Positive influences in the early lives of music students

Positive influences in the early lives of music students

Several studies have been conducted into the most significant, positive influences in a child’s early musical experiences (Davidson, Sloboda, & Howe, 1996, 1998; Howe, Davidson, & Sloboda, 1998; Howe & Sloboda, 1991). The importance of good instrumental teaching for child learners is significant, however, the most important experience for the child in instrumental lessons has been shown to be the quality of the first teacher in terms of warmth, and ability to motivate and encourage a young learner. 

Additionally, a great deal of communication was found to be common between parent and the child’s first instrumental teacher. Parents were more involved at this initial stage of musical development and become less so as the children progressed and increased their overall skill level. This supports the findings in the study by Manturzewska (1990) in which elite concert performers initial stages of musical develop (stage 1 in the Manturzewska study) was characterised by a warm and friendly first teacher and positive parental involvement.

High levels of parental involvement at this stage is needed for the encouragement to continue with regular practice, particularly when difficulties arise. The willingness of parents to become involved is suggested by the authors, as a major causal factor separating those children who succeed and reach high levels of instrumental expertise and those children who do not persist.

Interestingly, first teachers do not have to be exceptional performers with high levels of musical expertise. Both parents and children recognised the musical limitations of the first teacher, however, the significant factor for staying with the first teacher was the positive personal experience working with this teacher provided for the child. The authors found it was the personal qualities of the teacher which were considered more important than musical expertise.

Another factor important of first teacher qualities was their ability to motivate and interest the child. Without interest and motivation, the children indicated it was difficult to continue with the lessons.

There are several schools of thought about how to achieve instrumental expertise. One idea is the notion of 10,000 hours of practice (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Römer, 1993), where high levels of achievement are correlated with amount of hours spent practising. Another idea is the environmental supports in the lives of elite instrumental supporters. A common theme is the support of family and educators to reach these high levels. It would seem plausible that elite performers would have a combination of both large amounts of practice and strong family commitment and support from an early age.

Davidson, J. W., Sloboda, J. A., & Howe, M. J. A. (1996). The role of parents and teachers in the success and failure of instrumental learners. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 127, 40-44.

Davidson, J. W., Sloboda, J. A., & Howe, M. J. A. (1998). Characteristics of music teachers and the progress of young instrumentalists. Journal of Research in Music Education, 46(1), 141-160.

Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363-406.

Howe, M. J., Davidson, J. W., & Sloboda, J. A. (1998). Innate talents: reality or myth? The Behavioral And Brain Sciences, 21(3), 399-407.

Howe, M. J. A., & Sloboda, J. A. (1991). Young musicians: Accounts of significant influences in their early lives. 2. Teachers, practising and performing. British Journal of Music Education, 8(1), 53-63.

Manturzewska, M. (1990). A biographical study of the life-span development of professional musicians. Psychology of Music, 18(2), 112-139.

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