We observed approximately 25 hours of private lessons taught by three artist-teachers. The three subjects of the study—the pianist Nelita True, the violist Donald McInnes, and the oboist Richard Killmer—were recipients of the 2002-2003 Distinguished Teaching Award presented by the Center for Music Learning at The University of Texas at Austin. Recipients of the award participate in residencies on the Austin campus and, as part of their agreement, are videotaped teaching on their home campuses for a period of one week. The second author of this investigation recorded 30 hours of private lesson teaching at the teachers’ home institutions—12 hours from True, 10 hours from Killmer, 8 hours from McInnes—and we reviewed approximately 8-9 hours from each teacher. The students ranged in age and experience from high school students to doctoral candidates.

All three of the artist-teachers are luminaries in the world of music performance and music teaching. Professors True and Killmer teach at the Eastman School; Professor McInnes teaches at the University of Southern California. Their biographical summaries are given below.

Richard Killmer, Professor of Oboe at the Eastman School of Music, was the recipient of the Eisenhart Award for Excellence in Teaching. His performing career includes principal oboe positions in the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Aspen Festival Orchestra, the Lake Placid Sinfonietta, the Oklahoma City Symphony, and the NORAD Band, United States Army. He is a founding member of the American Reed Trio. His academic experience includes public school teaching as Director of Orchestras, Longmont (CO) Public School System and university faculty positions at the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City University, Central State University, Macalester College, Hamline University, Eastman, and Yale.

Donald McInnes, Professor of Strings at the University of Southern California, holds the position formerly held by his teacher, William Primrose. Professor McInnes is renowned for his performances with major orchestras, in recitals, chamber music, and master classes, and as a resident member of the Camerata Pacifica Chamber Music Ensemble. He has appeared with the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Orchestre Nationale de France, Pittsburgh Symphony, Zurich Chamber Orchestra, CBC Radio Orchestra, and Toronto Symphony, among many others. His career includes close associations with such artists as Leonard Bernstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Janos Starker, Martin Katz, Menahem Pressler, Yo-Yo Ma, and Brooks Smith. Professor McInnes is an active recording artist who can be heard on Columbia, RCA, Deutsche Grammaphone, and Angel (EMI) recordings. He has introduced many new works for viola including those commissioned for him by such composers as William Schuman, Vincent Persichetti, Paul Tufts, and Robert Suderburg. He regularly appears at leading summer music festivals in North America and abroad such as Banff, Marlboro, Gstaad, Ambler, International String Workshop, and the Music Academy of the West. His students have received the first prize at the Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition, the Friday Morning Musical Club National Competition at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and the CBC National Competition in Vancouver, BC.

Nelita True, Professor of Piano at the Eastman School of Music, gave her New York debut with Juilliard Orchestra in Avery Fisher Hall. Since that time, she has appeared as soloist with Chicago, Baltimore, and National Symphony Orchestras and with orchestras throughout Europe. She has recorded over 100 works, and she gives recitals, master classes, and lectures throughout North America, Europe, Asia, South America, and Australia. She was the first American invited to be visiting professor at a conservatory in the former Soviet Union (Leningrad Conservatory). Many of her students are prizewinners in national and international piano competitions, and she has served as an adjudicator for the Gina Bachauer and William Kappell International Piano Competitions, Concours de Musique du Canada, Queen Sonja International Competition in Norway, the First China International Piano Competition, and many others. Her academic experience includes faculty positions at the Interlochen Music Camp, the University of Kansas, the University of Maryland, where she held the title, Distinguished Scholar-Teacher, and Eastman.

Our first goal in examining the video recordings was to determine whether there were elements of instruction that were common among all three teachers, confining our search to variables that related directly to effecting positive change in students’ performances

It is clear that the three teachers we observed are very different people. Their styles of personal interaction vary, although they are all confident, assertive, and courteous. But we were looking for attributes and behaviors that were related to the effectiveness of their teaching, with effectiveness defined by the improvements we observed in their students’ playing in the moment. We should note that, to trained musicians like ourselves, the improvements in students’ performances were clearly discernable at every stage of the lessons. There were virtually no instances in which a teacher identified a target and did not succeed in producing a discernible change in the performance of the target at the time it was introduced. 

Our observations were collaborative, in that we discussed what we observed in the presence of the digital video recordings, all of which had been transferred to a computer hard drive for analysis and editing. We worked to develop a consensus language for articulating what appeared to us to be the most important points about the instruction we observed. We limited our descriptions to only those elements that appeared in nearly every lesson taught by all three teachers.