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Vera. M.W. Due: Boundary-work in one-to-one instrumental teaching

How do instrumental teachers define the boundaries of their teaching practice within higher music education?

Field of study: Music Education


Learning to play an instrument at a professional level is a complex and multi-faceted task. In higher music performance education, the relationship between music students and their instrumental teachers can be all-encompassing. Lessons can include not only strictly technical or musical issues, but also issues regarding mental and physical health, career advice and socialization into the world of professional performing artists. This practice raises the question:

How do main instrumental teachers in music performance studies in higher music education construct and negotiate the boundaries of their own role and responsibilities, of the mandate of instrumental teaching, and of the content and activities in the instrumental lesson?

To answer the question, this project employs theory on boundary-work in an exploration of the practices of instrumental music teaching. The concept of boundary-work, developed by Thomas Gieryn in the 1980's and -90's, is used to describe the rhetoric or discursive processes of constructing and negotiating symbolic boundaries, using different cultural repertoires and different strategies. In this project, boundary-work is combined with critical discursive psychology to investigate how and with what interpretative repertoires and resources teachers construct and negotiate boundaries.

The project's material consists of video observations of instrumental music lessons in higher music education, followed by stimulated recall interviews with the teachers. A selection of about ten to fifteen instrumental teachers, teaching a variety of classical instruments in different higher music education institutions in Norway, have been recruited. The analysis of the material is based on an embodied and material understanding of critical discursive psychology, in order to investigate central elements of the teachers' boundary-work.

The project builds on the idea that the boundaries of the teacher's role and responsibility, of the teaching practice's mandate, and of the lesson's content and activities, are subject to ongoing and challenging boundary-work by the teacher, who utilizes, and negotiates between, repertoires and demands from multiple sources. The application of theory on boundary-work to music education opens up the practice to questions about inclusion and exclusion, while focusing on the teacher as a meaning-making agent in the midst of institutional structure, classical tradition, and student demands.

The demarcations of instrumental teaching practices impact what is considered the core of a musician's knowledge and what constitutes the mandate and purpose of main instrument teaching. In a broader perspective, the study has implications for the qualification of studio music teachers and the organization of performing music education.

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Published: Jun 9, 2022 — Last updated: Mar 8, 2024