The project “Integrative Practices in Music Performance Education” is a two-fold endeavour. On the one hand, it aims to expand and enrich the prevalent one-to-one teaching model of the main instrument study, while being an effort in curriculum development, on the other.
Teaching the main instrument in an interdisciplinary team is one development that has already affected the teaching practices of the participating teachers. We have brought in the Alexander technique as an integral part of our teaching activities and we are seeing that the students are progressing much quicker than they normally would in a traditional setting. We as teachers gain new and previously unavailable to us insights about our students helping us to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses much faster and from a much broader perspective. Students also report improvements in general well-being and increased confidence.
The context for team teaching is important and we have further developed small group tuition as a supplement to the one-to-one (see Pranevicius 2015). Regularly teaching small groups in a team gives us an arena to exchange and develop common methodologies, and also legitimises and integrates the content knowledge from the (seemingly) separate disciplines. The students are requested to give feedback to their peers in small groups sessions and to become active meaning makers in the learning process. This fosters collaboration, taking responsibility for own learning, and promotes positive atmosphere in our studios. In fact, even when teaching in teams we attempt to give students the possibility to sit “in the front seat” during the group sessions making this a student-driven (and student-centered) approach.
The second part of the project is concerned with curriculum development. While our instrumental teaching practices benefit from the use of the model mentioned above, we believe that in order to reap its full benefits we need to take a systematic look at the music performance curriculum as the whole. The obvious reasons would be avoiding redundancy regarding learning outcomes and teaching activities and improving cost-efficiency of the curriculum delivery. A more holistic and curated approach to assessing and improving the curriculum would have many benefits.
We believe that while on the surface the model we are proposing might appear costly, the return-on-investment in a long run is potentially very high both in terms of health, longevity and well-being benefits, and the possible societal impact. Alexander technique’s health benefits have been extensively documented in the literature. While we are seeing (and hearing) better musical results from our students we believe that, more importantly, our students (who will hopefully become elite performers one day) will acquire a deeper self-insight and self-awareness at our conservatoires that they can then share with broader audiences. This is an addition to their set of universal skills that can be used regardless of the path our graduates might choose later on.
Project’s background and predecessors
The Norwegian Academy of Music has been granted the status of the Centre of Excellence in Music Performance Education (CEMPE) in 2014 and the teaching staff was encouraged to participate in developmental projects and given resources to do so. Amongst the focus areas of CEMPE were Teaching of Practicing and Group Tuition as a supplement to one-on-one tuition of the main instrument.
Within the area of Teaching of Practicing (where the project team initially started collaborating) we have worked on collaborative teaching approach to integrate the Alexander technique into the main instrument tuition and see how that affects student practice. Albeit being done on a very small these efforts showed a lot of promise which we wished to capitalise upon. Within the Group Tuition focus area we have organised main instrument tuition partly as one-to-one, partly as small group tuition (a teacher and 3-4 students). This approach also seemed to contribute to student learning.
After some tinkering and several iterations we came up with a model that integrated those two threads that we believe gives a viable alternative to one-to-one teaching. We are currently testing it in the horn, harp and oboe classes with the hope to expand its scope in the years to come. We have a satellite project at the Music Theatre Academy in Oslo and we are working on establishing another satellite at the Conservatory in Bergen, Norway