Norges musikkhøgskole Norwegian Academy of Music
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Being Talented – Becoming a Musician

A qualitative study of learning cultures in three junior conservatoires.

The thesis is available online in Brage (PDF).

This dissertation sheds light on music specialist education on the pre-college level, seeking to discover which kinds of knowledge and ways of learning are valued inside the learning culture of three junior conservatoires in Norway and England.

Three research questions are posed through the study:

  1. What cultural assumptions and values characterise the learning cultures of junior conservatoires?
  2. What are the central learning resources made available for students through the learning cultures?
  3. In what ways do various students engage with dominant assumptions and values as well as central learning resources in the learning cultures, and which factors can shed light on their engagement?

Based on observations of central activities in the three junior conservatoires, interviews with students and teachers and analysis of documents, Stabell identifies a learning culture characterised by dedication, specialisation and hierarchy, where certain kinds of musical capital are valued. Central to the learning culture is the dream of achieving a performance career and, above all, a position as a solo performer. It is a culture that values musical talent, technical competence and students who perform well under pressure. The dissertation also illustrates how students relate to the cultural values and assumptions in various ways, and by this construct inbound, outbound or peripheral learning trajectories.

The junior conservatoires in the study are all music specialist programmes for young musicians up to the age of 19 years and they are organised by institutions for higher music education. Entrance is upon competitive audition, and all tuition is extracurricular, taking place on weekends or afternoons. The programmes offer individual instrumental lessons, chamber music, chamber orchestra and/or symphony orchestra, musical awareness classes and opportunities to play and listen to concerts. The level is, in general, very high and many students continue into higher music education.

Key concepts addressed in the study are learning cultures, learning resources, access and positioning (Bourdieu, 1977, 1990; Wertsch, 1998). The concept of learning cultures is inspired by the work of James and Biesta (2007) and Perkins (2011). Similar to these studies, the present study combines sociocultural learning theory (Wenger, 1998; Wertsch, 1998) with Bourdieu’s thinking tools of habitus, capital and field (Bourdieu, 1977, 1990; Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992).

Selected references

  • Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a theory of practice (Vol. 16). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Bourdieu, P. (1990). The logic of practice (R. Nice, Trans.). Oxford: Polity Press.
  • Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L. J. D. (1992). An invitation to reflexive sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Hodkinson, P., Biesta, G., & James, D. (2007). Understanding learning cultures. Educational Review, 59(4), 415-427.
  • James, D., & Biesta, G. J. J. (2007). Improving learning cultures in further education. London: Routledge.
  • Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Perkins, R. L. (2011). The construction of 'learning cultures': an ethnographically-informed case study of a UK conservatoire: University of Cambridge.
  • Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.
  • Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wertsch, J. V. (1998). Mind as action. New York: Oxford University Press.