total authority and to a
considerable degree act unilaterally.
194 Musicians in the Making

2. Participatory or democratic leaders seek the views of the rest of the

team but ultimately make the final decisions themselves; however,
they do endeavour to make team members feel included in the
decision-making process.
3. Transactional leaders focus on the performance of specific tasks;
people may be rewarded directly for performing certain tasks well or
achieving specified targets, but team members may also be penalized
in some way for failing to meet those targets.
4. Transformational leadership relies less on obvious direct rewards and
more on motivation and communication, focusing on the overall ‘big
picture’ and inspiring the team to achieve it.6

These diverse styles of leadership might all be employed in large musical

ensembles. Indeed, different types of leadership may be evidenced by a con-
ductor at successive points in the rehearsal/performance process, and the style
adopted is also likely to change according to the nature of the ensemble: a
large symphony orchestra and an attendant choir will not be handled the
same as, say, a small chamber orchestra with a few solo singers, nor will a
highly skilled and experienced professional orchestra on the one hand and
an amateur ensemble on the other. These multiple styles might yield quite
varied results, however, and each can have a distinct impact on the musi-
cians involved and the levels of satisfaction they derive from their work.
Unsurprisingly, autocratic conductors tend to be unpopular with orches-
tral musicians, although this has not stopped some from achieving very fine
results:  Arturo Toscanini and Georg Solti are two conductors with such
reputations. But this style of musical leadership has become rarer in recent
years, in part because of the greater influence that musicians now have over
the choice of conductors with whom they work, especially in self-governing
orchestras, and perhaps also because of the increasingly peripatetic lives that
professional conductors now lead.
Participatory leadership is popular with musicians but can be difficult to
discharge effectively when working with large ensembles. It is often impracti-
cal during rehearsals to discuss every musical decision that needs to be made.
Nevertheless, good conductors do endeavour to incorporate musicians’ views
within their overall understanding of how a piece should unfold, and individ-
ual musicians are certainly more satisfied when they feel that their own crea-
tive personality has an outlet. In chamber ensembles such as string quartets,
the absence of a conductor inevitably requires the distribution of leadership
among the four players, notwithstanding the heightened leadership role nor-
mally undertaken by the first violin; the participatory leadership that arises
from this is one reason many musicians find this kind of smaller-scale music-
making to be highly satisfying.
The creative work of large ensembles 195

The most frequently employed styles are those of transactional and trans-
formational leadership. Transactional leadership is in some ways the more
utilitarian of the two. Burns (1979:  4)  notes that this is the most common
form of interaction: a mutually acceptable set of expectations is established
in order to reach a commonly agreed goal. Specific transactions might include
clear and direct indications and gestures from the conductor, leading to agreed
responses from the musicians, a shared understanding of the effective use of
rehearsal time, etc. Transactional leadership appears to be less common and
less efficacious in professional orchestras (Bertsch 2009) but is more enthusi-
astically received in amateur ensembles (Rowald and Rohmann 2009). This
is perhaps understandable, but there are circumstances in all cases where the
relationship between conductor and musicians is likely to be more transac-
tional, that is, where the musicians will rely more directly on the conductor
for directions and cues; examples include performances of complex modern
music and of obscure and unfamiliar repertoire for which rehearsal time has
been limited.
Transformational leadership is the least easily defined of these categories,
both in relation to orchestras and elsewhere, but it is often the most highly
valued. Here conductors are assumed to demonstrate a capacity to lead the
orchestra beyond conventional expectations, to engender musical outcomes
that transcend quotidian concert experience. Quite how, as Simon Rattle
puts it, this ‘weird thing … that happens between conductors and orches-
tras’7 actually arises is a matter for debate. Most conductors believe that they
achieve transformational leadership, although research suggests that, at least
in professional orchestras, the musicians they oversee are less persuaded that
this is the case (Bertsch 2009). One of Atik’s respondents observed that ‘the
very best conductors that I’ve worked with become part of the orchestra.
I don’t mean that they lose their identity but in fact the whole orchestra plays
with him rather than follows him’. Another noted that the musicians devel-
oped ‘an energetic field, a psychological energy field which is very strong and
has an existence of its own. And the conductor has to be forming that field
and be part of it’ (1994: 26). That both of these respondents felt the need to
resort to such metaphorical statements is indicative of the fact that, while all
parties may believe that something special is happening on the concert stage,
it is difficult to verbalize what this is. Nevertheless, it is clear that the idea
of transformational leadership, in which a highly visible and charismatic
conductor motivates and inspires musicians for the purpose of producing
the best possible performance, is powerfully attractive. The extent to which
this ideal actually informs orchestral practices is moot, however, and as Bass
observes, ‘leaders will exhibit a variety of patterns of transformational and
transactional leadership. Most leaders do both in different amounts’ (1985: 22;
italics in original).
196 Musicians in the Making

Problems and challenges: ensemble performance

and creative practice

Just as research into orchestras has generated insights relevant to leadership

practices in other contexts, it is similarly useful to consider how research on
other creative individuals can inform our understanding of collective musical
creativity. For example, in his well-known work on the ‘creative class’, Florida
(2002) argues that creative personalities dislike rigid hierarchies and instead
prefer flat and informal organizational structures. Undoubtedly this explains in
part why many musicians prefer the egalitarian contexts of the chamber music
ensemble, which allows them greater control over their creative output than the
more hierarchical symphony orchestra. The business psychologist Chamorro-
Premuzic (2013) has summarized what he describes as ‘7 rules for managing
creative people’. These include allowing failure without undue penalty, not
pressurizing individuals or creating an overly rule-bound environment, and
providing regular variety and stimulation in the workplace. (He also argues that
creative individuals should not be paid too highly, as doing so might undermine
the intrinsic value that they find in the creative activity itself; this is seldom a
problem for orchestral musicians.)
Given the nature of their work, large ensembles may find it difficult to accom-
modate some of these needs. Condoning failure in rehearsals is one thing, but
the same shortcomings on the concert stage are unlikely to be viewed favour-
ably if they happen more than very occasionally or if they undermine the pre-
cision now expected of the larger ensemble or a section within it (as discussed
above). On the other hand, both conductors and fellow musicians might bear
in mind the desirability of demonstrating empathy towards players who ‘fail’
because they have been endeavouring to take a new approach to a well-worn
piece or phrase. Variety and stimulation may be difficult to achieve in profes-
sional orchestras because their concert diet generally revolves around a limited
repertoire, and orchestral musicians often take an antipathetic view of the con-
temporary music styles that might in part provide such variety; these styles are
also often difficult to sell at the box office. However, particularly in the UK and
the USA, the fact that orchestral musicians have been expected to play a greater
role in outreach and education projects in recent years has helped to vary the
routine of rehearsal and performance, and many players have learned to value
and enjoy this expansion of their role. While such activities may not inform
their performances per se, they contribute to a more stimulating and satisfac-
tory work environment overall.
Successful ensembles are replete with rules, whether inscribed socially
(e.g. starting rehearsals on time, or maintaining appropriate relationships
and behaviour within the ensemble) or musically (e.g. in relation to tun-
ing, timing or tone). But musicians are likely both to feel and to be at their
The creative work of large ensembles 197

creative best when they are given as much latitude as is reasonable to express
themselves within this rule-bound framework. Atik draws attention to a
‘testing phase’ in the relationship between musicians and conductor. This is a
short period at the beginning of a rehearsal which occurs when an orchestra
is working with a conductor for the first time (and it is perhaps more char-
acteristic of professional ensembles than amateur ones). Atik notes that in
this period of perhaps ten to fifteen minutes, ‘players explore the boundaries
of the superior–subordinate relationship and the professional competence
of the conductor, while, simultaneously, the conductor tests out how much
he can demand of his players and the musical capabilities of the “band” ’
(1994: 25). It might be argued that this testing phase reflects the conductor
and the orchestra establishing a shared understanding of the prevailing rules
and their boundaries, as a necessary prerequisite for musical creativity to
flourish in the orchestral context.
In addition to these sociomusical issues, there are fundamental logisti-
cal requirements that (ideally) must be met in rehearsals and performance
if large ensembles are to function effectively. Many of these are relatively
obvious. Musicians need stable seating and music stands, with enough light
to read the score and parts but not so much direct light shining onto the
stage that they are blinded. As noted earlier, sightlines between conductor
and performers, and between key musicians such as principal players, are
especially important so that they may recognize, however peripherally, those
bodily gestures required for orchestral synchrony. Thought must therefore
be given to the stage layout, particularly in contexts such as theatre pits
or halls not specifically designed for orchestral performance, where space
may be cramped and/or inconveniently distributed. Acoustics are especially
important. Halls which are too dry can leave an ensemble sounding flat and
lifeless, and individuals can become uncomfortable with their own sound.
Spaces with very resonant acoustics—e.g. cathedrals—pose a different prob-
lem, since the long decay times of the musical sound may make it difficult for
performers to hear important aural cues. Hall temperature is also important;
spaces that are too warm or too cold make tuning more difficult in addi-
tion to the personal discomfort experienced by musicians. Studio work can
feel very different for all performers, with screens sometimes placed between
musicians to help the recording engineers balance the ensemble sound, or
the conductor closely watching a screen and accompanying time code if
recording a film score. Outdoor performances too can be challenging since
the acoustic will be entirely different, and gusts of wind may blow scores or
clothing in a disconcerting fashion. Notwithstanding the apparent triviality
of some of these logistical details, they are important in providing a secure
platform for conductors and musicians so that they may focus on their cre-
ative endeavours.
198 Musicians in the Making

Creative performance in choirs

Some of the qualities of, and constraints upon, musical performance in large
choral groups are similar to those found in instrumental ensembles, even though
the relationship between choirs and conductors, and indeed between the singers
themselves, is rather different from those characteristic of instrumental ensem-
bles.8 The physical proximity of singers in smaller groups again often obviates
the need for a separate conductor since, as with instrumentalists, one of the
singers can adequately fulfil this role. But larger vocal ensembles clearly require
a director of some kind, for many of the reasons outlined previously: to com-
pensate for the distances between performers, to reduce the time-consuming
nature of a fully democratic approach to decision-making, to economize on
rehearsal time, etc.
Nevertheless, there are important operational differences between these two
types of ensemble, particularly in relation to the creative aspirations and expec-
tations of the participants. Perhaps the most obvious is that in major orchestras
the musicians are usually professionals, and they will have obtained their pos-
ition in the orchestra only after an extensive period of training which hones
not only their technical skills but also their musical personality. In contrast,
members of choirs are typically amateurs, in the sense that they are likely to
earn their living away from the choir. Some may have received a musical educa-
tion (the capacity to read staff notation is usually a prerequisite, for example),
and a few may be trained singers. But many will view the choir as an enjoyable
addition to their working lives, notwithstanding the considerable commitment
they may make to it, and thus the basis of their participation is qualitatively dif-
ferent from that of orchestral musicians (see Louhivuori, Salminen and Lebaka
2005). Choral singers may rehearse only once or perhaps twice a week, whereas
a professional orchestra will often work together every day.
All of this has an impact on the nature of their creative contributions and
their perceptions of the role of individual creativity in their work. The ten-
sions already noted between instrumentalists’ highly developed sense of musi-
cal self and the constraints inevitably imposed by the needs of the orchestra
or the demands of the conductor do not apply in the same way to choral sing-
ers. Indeed, these amateur singers are operationally much more dependent on
the conductor figure than are orchestral musicians. Research evidences the
significant reliance on and impact of conducting gestures on choral singers,
whether in relation to tone quality or intonation (Brunkan 2013; Mann 2014),
or the mirroring of the conductor’s facial gestures by singers (Garnett 2009;
Manternach 2012). Transactional leadership thus plays a greater role in choirs
than it does in instrumental ensembles.
This implies that musical creativity is construed rather differently in these
large vocal ensembles, particularly since the compositional nature of most
choral works also reduces opportunities for individual musical expression.
The creative work of large ensembles 199

Choral scores are often divided into just four parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass),
although further subdivisions may occasionally occur. Normally many singers
share a given part, and thus the capacity of the individual to influence the deliv-
ery of that part may be limited. Just as a rank-and-file violinist needs to align
his or her performance with the rest of the section—unlike, perhaps, the first
clarinet or the harpist—so too is musical individuality moderated in the choir
by the collective requirements of a particular subgroup. Nevertheless, a sense of
musical individuality remains. For example, Ternström (2003: 7) draws atten-
tion to what he describes as the ‘self to other ratio’ (see also Keller 2014). This
is a measure of the relationship between the perceived strength of a singer’s
own voice (which arises from a combination of airborne and bone-conducted
sounds) to that of the choir in which he or she is immersed (the sound of which
is heard both directly and via reverberations in the hall). While the preferred
ratio varies widely between individuals—that is, different singers prefer to hear
different balances between their own sound and that of the ensemble—these
ratios appear to be accurately and consistently reproduced.
Notwithstanding this psychoacoustic expression of the musical self, the
collective practice of choral performance means that choir singers are often
unused to having their individual voice highlighted. To counteract this, Freer
has argued for the introduction of improvisation exercises in choir rehears-
als, noting that these would dilute singers’ reliance on musical notation, ena-
ble musical material to reflect individual vocal capability more closely, and,
most importantly in the present context, ‘influence musical self-esteem’ (Freer
2010: 19). Brewer and Garnett (2012: 264) have suggested that singers might
adopt a cognitive strategy of putting themselves ‘in the position of actors, put-
ting on a character for the purpose. It is helpful to think of that character …
communicating to the audience as if one to one. So an individual in a choir
contributes something very specific and important to the whole.’
Finally, choirs in the western classical tradition usually work from a full vocal
score, allowing each individual to see how the contribution of his or her section
(soprano, tenor, etc.) is meant to fit into the larger whole; moreover, the vocal
score used by each singer may well be identical to that used by the conductor.
In contrast, orchestral players normally work from an isolated part, albeit one
which may have occasional cues that indicate the contributions of others; only
the conductor works from a full score which shows all the musical interactions.
These varying relationships with both the conductor and the musical script
that guides individual contributions inevitably inflect the working practices of
performers and their perceptions of themselves as creative individuals.
In her study of choral conducting, Garnett (2009: 172–3) draws attention
to the different vocal blends achieved by two choirs, which might be taken as
proxies for the contrasting approaches to collective creativity that they repre-
sent. She notes that the singers in a lesbian/gay/bisexual amateur choir with
a strong commitment to social and political solidarity not only demonstrated
200 Musicians in the Making

a strongly shared body language but were also encouraged to sound ‘like one
voice, like one choir without any individuals’. Conversely, a chamber choir of
trained singers showed significant variances between individual postures and
less overall concern with the ultimate blend of the ensemble; as with instru-
mentalists, their professional training had encouraged a more developed
sense of musical self-identity, which was retained in the ensemble context.
In general, however, the individualistic creativity that underlies instrumental
training in the western classical tradition is subsumed in large vocal ensembles
by the overarching sense of communal enterprise. Ultimately, the singer’s use
of a complete vocal score rather than the instrumentalist’s single part, while
arising as a matter of practical expediency because singers can turn pages more
easily, can be read as indexical of the choir’s collective and often homogene-
ous creative musical endeavour, as opposed to the aggregation of musical indi-
viduals represented by the more differentiated, and frequently heterogeneous,
orchestral score.

Alternative models

To enhance their sense of collective musical creativity and assert more musical
control in rehearsal and performance, some large ensembles have developed
alternative organizational models. Certain chamber orchestras have begun to
dispense with the conductor and to work instead on an unconducted basis or,
occasionally, with a guest conductor of their choosing. The Prague Chamber
Orchestra, founded in 1951, may be the longest-running ensemble of this kind,
while the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, established in New York in 1972, is per-
haps the most widely recognized. The UK’s Britten Sinfonia provides another
example. The fact that the trend has increased over the past two decades means
that such ensembles are now widespread. They offer a middle path between the
musical egalitarianism of the small chamber ensemble and the more obvious
hierarchies found in larger symphony orchestras. They also demonstrate partic-
ularly advanced forms of distributed leadership, to the extent that the Orpheus
Chamber Orchestra, for example, has been used as the basis of a textbook on
management leadership.9
These conductorless ensembles may be distinguished from their symphonic
counterparts in a number of ways. They tend to demonstrate more flexibility
in their size and will modify their instrumentation according to the particular
project at hand, sometimes appearing as a small chamber group while at other
times nearing the size of a symphony orchestra. They can be economically
more efficient, in part because of this flexibility but also because of the obvious
financial savings that arise through not paying costly conductor fees. They tend
to be popular with their audience base, with whom they generate close ties. And
The creative work of large ensembles 201

their musicians derive more satisfaction because of the greater musical control
afforded in rehearsal and performance by the absence of a conductor.
On the other hand, one of the risks of these highly participatory, democratic
ensemble structures is that the rehearsal process is significantly lengthened
because everybody can contribute his or her views about how the music should
be performed. Indeed, for their first major performance the Orpheus Orchestra
required ‘between seventeen and twenty rehearsals’ before they arrived at a
shared understanding of the approach they would take (Khodyakov 2007: 10).
Professional orchestras would usually find such a lengthy rehearsal schedule
uneconomic, and the Orpheus Orchestra was no exception. Although the musi-
cians were not paid for their first set of rehearsals, they did need remuneration
for later rehearsals in order to survive; this caused the orchestra to develop a sys-
tem of rehearsing with a smaller number of ten to thirteen core group members,
who would agree on the approach to be taken before adopting it in rehearsals
involving the full ensemble. Participatory leadership has been further ensured
through the rotation of principal players, such that the leader of each string
section rotates, with individuals having oversight at different times. In the case
of the Orpheus Orchestra, the lack of a conductor has both required and facili-
tated much greater trust between the musicians, even though they have also had
to implement a number of control mechanisms—such as the degree to which an
individual musician might object to the decisions made by the core group for a
given performance—in order to ensure the smooth running of the ensemble.10
Notwithstanding these challenges, the success and longevity of these con-
ductorless orchestras has demonstrated that creative performance can be mani-
fested in large ensembles without the need for a supervisory figure, however
unlikely that may appear to those who believe such a figure to be essential for
orchestral performance.


Orchestras remain popular as subjects for metaphor construction and as

paradigms of collaborative social organization, in addition to their obvious
importance as iconic music-making ensembles. The skill sets of the musi-
cians who play in them and the conductors who appear to lead them have
evolved significantly over the past few centuries, and the commonly held
view of the conductor as an overseer who directs the activities of the musi-
cians whom he or she controls on a master–slave basis masks a more com-
plex series of relationships between the participants. Successful orchestral
performance depends not only on the conductor’s gestures but also on the
distribution of leadership among the ensemble, such that individual musi-
cians undertake intermittent leadership roles according to the ebb and
202 Musicians in the Making

flow of the music. Creative orchestral performance most commonly arises

through a shared understanding of these distributed leadership roles, and
the effective working of the ensemble is facilitated not only through collec-
tive responses to the conductor’s gestures but also through the employment
and recognition of a range of micro gestures through which the musicians’
efforts are synchronized.
Conductors must understand the difference between transactional and
transformational leadership while also recognizing that skills in both are nec-
essary for creative orchestral performance. Although transactional leadership
may be more in evidence in rehearsals, especially with less proficient musicians
or for pieces that are musically complex, transformational leadership is an
important part of the creative process, particularly in performance, when musi-
cal heights may be scaled that go beyond the routine or utilitarian, and when
that ‘mutual tuning-in relationship’ (Schutz 1977: 108) is created for performers
and listeners alike.
Choral singers may have attitudes to creativity which differ from those of
instrumentalists, and their immersion in their communal musical enterprise
may lead them to be less concerned with expressions of musical individuality.
In general, however, they remain highly dependent on the conductor’s gestures,
which significantly affect their creative output.
Playing in conductorless chamber orchestras can be very satisfying for musi-
cians, who relish the additional leadership responsibilities that arise from the
more participatory approaches that they entail. But, although they may offer
considerable flexibility in relation to musical programming, they often require
more rehearsal time, as the players devise performance strategies to circum-
vent the lack of a central coordinating figure. The larger the ensemble or the
more complex the musical score, the more likely it is that a conductor will be
needed, either to overcome the musicians’ inability to see each other in very
large ensembles or because of the financial costs of the many rehearsals that
might otherwise be necessary.
Finally, it should be borne in mind that creativity is socially inscribed wher-
ever it is identified. Whether construed as a form of ‘musical talent’ (Kingsbury
1988) or as being ‘creative in performance’ (Clarke 2012), musical creativity is
a social fact (Frith 2012), the attribution of which requires social negotiation
and validation. In many ways, therefore, putting the creative into large ensem-
ble performance inevitably means putting the social there also.


Adorno, T. W., [1962] 1976:  Introduction to the Sociology of Music, trans. E. B. Ashton
(New York: Seabury Press).
Allmendinger, J., J. R. Hackman and E. V. Lehman, 1996:  ‘Life and work in symphony
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Atik, Y., 1994: ‘The conductor and the orchestra’, Leadership & Organization Development
Journal 15: 22–8.
Bass, B. M., 1985: Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations (New York: Free Press;
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in choral singing’, in A. D. Quados, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Choral Music
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Learning in the spotlight

Aaron Williamon, Terry Clark and Mats Küssner

The stage (broadly defined) is a contextually rich setting with particular and
sometimes challenging acoustic and environmental features that can have an
impact on musicians’ perceptions of their performances.1 It is an inherently risky
place too, watched closely by audiences and with the presence of co-performers
placing further pressures on individual musicians to ‘get it right’. Numerous
studies have shown that the physical (Williamon et al. 2013; Fancourt, Aufegger
and Williamon 2015), psychological (Kenny 2011)  and environmental con-
ditions (Williamon, Aufegger and Eiholzer 2014; Alessandri, Schuchert and
Lasauskaite Schüpbach 2015) under which musicians perform are radically dif-
ferent from those under which they practise and rehearse.
Studies with classical musicians show consistently heightened physiological
states when performing under high-stress conditions, with predictable increases
in heart rate and decreases in heart rate variability (see Williamon et al. 2013).
Similarly, the level of cortisol, a steroid hormone related to stress reactivity,
has been shown to increase significantly for orchestral musicians and singers
on the days of performance compared with nonperformance days (Fredrikson
and Gunnarsson 1992; Gill, Murphy and Rickard 2006; Halleland et al. 2009;
Pilger et al. 2014; Fancourt et al. 2015). Such heightened physiological states
are, at least in part, linked to the level of anxiety experienced by musicians
when they perform in public. Kenny (2009:  433)  defines Music Performance
Anxiety (MPA) as:
the experience of marked and persistent anxious apprehension related to
musical performance that has arisen through specific anxiety-conditioning
experiences. It is manifested through combinations of affective, cogni-
tive, somatic and behavioural symptoms and may occur in a range of
Learning in the spotlight 207

performance settings, but is usually more severe in settings involving high

ego investment and evaluative threat. It may be focal (i.e. focused only on
music performance) or occur comorbidly [i.e. alongside] with other anxi-
ety disorders, in particular social phobia. It affects musicians across their
lifespan and is at least partially independent of years of training, practice
and level of musical accomplishment. It may or may not impair the qual-
ity of the musical performance.

McGrath (1970: 20) proposed that debilitating performance anxiety arises

from the perception of ‘a substantial imbalance between demand and response
capability, under conditions where failure to meet that demand has important
consequences’. Within public performance situations, demands can be imposed
by musicians themselves or through the environment, context and situation
in which the performance takes place (Clark, Lisboa and Williamon 2014a).
Environmental demands, for instance, include such factors as social pressure
manifesting from perceived audience and co-performer expectations, as well
as characteristics of the performance venue that differ dramatically from the
places where learning and practising occur, including acoustic response, size
and shape of the performance space, lighting, flooring, and the location and
proximity of the audience (Alessandri et al. 2015; Williamon et al. 2014).
Further contextual and situational demands include the music to be performed,
as well as the concert attire and protocols that must be followed before, during
and after the event. Musicians also bring resources to each performance. These
include strategies for coping effectively with the demands of the situation, the
level of preparation achieved and their previous performance experiences;
however, previous experience can also function as a demand, depending on the
nature of the experience (Clark et al. 2014b).
The key point about both demands and resources is that they do not nec-
essarily have an automatic outcome in and of themselves. Rather, it is the
musician’s perception and interpretation of them that result in specific con-
sequences, be they constructive or destructive. In seeking to explain the rela-
tionship between anxiety symptoms and subsequent performance outcomes in
sports, Jones (1995) highlighted that athletes view their anxiety symptoms as
being either facilitative and helpful or debilitative and harmful to their perfor-
mance quality. Numerous studies have confirmed this relationship; for instance,
the ability to interpret anxiety symptoms as facilitative versus debilitative has
been found to distinguish higher- from lower-performing gymnasts and swim-
mers (Hanton and Jones 1999; Jones, Swain and Hardy 1993; Mahoney and
Avener 1977; Thomas, Hanton and Maynard 2007). In addition, perform-
ers’ sense of control over their demands and resources can moderate perfor-
mance outcomes. Hanton and Connaughton (2002) found in their research
with swimmers that anxiety symptoms perceived as being within a performer’s
control and facilitative to performance resulted in increased focus, motivation
208 Musicians in the Making

and confidence. Conversely, those symptoms perceived as being negative or

debilitative to performance could be restructured or overcome using standard
psychological skills coaching, such as arousal control strategies and thought
replacement (ibid.).
Within music, many musicians practise performing by seeking out real-life
performance experiences, ideally with the aim of learning to make facilita-
tive interpretations of their demands and gaining requisite control over their
resources (Clark et al. 2014a). However, even when such exposure is explicitly
offered through a training programme—for instance, in specialist music schools,
conservatoires and universities which operate their own concert venues—the
cost and logistics associated with organizing and running public performances
limit the number of opportunities that can realistically be provided. Moreover,
without systematic strategies for monitoring and reviewing performances, there
is no guarantee that mere exposure to the stage will be educative in and of itself.
This gap in performance education poses problems for identifying and
acquiring skills needed to perform effectively, and it can mean that even the
most practised performer will find the stage an unfamiliar and awkward place
(see Figure 10.1). We now, therefore, turn to the concept of self-regulated learn-
ing as a lens through which musicians can view and review their performances
as opportunities for learning. To assist musicians in applying principles of

People and places

Practice Rehearsal Performance

Contextual richness

FIGURE 10.1 A schematic diagram of the level of risk and contextual richness typically experienced
in practice, rehearsal and performance, illustrating the experiential gap between those situations in
which musicians learn and where they perform (adapted from Kneebone 2011; © Roger Kneebone,
used by permission)
Learning in the spotlight 209

self-regulation to their performances, we introduce performance profiling, a

systematic approach to identifying and enhancing skills applied widely in sport
and other domains (Weston, Greenlees and Thelwell 2013), as a means of car-
rying out effective ‘self-regulated performing’.

Self-regulated learning

Self-regulated learning refers to processes whereby individuals assume per-

sonal responsibility for and control of their acquisition of knowledge and skills
(Zimmerman 1990). It occurs when learners become ‘metacognitively, motiva-
tionally, and behaviourally active participants in their own learning process’
(Zimmerman 1989: 329), which is in contrast to those situations where learners
follow or merely react to external impetus or instruction. Three processes are
central to effective self-regulation:
1. Forethought: the thought processes and personal beliefs that precede
efforts to engage in a task;
2. Performance/volition control: processes that occur during learning
that affect concentration and performance;
3. Self-reflection: the learner’s reaction and subsequent response to the
experience (see Zimmerman 1998).

Paris and Winograd (1990) proposed that regular self-assessment of learn-

ing processes and outcomes promotes more effective monitoring of progress,
facilitates the identification and correction of mistakes, and enhances feelings
of self-efficacy, which is the belief in one’s ability to perform domain-specific
skills (Bandura 1997; McCormick and McPherson 2003; McPherson and
McCormick 2006; Pajares 1996; Ritchie and Williamon 2012). Motivationally,
self-regulated learners have been found to report high intrinsic task interest
and to attribute their successes and failures to their own behaviours and efforts
(Zimmerman 1985); that is, they consider their learning outcomes as dependent
upon the amount of effort they expend on a task and the effectiveness of the
strategies employed (Dweck and Master 2008). Self-regulated learners select,
structure and create environments that are specifically designed to optimize
learning (Zimmerman and Martinez-Pons 1986). Furthermore, they demon-
strate awareness of the relationship between self-regulatory processes and strat-
egies and their self-identified objectives, while also understanding and being
committed to using these strategies to achieve their goals (Zimmerman 1990).
Although self-regulation has predominantly been studied within educational
psychology, music-specific research has shown that musicians also benefit from
taking an active role in initiating learning, in choosing an appropriate and
effective pathway to develop their skills, and in systematically managing learn-
ing processes (see Ritchie and Williamon 2013). McPherson and Zimmerman
210 Musicians in the Making

(2002) argue that musicians’ learning is a result of the interplay between three
factors: their personality traits, their behaviours and their environment. They
suggest that the productivity with which ‘learners monitor these three sources
of self-control influences both the effectiveness of their strategic adjustments
and the nature of their beliefs in themselves’ (ibid.: 328).
To assist musicians in applying principles of self-regulation to their own
learning, Jørgensen (2004: 86) proposes four broad types of practice strategies,
three of which correspond to the three central processes of self-regulation, plus
a fourth for organizing one’s practice strategies:
1. Planning and preparation strategies (i.e. ‘forethought’ in the
self-regulated learning framework): for activity selection and
organization, setting goals and objectives, and time management;
2. Executive strategies (i.e. ‘performance and volition control’): for
rehearsal, distribution of practice over time, and preparing for a
public performance;
3. Evaluation strategies (i.e. ‘self-reflection’): for process and product
4. Metastrategies: knowledge of strategies, and control and regulation
of strategies.

By explicitly highlighting metastrategies, Jørgensen (ibid.) encourages musi-

cians to attain a thorough understanding of their own repertoire of strategies,
together with the ability to control, regulate and exploit that repertoire.
Chaffin and his colleagues (Chaffin and Imreh 2001, 2002; Chaffin et al.
2003) conducted a series of studies to examine the use of self-regulation within
expert musical practice. They recorded and analysed forty-five practice sessions
totalling just over thirty hours in which a concert pianist worked on a piece
that she was preparing for a commercial recording. To understand the content
and behaviours in her practice sessions explicitly, they asked her to comment
on what she was focusing and working on, any aspect of the music that she
felt posed a challenge, her goals and strategies for addressing these challenges,
her plans for forthcoming practice sessions, and evaluations of her progress.
The pianist’s practising behaviours exemplified the four types of self-regulatory
practice strategies highlighted by Jørgensen (2004): her practice and the range
of strategies employed within it were highly structured (planning and prepara-
tion strategies); overall, her practice was geared towards the performance even
from the earliest stages of learning (executive strategies); she drew upon an
extensive range of exercises in order to overcome challenges and weaknesses in
skill (metastrategies); and her ‘run-throughs’ and practice performances were
carefully monitored to determine progress (evaluative strategies).2
A challenge for all musicians is to develop and employ strategies for self-
regulation systematically and consistently in their day-to-day learning, and
Jørgensen (2004) helpfully suggests how to approach this task. In the next
Learning in the spotlight 211

section, we extend these ideas from the practice room to the concert platform
and highlight how self-regulation is relevant not only to instances of daily prac-
tising but also to preparing for and learning from performance itself. Indeed,
rather than simply setting the (unattainable) goal of producing note-perfect
performances, musicians should employ planning, executive and evaluation
strategies to identify and develop their performance skills.

Self-regulated performing

While performances are sometimes thought of as the product or end-point of

musicians’ daily practice activities, they can also be tremendous opportunities
for learning and development (Clark et al. 2014a). By reflecting systematically
upon performance experiences, musicians have the opportunity to assess a
range of performance skills. This, in turn, can facilitate understanding of the
impact of those skills on their ability to perform and can be used ultimately to
enhance performance quality. Chaffin and Imreh (2001: 65) argue that ‘study-
ing performance behaviour can provide an important and largely unexplored
source of information for exploring the effectiveness of practice’.


A central component of self-regulated learning is the need for musicians to

develop a clear understanding of the self. One method to facilitate self-awareness,
and to optimize performances as learning opportunities, is performance pro-
filing. It is an approach commonly employed by athletes, coaches, and sport
scientists and psychologists as a first step in designing training programmes, no
matter whether the nature of the programme is to foster physical, technical or
psychological skills (Butler and Hardy 1992; Weston 2008). Performance pro-
filing was derived from Personal Construct Theory (Kelly 1955), which seeks to
understand how people interpret and then behave within the world. Originally
conceived to aid coaches in understanding athletes’ needs from the perspective
of the individual athlete, performance profiling can assist musicians in con-
ceptualizing performance in their own terms and identifying their aspirations
and perceived strengths and weaknesses. The ‘coach’—i.e. the principal study
teacher or another teacher with whom the musician is working—is then better
equipped to devise and implement individualized training programmes, rather
than issuing blanket prescriptions to facilitate skill development and perfor-
mance enhancement.
In general, the profiling process begins with the performer reflecting upon
the particular skills and attributes needed to excel in his or her discipline.
Musicians, for instance, could imagine performing at personal peak level
and then list the qualities needed to achieve this consistently over time.
212 Musicians in the Making

They could also think of other musicians whom they regard as outstand-
ing and then list the salient qualities that make those people so distinct. In
addition, they could be prompted by descriptions of performance qualities
given by other musicians in method books, treatises and interviews (Weston
et al. 2013). Once identified, the skills and attributes are compiled into a
chart, such as the circular diagrams shown in Figure 10.2. The performer
then rates his or her own level for each of the chosen skills (i.e. the ‘now’
state) in order to identify personal strengths and weaknesses, with the rating
usually made on a numerical scale of 1–10 where 1 indicates very poor and
10 indicates skill mastery. After this, each skill is rated at the level where the
performer would ideally wish to be (i.e. the ‘ideal’ state), taking into account
time scales, personal ambitions and any other factors relevant to the prevail-
ing context.
Visually depicting and scoring each of the skills and attributes allows a
quick review of the performer’s skill levels. Rather than trying to include all
possible relevant skills or attributes within a single performance profile, musi-
cians can generate multiple profiles (see Figure 10.2b). These may address any
number of individually relevant qualities, including sets of artistic and tech-
nical skills, presentational and communicative skills, and career and life skills.
Although music teachers may pre-populate performance profiles with specific
skill sets to facilitate the reflection process when working with their students, it
is important that each musician ultimately identifies skills that he or she consid-
ers essential for success in order to maximize the effectiveness of performance
profiling’s intentionally individualized approach. This fosters ownership of the
performance profiling process, ultimately enhancing motivation and engage-
ment (Weston et al. 2011).



In terms of overall improvement, performance profiling engages the musician

in processes of self-reflection to identify the qualities needed to excel. It also
promotes the sharing of information, as the individual’s views are compared
with those of colleagues and teachers. For single instances of performance,
it enables and encourages post-performance analysis, helps identify important
areas on which to work and improve, and enables progress to be monitored and
interventions to be evaluated (Butler and Hardy 1992; Butler 1997).
There is evidence from sport that sustained use of performance profiles
enhances motivation. Weston and colleagues (2011) found that soccer players
who completed three individual performance profiles over a six-week period
showed significantly increased intrinsic motivation, whereas a single profiling
session did not lead to an increase. Many areas of research converge to indicate
that when performers are intrinsically motivated to undertake a task, they are
(a) (b) Artistic
Artistic skill 1
skills 10
10 9
9 7
8 Artistic 6 Artistic
7 skill 6 5 skill 2
Career 6 Technical 3
5 2
skills skills 1
4 0
1 Artistic Artistic
0 skill 5 skill 3

Presentation Ensemble skill 4
skills skills


FIGURE 10.2 Example of a performance profile of (a) general musical skills and (b) specific artistic subskills. In each profile, black
lines show the performer’s current skill levels (the ‘now’ state), and grey lines represent the performer’s ideal levels (the ‘ideal’ state),
where 1 = very poor and 10 = skill mastery. Ultimately, each musician should identify general and specific skill sets that he or she
considers essential for success in order to maximize the effectiveness of the individual performance profiling.
214 Musicians in the Making

more persistent in the face of challenges or setbacks and put more effort into
achieving goals (Ryan and Deci 2000).
Performance profiling is also a valuable tool to enhance task involvement
and goal-directed thinking in performers (Weston, Greenlees and Thelwell
2010). Task-oriented performers assess their abilities on the basis of self-
referenced mastery of a skill, rather than comparing themselves to others
(Nicholls 1984; Nicholls et al. 1989). Performers exhibiting a task orientation
have been found to practise more during their free time and exert more effort
in enhancing their performance (Duda 2001; Duda and Nicholls 1992). The
identification of intrinsic goals, conceived of as achievement goals that focus
on enjoyment, has been found to predict self-rated performance quality among
musicians, actors and dancers, as well as being positively associated with well-
being and negatively associated with the intention to quit (Lacaille, Koestner
and Gaudreau 2007). Given that goal-setting has also been found to increase
motivation (Vidic and Burton 2010), the combined employment of perfor-
mance profiling and goal-setting strategies could enhance intrinsic motivation.
Although typically carried out as an individual activity, performance pro-
filing can also be employed in team settings, and research has shown that this
leads to increased team cohesion among athletes (Butler and Hardy 1992) and
between teams and their coaches (Dale and Wrisberg 1996). In a similar vein,
the sharing of common performance goals, underpinned by a unified concept
of an ideal sound, has been found to facilitate coordination of chamber musi-
cians’ actions and movements (Keller 2008).
Finally, performance profiling has been found useful for monitoring prog-
ress in a variety of settings and contexts, including pre-competition periods
(Butler and Hardy 1992), during ‘training camps’ (Butler, Smith and Irwin
1993) and across a whole competitive season (Dale and Wrisberg 1996), and for
psychological skills intervention (Jones 1993). It has also been shown to be a
useful strategy for facilitating post-performance evaluation (Butler and Hardy
1992; Butler et al. 1993; Weston et al. 2010).


Although empirical research in music is still lacking, all of the features listed
earlier as being enhanced by performance profiling—self-awareness, intrinsic
motivation, task involvement, goal setting, ensemble performance, monitoring
progress and evaluating performance—are skills and qualities central to pro-
gressing towards musical excellence (Chaffin and Lemieux 2004). Given this, it
is plausible to argue that employing performance profiles for multiple sets of
skills can facilitate pathways to expert performance in music.
Two key points about musicians’ skill development over time are worth
considering when applying performance profiling to one’s personal learning.
First, the identified attributes of each musician’s sets of skills (and hence
Learning in the spotlight 215

those represented on the performance profile) are likely to vary across his or
her career. The attributes of a first-year music performance student—with
a predominant focus on technical skills to be developed or repertoire to be
played, for instance—may differ considerably from those of a recent con-
servatoire graduate or an established professional. This change in skill pre-
occupation (i.e. those skills that are considered to be of utmost importance
at a particular point in time) is linked to talent and career development in
numerous domains of performance, including teaching. Outside the field of
music, for instance, a seminal work by Fuller and Brown (1975) observed
that school teachers progress through a series of stages regarding their pri-
mary concerns related to teaching. In this context, concerns refer to areas
of preoccupation or fixation. In the first stage, teachers’ concerns are often
vague, with correspondingly low involvement in teaching. In the second
stage, their concerns are more linked to survival; these include classroom
control, mastery of content and their own adequacy as teachers. By the third
stage, teachers’ concerns are more focused on the task, namely their teaching
performance. Finally, teachers ultimately reach a fourth stage in which their
primary concern is the impact of their teaching on their students. In this
stage, teachers demonstrate concern for their pupils’ social, academic and
emotional needs.
Relating this to music teaching, Yourn (2000) explored the concerns of
beginning music teachers and noted that the latter did report progressions
of concerns similar to those proposed by Fuller and Brown. Yourn also
pointed out that not all of the beginning music teachers in the study pro-
gressed steadily from one stage to the next; instead, they would often move
back and forth within the sequence. On this basis, Yourn proposed that those
in charge of music teachers’ training should both consider the concerns of
beginning teachers and, by doing so, encourage increased self-awareness in
order to facilitate effective progression through the stages. Although teach-
ing music and performing music are different activities, it would seem evi-
dent that performers also progress through a series of different primary
concerns as they develop proficiency and confidence as professionals. In a
recent study comparing comments from experienced and less experienced
classical musicians regarding optimal and suboptimal performance percep-
tions, a distinction between areas of primary concern also emerged (Clark
et al. 2014a). Most commonly, the less experienced musicians voiced con-
cern for audience evaluation, considering a ‘perfect’ performance to be of
utmost importance when performing. The more experienced musicians,
meanwhile, expressed concerns regarding the development of audience–per-
former connections and enjoyment of the performance event as a whole,
while still being conscious of the quality of their performance. When musi-
cians of different ages and abilities create personalized performance profiles,
they must consider their level of proficiency to ensure that the skills included
216 Musicians in the Making

are developmentally appropriate, recognizing that the most important skills

for any one musician (in other words, those represented on the performance
profile) will vary over time.
Second, a musician’s self-rating of proficiency with certain skills—as well as
views on their ideal levels—will also fluctuate over time. Referring to the skills
listed within the performance profile in Figure 10.2, one can easily imagine how
music students’ assessment of their ‘artistic skills’ may vary with the repertoire
being performed. Their perceived ‘presentation skills’ could also depend on the
performance situation and no doubt would fluctuate as a result of previous
performance experiences, whether positive or negative (Ritchie and Williamon
2011). Although a musician’s skill development could be characterized as a con-
tinual progression through a series of developmental phases (Sosniak 1985;
MacNamara, Holmes and Collins 2006), it is recognized that a musician’s actual
developmental trajectory is anything but linear (see Chapter 7 in this volume).
These fluctuations could, and should, be reflected in a developing musician’s
performance profiles. For instance, a trumpet student may decide to learn and
implement a new embouchure style. In the early stages of learning, a negative
impact on tone and sound quality may result. Reflecting these changes on a
performance profile would help the trumpet student maintain a perspective of
how these changes interrelate, and at the same time connect with longer-term
objectives. The timescales over which musicians’ skills develop have largely been
neglected in research and educational practice (Clark and Lisboa 2013). Yet, the
changing perceptions of the importance of skills at different stages of a musi-
cian’s career may have far-reaching implications for educational contexts.


Musicians’ performance spaces are distinguishable from their practice and

rehearsal spaces because of the physical, psychological and environmental
conditions inherent within them. While these conditions can contribute to the
excitement of live performance events for performers and audiences alike, they
are also potential sources of pressure for musicians, irrespective of their level of
performance experience. If not managed effectively, such pressures can trans-
form into debilitating music performance anxiety which, in turn, can affect
both performance quality and a musician’s general well-being and enjoyment
of performing. Just as athletes can interpret anxiety symptoms as being either
facilitative and helpful or debilitative and harmful to their performance quality,
experienced musicians too have discussed the importance of achieving con-
trol over their performance resources and forming facilitative interpretations
of performance demands. The central role of perception and interpretation in
gaining control of this kind suggests a need for more explicit strategies to assist
music students to learn constructively while in the spotlight.
Learning in the spotlight 217

In contrast to the relatively passive roles assumed by learners in traditional

didactic contexts, real-life performance experience allows musicians to learn by
doing, together with reflecting upon what they do (Clark et al. 2014a; Williamon
2004). Indeed, this very ‘doing’ provides musicians with exposure to the physi-
cal, psychological and environmental conditions that so vividly distinguish per-
forming from practising. Nevertheless, exposure alone to the conditions that
make performance unique will not necessarily guarantee that musicians will
actually gain greater self-awareness and understanding. When underpinned
by a process of self-regulated learning, performance profiling can provide a
‘direct encounter with the phenomena being studied rather than merely think-
ing about the encounter, or only considering the possibility of doing something
about it’ (Borzak 1981: 9).
In this chapter, performance profiling has been presented as an approach
by which self-regulated learning can be applied by musicians to their per-
formances and, as a result, facilitate self-regulated performing. We have
argued that performance profiling can assist musicians in gaining greater
insight into their performance experiences. This insight can then form
the basis for observation and reflection, offering them opportunities to
assess their strengths and weaknesses in performance skills systematically,
and highlighting avenues for improvement. In doing so, we have demon-
strated how musicians’ training can be informed by insights and practices
drawn from other domains. Such interdisciplinary dialogue, we suggest,
is undoubtedly pertinent to helping musicians bridge the gap between the
practice studio and the performance stage and, ultimately, will benefit
them in both forging and following productive and creative pathways to


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Incorporating improvisation into classical

music performance
Juniper Hill

Why improvise?

Why might a classical musician today want to improvise? Potential motivations

abound: for the personal expression and self-determination of the performer,
for the stimulation of collaborators, for the excitement of listeners, to brand
an individual sound on the commercial market, to discover and develop one’s
personality as a musician, to lessen performance anxiety, to improve technique,
to deepen understanding of pre-composed musical material, for historical
authenticity, for innovation, for social engagement, or simply for the challenge
and joy of spontaneously creating music.
In this chapter, I discuss some of the benefits of incorporating improvisa-
tion as a developmental tool in lessons and rehearsals and as a creative act
in public performances. Narratives from professional musicians exemplify
diverse approaches towards improvising in private and in public.1 I conclude
by addressing some of the challenges facing improvising classical musicians in
today’s institutionalized, capitalist world.

What is improvisation and what place does it have in western

art music?

I propose a broad definition of musical improvisation as a spontaneous

creative activity in which artistic decisions are made in the moment of per-
formance. Improvisation may encompass, for example, the spontaneous com-
position of whole pieces, the invention of melodic lines and countermelodies
over given harmonic or modal structures, variations of known melodies, and
222 elaborate embellishments along with subtler ornamentation of pre-composed
Incorporating improvisation into classical music performance 223

pieces. Within our broad definition we can also include the improvisation of
expressive devices that usually fall under the rubric of interpretation—e.g.
tempo fluctuations, articulation, dynamics, agogic accents, vibrato, timbre and
so on—because these too may be determined by the artist in the moment of
performance, if they are not fixed in advance by composers, editors, teachers
and convention. One of the main factors inhibiting improvisation in today’s
classical music communities is an underlying attitude that the creative potential
of performers is somehow inferior. To encourage the incorporation of more
improvisation into western art music is inherently to advocate for performers
to be allowed—and to allow themselves—to exercise greater authority in the
creative process.
There are some myths about improvisation that ought to be debunked. First,
just because a decision is spontaneous does not mean that it is unprepared or
that it comes out of nowhere. Improvisation may be greatly facilitated through
general training to improve skill sets and specific practice sessions to prepare
material and explore ideas. In my research, I  identified six valuable skill sets
for improvising:  the aural skills to play by ear, the memory facility to store
and access musical vocabulary, the ability to negotiate musical structures (e.g.
a practical understanding of music theory), technique, decision-making skills
and self-assessment skills. The preparation of material, ideas and skills may
make it easier to enter into the flow state that many improvisers find so produc-
tive and inspiring.
A second myth is that a creative work must be entirely original. Improvisation
often benefits from the recycling of preexisting materials and the support of
preexisting structures and models. However, conforming entirely to preexisting
models is not, I would argue, a creative act for the performer because it entails
no artistic decision-making by the performer. The creative process entails an
interweaving of recycling, transforming and innovating.2
A third myth sometimes encountered is that improvisation belongs in jazz
and various world music or vernacular traditions but not in serious western
art music, especially not in classical and romantic music. In actuality, a broad
variety of improvisational practices have flourished throughout many centuries
of western art music practice. It is generally acknowledged that improvisation
was an intrinsic part of performance practice during the medieval, renaissance
and baroque eras. Common types of improvisation in various periods of early
music included, for example, inventing polyphonic lines to accompany preex-
isting chants, hymns or popular songs; improvising chords over a fixed bass
line (basso continuo); floridly ornamenting pre-composed melodies (e.g. dimi-
nutions on a ground); creating sets of variations of familiar themes; varying a
section of a piece upon its repetition or reprise; inserting freer sections between
composed sections (e.g. passaggi, cadenzas); and extemporizing whole pieces
(e.g. fantasies, preludes, toccatas and fugues).3 Furthermore, when musicians
lived in a predominantly oral culture, learning pieces by ear and storing them
224 Musicians in the Making

in their aural memories instead of in notation, they typically would have per-
formed preexisting pieces through a process of oral composition. The theory of
oral composition proposes that instead of memorizing a piece note by note and
performing it by rote, bards and musicians had a mental storehouse of skeletal
structures and themes that they filled out with stock phrases and formulae in
the moment of performance (Lord 1960). Thanks to the early music revival and
historically informed performance movements, many of these older improvisa-
tional practices are more widely known and employed nowadays.
The practice of improvisation during the classical and romantic eras is
less widely acknowledged by musicians. In my interviews, I encountered a
few who felt that it was historically inauthentic and morally wrong to impro-
vise when playing material from these periods. However, as the interest of
music researchers in historical performance practices has grown, awareness
has been heightened of the multiple forms of improvisation that flourished
in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For example, entire pieces in
the form of fantasies and preludes were widely improvised, especially by
keyboardists (see e.g. Hamilton 2008). Vocalists and solo instrumental-
ists were expected to add their own elaborate embellishments to pre-com-
posed pieces, to vary melodies upon repetitions and reprises, and to display
their virtuosity through extended improvisations at fermatas and cadenzas.
Furthermore, notation in many cases was considered to be a guideline, with
composers often writing out ornamentation to help novices and amateurs
but not necessarily expecting professional virtuosos to follow the sugges-
tions. Notwithstanding the push by certain romantic composers (especially
Germans) for performers to follow their scores more literally, the music that
audiences heard at the time would have borne a much stronger stamp of
the performer than today’s performances of the same repertoire (see Brown
1999). Brown argues that ‘whether ornamentation … was enjoyed, merely
tolerated, or even detested by the composer, however, does not alter the fact
that it was a pervasive aspect of nineteenth-century musical life’ (ibid.: 420).
Even into the early twentieth century, recordings demonstrate that perform-
ers often took considerably greater artistic liberties in improvising their
interpretations of scores than musicians today do (see Leech-Wilkinson
2009a, 2009b; Philip 1992).
The paucity of improvisation in western art music performance practice
over the last century is therefore an anomaly.4 Aside from the early music
scene and certain contemporary music circles that embrace free improvisa-
tion and indeterminate compositions, mainstream approaches to the perfor-
mance of classical- and romantic-style repertoire tend to excessively restrict
the creative liberties of the performer. In small pockets and circles around
the world, however, improvisation has been making a comeback, some-
times practised more or less in its traditional forms and sometimes finding
new roles and new meaning in the lives of classical musicians today. Some
Incorporating improvisation into classical music performance 225

key contemporary performer–scholars and performer–pedagogues, such

as Robert Levin and David Dolan, have been working as creative musical
‘activists’ to revive improvisation in classical music.5 In my research I found
classical musicians who do not improvise at all and are opposed to the idea,
some who would like to improvise but do not feel that they have the skill
sets or knowledge to do so, and others who have been actively and eagerly
incorporating improvisation into their work and art. The next two sections
illustrate approaches that this last group of musicians has taken, in some
cases renewing historical practices in modern contexts and in other cases
introducing innovative methods.

Improvisation as a developmental tool

Improvisation can be an important developmental tool both as a learning tech-

nique for students and as a practice strategy for professionals. Musicians in
my study found it useful for deepening understanding of traditional repertoire,
improving technique and aural skills, expanding interpretative and expressive
possibilities, discovering a personal voice, and lessening performance anxiety.
In this section, I describe the approaches of a pianist, a vocalist, a horn player
and a flautist, all of whom have established careers as performers and teach
advanced conservatoire students.


For professional pianist Kristiina Junttu, improvisation is a key practice tech-

nique and a pedagogical tool. ‘It is more a method to free myself than an art
form to perform on stage’, she explains. When she first started improvising,
I was scared that I wouldn’t have any ideas or I just wouldn’t find anything
to play… [Later] I understood that you don’t have to create something
completely new, rather you can use any kind of material, rearrange it and
start with that… Liszt has this large collection of technical exercises that
are like cells of his music… Bartók has Mikrokosmos. It’s like a treas-
ure box. Every composer has something like that. Kurtág has Játékok.
Brahms also has exercises. They are completely different because they’re
in their own style… I realized that I can use them as material for improv-
isation, that if I understand the main idea and transpose and build up
phrases I can do loads of things. So I started to do exercises practising
these different things… It was the attitude that you can simplify every-
thing to where you can work with it. Find that skeleton, play with the
basic things, and then do some modulations, change the metre, change
the harmonization. Then you realize that you can go a bit further and a
bit further and a bit further.
226 Musicians in the Making

By breaking down and playing with the components that characterize sev-
eral composers’ stylistic languages, Junttu gains technical versatility as well as
a deeper aural and intellectual understanding of the material from the inside
out. After such playful deconstruction and reconstruction in the practice room,
Junttu finds that she is able to create a feeling of spontaneity, freshness and
energy on stage even when performing traditional work from a score:

Always when you play a classical piece on stage you should somehow
create it anew, so it feels like it’s the first time… You can’t do that if you
don’t know the piece… To keep the music very alive and flexible, even
when reading … you have to allow yourself to do something that you
never even tried when you were practising. Maybe it’s not that obvious
for the listener. It can be different phrasing or articulation or ornamen-
tation. The improvisation is not that big in terms of what it actually
sounds like… But you know when you go to a concert and you’re mes-
merised? Then you know that something is happening here and now and
it’s so present.6

Improvisation as a practice strategy can also lead to important psychologi-

cal benefits, as Junttu explains:

I try to keep myself open and not have too criticizing an attitude toward
myself. That’s hard because that criticizing attitude is something that I
learned from a very young age and it’s destructive, it does not help me
play well at all. Improvising when you’re practising, even when you’re
learning a new piece, is helpful to avoid that … to not be too serious and
to have a playful way of playing with the piano and with pieces… Then
you are able to achieve more of what your ability actually is. When I can
keep that attitude on stage I play so much better. It’s like a flow… I am
more open to whatever happens and able to react really fast or do things
that are completely new… But you have to rehearse that way; otherwise
it’s not possible on the stage.

Junttu’s experiences here are representative of many musicians who found that
overly critical and perfectionist attitudes towards the execution of the score
impeded technique and heightened performance anxiety, whereas maintaining
a more playful attitude can help musicians better perform to the full extent of
their abilities.
Similar exercises can also be valuable in teaching, as Junttu illustrates:

I started to play games with some simple songs, for example ‘Happy
Birthday’ in a Liszt style… We just take some children’s songs, play them
by ear and then add the chords. Then we do it in different keys and with
different accompaniments… It’s very pianistic, so like ornamentation,
doing broken chords for the accompaniment, or using loads of octaves,
Incorporating improvisation into classical music performance 227

or doing a kind of cadenza in between, or changing the metre from three

to four, and then doing modulations and those kinds of things.

Improvisational games can help students develop aural skills, technique, confi-
dence and stage presence, as Junttu has observed:
They are more flexible with their instrument. They can pick up tunes
[by ear] and play them with left-hand accompaniment… They know the
basic structures better—things like chords, inversions, progressions and
keys are easier for them… It develops both their ear and their physical
technique. It’s so much easier to get to that kind of level where you can
just think and your fingers know… The way they are with the piano is
more free and they are not that scared of making mistakes… They are
confident with the instrument and confident playing to others, and they
find that comfortable way of doing music.

Contrary to the popular myth that one must master technique before becoming
creative, Junttu reveals how improvisation can develop technique:

I have one amazing student who came to me when she was six. She was so
keen on music, but her fingers didn’t move at all. She was really behind in
development of motor ability. So I had to start her with all these improv-
isation exercises. We improvised pieces, we did exercises with hands and
fingers, and now she’s eleven, and her way of playing the piano is so com-
pletely free that she’s amazing… Her way of playing the instrument is so
rewarding to listen to, it’s easy and so natural.



While pianists have played a prominent role as improvisers in classical music,

improvisational approaches can be just as effective on other instruments. My
next examples come from the work of mezzo-soprano Päivi Järviö, who also
uses improvisation in the practice room and the teaching studio. Her rehearsal
methods provide evidence of how improvisation can be used as a form of
practice-based research for discovering new ways of interpreting old music.
She explains:

I think the way you practise is very important. Practising isn’t about find-
ing the way you’re going to play this piece, rather it’s about finding lots
of ways you could play this piece, taking it apart and throwing it around
and not deciding. Maybe you can decide something, but then in perfor-
mance something else might happen because after discovering all of these
options you might find something new in the performance that you had-
n’t tried before. If, however, it’s just ‘I choose this then I go here’, it means
228 Musicians in the Making

that I can’t go there. So ideally it gives you more room in the performing
situation instead of having to balance on a tight rope where if something
happens you fall.

Practising for Järviö is thus a key exploratory stage in which she discovers and
investigates a great range of interpretative possibilities. A deeper understanding
of these possibilities then allows her to approach her interpretation of tradi-
tional music (in her current project, eighteenth-century French baroque reper-
toire) with spontaneity and flexibility. An added benefit of not being locked into
one way of performing is that it makes failure in performance much less likely.
Having this flexibility to spontaneously pursue multiple possible options is,
for Järviö, mandatory for making music art. Otherwise it becomes, in her words,
‘a crossword puzzle where you have just one right answer’. She laments that even
in early music circles ‘the crossword puzzle model is beginning to be there; the
fans of early music go to the concert to see if you filled in [the boxes] correctly’.
When she sang modern music with a professional chamber choir, she similarly
found the attitude that everyone was ‘so proud that we could learn everything so
fast, sight-read anything and sing all these different things in the concert… The
ideal is a person who can produce the right notes with the minimum amount of
work and then they’re happy with it.’ The downside of this attitude is that ‘if you
have this situation where you have two rehearsals and a full concert, you don’t
have the time to go to the uncomfortable area… It’s important to feel uncom-
fortable and not always just stick to what feels nice or natural, because it doesn’t
mean that it’s necessarily the right answer for you or for anybody.’ For her, such
a lack of exploration and discovery is when music stops being art. She pro-
claims, ‘I don’t want to perform anymore if I don’t have that space. I don’t see
any point in doing a gig to do something correctly. I don’t feel good afterwards,
I feel like a prostitute, that I’m selling something that is not the real thing, that
I’m cheating the audience. They believe that we are doing art.’
Järviö has also encountered the ‘crossword puzzle model’ while giving les-
sons and demonstrations for conservatoire students. For example, in a master-
class, students became confused by conflicting instructions regarding how to
interpret a passage. Järviö told them, ‘isn’t it wonderful that there are so many
different alternatives! It’s you who are playing and there is no right answer to
this. There are different answers and many of them can work and some of
them don’t and that’s the risk that you take, but you decide.’ These advanced
students were intimidated: ‘they had never done this. They were really scared
of making decisions.’ Järviö encourages students to overcome such inhibitions
by role modelling:
I give them so many alternatives that they start to realize that actually it
is not this or this but it’s like eight different alternatives… So they under-
stand that it’s an unending field of possibilities. Because they want to do
things right, it’s very scary to launch into something like that, so I also
Incorporating improvisation into classical music performance 229

give bad examples and make fun of myself so that they can hear that this
is not so serious, it’s just music.

In my research, I found that attitudes emphasizing a single correct model of

performance and interpretation can inhibit creativity and increase perfor-
mance anxiety. Anticipating negative judgement if one departs from that model
can lead individuals to self-censor, conform and avoid taking creative risks.
Furthermore, having only one right answer often leads to an increased fear
of making mistakes, failing or embarrassing oneself. These fears are the basis
of performance anxiety (see Kenny 2011), which can lead to negative physical
consequences (such as technique being inhibited by tension), inhibitive psycho-
logical impacts, and distracting thoughts that prevent performers from entering
into a flow state. Using improvisation in rehearsals and teaching can instil more
helpful attitudes—that there are multiple possible solutions and that perhaps
music need not be taken too seriously all of the time. A  teacher’s modelling
of occasional failures as acceptable also helps to foster a safe environment in
which learners can explore less encumbered by anxiety.


The next example further illustrates how improvisation can be employed as a

tool for lessening performance anxiety and encouraging creativity. Horn player
Erja Joukamo-Ampuja works for a professional orchestra and teaches horn,
improvisation pedagogy and creative musicianship at the Sibelius Academy in
Helsinki. She underwent a transformation in her approach to music-making
when, after having played in orchestras for several years, she went to the
Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London for additional training in
improvisation and creative musicianship. It was ‘in those kinds of exercises’,
she explains, ‘that I realized for the first time that I had lost my creativity and
the joy of just playing around with my instrument’. Also in her studio horn
teaching at the Academy, she feels that her job is ‘to train them so that they
win the auditions’. Joukamo-Ampuja now teaches improvisation to ‘bring cre-
ativity into the classical musician’s training, because somehow there’s a lack
of it’. She is one of the leaders of a five-level course series entitled Creative
Musicianship Skills, offered at the Sibelius Academy. The courses aim to teach
classical musicians to ‘dare to make mistakes’, ‘to dare to be creative’, ‘to use
their virtuosity also in the creative way and not only in playing exactly from
notation’, to improve interaction skills and group dynamics, and to interact
creatively with audiences and youth.
These creative musicianship courses often begin with improvisational games
and exercises adapted from theatre (and influenced by the work of Johnstone
1979). Exercises frequently take participants outside their comfort zones. This
is important for lessening inhibitions (a violinist might be very concerned about
230 Musicians in the Making

embarrassing herself by improvising on the violin, but might not care so much
if her musical peers see that she is a terrible actor), as well as for equalizing the
playing field (none of the musicians in the class may be good actors) and build-
ing supportive group dynamics (they can all make fools of themselves together
and still respect one another as musicians). Many exercises are also approached
as games, which is important for instilling a sense of playfulness so that partici-
pants feel free to explore possibilities and so that they get the feeling that it is
acceptable to make mistakes. Overcoming fear of mistakes is a crucial compo-
nent of developing the courage to take risks, which is entailed in any creative
work that challenges conventions.



Playful and exploratory improvisation can also be an important part of the

musician’s self-discovery process. Flautist Kristiina Ilmonen, who also teaches
improvisation courses at the Sibelius Academy, elaborates on the importance
of experimental improvisation as a pedagogical tool:
We don’t want that we would only have people becoming free avant-garde
free specialists, that’s not our goal… We believe that it is a very good way
of finding elements in yourself as a musician that you would not other-
wise find. So through improvisation, you can find your personality as a
musician. You get courage to do things you wouldn’t do otherwise. Also
you get a wider tool box… You find ways to express yourself and courage
to express yourself, also traditionally.

Acquiring such skills also enables orchestral musicians to do creative collabo-

rative outreach work. For example, children and audience members may pres-
ent compositional ideas to members of the orchestra who realize them using
Thus, improvisation can be a valuable developmental tool for musicians at
all stages, from novices to professionals, greatly enhancing performers’ ability
to fluidly and expressively interpret traditional material in concert.

Improvisation in performance

The classical musicians whom I interviewed engage in many types of improv-

isational activity in public performance. Some improvise subtle nuances of
interpretation while remaining fairly faithful to pre-composed scores; others
improvise their own cadenzas within canonical repertoire; others delight and
impress audiences by extemporising entire pieces in their concerts; and others
use improvisation for practical functions in church services, at weddings, and
Incorporating improvisation into classical music performance 231

as accompaniment for modern dance and theatre performances. Here I present

examples from the work of a clarinettist and an organist.



Kari Kriikku, a clarinettist with an international career as a soloist, impro-

vises his own cadenzas when he performs concertos by both modern and clas-
sical composers.8 Kriikku discloses his approach to preparing his improvised
I really try to use the material from the piece. I copy pages of my part or
of the score and I cut it up. I make a puzzle of it and lay it all out on the
table. Then I see the whole cadenza like this on the table. Then I add my
links to these pieces. This is how I plan a cadenza in the early days. Now
after I’ve played a piece many times I can just go to the stage and make a
new cadenza and see what happens.

Kriikku is simulating the process of oral composition. First he builds a bank

of macro and micro musical material—overall frameworks and skeletons and
a vocabulary of suitable motives, connecting links and embellishments—which
he practises until he can manipulate them smoothly. Then in the moment of
performance he uses these materials to construct his cadenza. In times and
cultures in which musicians have developed through aural immersion in one
style—learning, performing and storing their repertoire orally—the ability
and propensity to manipulate musical building blocks in the moment of per-
formance often have developed naturally and with less conscious effort. This
results from biological factors, namely the way in which the human brain
analyses, stores, retrieves and reconstructs aural information, as well as cul-
tural factors, such as the tendency for musical works to be less fixed and for
musicians to be exposed to multiple versions of pieces (see Hill, in press;
Lord 1960; McLucas 2011). In contrast, in contemporary institutionalized
cultures in which musical works are often rigidly fixed, musical material is pri-
marily stored in and retrieved from notation instead of human memory, and
performers are no longer immersed in only one style but rather exposed to a
plethora of diverse styles, the process of oral composition may need boost-
ing with a more intentional strategy (see Hill 2009). Kriikku’s puzzle-piece
method is a deliberate strategy for building up that important vocabulary
base, which is more difficult for musicians to develop when they learn music
by notation instead of by ear.
Using puzzle pieces specifically from the score of the concerto in which the
improvised cadenza will occur ensures that Kriikku’s improvisation will cohere
with the stylistic norms established by specific composers within certain works.
If modern musicians were to allow themselves to draw from the diversity of
232 Musicians in the Making

musics that they have experienced in their lifetime, then it is likely that the
resulting improvisation would not remain within stylistic boundaries. This is a
matter of aesthetic choice and values. For some, transcending such boundaries
is inappropriate while for others it represents the peak of creativity. As flautist
Ellen Burr avows: ‘creativity, to me, is listening and being open to the moment,
and allowing yourself to pull in disparate images and ideas and sensations …
like a whirlpool coming in to synthesize all these things to this one place, like a
centrifugal force, and from that centre is what you speak’.
One of the biggest challenges that Kriikku reports is not repeating himself,
which is important to him so that his cadenzas always sound new and fresh.
He explains that if you allow yourself to simply come up with something on
the spot,
maybe something nice happens, but the danger is that you start to do
things that you are sure about. [You think,] ‘this is what I  have always
done, I know people enjoy this special thing on the clarinet, and I’ll do
it again’. But that’s not really interesting. So I have to make a plan, and
then once the plan is clear in my mind I can improvise with the plan when
I see the reactions from the audience. Then I can leave off big parts of the
plan, take off, and eventually come back to the plan. I can even leave it
open as to whether I finish the cadenza loudly or really quietly, which is a
big deal in classical music.

Hence, in contrast to the myth that improvisation should be completely spon-

taneous, Kriikku finds that preparing for an improvisation makes it more likely
that he will do something new than if he goes into an improvisation unprepared.
Improvising cadenzas can have a big impact on relationships with other
musicians and with the audience. Kriikku has found that ‘if you decide to be
really free and improvise’, you run the risk of leaving other musicians in inse-
cure positions:
If you don’t tell the conductor if you’re going to finish loudly or quietly
or how you’re going to end, how will he know when to bring the orches-
tra in? There’s no sense to make the conductor feel scared whether he will
come in in the right place. So sometimes if you have an unsure conductor
in this world, you can make a deal that ‘in the end of the cadenza I will
start to do this and you just come in’.

The reception that Kriikku has received from modern composers is an impor-
tant reminder that many composers in the past and the present have appreci-
ated the creative input of performers:
Composers started to write pieces for me and some included big moments
for improvising, like the first and second concertos by Jukka Tiensuu…
In the first Tiensuu concerto the cadenza … is a big part of the piece…
Incorporating improvisation into classical music performance 233

It’s quite clear that it should be an improvised cadenza and I always try
to create something new. Tiensuu did write out his own cadenza, but
he only wrote it if someone were to play it who can’t improvise… The
Magnus Lindberg Concerto only has a place for a cadenza; you can play
a cadenza if you want or you can leave it off, the composition is built like
that. But I started to play quite a big cadenza and we were at the BBC
Proms Festival and Magnus was saying ‘now go for it and play a long
cadenza’. Then I went to the LA Hollywood Bowl to play this piece and
then Carnegie Hall with the New York Phil, and he said ‘no, play a bigger
cadenza’. So he started to like the idea.

Even though ‘their language is more modern’, Kriikku considers ‘the music of
[contemporary composers] Tiensuu and Lindberg classical as well, because it’s
clearly part of the classical music history’—and together these composers and
performers are continuing a historical performance practice into the present.
During the classical era, composers would often write concertos with specific
performers in mind and provide room for performers to contribute their own
creative work (with cadenzas being notated as an optional aid for those not
skilled or confident enough to improvise their own).
Improvising can have an impact on a performer’s relationship with the audi-
ence. Performing well-known concertos from the classical canon can often be
nerve-wracking, confesses Kriikku:
There is kind of a pressure because they are such great pieces. There are
at least four that are running all the time wherever I go… The tension is
not because you have something new and the audience is listening to the
music, rather what it is is [that] they are listening to its execution, ‘oh, I’ve
heard this concerto before, let’s see how this is now’. If we could solve this
problem about tension we could make much more interesting interpreta-
tions of classical pieces… But at the moment when my cadenza comes
in the concert, I’m not tense. It’s my big moment. It’s interesting and it
includes the element of improvisation.

Shifting the listener’s focus from how well a familiar piece is executed to dis-
covering and enjoying new musical experiences can lessen musicians’ potential
performance anxiety, thereby freeing them to be more creative.



Next I present examples from the work of organist Christoph Bull, a German
musician now based in Los Angeles. When playing in church services Bull
engages in more functional types of improvised performance, while in concerts
he embarks on boundary-challenging improvisations.
234 Musicians in the Making

In contrast with many of the other musicians in this study who came to
improvisation relatively late in their musical development, Bull received formal
tuition in improvisation from an early age. Though he describes this early train-
ing as ‘conservative’, it provided an important foundation of skill sets:

[My teaching] was fairly traditional … [going] back to baroque forms

and then maybe some romantic symphonic forms… It was service-ori-
ented for church … so it had a practical application, like for example
making up an intro to a church hymn. Another thing they taught us was
to reharmonize a church hymn. So here’s the harmony that’s in the hymn
book, and here’s a way where you can make it more romantic with a
richer harmony. My teacher would show me these chords that have a
romantic sound, like some diminished or half-diminished chords, or she
might show me how you can harmonize a hymn using a lot of fourths
that’ll make it sound more modern.

Once equipped with such training, the church environment provided tremen-
dous freedom and support for improvisation, as indeed it has for generations
of musicians:

A prelude would be an opportunity before the service starts to kind of set a

mood, to feel the mood of the room and do something, like building from
something very quiet to fortissimo and then starting the service with the
opening hymn. When I was in Germany it was a little bit more customary
to start it off with a bang, so there are different methods. Sometimes the
postlude can be a room for improvisation, sometimes communion can be
a room for improvisation, and sometimes what happens is that we’re play-
ing an anthem and then the anthem is too short and the liturgical action is
continuing so that would give me an opportunity to improvise in the style
of the anthem, make it appear as if that is actually still part of the music. I
enjoy trying to stay in that style, using the same kind of harmonies, using
some of the themes. So I’ve found the church to be a nice environment for
improvisation, and I think it has encouraged it throughout time.

Despite these numerous opportunities for improvisation, the church environ-

ment can also be constricting. A functional musician must balance the needs of
the ritual and be sensitive to the tastes of participants. One village congregation
found Bull’s Messiaen-inspired arrangements of hymns to be ‘quite jarring’. He

A lot of what I learned I don’t do any more because I find that in real life
most of the time it’s actually best to keep it simple. I learned all of these
fancy things … but it doesn’t necessarily help them to follow it… When I
was still in Germany I would put these methods to the test. For example, I
would do a reharmonization of the hymn with those fourths and seconds
Incorporating improvisation into classical music performance 235

and I did notice that some people didn’t really like that. To be quite honest I
think they might’ve had a point, because those were traditional hymns and
I’m not sure that they really sound better with those modern harmonies. It’s
interesting, but I’m not really sure if it helps. It could be a little bit distract-
ing. So I found myself going back to being more conservative with it.

As a functional musician, Bull developed sophisticated harmonic substitu-

tion skills and a broad range of stylistic tools that were not really necessary in
church services. However, these skills and tools proved invaluable for artistic
expression in other venues. The most adventurous improviser in comparison
to the other classical instrumentalists in the study, Bull now performs a diverse
array of improvisational approaches:
I started … just fantasizing, so it was less of an improvisation where you
are supposed to have some kind of order and more just doing whatever
you want… Sometimes I improvise on existing pieces, using them as a
point of departure. Right now I’m working on something where I’m tak-
ing a Mendelssohn overture and Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and I’m
creating a hybrid piece between the two … jumping back and forth like
a mash-up and then I create a little interlude so it works with the mod-
ulation. So if people know the pieces, they’re really going to like that…
Sometimes in concerts I will improvise on subjects that are submitted by
the audience… Somebody might say ‘dissonance’ or ‘joy’… One time
somebody came up with the idea ‘improvisation on September 11th,
2001’, so that of course turned out to be a serious piece… I’ve had peo-
ple sing a theme, too, and that’s nice because then that becomes part of
the performance… If I have like ‘A Little Night Music’ as a theme and
‘Stairway to Heaven’, then maybe I can combine those two. People usu-
ally enjoy the juxtaposition of things that really wouldn’t normally be
juxtaposed… Sometimes I collaborate with a painter… I play and I see
what he’s painting to the music and it really inspires the both of us… It
can be more fun when there are other people and it also might take you
into unexpected territory… My gang is the painter, my girlfriend who
is a singer, and a percussion player… Once in a while I just need that

These diverse artistic choices are of course guided by Bull’s own dynamic
personality and aesthetic values. It is also likely that his experiences as a devel-
oping and working functional musician—in which improvisation was an inte-
grated and integral component—played a key role in fostering self-confidence
and enabling attitudes. Bull exhibits a particularly positive attitude towards
potential criticism:
I don’t care so much about what’s allowed and what’s not. I also accept
that if some people are against that, then maybe that’s ok if there’s a
236 Musicians in the Making

little controversy… Sometimes I might play the original piece and then
I’ll continue with the improvisation on it. So I’m not too concerned that
I desecrated the old Bach, you know? … Sometimes the fans are more
concerned about that. Even in rock music some people have violent reac-
tions to a cover version of a song: ‘how can you do that?’ And I’m like,
‘hey, if you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Listen to the original, it’s still there,
nobody took away the original piece.’

Many musicians are inhibited by anxiety related to potential negative feed-

back. If musicians are able to receive criticism without letting it erode their self-
confidence, it makes it much easier to confidently take creative risks. Oftentimes
musicians themselves are more disapproving of improvisation than listeners.
Bull reflects:
I’m never quite happy with it. I  always think, ‘oh, I  could have done
that better’, but the audience always appreciates the improvisation. They
think it’s amazing, when it’s really not, it’s just something that musicians
do. But the audiences think ‘that’s just incredible that you can come up
with something seemingly out of nowhere!’ … People like it.

Challenges facing improvising classical musicians today

Given all the benefits of improvising—such as expanded creative expres-

sion, enhanced interpretation of traditional repertoire, improved technique,
decreased performance anxiety, more exciting performances, and greater audi-
ence involvement and appreciation—why is there not more improvisation in the
contemporary practice of classical music? Constraints and inhibiting factors
are unfortunately numerous. Those that came up in my interviews with musi-
cians might be categorized into three spheres:  (1)  education, (2)  career pres-
sures and (3) values.
Not having had the opportunity to develop the relevant skill sets was one
of the biggest practical constraints that musicians encountered. Many musi-
cians reported lacking the aural skills to realize musical ideas on their instru-
ments, the memory facility to spontaneously access a musical vocabulary,
a practical understanding of music theory that can be applied in their own
playing, and in some cases even decision-making skills. For example, one
American violinist, Camille,10 was frustrated that her teacher ‘didn’t teach
me ear–hand coordination… It was all reading and it wasn’t hearing…
There was no connection between theory and what I was playing.’ When she
later began studying improvisation, she experienced ‘a disconnect that made
me feel very uncomfortable… I was put in a high level [class] because of my
ability to play, but I couldn’t. I was swimming in there because I couldn’t
vibe in terms of just the ability to jump in… I was able to fill in a lot of those
Incorporating improvisation into classical music performance 237

gaps, but those were always my weaknesses.’ In another example, a European

cellist, Tuomas, reflects that his conservatoire teacher was so authoritarian
that when he graduated he had no knowledge of how to express his own
musical ideas: ‘it was like a nightmare because there was no model to be
copied… After studying seven years with him, I was unable to make any
decisions, unable even to find out how to make fingerings for a classical piece
of music.’
Another major factor inhibiting classical musicians from improvising now-
adays is the potential risk of receiving negative feedback for anything that
might deviate from the notated score and conventional interpretation norms.
Assessments from teachers, exam boards and audition committees can be the
most inhibiting. For example, an American clarinettist, Luke, expresses his
frustration that

If you do something really out of the box, it could be really interest-

ing and inspiring, but … you almost feel that need to fit yourself into
a box. Like when you play in an audition, at least for me, it feels like
you’re restricted… There’s that pressure that you want to play every-
thing like really correctly … because orchestra committees just want
you to play in a box… The people who get the jobs here are the ones
that can just play all the notes and all the rhythms in tune and in the
right place.

The underdevelopment of creativity-enabling skill sets and the fear of nega-

tive assessments can affect individuals at a deeply personal level. At the same
time, these constraints may operate systematically across our musical commu-
nities via educational institutions and professional assessment mechanisms.
Underlying such pedagogical approaches and assessment criteria is a specific
set of values and beliefs—values that we perhaps should reassess and challenge.
One set of values that strongly influences education is an overemphasis
on perfectionism, which can have negative psychological effects, leading to
increased performance anxiety and self-censorship. Another is the attitude that
improvisation is play and does not belong in serious music-making. Yet another
is an extreme emphasis on the precise and supposedly faithful execution of a
score. Is art music really better if it is serious and never changing? Could there
not be benefits to ‘serious music’ if more play were incorporated?
The most pervasive and insidious inhibitions against the creative agency of
performers are connected to the belief system in which improvisation in clas-
sical music is considered to be wrong. This belief often goes unspoken, but
Elizabeth, a septuagenarian orchestral musician in the United States, articu-
lated it clearly: ‘I thought I would do a little improvising occasionally when I
was playing classical things, but that actually isn’t right… That was wrong.’
The basis for her value judgment was twofold: ‘because the classical composers
238 Musicians in the Making

put down what they wanted you to play’, and ‘because if you’re not [being
completely faithful to the score], then you’re giving the listener a different piece
of musical information than they should have, and I think that that’s actually
wrong… They should hear it like it was done in the day.’ These are the ideals
of remaining faithful to a composer’s intentions and recreating a historically
authentic sound, but such attitudes have a specific twentieth-century history
(see Goehr 1992). Recent research in performance studies has demonstrated
that performers took much greater creative liberties in the eighteenth and nine-
teenth centuries than was previously believed to be the case when many of the
teachers of our current generations of performers were taught music history.
Regardless of whether or not the creative liberties of performers would have
been tolerated or appreciated by historical composers and heard by historical
audiences, perhaps it might be worthwhile to challenge these values. Leech-
Wilkinson and Doğantan-Dack (2013) question why we are bent on ‘obeying
the every collectively imagined whim of a man who, as often as not, has been
dead for several hundred years’. They propose that ‘we have no ethical obliga-
tions to dead composers’.
This contemporary value system restricts the creative authority of perform-
ers in favour not only of composers but also of teachers and editors. Underlying
this ideological system is an assumption that performers’ creative capacity is
inferior—an unspoken aspect of the entrenched hierarchies of classical music
culture. Setting low expectations can be a self-fulfilling prophecy:11 when per-
formers are not given the opportunity to develop enabling skill sets, they are
crippled from realizing much of their creative potential. In this respect, it is
telling that many of the improvising classical musicians whom I  interviewed
were self-taught or followed pathways alternative to mainstream music educa-
tion. Until pedagogical goals and curricula change, aspiring creative perform-
ers will need to take some of their training into their own hands in similar ways.
Surely it is time for classical performers to assert their right for greater artistic


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Pupils’ Intellectual Development (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston).
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240 Musicians in the Making


Bull, Christoph. Los Angeles, USA, November 2012

Burr, Ellen. Los Angeles, USA, November 2012
Camille (pseudonym). Los Angeles, USA, November 2012
Elizabeth (pseudonym). Los Angeles, USA, November 2012
Ilmonen, Kristiina. Helsinki, Finland, September 2008
Järviö, Päivi. Helsinki, Finland, May 2012
Joukamo-Ampuja, Erja. Helsinki, Finland, May 2012
Junttu, Kristiina. Helsinki, Finland, May 2012
Kriikku, Kari. Helsinki, Finland, May 2012
Luke (pseudonym). Los Angeles, USA, October 2012
Tuomas (pseudonym). Helsinki, Finland, May 2012
Musical artistry and identity in balance
Carlos Lopez-Real

As I began putting together this Insight, one of the hardest tasks was finding
the right opening sentence. I wanted to contextualize the essay to give readers
both a frame of reference and, in particular, a sense of who I am in relation to
‘creative performance’. This inevitably led to familiar dilemmas about how best
to capture the slippery sense of professional identity. This is common to many
with a so-called portfolio career, among whose ranks I count myself. I initially
tried ‘I’m a musician working primarily within the field of small-group contem-
porary jazz’, having already dismissed ‘I’m a saxophonist …’ as too narrow.
Such pithy ‘elevator pitches’ have their place, and I use different versions all the
time, depending on the situation. However, when considering my own pathway
in more holistic terms, there is something central and essential about slipperi-
ness of identity, about constantly evolving practice, about the shifting focus of
my own artistic journey, and about uncertainty. So let me try again.
I play the saxophone. I love playing it and I enjoy the sounds I make. I con-
fess to initially being drawn to it by the look just as much as the sound, although
these days it’s the physical sense of togetherness, and a certain ‘release’ through
playing, that are the prime attractions of the instrument. I wish that I played it
more, but mostly only in the sense that I always wish there were more hours in
the day. In general, when I choose not to play it for a period, it’s because of that
slippery sense of professional identity and my artistic focus being elsewhere,
such as composing, curating, teaching or collaborating in other ways.
There are many key relationships—symbiotic ones—which are integral to
my own pathway to creative performance. Many of these feel like two sides
of the same coin. I’m an improviser and a composer. I’m a performer and an
educator. I  have an individual artistic voice and an artistic voice embedded
within a collective of musicians, a community of practice. These are some of
the ‘big picture’ relationships, but there are many significant micro relation-
ships too. For example, I perform in intimate settings for a handful of people,
and I perform at festivals for tens of thousands; I perform live for audiences
242 Musicians in the Making

and I ‘perform’ in the recording studio. I could go on, but instead I will try to
unpack some of the ‘big picture’ relationships.
For me, improvising and composing are mutually beneficial processes to
engage in. Let me take improvisation first. The core of my ‘craft’ throughout
my career to date has been playing jazz, and improvisation has always been
a central element of that. The jazz styles I’ve worked in have varied hugely,
from early twentieth-century recreations such as the Pasadena Roof Orchestra,
through small-group bop styles of the 1940s–60s, to all manner of contempo-
rary styles to which the casual observer would hardly ascribe the label ‘jazz’.
Away from jazz, I’ve also worked with improvisation in other styles. These
include Indian classical music and many variants of popular western music
such as salsa, samba, funk, etc.
Added to this has been considerable experience of improvising in so-
called ‘free’ contexts, ostensibly without a predefined style, and usually with-
out predefined structures to contain the improvisation. In practice, however,
there are just as many subgenres of ‘free’ music as there are in any other
realm; it tends to be more about certain stylistic preferences (often atonal
and arhythmic), and a clear ‘language’ usually emerges. In cross-arts con-
texts, I’ve improvised and composed music in collaboration with dancers
and filmmakers.
All of this experience has given me a much deeper understanding of the
nature of musical improvisation than I would have had if I’d been playing pri-
marily in one style. Importantly, it has helped me to untangle processes that
were essentially genre-neutral, versus ones that were to do with ‘language’.
Improvisational skills and processes which I came to see as universal include
aural imagination; memory; creation of narrative and awareness of overall
shape; emotion; ability to play different ‘roles’ within the improvising ensem-
ble; motivic development; knowledge of chords, scales and modes; and control
of space, phrase shape, pitch range, dynamics, articulation, tone, phrase length,
phrase density, pulse, metre, internal pacing, time feel and intervallic structure.
All of these ‘tools’ can then be deployed to communicate meaningfully with
other musicians, using a shared stylistic language. The knowledge of the subtle-
ties and details of each musical language is just as important for good commu-
nication as the universal tools themselves.
These lessons, learned through my varied musical experiences, have simulta-
neously been unpacked, explored, tested and developed through my teaching.
My roles as educator and performer have mutually reinforced one another. In
particular, it was with my ‘educator hat’ on that I refined my concepts of the
nature of musical language within specific styles, and how best to learn that
language as an improvising musician. I came to view the importance of equilib-
rium between yet another pair of processes. A ‘top-down’ method of language
acquisition involves listening, transcription and the imitate-assimilate-innovate
cycle; a ‘bottom-up’ tool kit of resources, strengthening the ‘building blocks’
Insight: Carlos Lopez-Real 243

of the music, supports this. There are parallels between genre-neutral skills and
those primarily concerned with style, idiom and language.
This awareness in turn helped me to understand the direct correspondence
to composition, as all of these are skills, processes and considerations central
to my work as a composer. The main difference, of course, is that they occur
in disparate time frames. It’s too simplistic to say that the improviser deploys
these skills ‘in the moment’ and more intuitively, while the composer has time
to more consciously manipulate them and ponder the outcomes. Both the
improviser and the composer are working with a vast repository of tacit knowl-
edge, often in an intuitive, direct and aural way. Correspondingly, both bring
to bear conscious strategies, problem-solving and decision-making processes.
Nonetheless, the disparate time frames do result in outputs which themselves
are distinct. As a composer, I can craft form and structure that often would be
difficult for an improviser to achieve. As an improviser, I can effect a subtlety of
phrasing almost impossible to notate or even conceive as a composer. For me,
however, improvisation is at its best in group situations where a deep, shared
musical language can facilitate real musical conversation.
This leads me to consider the third of my ‘big picture’ relationships, namely
my individual artistic voice within a wider community of musicians. Jazz is a
highly collaborative art. The key developments in the history of jazz music have
happened on the bandstand, night after night, as musicians improvise together,
using their current favourite materials and devices. The language evolves quite
literally before one’s eyes and ears. Someone may improvise a new melodic
‘solution’ to a particular harmonic ‘problem’, and, if it resonates with the other
musicians, this will be picked up on and developed. It may stick and be further
developed during subsequent performances, eventually bedding down as a new
part of the collective language. It’s very common for the musicians I work with
to record their performances and then listen to them for new ideas, and this
speeds up the evolutionary process of language development.
My generation looks back enviously at a time when jazz musicians could
hold a nightly residency at a club for months on end, for the very reason that
this was the creative cauldron in which the music developed so rapidly. The dig-
ital age offers us different opportunities, however, including almost unlimited
access to recordings of the past. Our listening, and what we can absorb in terms
of musical language through transcription, is broader than past generations
could ever have dreamed of. In one way, this fast-tracks young players to having
a very complete mastery of the improvisational ‘canon’. On the other hand, the
process is essentially one-way, rather than collaborative.
One of the means by which this collaborative gap has been filled has been
the formation of numerous semiformal networks or collectives of musicians,
coalescing around common musical or social ideas. In 2007 I brought together
several musicians to form the E17 Jazz Collective. This harnessed the poten-
tial of the high density of top jazz musicians in Walthamstow in East London,
244 Musicians in the Making

many of whom already knew each other socially and professionally. Over the
years we’ve curated hundreds of gigs, plus several festivals and collaborations
with other groups. Aside from more external recognition, such as funding and
awards, the benefits to the musicians have been primarily artistic. Existing musi-
cal connections have been strengthened and new ones developed, often resulting
in the formation of new bands where the personnel overlap. This context has
facilitated the refinement of our own improvisational ‘dialect’ in the manner
described above. My personal musical voice has been tangibly influenced by
regularly collaborating with my local peers. In turn, I’ve made a distinct con-
tribution to the collective artistic identity, through my playing, composing and
For me, a collective means a way of working together which goes beyond
simply playing music together. It means having a mutual understanding of
our place as musicians within society, and specifically within our own imme-
diate cultural and social contexts. Just as there is fluidity to the jazz scene as
a whole, so there can be fluidity to the nature and makeup of collectives. E17
Jazz itself has changed, for example, and in fact is in a process of constant
evolution. Just as people come together to form natural networks, collectives
and collaborations, so too (on a more macro level) can collectives. Currently
several collectives collaborate on larger creative projects, and some London
ones are joining forces to make a more unified presentation to European
funding bodies.
This balance of looking inwards versus outwards seems entirely in keep-
ing with the other elements of my professional identity: improviser/composer,
performer/educator, individual/member of collective. As I consider these rela-
tionships, it becomes clearer to me that I’m essentially dealing with creative
expression generally, rather than creative ‘performance’ in particular. On the
other hand, there are innumerable connections between the two which them-
selves undergo constant evolution as one develops as a musician. The fact that
artistic journeys can progress along several pathways at one and the same time
may encourage the slipperiness of identity and the sense of uncertainty that
I’ve discussed, yet these in turn can be sources of creative inspiration to be
tapped as one wishes at any given stage.
Ensemble music in the making: a matter
of shared leadership
Margaret Faultless

The most fascinating and far-reaching influences on my career as a perform-

ing musician have been musical encounters and discussions with colleagues.
These take the form of verbal and nonverbal communication, both on and off
the platform. It is well known that nonverbal communication can be expressed
through body language, often in the form of signs and signals recognized by
another person or a group of people. This is certainly the case in small and
large musical ensembles alike. But for me, the most sophisticated communica-
tion in such contexts takes place through the music itself, when subtle and ver-
bally indescribable nuances can be suggested and negotiated whilst the music is
being played. I have found that in the rehearsal setting (itself a mode of perfor-
mance) these interactions can be intense, transforming the musical experience.
An ensemble large enough to be called an orchestra is a complex social
organism, and the variety of expressive interactions present during the process
of rehearsing and making artistic decisions can be stimulating, challenging and
sometimes unexpected. At best, it is a highly charged, artistically creative envi-
ronment where multilayered, simultaneous exchanges take place. The reciprocal
nature of these exchanges is often suggested by the music itself and is mirrored
in the act of rehearsing and performing. In a larger orchestra, where players
cannot hear each other well enough to play without potentially endangering
ensemble or balance, a silent conductor indicating time and character is essen-
tial. Many repertoires and associated venues require an individual who can be
seen by all musicians and who can take responsibility for an artistic overview.
The pit at Bayreuth, for example, is designed not so that orchestral players
can hear each other, but rather for the audience’s acoustic experience. In these
circumstances, no single player has an overview of the whole performance;
rather, each musician contributes through technical skill on an instrument that
is mediated via visual signals from the conductor and somewhat limited aural
feedback. This does not necessarily diminish the experience for each player, 245
246 Musicians in the Making

however. Even from the back of an orchestra pit in an opera house, it is still
possible to know and feel whether the performance is exceptional rather than
merely adequate.
The role of complex social encounters within a large ensemble playing reper-
toire composed during the decades before the era of silent conducting is worthy
of special consideration. This music was not composed with the necessity of
a conductor in mind. All of Haydn’s and Mozart’s symphonies and most of
Beethoven’s fall into this category. These works have become core repertoire for
period instrument orchestras. It is within such ensembles that I have had the
privilege of participating and observing the minutiae of social interactions and
their profound effect on performances. For many reasons, a conductor is often
in charge of this earlier repertoire, bringing an individual artistic interpretation
into the rehearsal process and the concert performance. But the conductor’s
presence also entails a distinctive hierarchy, which inevitably redefines the inter-
nal social dynamics of the ensemble.
When musicians work together, they develop an understanding of the whole
score, not only of their own individual line. Within this social network (when
the group is functioning well), the control of the flow and drama of the music
passes between instruments, and each player takes on a remarkable variety of
roles. These roles involve leading and following, switching between one and the
other, and exploring the middle ground in a complex world of exchanges, where
(unlike spoken conversation) more than one musical debate can happen simul-
taneously and intelligibly. To offer just a few examples, the role of an individual
line in an ensemble can, at any one moment, be melodic, structural, soloistic or
accompanimental; it can influence rhythmic ebb and flow, or underpin the har-
monic foundation. In my experience, through understanding the function of
these various elements, a good chamber orchestra knows—sometimes instinc-
tively, sometimes assisted by direction—how to apportion responsibility and to
define the role of individual lines in order to enable the music to ‘speak’.
These musical interactions, which are implicit in the language of the classi-
cal period, mirror the Enlightenment itself. The classical style of the late eight-
eenth century appears to play out new social conventions through sonata form.
Certain typical patterns of reciprocal phrases, contrasting material, small-scale
gestures, harmonic events and the arch of the tonic–dominant polarity of
sonata form itself all contribute to a world of musical social encounters played
out in and through music. In both rehearsal and performance, individual musi-
cians and sections thereof express these aspects of classical form as social acts.
An audience goes to a concert to see as well as to hear these encounters take
place on stage, and it can appreciate the role of the social both in the perfor-
mance and potentially in the music itself.
In some rehearsal formats, the social dynamic of the ensemble can be
such that each player feels empowered to contribute by making suggestions
about how to shape the interpretation. However, it is crucial to know when it
Insight: Margaret Faultless 247

is appropriate to contribute. Otherwise, the results can be unwieldy, which is

unsatisfying as well as simply inefficient. Often there does need to be someone
in charge of the process. In order to maximize the creative potential of the
whole group, it is essential that a style of leadership conducive to collaborative
interaction be developed.
The more I experience being led by a player–director or by directing ensem-
bles myself, the more convinced I am that overprescriptive rehearsal techniques
and overmarked musical material can inhibit creativity. Such approaches
attempt to define a performance before it happens and even disregard the
nature of an individual group of players. The instructions ‘loud–soft’, ‘short–
long’ or ‘fast–slow’ are not creatively stimulating and rarely engage colleagues’
respect for long. It is more creative and inspiring to rehearse the possible nature
of a performance suggested by the notation (treating it as a map, not a blue-
print), rather than to propose a single interpretation that ostensibly would suf-
fice for every performance and venue. Combinations of these possibilities can
then result in a unique performance that does not rely only on preformed deci-
sions as to exactly how to play each phrase. Once a common musical language
is defined between players through the rehearsal process (and after working
out technically challenging passages), the performance itself becomes a con-
versation, a multilevel exchange of simultaneous ideas. The shared under-
standing that develops of the music’s structure ensures that these exchanges
between players remain unchaotic and stay within a range of intelligible social
Such creative spontaneity and flexibility has been well documented and
described as a mode of performance in the case of the solo performer. But it
can be extended to much larger ensembles and, I would argue, could become
an essential tool in the work of any chamber orchestra. As good creative
practice, this would enable every participating musician to experience the
rehearsal and performance process as one in which they can influence and
mould the performance, and one in which the social dynamics of the ensem-
ble can promote and help to realize the creative potential of musicians and
listeners alike.
Making connections
Helen Reid

When I think about experiences which have shaped my life as a musician and
as a pianist, I inevitably come back to an injury that I suffered which nearly
ended my career before it had begun. I was fifteen and had just started to study
at a music school. I was diligent and enthusiastic, practising for up to four or
five hours a day. Eventually I  started to feel pain in my right arm, and this
developed into tendonitis. Over the next four years, I continued to play, inter-
spersed with periods of rest and trips to various specialists, but the injury grew
worse rather than better. The irony was that I had begun to excel as a pianist.
During the time when my injury was at its worst, I won concerto competitions,
performing Ravel’s Piano Concerto with the Hallé Orchestra and my school
orchestra; I  was also a keyboard finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the
Year competition. On the outside I seemed to be flying, but in private I was
suffering both physically and mentally from the strain of the injury. I couldn’t
write, I could barely lift anything, and all my strength was poured into being
able to continue to play. Secretly, I despaired of my pianistic future, feeling that
I was living on borrowed time with my playing.
Many stories of injuries do not have happy endings, but my story does. I was
extremely fortunate to meet wonderful piano teachers who analysed my physical
approach to the instrument, as a result of which I started to alter the way I was play-
ing. At the same time, I met a very skilful osteopath who treated the physical injury.
I realize now that this two-pronged approach was the only thing that possibly could
have cured the injury. One would not have worked without the other. Now, some
twenty years later, I no longer view this period as entirely negative: instead, I see it
as a positive experience that enabled me to grow as a person, musician and teacher.
As less was known about musicians’ injuries at the time I was suffering, I
had to explore many avenues to learn more about how to improve the phys-
ical symptoms. In addition to receiving treatment from various practitioners,
I began to closely examine my physical relationship with the piano. I started
to realize that I was playing pieces without enough regard for my physical
Insight: Helen Reid 249

shape, in particular my very small hands. Now, I am especially aware of the

repertoire that I choose to perform and that I recommend for my students.
This is not as simple as avoiding ‘big’ pieces which could be considered unsuit-
able for small hands. Whether large or small, hands have different shapes and
stretches between the fingers. In fact, I have noticed that students with larger
hands sometimes find pieces with bigger spaces between the notes challenging,
because they rarely have to move their wrist in order to manage stretches; there-
fore, they can lack the flexibility of those with smaller hands, who often have
to compensate.
On a more holistic level, I started to connect my knowledge of the whole
body to produce the best sound in the most economical manner. I learned that
a relaxed arm, a free wrist and firm fingers mean a stronger connection with
the keyboard and a greater range of sound. Through lessons in Alexander
Technique, yoga and Pilates, I  began to bring the rest of my body into this
process, which meant that playing the piano became comfortable and a source
of physical pleasure.
With physical relaxation came mental relaxation. When I  felt nervous,
I  could use the physicality of playing the piano to calm my mental state. I
would look for places in a work—a forte chord, for example—where I knew I
could relax my whole body into the keyboard. This, in turn, would counter the
physical and emotional symptoms of my nerves. In my playing and my teach-
ing, I try to ensure that musical gestures are inextricably linked with physical
gestures; not only does this make the overall shape and structure of a work
more convincing, but it also means that I endeavour to use my body ‘musically’
at all times, rather than engaging in an excessive physical approach with the
risk of injury.
With regard to practice, for many years I was forced from my established
routine of practising some four hours a day to a maximum of two hours.
However, my desire to play had become so heightened, and my appreciation
and desire for that practice time so strong, that I began to achieve more, or
certainly no less, in that time than I had done previously. My physical practice
became immensely focused. I also employed more mental practice techniques,
such as analysing harmonic and musical structure, and memorizing composi-
tions away from the instrument. Alongside this I learned more about the his-
torical and biographical contexts of the pieces. Developing the scholarly side
of my work as a musician inspired me to embark on a Master’s degree and con-
duct some additional research projects, which further enhanced and inspired
my playing and teaching.
The emotional impact of the injury on my playing is much harder to dis-
entangle. Playing the piano had always been an emotional outlet, and natu-
rally I poured the myriad emotions that I felt during this time—a depth of
emotion that, at the age of fifteen, I had never experienced before—into my
playing in one or more ways. This seemed to give my performances greater
250 Musicians in the Making

depth, and I felt that I began to develop a stronger connection with the works
I was playing.
I entitled this essay ‘Making connections’ because, reflecting on the last
twenty years, I realize that this is what now characterizes my playing and teach-
ing. If a musical journey through a piece is to be most convincing at least for
the individual performer, then I believe that physical gesture needs to connect
with musical intention. Making physical and emotional connections in this way
means that playing the instrument is a constant journey as well as a joy, and it
may also allow audiences to connect more deeply with my performances. Such
connections are also an excellent way to avoid subjecting oneself to the kinds
of injury that I suffered from and that afflict so many musicians in the making.

Creative dialogue
and reflection

Reflection and the classical musician

Mary Hunter and Stephen Broad

The musician who has surrendered his will to tradition has lost all
hope of keeping the tradition alive.
—Rosen (2002: 18)

The notion of reflective practice is implicit in all of the chapters of this book, to
the extent that they are describing or calling for critical thinking about the core
elements of (mostly) classical music in different learning contexts—lessons,
practice, ensemble rehearsals, performances and assessments. In this chapter,
we want to put certain kinds of reflection into a slightly broader historical and
philosophical context. In particular, we wish to consider how the ideologies of
classical music, which have been the underpinning of western musical train-
ing since the nineteenth century, might or might not be present in the kind of
reflection in which classical performers engage, and might distinguish reflective
practice in classical music from that in other genres. We hope that by identifying
some elements of these musicians’ mental and imaginative habits and practices
as socially constructed or culturally determined, we might help to encourage a
sort of meta-reflection which could broaden the seemingly ‘natural’ assump-
tions that underlie many classical musicians’ approaches to practice and inter-
pretation, and which could have a liberating effect as a consequence. Indeed, if
critical thinking in and through musical practice is closely connected to the idea
of an artist’s constantly evolving frames of reference, the cultural and ideologi-
cal frame of the kind of music that he or she plays is as important as any other.
We operate under the assumption that to take the core values of classical music
explicitly and critically into account in reflective practice is essential to the way
practising musicians understand and respond to the changing world.
This chapter, then, is partially ethnographic, to the extent that it is based
on the observations and comments of performers as they reflect on what they
do. These observations and comments come both from student practice diaries
at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (hereafter RCS) and from a series of
254 Musicians in the Making

semistructured interviews with professional musicians, which were carried out

as part of a project on the discourse of classical music performance.1 Although
the specific focus on RCS students and a small sample of professional musicians
is inevitably limiting, we hope that our conclusions will have some resonance
for those studying and teaching in other conservatoires and in university music
departments, as well as for classical performers outside these learning contexts.

Classical music ideology

The core ideology on which these classical-music-focused educational settings

have traditionally rested relies on a canon of deified composers and reified
works—the ‘classics’ of so-called classical music. The fact that certain com-
posers and works come into or fall out of favour and that the ‘standard rep-
ertoire’ constantly evolves does not alter the ontological status of composers
and works within this ideology. Indeed, the periodically fierce battles over what
should be included in the canon (music by women? by people of colour? works
in ‘popular’ styles?) only prove how important the idea of a canon is to the
institution of classical music.2 What interests us here more than the contents of
the canon, however, is the fact of its existence, together with the ways in which
the genre-specific notions of dead, though ultimately authoritative, composers
and unique, more or less fixed works preserved in scores may affect how classi-
cal musicians think about what they are doing.



Clearly much reflective practice in classical music is not, and has no reason
to be, very different from that in any other genre where the performers have
significant professional ambitions. All serious musicians in all traditions
reflect on questions such as whether a performance speaks to those listening
to it, whether it is emotionally satisfying to the performer(s), whether it is
adequately rehearsed, how to prepare an effective performance efficiently,
whether nerves get in the way, whether the ensemble (if there is one) works
well together, whether the performer(s) are in the right physical shape for the
performance, whether the performance represents the overall style of music
adequately, how a given performance might fit into a career trajectory, and
so forth. For none of these questions does the ideology of the canon or the
discourse of classical music impinge in any obviously distinct way on how
classical musicians think about music-making, and perhaps that is why a fair
proportion of the performance studies literature makes no, or few, distinc-
tions between classical music and other kinds of music taught in relatively
formal situations like conservatoires.3
Reflection and the classical musician 255

For example, when Anna, a postgraduate student at the RCS,4 critiqued a

recording of her accompanying, she was obviously referring to a general sty-
listic framework of ‘classical song-accompanying as it is currently practised’.
However, that is not in principle any different from the rock guitarist experi-
menting with how much distortion to add to a solo riff to make it both individ-
ual and stylistically idiomatic. Anna’s reflection thus can serve as a generically
acceptable example of the species:
An essential aspect that was missing in most songs was the variety of
colour. No matter how loud I thought the bass was from my perspective,
it could have been much more and this would have helped the depth and
colour needed in most songs. Also, upper voicing needed more ‘ping’ in
chords and not just equal weight applied to all notes. I could be a more
active member of the duo and in driving the song, rather than being pas-
sive and simply following the singer.

Similarly, the comments about nerves by her colleague Sophia could come from
a young (or not so young) musician in any tradition:

This performance class showed me the importance of overcoming my

nerves, as even though Hilda and I performed exactly the same piece as
before a couple of months ago in front of John and the strings students,
I was more nervous and therefore was not as happy with how I played…
The problem with nerves that I find is that they’re almost completely
random in how they strike—for example, when I played a concerto with
orchestra last summer I was nervous, but the exhilaration of the perfor-
mance was such that I got over them very quickly, whereas during this
small performance class, which was effectively a showcase for new pro-
spective students, I was pretty nervous throughout my performance for
no good reason that I could work out.



However, once reflection turns to interpretative rather than to social, physical

or practical questions, and the focus is a specific work or works, the issue of the
cultural-ideological frame of reflection becomes more interesting.5 The verbal
discourse of classical music quite routinely raises three issues peculiar to, or at
least highly characteristic of, this genre. The first involves a concern to divine
from a printed score and then to do justice to (or ‘respect’) ‘the composer’s
intentions’. The locution ‘what did he mean or could he have meant by this
articulation or dynamic marking?’ is ubiquitous in classical music practice, and
it testifies to the fundamental sense of a coherent and ostensibly single inten-
tion behind the notation. In nonclassical western music, only tribute bands,
256 Musicians in the Making

which aim to recreate the performances of their heroes in every sonic and visual
detail, raise comparable questions about original intent. However, because the
aim of a tribute performance is typically reproduction rather than interpreta-
tion, and because the sources for the performances are audio and video record-
ings rather than printed scores, the performers are not usually caught on the
horns of the same dilemmas as classical performers.
Secondly, concern about the propriety of the overt intrusion of ‘ego’ in
performance and interpretation is especially acute in classical music.6 One
professional classical musician who took part in the interview study noted
that part of his maturation involved getting his ‘ego in the right place’, by
which he meant not on display during his performances, and not his primary
concern. As classical musicians, we figure ourselves as being engaged in the
‘realization of … elements’ sometimes evident, sometimes hidden within a
musical composition,7 rather than in the creation of a ‘cover version’ of a
work, in which the point is precisely not to render the performance trans-
parent to an imagined original, but to change the original in ways that bla-
tantly identify it as now the possession of the current performer. The need to
moderate the overt intervention of one’s personality as a performer is both
explicit and implicit in many kinds of discourse about classical performance.
For example, in a philosophical essay on the ethics of (classical) musical per-
formance, Urmson (1995) describes the problematics of being ‘faithful’ to
dead composers whose written indications are radically incomplete, yet he
goes on to reinforce both the authority of the composer and the subordinate
position of the performer:
I think it is deplorable that there should be arrogant performers who
believe that the satisfactions of their individualities, their artistic visions,
or what you will, are of such central importance that all other consid-
erations can be legitimately ignored by them… We should be glad that,
on the whole, we live in a time when performers, unlike operatic and the-
atrical directors[,] … do in general take their responsibilities seriously.
(Urmson 1995: 163–4)

Finally, using the score rather than other media or oral tradition as the primary
repository of truth is also particularly characteristic of classical music. Rosen
writes, ‘The eminent value of the score—the theoretical structure of pitch and
rhythm with some of the other aspects of music indicated generally in a some-
what cursory fashion—is, I think, unique to Western music’ (2012: 34). He gives
further weight to the score, stating that ‘there are many different ways of real-
izing the score, but they are all realizations of the same work, which in fact
remains invariant—remains, we might say, visible but inaudible behind all these
realizations’ (ibid.: 28). Professional musicians who participated in the semi-
structured interviews8 reported here often referred to score study as a primary
source of interpretative conviction and artistic bona fides. For example, a violist
Reflection and the classical musician 257

described using Simon Rowland-Jones’s heavily annotated editions of the

Haydn quartets as follows:

These editions are fantastic. They are not definitive; he’s taken the most
direct sources he could… He cites all the different sources. And then it
gives you this wonderful freedom of choice … and that’s really fun…
And, I mean, you start to gain authority… It comes from really really
really doing as much as you can to research and expose yourself to dif-
ferent things.

And a professional pianist noted:

It’s taken me fifteen years to deal on the one hand with my ego, which was
inflated… My values shifted … towards ‘oh, what’s the music doing’…
Partly that happened because of people I came into contact with… One
in particular pointed me back to the music, she pointed me back to the
score, and basically told me … ‘look at how these things connect, look at
where this phrase goes…’

Recordings, live performances by other artists, and the lore of teachers and
other authority figures—the oral traditions of this genre—are often described
as important, even indispensable. However, despite (or, some would say, because
of) its relative paucity of detailed information about performance, the score is
felt to be the ultimate arbiter of interpretative limits in ways that are unique to
this genre. Rosen, for example, writes, ‘it is the basic antagonism of score and
performance, of concept and realization, that is the glory of Western music’
(2012: 27).
Underlying all discussions of the ontological status of the score is not only
the idea that there are such constant entities as works, which exist to be ‘recre-
ated’, ‘brought to life’ or even ‘reproduced’ in performance,9 but also the notion
that performances advertised as being of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony have an
obligation to fall within a penumbra of possibilities limited by the score.10 Most
important for everyday practice is the notion embedded in this discourse that
works are hierarchically above performances—that is, works (however defined)
are both more important and more capacious than performances of them
(Levinson 1996). In other words, ‘the work’ embodies intentions (what kinds
and at what level is a point of discussion), at least some of which need to be
made evident for the performance to be ‘of’ that work; therefore, the performer
has relatively limited freedom to display his or her ‘personality’. A review of
the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, for example, notes: ‘The Academy
found every nuance in the music’ (Furones 2013; italics added), again implying
that performers tease meanings out of something preexisting and with a finite
range of implication, rather than adding personally or culturally meaningful
elements to an incomplete and malleable set of suggestions.
258 Musicians in the Making



There are, of course, musicologists and philosophers who propose alternative

models: the ethnomusicologist Christopher Small, for example, has baldly and
provocatively suggested that ‘there is no such thing as music’, replacing ‘music
as thing’ with ‘music as social process’. The philosopher Stan Godlovitch has
also taken a broader view of performance, including classical; he suggests
that in practice ‘the performer–listener axis [carries] more weight than the per-
former–composer pair’, and that ‘the work, in action-centred conceptions,
becomes one means of marshalling various skills eager, so to speak, to issue
forth in acoustic gifts to receptive beneficiaries’ (1998: 50). In other words, the
work is more a vehicle for shaping and displaying the performer’s technical
and expressive means than a more or less static object to be ‘reconstituted’ in
performance. Finally, the phenomenologist philosopher Bruce Ellis Benson
(2003) also takes a more fluid attitude to the relation of works and perfor-
mances, setting up a model of continuous improvisation, passed from com-
poser to performer to listener. However, while influential in certain circles,
these incursions do not seem to have had a very profound or pervasive effect
on most professional and semiprofessional critical discourse about classical
music performance, let alone on the habits of thought prevalent among many
Indeed, among practitioners, examples of the prevailing ideology of service
to an authoritative composer and reified, if also capacious, works are com-
mon in instructions given to students or in descriptions of their own senses of
the task of interpretation. Consider, for example