Analysis of expert teaching has long been a part of professional education at all levels of instruction, but, even in light of seemingly endless discussions of the definitions and indicators of good teaching, there remains considerable debate about what makes an expert teacher. Despite the remarkable consistency across all disciplines with regard to broadly framed descriptions of effective teaching and its attributes, identifying precisely what expert teachers actually do to elicit positive changes in their students moment to moment remains an unsolved problem for aspiring novices, teacher educators, and other professionals involved in teacher assessment. Perhaps especially in music, in which the interactions between teachers and students differ markedly from conventional classroom instruction, there is a paucity of literature that adequately explains the complexities of expert teaching in context.
Music teaching has a long and rich history, and much has been written about notable pedagogues of the past, both in the history of Western music and in the histories of other cultures (Shehan Campbell, 1991), but surprisingly little of what has been written provides information precise enough to be useful in learning to become an excellent teacher. How do experts turn poor musicians into good ones? How do they turn good musicians into great ones? Answers to these questions encompass all of the things that teachers do: how they explain, how they demonstrate, how they ask questions, how they respond to student performance, and, perhaps most importantly, what they have students do. The difficulties in defining expert behavior precisely are not unique to music teaching, of course; the same challenges confront those who attempt to capture the nature of expertise in every discipline.
Perhaps not surprisingly, observers at all levels of experience and expertise are highly reliable in identifying excellent teaching when they see it (Duke, 1987, 2005; Madsen & Geringer, 1989; Madsen et al., 1992; Schmidt, 1992; Siebenaler, 1997), and the many books written about teaching express similar views about the characteristics of excellent instruction. But the majority of the non-research literature, rather than explaining the process of effecting behavior change in learners, comprise primarily descriptions of instructional materials, music repertoire, performance practice, and the physical aspects of music performance (e.g., tone production).
This is in contrast to the foci of published research in music education, in which teaching has been analyzed either from the perspective of detailed descriptions of specific aspects of teacher behavior—instructions, demonstrations, and feedback, for example (Davis, 1998; Duke & Blackman, 1991; Duke & Henninger, 2002; Dunn, 1997; Gillespie, 1991; Goolsby, 1996; Hendel, 1995; Kostka, 1984; Kuhn, 1975; Madsen & Alley, 1979; Madsen & Geringer, 1989; Moore, 1976; Moore & Bonney, 1987; Price, 1983; Sims, 1986; Taebel, 1990; Wagner & Strul, 1979; Yarbrough, 1975; Yarbrough & Price, 1981, 1989)—or from the perspective of broad, narrative descriptions of teaching or the characteristics of teachers (Creech & Hallam, 2003; Gholson, 1998; Sand, 2000; Teachout, 2001; Yarbrough, 2002).
Although systematic observation has obtained reliable results concerning specific aspects of teacher behavior (Abeles, 1975; Cavitt, 2003; Colprit, 2000; Derby, 2001; Duke, 1999; Goolsby, 1996, 1997; Hendel, 1995; Price, 1983; Siebenaler, 1997; Standley & Madsen, 1991; Yarbrough & Madsen, 1998; Yarbrough & Price, 1989; Younger, 1998), assembling a precise view of the process of music performance instruction, one that may serve not only as a tool for evaluation but as a source of meaningful prescriptive information as well, is an ongoing challenge (Duke, 1994, 2000, 2005; Duke & Madsen, 1991).
The purpose of the present study was to identify common elements in the teaching of expert artist-teachers in music. We began with no systematized observation structure; we simply watched many hours of video recordings of private lessons, noting elements of instruction that elicited changes in student performance, and classifying the behaviors of expert teachers that may define the nature of their expertise. We then selected videotaped excerpts that illustrate each of the elements as they appeared in the teaching of our three subjects.