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Expert practitioner voices: a phenomenological inquiry into teaching, learning, and collaborating in musical improvisation

posted on 12.08.2020, 05:47 authored by De Bruin, Leon Rene
My research thesis concerns the teaching and learning of improvisation in music, and consists of nine scholarly articles and one book chapter. I investigate how expert practitioners inculcate and influence skill and knowledge acquisition in their students, exploring the various ways students learn, absorb and retain knowledge. In this research I employ cognitive and phenomenological theories of the improvisation process to underpin my inquiry into the learning of improvisation as understood by practitioners. I examine the lived experiences that shape the acquiring of knowledge, beliefs, attitudes and conceptualizations about the learning and teaching of improvisation told by ten expert practitioner /educators, and five tertiary improvisation students. This phenomenological investigation explores lifelong learning involving experiences, musical communities and inter-personal musical relations that facilitate learning individually, between peers, between teachers and collaboratively. I explore improvising lives of experts and students through author autoethnography, collective case study and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis that reveal an interplay between thoughts, actions, meaning-making and embodiment in the learning and teaching of improvisation practice. My research draws on poststructuralist theorists including Bourdieu, Foucault and Gadamer in exploring issues associated with the improvisational process and the dynamic environments that frame learning and teaching. I explore the enculturation of attitudes and dispositions to learning, the development of expertise and participant understandings of improvisational craft evolved from real-world experience. I analyse learning acquired formally and informally, and situate learning and knowledge construction within a habitus, field and capital of experiences, social-musical influence and values attributed to personal and shared creative collaborations within communities of musical practice. I examine one-to-one teaching and learning within the conservatoire, observing mentoring actions that can be understood as cognitive apprenticeship. Investigating teacher-student behavior, I identify micro-level interpersonal engagement that supports macro level learning outcomes from social interactions. As an Australian musicker and researcher I explore the acquisition of improvisational ability and innovative practices evolving at a distance from hegemonic influence. I assert the existence of localised unique voices and communities. My findings challenge current educational understandings of improvisation pedagogy and educational leadership. The implications of this research are that a greater awareness of creative and innovative practices in music education and improvisation in particular is essential. Thoughtful teaching practices should be implemented that do not constrain creative development. Rather, learning environments should immerse students amongst experts in professional environments that nurture creativity, collaboration, and expert thinking and practice. Ultimately there is a need for a 21st century creative imaginary of thoughtful teaching practice that can provide an enculturation of expert thinking, processes and behaviours that can make expert thinking visible and attainable in developing improvisation students.

Awards: Vice-Chancellor's Commendation for Doctoral Thesis in Excellence in 2016.

Embargo lifted by author request 17 July 2017. The theses remains restricted access and is only available through document delivery services.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Jane Southcott

Additional supervisor 1

Renee Crawford

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education