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Teacher and Student Interaction During Music Lessons

Tore West
Royal University College of Music, Sweden
August 2001

I have investigated how music teachers and their students communicate during instrumental music lessons, with speech, music and gestures. How do they interact with each other -- that is, in what ways do they talk to each other and how do they play their instruments? How do their actions affect what the students can learn? This is something that there is very little research on.

An understanding of music education focusing on ways of communication, rather than musicality or talent, can be helpful in the development of teaching and learning. Musicality is often thought of as a talent that you either have or donít have, rather than something all people have, more or less, that can be developed with proper training. A static view of musical talent makes it difficult to address the problems of musical development, in learning and teaching.

Together with a colleague, I videotaped, transcribed and analyzed 11 brass instrument and guitar lessons in Sweden. Four teachers and 21 students aged 9-35 years participated. We wanted to know how both teachers and students used speech, music and body language, and also where they focused their attention during the lessons. Concepts from earlier descriptions of traditions in music and music teaching were used as a base for analyzing the lessons. A detailed description of each lesson was analyzed using cognitive concepts of experiencing and learning music, as well as concepts of educational genres of speech and music use. We differentiated five educational functions of speech during the lessons testing/inquiring (such as questions); instructional (such as 'do it like this'); analytical (such as longer explanations that connect different problems); accompanying (usually short utterances that leads the other part, such as 'uh huh' or 'yes'); and expressive functions (such as metaphors that captures the spirit of the music). The same concepts were used to evaluate how the participants used musical phrases or single notes, playing their instrument or singing. Each utterance from teacher and students respectively was coded with one of these concepts, and the frequencies of the different functions of speech and music use were registered for each lesson. A total of five hours of videotape were minutely described and analyzed.

The results of the study show how music during the lessons was broken down into separate note symbols as read from the score, rather than the expected musical phrases, rhythms, or melodies. Expressive qualities of music performance were surprisingly not addressed at all. The interactions were controlled by the teacher, something that could be expected, but student attempts to take initiative were ignored or even ridiculed in a way that was not anticipated. This pattern of interaction was found to lead the focus of attention of the teacher and the students in different directions.

Misunderstandings were frequent, something that often took valuable time from the task at hand and led to frustration on both parts. An example is a scene where the students have problems finding the right fingering on the guitar, while the teacher keep asking the student to name the different notes  something the student have no problem answering. This does not lead the student forward, and both parts show disappointment.

These findings can hopefully be of help in improving teachers awareness of how they interact with their students, not only in musi