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What's new in pedagogy research?

Do you have an undergraduate or graduate degree in music? When you were working on that degree, were you hoping to teach in an independent studio, or were you more interested in a career as a performer or a university professor? Did you see private teaching as a goal in itself, or simply as a way to make some money on the side while you pursued your "real" career? A recent study titled "Music Majors' Attitudes toward Private Lesson Teaching after Graduation" surveyed 486 undergraduate and graduate music students at two large state universities. These students were either participating in large, auditioned performance ensembles or were enrolled in three piano studios. The majority of the surveyed students were either performance or music education majors, with a few other majors that included music therapy, music composition and arts.

The survey consisted of 28 statements with Likert scale responses ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 4 (no opinion) to 7 (strongly disagree). The statements could be grouped in eight large categories:

Teaching and My Career as a Performer. A large majority of the students indicated that they expected or hoped to teach. Fifty-six percent agreed or strongly agreed that they would primarily teach for the money, while 26 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement. In examining the differences between the music education students and the performance students, the performers were more interested in teaching private (applied) lessons in higher education.

The Relationship between My Teaching and Playing. Eighty-four percent agreed or strongly agreed that teaching would improve their own playing, although only 38 percent had discussed this with their teachers. The performers felt this more strongly than the music education majors.

My Need for Teacher Training. A majority (82 percent) disagreed or strongly disagreed that good teaching technique was obvious and that formal training would not be necessary. Ninety-two percent disagreed or strongly disagreed that a good performer was automatically a good teacher. A minority (39 percent) indicated that they would teach their students exactly as their best teacher had taught them. There were no significant differences between the performers, music educators and other majors in this area.

The Students I would Like to Teach. In this area, there were some significant differences between the responses of the performance and the music education students. The performance students indicated that they would particularly like to teach advanced students and students who found music to be easy. The music education students were more open to the idea of teaching young students and students who struggled with learning music.

Why I Would Enjoy Teaching. The responses to the statements in this area were generally positive, with 83 percent agreeing strongly that they would enjoy seeing their students become better musicians, and 73 percent strongly agreeing that they would enjoy working at becoming better teachers. The graduate students were significantly more positive than the undergraduates in statements about improving their teaching and helping their students understand a particular point.

My Responsibility for Students' Learning. Almost half (48 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that they would bear some responsibility if their students quit their lessons. It is interesting to note that only 19 percent agreed or strongly agreed that the teacher was responsible for the students' failure to practice, while 22 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement.

Teaching Styles and Curriculum. Most of the respondents (94 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that the lessons should be fun for the students. Thirty-six percent agreed or agreed strongly that students should get the notes right before adding elements of expression, with the graduate students disagreeing more strongly with this idea. While 35 percent thought that repetition was a good way to improve difficult technical passages, 51 percent disagreed. All the groups of respondents thought that teaching improvisation was important, but the educators were in stronger agreement than the performers. The educators were also in stronger agreement with the statement that reading music needed to begin with the first lesson.

The Status of Private Lesson Teaching as an Occupation. On the statement that private teaching is a career that is valued by society, 41 percent agreed or strongly agreed, 22 percent had no opinion, and 37 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.


I found some of the results of this study to be predictable, some surprising and a few disappointing. It was interesting, but somewhat predictable that the music education majors were less focused on teaching for money and more willing to take on students who were younger, less advanced and less gifted. For most vocalists and instrumentalists, this translates into public school music teachers who will also teach private lessons to the students in their ensembles. For the pianists, however, I would guess that many were probably performance majors. From this we can, perhaps, extrapolate that many piano majors may prefer and expect to teach more advanced and gifted students, and may hope to teach in higher education. Is it inevitable that performance majors are less interested in working with average children in a private lesson situation? Some earlier studies cited in this article have indicated that with pedagogic training these students could be given the tools to be successful in teaching average children and adults.

It was somewhat surprising and rather disappointing to see from the responses of both the music education and the performance students that there was little inclination to take responsibility for motivating good practice habits in their students. Again, one wonders if pedagogic training could help these students have a better understanding of the realities of working with average students.

It would be helpful if further study in this area were conducted, specifically comparing the attitudes and beliefs of performance majors who had participated in undergraduate or graduate pedagogic training with those who had not had this experience. Would those with some training and teaching experience see it as more than just a way to make money? Would they be more open to the idea of teaching average children? Would they be less focused on the goal of teaching only in higher education? In other words, would they have a better grip on the realities of the life of the musician who graduates with a degree in performance?


(1.) William Fredrickson, "Music Majors' Attitudes Toward Private Lesson Teaching After Graduation," Journal of Research in Music Education 55, (Winter 2007): 326-343.

Rebecca Grooms Johnson, Ph.D., NCTM, is a nationally respected leader in the field of piano pedagogy She is an independent teacher and has taught extensively at the college and university level. Rebecca has been Ohio MTA president, chair of MTNA's Pedagogy Committee and currently serves as National Certification Chair
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Title Annotation:educational research on music teachers and teaching
Author:Johnson, Rebecca Grooms
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2009
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