Expertise in studio music lessons: What do we know?

Image of a black and white violin

One-to-one instrumental lessons are common for music students. For many of us, this is how we learned over many years. Despite evidence and research into effective classroom and applied music studio teacher at university level, little is known about expertise in studio music teaching at a local level (ie: your local piano or violin teacher).

What is expertise in studio music teaching?

What constitutes expertise in studio music teaching is elusive. Lessons occur in isolation, unobserved, and are often based on the teachers’ own experiences of instrumental lessons. It would be useful to know what are the similarities and differences of studio music teachers at the local and university level. This knowledge can help us to broaden our understanding of studio music teaching and improve the learning of our students.

Bloom (1985) argues successful education requires different teachers for students at different ages and stages of development. A suggestion is that it is healthy for students to move to a new teacher as they progress and reach more advanced stages of their education. Different teachers will meet different needs.

Blackwell (2020) recently investigated applied studio music teachers and their teaching practices. The research differed from prior research in that the lessons observations were of pre-university level students, undergraduate students, and postgraduate students. The purpose of the study was to ascertain whether the teaching behaviours of expert studio music teachers  differed as a function of the level of student.

In the research of Blackwell (2020), video recordings of two expert studio music teachers were made. Each teacher taught students from a range of levels which included pre-college and college-level instrumental music students.

Low and high inference teaching behaviours

Video analysis of the teaching behaviours observed were categorised into low-inference or high inference teaching behaviours. For example, low inference behaviours are characterised by readily observable behaviours such as teacher modelling, gesture (conducting/clapping, modifying a passage, demonstration (rhythm/pitch/articulation). 

In contrast, high inference behaviours were characterised by behaviours not directly observable but inferred by the teacher. For example: the teacher has an auditory image of how a passage should sound, the teacher requires a consistent quality of sound, the teacher selects lesson targets that are technically or musically important, teachers make very fine discriminations about student performances.

The video observation and analysis results found differences in teaching behaviour with students depending on their level of proficiency. In other words, expert teachers teach according to their student’s needs. The implication is that the way expert teachers teach advanced students is clearly different to lower level and younger students. In particular, the use of high inference feedback during a lesson which may not be readily understandable by the younger learner.

A different need, a different teacher

This returns to the earlier statement by Bloom (1985) where it is suggested that learners need different teachers at different levels of progress. There are expert teachers for every level of progress.


Blackwell, J. (2020). Expertise in applied studio teaching: Teachers working with multiple levels of learners. International Journal of Music Education.

Bloom, B. S. (1985). Generalizations about talent development. In B. S. Bloom (Ed.), Developing talent in young people (pp. 507-509). New York: Ballentine Books.

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