Perhaps most remarkable about the findings of this study is the consistency with which the 19 elements present themselves in the work of three teachers who teach in different performance domains—winds, strings, and keyboard—all of which pose different technical and pedagogical challenges. The personalities, professional backgrounds, and professional experiences of our study subjects also vary, yet their teaching is strikingly similar at the level of the three categories that we identified: Goals and Expectations, Effecting Change, and Conveying Information.
We propose that the elements of teaching appear so consistently, both among lessons and among teachers in this study, because these elements comprise the highest form of instructional skill in music. We suggest that these teachers, all of whom have risen to the very top of our profession, teach the way they do because it is the way that students learn best. Of course, whether our conjecture is accurate will be borne out by further research that looks at these questions in the work of other teachers and by using different, and more precise, methodologies than we employed here. But the stability of the elements in the contexts observed is an important indicator of the validity of our observations.
It may be argued that the teaching observed in this study represents a special case, namely, performance instruction at a near-professional level of skill. And it is undeniably true that the students we observed were highly motivated, dedicated, and diligent. Yet, the question of generalizability to other music teaching settings remains open. Just as there is yet no systematic evidence that the teaching we describe here would be effective with younger students who may be less skilled, less motivated, or less intelligent, neither is there evidence that it would be ineffective.
Regardless of the idiosyncrasies that differentiate students from one another, there are common principles of human learning that apply to all students, and the 19 elements identified in this work seem to address the teaching-learning principles that are generally understood and accepted by the discipline (e.g., providing good models, defining instructional goals, conveying information effectively, giving discriminative feedback). The specific instantiations of these principles in the teaching we observed are in many ways consistent with the accepted notions about what constitutes good instruction—providing excellent musical models, for example. But there are other examples that are at variance with some aspects of accepted convention, such as the high ratio of negative to positive feedback. These similarities and differences deserve further scrutiny.
The goals of teacher preparation must be defined by a clear picture of the very best of instructional practice. Whether our discipline has yet defined such a picture is arguable. Doing so requires the application of all forms of observation and analysis, including systematic observation, case study, and other forms of description. Findings from this type of research are important in that they begin to illuminate aspects of teaching practice that may not be easily measurable using pre-defined observation procedures and may not be apparent to a casual observer.
The data from this investigation provide a rare glimpse into the day-to-day teaching practice of highly skilled professionals. Although they all have been observed frequently in master classes, observing their work in the private studio has been the privilege of their own students. As is true in any discipline, all of us have much to learn by carefully studying the very best among us.