Results and Video Recordings

Our analysis of the video recordings revealed 19 elements that were common to all three teachers. After extensive discussion and review, we organized the elements into three broad categories:  Goals and Expectations, Effecting Change, and Conveying Information. The 19 elements are described below. We use the present tense in our descriptions to avoid cumbersome language. Note that the majority of the descriptions pertain to direct observations of events, although, in some cases, we make inferences about the teachers’ thinking based on observations of their behavior in the lessons.

We then selected two video excerpts from each teacher’s work to illustrate the common elements identified below. We provide video examples of all those elements that are observable in a relatively brief time span. We did not create excerpts for other elements, such a repertoire assignment, for which no obviously observable momentary behavior is present.

Goals and Expectations

The repertoire assigned students is well within their technical capabilities; no student is struggling with the notes of the piece. The fact that students are performing selections from the standard repertoire that are well within their technical and musical capabilities affords more time to focus on the consistent application of excellent fundamental technique in the context of expressive music making. The challenge for the students, then, is to execute the technical and musical demands of repertoire with the utmost skill every time they engage in performance. Students come to lessons having learned the notes of the piece and having had time to make independent interpretive decisions. It is from this point—notes learned and musical ideas formulated—that work in the lesson begins.

Teachers have a clear auditory image of the piece that guides their judgments about the music. [view video examples] These teachers convey clear ideas about how technical demands should be executed to produce appropriate stylistic character and musical interpretation. There is little hesitation in their speech, which suggests that they have in their minds vivid auditory images of the pieces they teach. They seem to know exactly what they expect to hear when students perform. Their technical and musical judgments are made based on historical and theoretical knowledge and on direct performance experience. When lessons deal with repertoire teachers have not previously encountered, they are able to guide students by generalizing knowledge from familiar pieces in a way that makes instruction as valuable as instruction with familiar repertoire.

The teachers demand a consistent standard of sound quality from their students. [view video examples] In every lesson, the teachers are resolute in their insistence that their students produce only high quality sounds (tone quality), the product of consistently correct fundamental technique. Irrespective of the lesson target addressed at a given moment, the teachers’ attention remains focused on the quality of students’ sounds. When students use faulty technique and produce sounds that are below the expected level of quality, teachers immediately identify the problems and require students to repeat the passages until correct technique and beautiful tone are demonstrated in context. The teachers are tenacious about sound quality, continuing to attack the same issues again when they reappear. They do not let sound problems persist in their presence.

The teachers select lesson targets (i.e., proximal performance goals) that are technically or musically important. [view video examples] Perhaps the most occluded aspect of the teachers’ decision making is their selection of lesson targets in the moment. Their choices of targets are based not only on the achievability of goals, but also on the goals’ contribution to the musical product. The teachers’ choices evince a reasoning that balances feasibility with importance. More trivial issues, like intermittent, momentary errors, tend to be ignored, whereas more fundamental issues of technical execution and issues of continuity and effective expression of musical ideas are attended to immediately and are pursued assiduously.

Lesson targets are positioned at a level of difficulty that is close enough to the student’s current skill level that the targets are achievable in the short term and change is audible to the student in the moment. When errors in performance require attention, teachers guide error correction successfully. [view video examples] They accomplish this by clearly identifying the underlying fundamental issues that are causing problems and asking students to make adjustments in their playing accordingly. The teachers skillfully limit what they ask students to do in a way that ensures students will be able to make that adjustment in the moment. Because students are able to successfully manage the changes they are asked to make, they hear improvement immediately.

The teachers clearly remember students’ work in past lessons and frequently draw comparisons between present and past, pointing out both positive and negative differences. As students make progress over time, the teachers are clear in pointing out the positive changes they hear in student performance. The amount of time spent describing improvements in performance over weeks or months is notable for its contrast with negative feedback, which is generally pointed and brief.

Effecting Change

Pieces are performed from beginning to end; in this sense, the lessons are like performances, with instantaneous transitions into performance character; nearly all playing is judged by a high standard, "as if we are performing." The teachers create opportunities for students to practice performing by structuring lessons in ways that make the lesson performances resemble public performances. In the case of only one teacher (True) do lessons generally begin with uninterrupted performances of prepared repertoire. In subsequent performances with Professor True and in all performance with Professors Killmer and McInnes, students are interrupted only when errors are made. When giving feedback, the teachers describe how an audience in a concert hall would perceive the students’ performances, which serves to emphasize the point that every performance trial should be executed as though people were “paying to hear it,” whether the performance takes place in a practice room, lesson studio, or concert hall.

In general, the course of the music directs the lesson; errors in student performance elicit stops. Students come to lessons with a command of the repertoire. Notes and rhythms, except when these have been learned incorrectly, are not topics of discussion. Teachers allow students to play through pieces or sections of pieces in their lessons until errors occur. These are dealt with the instant they occur, with the teacher immediately interrupting performance. Because errors are not permitted to occur without correction, teachers reinforce the idea that performing beautifully and accurately is the goal of every performance trial.

The teachers are tenacious in working to accomplish lesson targets, having students repeat target passages until performance is accurate (i.e., consistent with the target goal). [view video examples] Once a target has been identified, teachers have students repeat passages until positive changes are made and the students perform accurately. They use a variety of feedback and modeling to elicit changes and do not give up or simply tell students to “go practice.” The targets they choose to work on are noticeably directed at characteristic sound production and appropriate musical interpretation, and are carefully chosen so that success is achieved.

Any flaws in fundamental technique are immediately addressed; no performance trials with incorrect technique are allowed to continue. Teachers pay careful attention to the way students execute physical movements in every performance, and flaws in technique do not go unnoticed or unmentioned. When students demonstrate a fundamental flaw, that problem becomes the utmost priority, superseding any other previously stated performance target. Repetition of the targeted physical movement continues until the technical flaw is corrected, and the lesson resumes its course.

Lessons proceed at an intense, rapid pace. Because teachers identify targets quickly and concisely, teacher-student interactions occur frequently. [view video examples] This rapid alternation between episodes of teacher activity and student activity increases the students’ opportunities to respond and receive feedback about their performances. Teacher activity episode are generally very brief. Teachers state their feedback and directives succinctly and straightforwardly.

The pace of the lessons is interrupted from time to time with what seem to be "intuitively timed" breaks, during which the teachers give an extended demonstration or tell a story. The teachers seem to sense when breaks from the intense pace of the lessons are needed. In order to allow for mental and physical relaxation, teachers depart from rapid teacher-student interactions by telling an interesting or entertaining story or by elaborating on something previously discussed. These breaks are clearly departures from the task at hand and seem to serve as brief, pleasant diversions for both the student and the teacher. Once students and teachers have had time to relax, the more intense interactions resume. When the pace changes from rapid alternation of teacher and student activity episodes to longer breaks and back again, there is little or no transition time in getting back to the intense pace. In fact, the pacing of the lessons seems almost dichotomous. The teacher is clearly in control of the pace of the lesson.

The teachers permit students to make interpretive choices in the performance of repertoire, but only among a limited range of options that are circumscribed by the teacher. Students are permitted no choices regarding technique. [view video examples] Teachers offer students opportunities to make limited independent choices concerning interpretive elements of performance, and do not intervene when interpretive choices are within the parameters of accepted musical convention. But when students make choices that are outside the bounds of acceptability, as defined by the teacher, the teachers lead the students to rethink their choices and select more acceptable alternatives. Some of the interpretive choices that students make are only apparent choices, in that the teachers lead the students to adopt interpretations that the teacher clearly has in mind—in these instances there is no real choice. Students are given no options regarding the technical aspects of playing the instrument, and they follow the teachers’ prescriptions to the letter.

Conveying Information

Teachers make very fine discriminations about student performances; these are consistently articulated to the student, so that the student learns to make the same discriminations independently. [view video examples] It is clear that the teachers know precisely what they expect to see and hear from the students, which suggests that their vivid auditory images of the repertoire lead to their detecting even the smallest deviations from the images they have in mind. Teachers articulate clearly and directly what they hear, and their attention is focused primarily on tone production and musical expression (including all of the rhythmic and dynamic variables that contribute to expressive music making). This systematic feedback guides students to listen to themselves as their teacher listens, and shapes students’ ability to make independent discriminations about their own playing. Teachers further ensure that students are making appropriate, independent discriminations by asking them to verbalize those discriminations in lessons.

Performance technique is described in terms of the effect that physical motion creates in the sound produced. [view video examples] The sound that students produce is consistently the focus of the teachers’ attention. Irrespective of the physical aspect of playing (physical technique) that may be the immediate focus of attention, teachers systematically pair physical motion with its effect on sound production. In this way, physical technique simply supports the main goal of creating characteristic sound quality. Pointing out the relationship between physical motion and the effects that physical motion produces is true not only with regard to tone production, but also in the production of musical effects (e.g., phrase endings, sense of line).

Technical feedback is given in terms of creating an interpretive effect. [view video examples] Once students have learned how a given physical motion affects sound production, teachers are able to use technical feedback to alter musical expression. Teachers guide students toward creating an appropriate musical effect by describing and modeling how the physical movements that change sound can be applied to achieve an intended interpretive effect. Often, the techniques they describe can be transferred to other phrases in the piece and to other pieces in the repertoire.

Negative feedback is clear, pointed, frequent, and directed at very specific aspects of students’ performances, especially the musical effects created. [view video examples] Negative feedback is given succinctly and is pointedly directed at improving performance quality. The frequency of negative feedback is markedly higher than the frequency of positive feedback. The content of negative feedback is consistently quite specific and explicit, making the students privy to the teachers’ highly refined auditory discriminations. This contributes to students’ learning to make finer discriminations about their own playing. The clarity and directness of the negative feedback facilitates the efficient correction of errors.

There are infrequent, intermittent, unexpected instances of positive feedback, but these are most often of high magnitude and extended duration. [view video examples] In an effort to elicit change in students’ performances, teachers provide frequent negative feedback that is directed at improving the quality of performances just executed. Contrastingly, when students achieve important goals, or independently create musical moments that are stunning to their teachers, the teachers give positive feedback that clearly expresses their excitement about the students’ accomplishment. The positive feedback is emphatic and detailed. In a given instance, positive statements are repeated several times. This happens at least once in nearly every lesson and is unmistakably differentiated from the communication of negative feedback.

The teachers play examples from the students’ repertoire to demonstrate important points. The teachers’ modeling is exquisite in every respect. [view video examples] In all instances in which the teachers demonstrate, whether singing, gesturing, or playing, they embody the expressive elements of the music while executing the example nearly flawlessly. The teachers often juxtapose a remarkably faithful imitation of the student’s performance with their model of the performance goal, evincing a level of technical command and fluency that is brought to bear in the process of developing artistry.