Near, Far, and In-between – Some views on instrumental music teaching effectiveness*

The summer course I’m teaching, Advanced Instrumental Methods, has kicked off this month and I thought I’d share a bit about the first topic we tackled. We began with an exploration of what it means to lead as an instrumental music educator and what factors seem to contribute to teaching effectiveness in instrumental music settings. As the title of this post implies, we tried to consider several perspectives – near, far, and in-between – to paint a picture of great instrumental music teaching.

One of the more entertaining discussion activities we tried in class was to draw a comic book superhero depicting what an ideal conductor might look like and trying to exemplify what kinds of superpowers a super-instrumental music teacher might have – here’s one image from some particularly gifted artists in class… see if you can guess the attributes they were trying to emphasize… Notice some of the more unique elements… the “third eye,” “lack of gender-specificity,” “inclusion of a student (with their own baton),” etc.

Dr. Madskillz

Here’s a quick glimpse of some of the perspectives we’ve brought to the issue as we zoom in and out in our discussions…


Some of the research that has been done with respect to rehearsing and conducting emphasizes a “near” perspective and has captured very fine-grained descriptions of specific attributes and behaviors that effective teachers tend to display on a moment-to-moment basis (Price & Byo, 2002). For example, the enthusiasm, gesture, pacing, error-detection skill, modeling ability, and feedback that teachers demonstrate contribute a great deal to whether they cultivate an engaging and productive rehearsal or not. We are fortunate to have a growing body of research that explores each of these issues.


We’ve also considered what it could mean to be a successful instrumental music teacher from a sociological perspective. We’ve discussed readings that portray the ideal instrumental music teacher as an inspirational mentor who’s capable of leading a community of learners towards a common purpose. Drawing from Yinger’s (1990) sociological view, a teacher can be conceived as someone who “co-labors” with students in a particular place – with the notion of place having multiple layers of meaning – the broader community, a specific school, a particular classroom, with a certain curriculum, through a certain activity, engaged in instructional problems, etc. This perspective stresses that there’s more to music teaching than what can be seen happening at any particular moment in any given interaction between a teacher and their students. Teachers, and perhaps music teachers in particular, are embedded deeply within the broader community surrounding their work and they can potentially have an impact on multiple levels of that community.


Lastly, we’ve also considered, Duke’s (1994) convincing argument in which he asserts that: “any useful observation framework must consider the rehearsal process in relation to the accomplishment of musical goals” (p.1). He presents the notion of rehearsal frames as a meaningful unit of analysis when examining the multitude of performance episodes that can take place in any particular rehearsal. A rehearsal frame consists of three basic components – a frame starts when a problem is identified and delimited to the music or players that are involved – the middle of the frame consists of some sort of activity, practice, or rehearsal strategy to address the problem – and a frame ends when the problem is recontextualized back to the larger performance setting it was found in. The rehearsal frame is an example of viewing teaching from the “in-between” vantage point or as Duke describes it, it can be seen as the “middle ground” of observing teaching. It’s particularly helpful for identifying periods of rehearsal that are more productive than others and for trying to pin down which particular activities may be most effective for helping students achieve specific types of goals.


*Duke, R. A. (1994). Bringing the art of rehearsing into focus: The rehearsal frame as model for prescriptive analysis of rehearsal conducting. Journal of Band Research, 30(1), 78-95. [the title of this post is an adaptation and elaboration of Duke’s (1994) discussion of distant (global evaluations), near (observation of verbal feedback), and middle ground (rehearsal frame) observation approaches]

Price, H. E., & Byo, J. L (2002). Rehearsing and conducting. In R. Parncutt and G. E. McPherson (Eds.), The science and psychology of music performance: Creative strategies for teaching and learning (pp. 335-351). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Yinger, R. J. (1990). The conversation of practice. In R.T. Clift, W.R. Houston and M.C. Pugach (Eds.), Encouraging reflective practice in education: An analysis of issues and programs (p. 73-94).  New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


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