Conference Papers

The control of choice, and the choice of control in private instrumental teaching

The University of York Music Education and Music Psychology Conference (June 2016)

This paper examines the issue of control and choice within the private instrumental teaching context. Whilst one-to-one instrumental teaching has been the focus of music education research in the past, the autonomous nature of private teaching has remained largely hidden from view. Yet, for many, learning an instrument with a private teacher will form the primary developmental basis of their instrumental skills. Private teachers find themselves in an almost unique position in education, for within the bounds of legality, they can operate in any way they see fit. Issues of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment are outside of institutional control. Through a grounded theory approach, a series of in-depth interviews with private teachers, alongside data collected via a widespread survey offer an insight into a profession which has remained predominantly behind closed doors. Although there is an acceptance that lessons are a partnership, the master-apprentice model dominates. Although pupil input was not discouraged, it was not necessarily encouraged; there is a suggestion that any input from pupils needs to offer a valid teaching point, the validity being defined by the teacher. The nature of private teaching offers teachers huge choice in what and how they teach, yet as suggested by Bernstein (1975, p. 90), do teachers need to relinquish control in order to offer that choice? As the master-apprentice model continues to dominate, the divide between instrumental teaching and the wider sphere of music-making and education appears to deepen. Comparison of data with research conducted by Jorgensen (1986) suggests that little has changed in private teaching in the past 30 years. Recent suggestions of an increasing demand for private lessons makes it all the more important that we understand, embrace and challenge the place occupied by private teachers within the wider sphere of music education.


Bernstein, B. (1975). Class, Codes and Control: Volume 3, Towards a Theory of Educational Transmissions. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.

Jorgensen, E. R. (1986). Aspects of Private Piano Teacher Decision-Making in London, England. Psychology of Music, 14, 111–129. doi:10.1177/0305735686142003

The autonomy of private instrumental teachers: its effect on valid knowledge construction, curriculum design, and quality of teaching and learning

UCL Institute of Education Doctoral School Poster Conference (March 2015)

Many people in the UK, of all ages, receive tuition on a musical instrument through a private teacher. That is a teacher primarily defined as working autonomously, normally from a home-based studio. Although previous research has examined the nature of one-to-one instrumental teaching, little exists which explores, in particular, the autonomous nature of the profession. At a basic level, if no one tells a teacher what to teach, how does the teacher decide what to include and exclude from their lessons? Through a grounded theory, qualitative approach to methodology, the research will explore issues related to validity of knowledge, and curriculum design and construction. An initial series of interviews has highlighted a range of issues relating, in particular, to control, choice and cultural practice. Thus far, the research has suggested that the traditional ‘conservatoire’ model of ‘master-apprentice’ is very much in evidence in the private teaching context.