Dr Karen Wise & Dr Mirjam James: Lecture Details and Video

Karen Wise, Mirjam James, University of Cambridge

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Learning to be a creative performer: An investigation of one-to-one lessons

To date, aspects of musical creativity have mostly been looked at in connection with creating new musical material rather than reproducing existing material. But for a performing musician the development of an individual artistic voice and the ability to play repertoire in a fresh and unique way can become ‘a matter of huge personal significance, even financial survival’ (Lehmann, Sloboda, & Woody, 2007, p. 85).

This paper concentrates on gaining a better understanding of concepts of creativity in performance and aspects of creative learning in a conservatoire environment. It focuses on two research questions. First, what practices and experiences do conservatoire teachers and students identify as being either ‘creative’ or important for developing creative or original performance? Second, what does this reveal about creative processes and the development of creativity as experienced by high-level musicians in this teaching and learning context? A focus-group study will be summarised by way of introduction before the results of an observational study of one-to-one lessons are elaborated. Both studies are part of a research project entitled ‘Creative Learning and “Original” Musical Performance’ within the AHRC research centre CMPCP.

Two focus-group discussions with conservatoire teachers revealed multiple concepts of creativity, including differences between a teaching/learning environment and a performance situation. The observational study of one-to-one lessons with individual video-recall interviews incorporated an innovative participant-led approach, allowing students and teachers to reflect on their practice and collaborate in the research process. Students and teachers were asked to identify excerpts from their filmed lessons in which they felt that something new emerged in the student’s approach to the piece, the student had understood something that had not been understood before, something was learned that would help the student to be more creative in performance, or where participants felt creative in their playing or teaching. The process of reviewing and discussing chosen excerpts in video-recall interviews revealed specific ‘episodes’ of creative learning.

Concentrating on four teacher–student pairs including undergraduate and postgraduate students, the paper will discuss students’ and teachers’ approaches to the filmed material, and the understanding and interpreting of participants’ chosen extracts. The episodes shed light on creative processes over time, how improvement in one area of musical skill or understanding helps to develop aspects of another, and how tacit and indirect communication is deliberately used as a teaching tool. The study shows how specific teaching tools are perceived to support a student’s individual development towards becoming a creative performer. We reflect on the usefulness of the participant-led video-recall approach for students, teachers and researchers.

Lehmann, A. C., Sloboda, J. A., & Woody, R. H. (2007). Expression and Interpretation. In Psychology for Musicians: Understanding and acquiring the skills (pp. 85-106). New York: Oxford University Press.


Last modified: Wednesday, 15 August 2012, 12:08 PM