In search of good relationships to music: Understanding aspiration and challenge in developing music school teacher practices

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


This study focuses on teacher practices in publicly funded music schools in Finland. As views on the aims of music education change and broaden, music schools across Europe share the challenge of developing their activities in response. In public and scholarly debate, there have been calls for increased diversity of contents and concepts of teaching. In Finland, the official national curriculum for state-funded music schools builds on the ideal that teaching and learning should create conditions which promote ‘a good relationship to music’. The meaning of this concept has been deliberately left open in order to leave room for dialogue, flexibility, and teacher autonomy. Since what is meant by ‘good’ is not defined in advance, the notion of ‘improving’ practices is also open to discussion. The purpose of the study is to examine these issues from teachers’ point of view by asking what music school teachers aim to accomplish as they develop their practices.

Methodologically, the study introduces a suggestion for building empirical research on Alperson’s ‘robust’ praxial approach to music education, a philosophical theory which is strongly committed to practitioner perspectives and musical diversity. A systematic method for analysing music education practices, interpretive practice analysis, is elaborated with support from interpretive research methods originally used in policy analysis. In addition, the research design shows how reflecting conversations (a collaborative approach well-known in Nordic social work) can be fruitfully applied in interpretive research and combined with teacher inquiry. Data have been generated in a collaborative project involving five experienced music school teachers and the researcher. The empirical material includes transcripts from group conversations, data from teacher inquiry conducted within the project, and transcripts from follow-up interviews.

The teachers’ aspirations can be understood as strivings to reinforce the connection between musical practices and various forms of human flourishing such that music and flourishing can sustain each other. Examples from their practices show how the word ‘good’ receives its meaning in context. Central among the teachers’ concerns is their hope that students develop a free and sustainable interest in music, often described as inspiration. I propose that ‘good relationships to music’ and ‘inspiration’ can be understood as philosophical mediators which support the transition from an indeterminate ‘interest in music’ towards specific ways in which music can become a (co-)constitutive part of living well in each person’s particular circumstances.

Different musical practices emphasise different aspects of what is considered important in music and in human life. Music school teachers consciously balance between a variety of such values. They also make efforts to resist pressure which might threaten the goods they think are most important. Such goods include joy, participation, perseverance, solid musical skills related to specific practices, and a strong sense of vitality. The insights from this study suggest that when teachers are able to create inspiration, they seem to do so by performing complex work which combines musical and educational aims and makes general positive contributions to their students’ lives. Ensuring that teaching and learning in music schools remain as constructive and meaningful as possible for both students and teachers is a demanding task. The study indicates that collaborative, reflective and interdisciplinary work may be helpful as support for development processes on both individual and collective levels of music school teacher practices.

Keywords: music education, music schools, philosophy of music education, teacher practices, collaborative research, teacher inquiry

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Print ISBNs978-951-765-818-8
Electronic ISBNs978-951-765-819-5
Publication statusPublished - 2016
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • Music education
  • music schools
  • philosophy of music education
  • teacher practices
  • collaborative research
  • teacher inquiry
  • musikskolor
  • musikpedagogik
  • musiikkioppilaitokset
  • musiikkikasvatus
  • interpretive practice analysis

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