PhD Research

Working Title

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

Research Questions

  1. What constitutes valid knowledge in the context of private instrumental teaching?

  2. How is the private instrumental teaching curriculum designed in order to facilitate the construction and realization of valid knowledge?

  3. How does the autonomy of the private instrumental curriculum support and challenge the quality of teaching and learning?


This research 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. As the master-apprentice model appears to continue to dominate, the divide between instrumental teaching and the wider sphere of music-making and education appears to deepen. 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.

Due to the lack of existing literature, the research employs an approach rooted in Grounded Theory, a methodology which is considered highly useful when little is known about the subject being investigated. An initial literature review was followed by a series of semi-structured interviews with private teachers which explored a number of the core issues raised. As well as providing highly useful data, these interviews steered the next stage of the research process. The data was coded and analysed allowing it to be compared with existing literature; the result of this process formed the basis for an online survey of private teachers to explore a number of pertinent themes on a much larger scale. One of the important features of Grounded Theory is that the review of literature is an ongoing process as data is gathered and new themes emerge. The main survey data will be analysed in such a way as to compare it with both the existing literature reviewed, and the data already gathered.

David also writes a PhD blog which can be found here.