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This cross-cultural study investigates how an experience of learning the techniques and processes of Iranian classical music has shaped the author's understanding of pedagogical and personal practice and identity. The study took form in an a/r/tography style of research-an arts-based research methodology which brings together the role of an a(rtist), r(esearcher) and t(eacher), placing the author at the centre of inquiry. The comparisons drawn upon were between Iranian classical music learning experiences, cello teaching practice and how improvisation plays a part in both of these areas. The topics of improvisation, ear-playing and learnacy are discussed and analysed, directing the study's conclusions towards questioning the interrelationships between teachers and students, and performers and composers.
Improvisation, Iranian Classical Music and Music Pedagogy:
A Cross-Cultural Exploration (2020)
Roxanna Albayati
This cross-cultural study investigates how an experience of learning the techniques and
processes of Iranian classical music has shaped the author’s understanding of pedagogical and
personal practice and identity. The study took form in an a/r/tography style of research - an
arts-based research methodology which brings together the role of an a(rtist), r(esearcher)
and t(eacher), placing the author at the centre of inquiry. The comparisons drawn upon were
between Iranian classical music learning experiences, cello teaching practice and how
improvisation plays a part in both of these areas. The topics of improvisation, ear-playing and
learnacy are discussed and analysed, directing the study’s conclusions towards questioning
the interrelationships between teachers and students, and performers and composers.
1. Introduction 2
2. Background 3
3. Lessons in Practice 7
4. Improvisation 10
5. Ear-Playing 15
6. Learnacy 21
7. Conclusion 26
1. Introduction
This cross-cultural study investigates how an experience of learning the techniques and
processes of Iranian classical music has shaped my understanding of pedagogical and personal
practice and identity. The study took form in an a/r/tography style of research, considering
my role as an improvisor, teacher and student. The comparisons drawn upon were between
Iranian classical music learning experiences, cello teaching practice and how improvisation
plays a part in both of these areas. This paper will first provide relevant areas of background,
details of the study’s practicalities and then expand into my findings and discussion. The topics
of improvisation, ear-playing and learnacy provide a structure for theorising and analysis,
directing the study’s conclusions towards questioning the interrelationships between teachers
and students, and performers and composers.
A/r/tography brings together the role of an a(rtist), r(esearcher) and t(eacher), through a
process of research methodology, creative practice and performative pedagogy. Rather than
aiming at concrete answers and certainty, a/r/tography dwells on the process, the in-between
and the flexibility of entry, exit and interpretation surrounding the research at hand. This
hybrid method of study allows enquiries into complex questions, for which a personal,
emotional, intuitive and embodied experience can be highly beneficial.
Artist/researcher/teachers are challenged to place themselves at the centre of the inquiry,
continuously reflecting upon tensions which emerge, respecting and analysing these
instances throughout the study. As such, through this reflexive mode of inquiry one can learn
how the process leads to and effects the outcome. In order for the method to be successful,
Irwin states that the a/r/tographer must not only trust the method but must steer focus to
what a/r/tography can set in motion, rather than to what it means.
This study aimed to
explore and strengthen the interrelationships and intersubjectivity of my already existent, yet
somewhat separate identities. The specific interconnections between my roles as an
improvisor, teacher and student became a particular area of concentration, documenting the
ways in which I changed as a result of the study.
Stephanie Springgay, Rita L. Irwin, and Sylvia Wilson Kind, A/r/Tography as Living Inquiry Through Art and
Text,Qualitative Inquiry 11, no. 6 (2005): 902,
Rita L. Irwin, Becoming a/r/Tography,Studies in Art Education 54, no. 3 (2013): 24.
2. Background
The qualitative research carried out became a mode of autoethnography, intertwining my
past experiences with the present. Thus, due to the nature of my researcher positionality, I
feel it necessary to provide some background about myself:
My name is Roxanna Albayati, I am a musician, born and raised in the UK, half-Iranian,
half-Iraqi, first generation British. I am a classically trained cellist, untrained
experimental performer, teacher and improvisor. Like many creatives, my professional
identity is somewhat unclear; to make matters worse (or more interesting) my personal
identity is blurred as well.
My training as a classical cellist in the UK has been very traditional. I had one-to-one
tuition since age 10, working through the ABRSM syllabus and subsequently through
the standard Western classical repertoire in higher education. My tuition was always
heavily notation based, geared towards learning the notes and technique. During my
undergraduate degree at Goldsmiths (University of London), I discovered ‘new music’
through figuring out extended techniques and experimenting with the cello by myself,
working with composers and observing others. Suddenly I was heavily preoccupied with
experimental music and performance art. Occasionally, I took part in performances
which included improvisation, but always in a highly structured, instruction-based
group setting, and mostly atonal or percussive style improvisation. None of this was
part of my formal education.
In October 2018, I found myself taking my first ever improvisation lessons with
Douglas Finch when I began my masters at Trinity Laban. He covered a wide range of
topics from traditional ideas (such as breaking away from traditional harmony or
creating variations on a theme) to more experimental practices (such as graphic scores
or seeking inspiration in different art practices). The classes were highly inspirational,
but I was usually nervous as I had voluntarily thrown myself into the deep end. Exploring
conventional techniques through improvisation was completely new to me, as was
performing solo even when comfortably exploring experimental ideas. Alongside this
new experience of formal education were my regular cello lessons with Natalia
Pavlutskaya. She was my first cello teacher who not only covered repertoire and
technique, but also improvisation and creativity, cultivating a deeper connection
between myself and my practice. Soon enough, improvisation preoccupied much of my
time on stage, both as a soloist and alongside others to whom I owe much of my
growth. By 2020, I was receiving training and advice from a range of tutors across
Europe. To my surprise, fairly swiftly, solo free improvisation had become my
wonderfully high-risk comfort zone.
The topic of this study evolved from this musical journey, resulting in a lack of interconnection
between the many parts of my identity - this greatly bothered me. Firstly, despite most of my
time as a performer being occupied with experiments and original creativity, there was little
presence of this in my teaching methods. Of course, there was imagination in my teaching,
but it never quite matched the quality in my personal practice nor challenged my perspective
on traditional instrumental teaching.
Secondly, when performing, listeners often stated they could hear how I was influenced
by my heritage’s music, yet I had never studied Iranian music in any depth and knew
embarrassingly little about the music I was supposedly projecting. Personally, I never believed
I was specifically using anything inherently Iranian, simply using melodies, harmonies and
techniques which the listeners did not encounter often. Despite the listeners potentially
exoticizing my playing, I became fascinated by studying Iranian music, and specifically
experiencing it as a student. Exploring my Iranian self as a musician was particularly appealing;
my stable identification as a cellist could provide a safe outlet for me to attempt to ground
myself in my ethnic identity, which had thus far proved to be insecure. At this point, all I knew
was that Iranian classical music had a heavily aural tradition, priding improvisation at its core.
It was a completely foreign system to my own pedagogical experiences, yet within a familiar
culture where creativity was at the centre; the potential to bind some of my identities seemed
Performer, Improvisor or Composer?
The words “composition”, “performance” and “improvisation”, which are so well defined in
the Western art music context, are rather unsuitable for Iranian classical music. The word
“improvisation” in fact was never used until the twentieth century, when the Western
concept was introduced in Iran. Despite scholars determining improvisation as the basis for
Iranian music, Nooshin argues that it is not improvisation which lies at its heart, but more a
concept of “creative performance.”
This form of creativity sees no distinction between a
performer and composer, and this is heavily grounded in the music tradition.
The Radif, literally meaning “rowor series”, is the name given to the Iranian music
system, which began to formalise in the late 18th century.
It refers to a repertoire
compromising approximately 270 short melodic models (guše) which are memorised by
musicians, creating a foundation for them to elaborate upon.
To learn the full radif is a long
and detailed process, where traditionally everything is taught aurally. Within the radif is the
concept of dastgāh; there are 12 dastgāhs, and it can be understood that this is the name
given to the group of gušes being played, as well as the name of the main mode of the
Each specific dastgāh includes a darāmad (introduction) and set of gušes,
usually played in a particular order. Gušes each have their own character, form, features, and
may or may not have rhythmic elements. They usually revolve around specific tetrachords or
pentachords in their given mode and may include a form of modulation. An important aspect
of the guše is that they are not pre-composed with written notation. They have a general
shape, which is highly recognisable, but within which there is a certain amount of
improvisatory freedom, allowing flexibility for each performer to elaborate within the identity
of the guše. A student will learn a foundation form of a guše and, as they advance, will build
upon it and perform the material more flexibly. This process is not dissimilar from the way in
which Baroque music calls for adding ornamentation to the written music or elaborating on
a figured bass - the difference being that Baroque music has a pre-written score for the
performer to learn. Once an Iranian music student progresses to a professional standard, the
performances of gušes can depart quite far from the original melodic model a display of
creativity and musical understanding simultaneously being exercised.
Laudan Nooshin, Improvisation as Other: Creativity, Knowledge and Power: The Case of Iranian Classical
Music,Journal of the Royal Musical Association 128, no. 2 (2003): 244.
The majority of this section’s information has been collated from conversations with the musicians Soosan
Lolavar, Faraz Eshghi and Davood Jafari. For further reading and details please see Farhat, The Dastgah Concept
in Persian Music (1990) or Nooshin, The Song of the Nightingale: Processes of Improvisation in Dastgāh Segāh
Bruno Nettl, ed., On Learning the Radif and Improvisation in Iran,in Musical Improvisation: Art, Education,
and Society (University of Illinois Press, 2009), 185.
A performance of a dastgāhs will always open in a particular mode, and although there will be modulations
into other modes, the central gravitation will always be brought back towards the original dastgāh. As a modal
concept, there are 8 notes in each dastgāh, however, individual tetrachords or pentachords are much more
valued and observed in performance, rather than treating the dastgāh as a scale. For example, the šāhed
(similar to the tonic of a scale) is not necessarily the first note, it may be a different note depending on which
guše is being played.
Considering the absence of notation in Iranian music, Hormoz Farhat outlines how
experiential creativity allows for indistinct boundaries between composition and
performance, or indeed a performer and composer:
Persian music was never submitted to any kind of notation…Performing musicians had
always…absorbed through experience. That is why composition was never developed
into an art separate from performance. It was an aspect of performance.
Considering the definite difference between Iranian and Western music, it is unsurprising how
at the start of the twentieth century the first European observers concluded Iranian music to
be solely based on “improvisation.”
This conclusion is problematic not only because they
were unlikely to be aware of the underlying Iranian system, but also but also because they
assumed the premise that improvisation is innately an uninformed and spontaneous practice
of making music. As Nooshin suggests, it is also no coincidence that in the early twentieth
century Europe saw a decline in respect for improvisation, at the exact moment when its
colonialist powers were being established.
As such, Europeans established a stance of
distance between Western art music and their colonial nations’ music; between creativity
controlled by intellect, and “primitive” forms of expression; between the imperialist status of
a composer and ephemeral aural traditions; between notated music and improvisation.
I saw the Iranian music framework as an opportunity to allow for a more fluid means
for creating and teaching music. My childhood cello education rarely presented an
environment to cultivate creative thinking, nor the potential to experience music without a
score; I was never encouraged to explore my sound, try a different interpretation, or generally
enjoy the instrument. I recall as a teenager not fully understanding what improvisation was,
it simply had never been taught to me. I thought it was what musicians did when they had no
music ready to perform or forgot what they were supposed to play – clearly an assumption
developed through an education heavily based on learning notated pieces. Stepping away
from notation was only part of my classroom education when being taught “composition.” I
did improvise by myself, however, without the understanding that I was in fact improvising;
rather, I thought it was purely a method to generate material for composition. Consequently,
distinct barriers and functions between composer, improvisor and performer had been
heavily ingrained in my understanding of what these musical roles could entail. Often this led
Hormoz Farhat, The Dastgah Concept in Persian Music (Cambridge University Press, 1990), 8.
Nooshin, Improvisation as Other,’” 244.
Nooshin, 248.
to conversations, where I myself could not clearly define my practice, leaving both me and
the interested questioner confused:
Taxi driver: That’s a big instrument you have, what is it?
Me: It’s a cello, I’m a cellist.
Taxi driver: Do you perform in an orchestra then?
Me: Umm, no not really, usually solo or in small groups. I play mostly contemporary
Taxi driver: Like pop music covers and stuff?
Me: No, more like experimental classical, I guess. I improvise a lot.
Taxi: Oh, cool. Do you write your own things as well?
Me: Sometimes. I sort of create things.
Taxi: Ah, so you’re a composer?
Me: Oh no, not at all!
Iranian music and its pedagogy present a system where a student is trained simultaneously
as a performer and composer, with the flexibility to interchange and experience the two
musical identities at once; experiencing this approach could teach me how to reproduce a
similar environment in my teaching practice, as well as redefine my understanding of these
musical roles.
3. Lessons in Practice
Iranian Music Lessons
From March to December 2020, I took regular Iranian music lessons and had numerous
conversations with the musicians Faraz Eshghi and Davood Jafari. As this took place during
the COVID-19 pandemic, meetings were a mix of in person and online. My experience of
learning could be described as a highly compact, intensive, yet not fully complete tour of
Iranian traditional music. It should be noted that strictly traditional form of learning Iranian
music – due to the nature and time span of this study I had specific areas I wished to explore
in a relatively short amount of time. Nevertheless, the end of this study does not stop my
curiosity to continue my exploration and learning. As a result, the lessons continued up until,
and past the completion of this paper.
The lessons with Jafari were centred around music theory, going into the details of the
radif. An outline of the material we covered is as follows:
- A general understanding of how 8 out of the 12 dastgāhs functions.
Conversation in January 2020
- A deeper understanding of dastgāh-e šur, dastgāh-e čahārgāh, dastgāh-e homāyun,
dastgāh-e segāh, dastgāh-e abuatā and dastgāh-e bayāt-e tork: how they function as
modes, their darāmads and their most important gušes.
Jafari taught using a number of techniques:
- Teaching theory through explaining whilst simultaneously playing the piano, and I
would imitate.
- Teaching the theory through explaining, and I would make notes.
- Teaching the theory through explaining, followed by listening to a relevant clip of
music. Following this, we would discuss aspects about the clip: for example, if I could
hear a change in modulation.
- Setting written theory exercises for me to complete by myself: for example, to write
out each dastgāhs’ note names in different keys.
- Setting listening theory exercises for me to complete by myself: for example, if I could
recognise certain characteristics in an unnamed track list of different gušes.
The following recording is an example of Jafari teaching me an Iranian microtone,
simultaneously playing the piano:
Audio A.
The lessons with Eshghi covered practical playing. Through using two radif books as a
basis for study we covered different dastgāhs, playing and discussing the material in a number
of ways.
As previously mentioned, the radif is traditionally taught aurally, however, books
are now published which include notations of different ostād’s (teacher’s)
of radifs. This notation is the foundation form of the music and is used only as a reference for
students whilst doing personal practice. We covered the following gušes in each dastgāh:
There are five types of notes in Iranian classical music, naturals, sharps, flats, koron ( ) and sori ( ), from
which a plethora of different intervals can be created. Koron shows that the note will be flattened by a
microtone under the given pitch, and sori shows that the note will be raised by a microtone higher than the
given pitch.
In the case that embedded audio and video files do not work in this paper, please see footnotes for the
direct link.
Lesson on 06/03/20:
The following books were used: Āzarsinā, Persian Traditional Music: Radif of Mirzā Abdollāh-Borumand
(2000); Badiee, Second Course of Violin: Maestro Abolhassan Sabas Radif (2006); Khodaei, Course of Violin:
Second Book of the Conservatory of Ruhollah Khaleqi (2010).
An ostād will lead students through the full repertoire and musical knowledge required to master the radif.
There are a few main versions of the radif, each having developed from significant ostāds and travelled down
through generations of musicians.
- Darāmad-e avval, kerešme, and reng-e ossul within dastgāh-e šur.
- Darāmad-e avval, chahār-mezrāb and bidād within dastgāh-e homāyun.
- Darāmad-e avval within dastgāh-e čahārgāh.
- Darāmad, kerešme, majles-afruz within dastgāh-e māhur.
- Darāmad within dastgāh-e abuatā.
Imitation was the most frequently used method of teaching; Eshghi would play phrases for
me to imitate, both by ear and by using the notation as a reference. At first, the material he
played was always familiar to me (as I played from the notation or listened to recordings
beforehand), but as the study progressed I was able to imitate completely unfamiliar material.
Although these methods are comparable to traditional teaching of Iranian music, the rate at
which we moved through the material was quite rapid, in order for me to grasp a general
understanding of the radif. We also had frequent discussions about how to achieve certain
particularities in the music, and how they compare to Western classical music ornaments or
techniques with which I was familiar. Once I gained a general understanding of some dastgāhs
and how to elaborate on them, Eshghi would also guide me through freer forms of
improvising within the radif. Whilst allowing me to ornament and explore certain gušes as I
wished, he would tell me which notes to emphasise, which pentachord or tetrachord to float
around in, and also which notes to alter in a form of modulation. We also free improvised
together, not paying any particular attention to any specific material.
The theory and practical lessons complimented each other, and one would have been
incomplete without the other. I always communicated to Jafari and Eshghi what I was learning
in each lesson, so they could coordinate to cover the same material. At the beginning, Jafari
and Eshghi took the lead on deciding the material we would go through. As the months
progressed, my improvisation practice evolved and my research topics of discussion began to
emerge, so naturally I began to show my preference for material and teaching techniques
used. For example, in the lead up to a performance towards the end of the study, I developed
an improvisation around dastgāh-e homāyun. The weeks before the performance were spent
exploring creative techniques within this dastgāh with Eshghi. Similarly, Jafari discussed the
Sahbamusic - YouTube,accessed October 2, 2020,; Nima Fereidooni Free Music Academy
(Music School) - YouTube,accessed October 2, 2020,
relevant theory in further depth, alongside listening to my performances to provide feedback
in developing my ideas.
Cello Lessons
During the time I spent studying Iranian music I watched this music tradition gradually
influence my teaching style and beliefs. I began heavily experimenting with my teaching
practice, analysing the methods as well as my pupils’ progress and responses to these
changes. The majority of this study took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, where pupils
were taught online for 5 out of the 10 months. Over the span of the study, I taught 10 pupils,
ranging from beginner to post-grade 8 standard, and age 11 to adult learners. In the following
sections of the paper, I will present 6 students in detail for the purpose of analysis: Hanna
(age 16), Eric (age 12), Yoana (age 11), Leo (adult learner), Pablo (adult learner) and Anya
(adult learner). The main topics which emerged for discussion and will form the structure of
the paper are as follows: Improvisation, Ear-playing and Learnacy
4. Improvisation
There were two primary motivations for implementing improvisation into my teaching
practice. Firstly, the desire to provide an element of creativity in my teaching practice and my
students’ musical identities. Secondly, the desire to disassemble the understandings of
performance, improvisation and composition in my lessons. These two topics began to
intertwine, beginning with my personal experiences and realisations. As Matthew Sansom
suggests, only through a constant analytical lens can the representation of identity and
understanding of self-construction be explored.
This theory resonates well with
a/r/tography and how I disassembled my practice, negotiating my supposedly stable
identification within improvisation.
I always found it contradictory how the connection between my role as an improvisor
and as a teacher was somewhat non-existent; in order to carry out my intentions of
integrating improvisation into my teaching practice, this issue had to be unpacked. During this
study I discovered the root: I had never experienced being taught improvisation from a
beginner stage. I began improvising only after 14 years of playing the cello. By this point my
personal form of expression came about without conscious effort; I did not actively consider
Matthew James Sansom, Improvisation & Identity: A Qualitative Study,Critical Studies in Improvisation /
Études Critiques En Improvisation 3, no. 1 (May 1, 2007),
how to “play by the rules” nor “how to break the rules effectively.” As a result, I did not know
how to approach the topic of improvisation with my students, fearing they would
misunderstand or dislike this aspect of making music. This realisation was triggered once I
began experimenting with Iranian material, attempting to integrate it into my personal style.
The following diary entry was written after this recording: Audio B.
This was surprisingly quite hard, felt limited and difficult to eloquently come out
of the rules.I think this must be how others feel when they can’t escape
Western tonalities whilst improvising…I’ve never experienced this.
I was unsure if I was playing anything worth listening to, completely unwilling to break the
rules of the radif, and feeling shame that I had offended the tradition if I broke a rule by
accident. I found myself dealing with emotions of inadequacy and shame. Was I experiencing
for the first time how a nervous beginner feels when asked to improvise? Perhaps an insight
into how students might feel when put in the same position? Unsure how to constructively
work through this self-initiated analysis, I turned to Douglas for advice:
Roxanna: integrating the Iranian music just feels too forced and fake…I definitely need
to understand it more before it can integrate naturally into my practice…
Douglas: I don’t think you need to worry about faking.Being Iranian is part of your
identity - there’s nothing fake about that. What would happen if you used the Iranian
music as a reference point, but use your subconscious more…?
Douglas simultaneously unpacked not only musical struggles, but also personal struggles I was
experiencing with my Iranian-ness; the latter is, however, a wider topic for another time. I
understood his point as suggesting that successful improvisation is more reliant on a state of
mind than a skill set. He encouraged me to explore subconscious expression rather than rely
entirely on the rules of this unfamiliar music system, seeking a mode of playing which is:
1) Open – a willingness to try new things and consider different points of view.
2) Alert – a presence allowing ourselves to be in the moment, a readiness to listen and
hear all sounds.
3) Non-judgmental – considering ‘mistakes’ more as ‘surprises’, giving ourselves the
space to react to them positively and constructively, rather than being distracted by
Recording on 28/05/20:
Diary entry on 28/05/20
Email conversation with Finch in early June 2020, after having sent him some recordings.
4) Detached – taking the role of a coach; observing, guiding, but not interfering.
I would argue that all these aspects are required for a healthy mindset, in any context of
musicking or creative performance. After analysis, I found I was very open and alert, however,
lacking the third and fourth points listed above. Without detachment and a non-judgmental
attitude, any creative act can quickly lead to a heightened sensitivity and personal attack on
oneself a situation I have observed in other improvisors and in some of my students. The
following two recordings were a result of this reflection (both recorded mid-study). Prelude,
which explores the concept of darāmad-e avval within dastgāh-e čahārgāh, displays an
exploration free from judgment, as opposed to my previous preoccupation with the final
result and “how I needed to integrate Iranian music into my improvisation.When I stepped
away from these thoughts and trusted my subconscious the result felt neither “forcednor
fake”, as I initially described. Dastgāh-e homāyun
, which explores the concept of darāmad-
e avval and chahār-mezrāb was recorded towards the end of the study; although it was
planned out and incorporated traditional radif structures, I felt myself freely able to perform
and navigate myself through the structure. The performance strayed quite far from the initial
traditional inspiration and system – quite significant progress from my aforementioned mid-
study struggle. Returning to Sansom’s notion regarding self-construction (see the beginning
of this section), he suggests that meaning is a “becoming” or process, rather than being based
solely on a structural and rule-bound system.’
As such, within the context of creating music, the
process reveals a great deal about an individual, where the final results alone are not the
epitome of personal identity. Considering this, I found it viable to set in motion a process for
my students, placing creativity more prominently in their education.
I found most of my students acquainting with improvisation quite smoothly, as I used
a number of methods best suited to each student. Many of them associated improvisation as
something related to their already existing practice, rather than an extra activity. Some
methods included:
- completely free improvisation,
- improvisation with certain parameters (such as tempo, dynamics or key signature),
Finch’s advice for ‘a good frame of mind for improvisation’, as discussed with him during classes and
Dastgāh-e homāyun:
Sansom, Improvisation & Identity,12.
- improvisation implementing the practice of specific techniques (such as glissandos,
different finger positions or bowing patterns),
- beginning an improvisation with a pre-determined introduction,
- basing an improvisation on a pre-written melody,
- and introducing visual stimuli as a source of inspiration.
As the weeks progressed, I noticed confidence growing progressively in my students. They
often took initiative faster than I anticipated to create more complicated improvisations,
discovering and understanding the extent of their abilities (often to their surprise). For
example, Hanna,
who is age 15, grade 6 level, and began lessons with me just prior to the
study. She is very imaginative and told me she used to make up pieces when she first began
learning the cello. However, her teacher prior to me did not encourage much creativity and
her mother explained this as an issue for Hanna; as a result, her enjoyment of the cello
diminished significantly. Improvisation has been a way for Hanna to rediscover her passion
for playing the cello: I really love improvisation, it’s freeing, and helps me explore the cello more.
The exploring she refers to is with regards to learning new techniques and finding new ways
of playing the cello (both with my instruction and through her own initiative) - this has
involved exploring natural and unnatural harmonics, sul ponticello and sul tasto with
confidence and curiosity. She has formed a new relationship with the cello, where her creative
self is at the centre.
Mastering creativity is a process that does not involve education or even
transmission as such, but rather active enculturation that leads musicians to
take full agency over the development of their own creativity.
Here Kohfeld et al. describes a necessary act of initiative from musicians in the path to finding
a creative voice. Although I am giving my students formal cello lessons, I do not wish to
impose creativity formally upon them; my guidance should merely lead them down the
correct path, encouraging them to explore personal expression by themselves. Hanna
describes free improvisation as the reason to get my cello out and practice,’ which has been a
struggle for her in the past few years; her rekindled excitement to practice has been evident
not only to her, but to her mother as well. The enthusiastic exploring Hanna does by herself
All names have been changed for the purpose of this paper.
Conversation mid-way through the study.
J. Mike Kohfeld et al., Teaching and Learning Improvisation: Culture-Specific Cases of a Cross-Cultural
Musical Act,in Expanding the Space for Improvisation Pedagogy in Music: A Transdisciplinary Approach
(Routledge, 2020), 25.
at home is an example of the “full agency” Kohfeld et al. mention, in order to begin the
process toward mastering creativity.
I saw a similar sense of self-initiated creativity in my student Leo, who is an adult
learner, grade 5 level, and began lessons with me a year prior to the study. He is very curious,
especially surrounding new topics and contemporary music concepts, often taking the
initiative to learn new pieces or read about music theory by himself. Despite his interest, I
struggled to engage Leo with his creative side, however, through improvisation I believe a
new path has emerged for him. He described improvisation as a source of new ideas, and
quickly displayed his usual sense of agency: mid-way through the study he composed his first
piece, using improvisation as a basis for writing. Note that I did not encourage this, it was fully
Since beginning to improvise, Leo is enjoying a musical journey with a more creative
route. He has combined his theory skills, cello skills and imagination to work in a way which
embraces the lack of necessity behind strict categories such as “performer”, improvisoror
composer - perhaps he has set in motion a mode of practice which can be considered
somewhere within “creative performance (see pages 4-5). This way of learning has been
displayed clearly to us through the system of Iranian music, but nevertheless, it can be
understood in a Western context as well. As stated by Lukas Foss, free improvisation
questions the traditional duality between performer and composer, where the responsibility
may fall on the performer, rather than composer, allowing for flexibility and new ideas to
My student, Eric (11 years old, grade 2 level), particularly enjoyed this reversal of
roles. I will now discuss him briefly, but in further detail in the following section (Ear-playing).
Roxanna: How do you feel about improvisation?
Eric: I like it a lot. It lets me do things and learn things on the cello which can be
scary. It’s kinda like a sandbox.
Roxanna: A sandbox? What do you mean?
Mother: He means like in games, you have some tools, and you can build
Eric: You can make something of your own.
Roxanna: Oh, I see, that’s great! And do you think improvising helps you with other
things we do, like technique and different ways of playing?
Eric: Yeah, I think so. You can enjoy playing and using techniques at the same time.
Roxanna: What do you mean?
Lukas Foss, The Changing Composer-Performer Relationship: A Monologue and a Dialogue,Perspectives of
New Music 1, no. 2 (1963): 53,
Eric: Like, you can be using techniques but also be enjoying something that you
play. I mean, you can also enjoy it when we play normally [in pieces], but you can
make it your own and just see how it goes.
This conversation very well describes Eric’s relationship with improvisation; through taking on
the creative responsibility discussed by Foss, Eric has discovered a new realm of music,
allowing him to enjoy not only the process of creation, but evidently the skills of cello specific
technique. Prior to exploring improvisation, Eric experienced a great deal of anxiety when
learning new pieces or techniques; improvisation has provided him with an outlet to enjoy his
learning process through creative performance.
Through my idiographic approach of analysing my Iranian improvisation practice, I was
able to understand the steps a beginner takes when first confronting creative performance.
As a result, I was able to strengthen the connection between my role as a teacher and as an
improvisor, whilst left with the analytical skills to determine how to implement creativity into
my students’ practices in a meaningful and effective manner.
5. Ear-playing
I will now discuss the concept of ear-playing, which is a large aspect of learning Iranian music.
I experienced ear-playing extensively during my Iranian music lessons, and consequently
wished to implement the method into my own teaching practice. I found my own experiences
to be very similar to those of my students; therefore, I will analyse these instances alongside
each other.
Prior to this study, I used ear-playing only as a game to develop listening, never
emphasising the need for my students to imitate perfectly. For this reason, I never used ear-
playing to teach pieces – I feared if students imitated incorrectly, they would learn incorrectly
from the start, making their learning process longer and more challenging. I lacked trust in
my students’ abilities to correct themselves, and somehow, believed in their reading skills a
great deal more. During this study I experienced ear-playing as a beginner, struggled through
the process, developed my skills, and then understood the logic behind the method. After
experiencing ear-playing as a student, I was curious to use the method to teach my students
Western classical repertoire; I began teaching completely by ear, using notation as a
secondary source, not introducing it until after a few weeks of learning.
Conversation towards the end of the study.
At first during my Iranian music lessons, ear-playing proved challenging:
Ear-playing is tricky! Sometimes it is fine, and I pick it up quickly. Some impulses I have
are already correct due to listening a lot. But when the piece or technique is harder or
unfamiliar, it is tiring, especially when simultaneously looking at the music.
This diary entry was written mid-way through the study after an online lesson with Eshghi.
The following recordings are taken from that lesson and correlate to the above diary entry:
Audio C) Imitating familiar material by ear fairly successfully
Audio D) Imitating completely new material whilst looking at notation, and evidently
I was embarrassed about how inaccurate I was, often finding myself unable to copy. Ear-
playing whilst looking at the music proved to be even harder. These reactions are not
surprising, considering that my Western art music training means I struggle to relate what I
hear with physical finger movements and notation, as suggested by Tim Palmer. His research
has found that notation-focused pedagogy can inhibit the development of both aural abilities
and relational and embodied musical literacy.
He posits that in order to genuinely develop
abilities in hearing, reading and writing music, educational practices must focus on ear-
playing activities and improvisation.
This theory proved to be true, not only through
analysing my own experiences, but also through analysing my students. For example, Hanna,
who came from a heavily notation based pedagogical approach before starting lessons with
Roxanna: How do you feel when I then show you the music [after having played by ear]?
Hanna: Sometimes it’s confusing and I don’t understand, but when I try to play it, it just
sort of all falls into place, and then I get it. Especially if you’re not there [when practicing
at home]. I need to read and play the music to see how it links to what I just played by
She in fact describes Palmer’s notion of struggling to relate sound to her physical finger
movements, as a result of a heavily notation-based education. Her determination to succeed
and trust in her abilities I believe are a result of implementing improvisation and ear-playing
simultaneously into her lessons.
Diary entry from 09/07/20, reflecting on ear-playing.
Lesson on 09/07/20:
Lesson on 09/07/20:
Tim Palmer, A Practical Guide to Teaching in the Secondary School: Exploring Improvisation,Unpublished,
2020, 4.
Palmer, 4.
Conversation during a lesson, in the middle of the study.
This prompted me to ask, why exactly does notation hinder the development of
musical literacy and aural abilities? I believe it acts as catalyst for fear-based learning – a
concept following Stephen Nachmanovitch’s comparison of anxiety experienced by musicians
to the Five Fears in Buddhism:
fear of loss of life, loss of livelihood, loss of reputation, fear
of unusual states of mind, and fear of speaking before an assembly. He compares the final
three fears to the worry musicians experience surrounding stage fright and loss of creativity.
He also adds a potential sixth fear: the fear of ghosts, representing the distress caused by
authority figures, such as teachers, parents or great masters.
Let us understand the fear of ghosts in the context of a lesson: the fear of ghosts would
be found primarily in the student, where the ghosts are the teacher and the score. As I
discovered in my Iranian music lessons, even if a teacher is highly encouraging and limits
remarks surrounding criticism, the notation still acts as an ultimate goal, seemingly needing
to be played exactly as written. The potential for mistakes, unpleasant experiences and
anxiety does not allow the student to realise their full musical potential (as was heard in Audio
D). As a result, a student may make many mistakes, play without character or perhaps be too
nervous to play anything at all. Once notation is removed (or not introduced in the first place)
we might alleviate some of the focus on perfectionism, and thus, removing the fear of ghosts.
As such, I found that using the notation of Iranian music simply as a reference (as it was
originally intended to be used) was the only helpful use of notation. Furthermore, what
seemed to be valued above accurate notes was the emotion and vigour with which I played -
I could only concentrate on this aspect of the music when purposefully not looking at the
notation. The following recording is an example of this taking place, during a lesson in person
with Eshghi mid-study: Audio D.
Here I found the notes falling into place more naturally
when I took the focus away from the notation – the metaphorical ghost, and my fear had
been removed, creating space to demonstrate and develop my aural abilities and musical
literacy. I also observed these qualities similarly growing in my student Leo. He has always
been very strict about following scores with precision, however, at the cost of listening to his
intonation. Since learning pieces by ear, he has a newfound appreciation for pitch accuracy:
Leo: When playing without looking at the music and following you, I pay a lot
more attention to the pitches.
Roxanna: After learning something by ear, how do you feel when I show you the
Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art (Penguin, 1991), 135.
Nachmanovitch, 135.
Lesson on 23/09/20:
Leo: I feel that I do not rely on the score as much as beforeI can predict what’s
coming rather than relying solely on the music score.
I found Leo’s progress through the study to be directly related to removing notation and
introducing improvisation in the lessons; his listening skills began to develop with regards to
intonation and considering the music more holistically. Rather than religiously trying to play
as the score instructs, I found Leo able to internalise the music, with a heightened ability to
internalise the musical qualities. As Sawyer argues, improvisation develops the ability for
students to ‘think musically– consequently, students have the capacity to understand music
more deeply, preparing them better to interpret musical scores.
I see this “musical
thinking” coming into effect not only as a result of improvisation, but also through detaching
scores from the centre of concentration. If the fear of ghosts is removed in the initial learning
process, the student is allowed space to develop their listening skills. Upon the return of the
score, the skills to interpret and listen develop side-by-side, neither one dominating, nor
hindering the other. The development of these skills was apparent for Leo, and similarly Pablo
- who is an adult learner, grade 5 level, and began lessons with me three years prior to the
study. He surprised me towards the end of the study with a fully notated score of the Cinema
Paradiso by Morricone (for solo cello) - he transcribed it by listening to a recording and
watching a video of a cellist performing. Pablo previously had not attempted to transcribe
music and believes the accuracy he achieved was a result of his recently developed stronger
listening skills due to ear-playing. Through this activity, he in fact displayed stronger listening
skills as well as interpretation skills.
I found the removal of notation particularly effective with Eric, who I mentioned in the
previous section (Improvisation), but I will now present in detail. Eric started lessons with me
in March 2018 as a complete beginner. He has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome
which manifests as a weak attention span, extreme perfectionism and anxiety (which are all
common issues for those with Asperger syndrome).
In the past, this has often led to Eric
having emotional break downs or refusing to speak or play during cello lessons. He has
struggled with these three issues quite severely since summer 2019, and as a result, fell from
grade 2 level back to beginner level. Although Eric’s anxieties could be caused by a number of
Email conversation towards the end of the study.
R. Keith Sawyer, Improvisation and Teaching,Critcal Studies in Improvisation 3, no. 2 (2008): 1,
Christopher Gillberg, A Guide to Asperger Syndrome (Cambridge University Press, 2002), 77576.
issues, during cello lessons it was clear that notation was a large source of provocation for
him, resulting in fear-based learning.
Talking openly with Eric revealed a great deal about him and his feelings towards
music. For example, he would often cry after performing a piece, unable to explain why. One
day he managed to answer why he was crying: ‘if I make a mistake, then you [Roxanna] won’t be
happy with my playing’. In reality, I never emphasise that anything should be done perfectly, in
fact I encourage the opposite: to allow room for mistakes whilst trying to learn how to deal
with them in a performance setting. This comment perhaps revealed some form
of transference: transference is a term used in psychoanalysis to describe the act of
redirecting emotions or attitudes towards a substitute person to which the emotions or
attitudes were originally directed towards.
Either Eric was scared to be imperfect and
judged himself to the extent that he began to believe I was the one making the judgment, or
he saw qualities in me which reminded him of another adult who expects perfection in his
work - two potential reasons which display typical examples of transference.
I, however,
would suggest a less typical root to the issue: Eric transferring his fear of ghosts from the
score, to the teacher. Consequently, I completely removed all forms of notation for the
majority of the study; I taught everything by ear (pieces, scales, exercises and new
techniques), using improvisation as a tool to solidify new knowledge of certain techniques
and as a method of emotional release and expression.
Mid-way through the study, when performing pieces which I had previously taught
purely from the notation, his perfectionist attitudes were still evident. In contrast, when
performing pieces which I had taught by ear, he displayed a higher level of confidence,
enjoyment and a healthier attitude to the inaccuracies in his playing. This was also after
improvisation had become a core part of his learning.
Me: How does it make you feel when I play something, and you have to copy?
Eric: You have to look for the sound that you make. Sometimes I find it, but it
doesn’t work if the cello is out of tune! Sometimes it is hard to find, but it is getting
easier, because you can recognise them more.
Me: If you get it wrong, what happens?
Eric: [jokingly] Either I cry, or I guess I just try to continue with it.
As defined by the Collins Dictionary.
Deborah P. Britzman and Alice J. Pitt, Pedagogy and Transference: Casting the Past of Learning into the
Presence of Teaching,Theory Into Practice 35, no. 2 (March 1, 1996): 120,
Conversation towards the end of the study.
By the end of this study Eric’s general anxiety and anxiety related to perfectionism
significantly decreased, which I conclude is due to the intense implementation of
improvisation and ear-playing in his learning. Subsequently, his musical skills were able to
grow without his fears intruding, as is outlined in the above conversation. Towards the end
of the study, I reintroduced notation to Eric, for pieces which we had learnt only by ear
through the study; he admits to finding the notation less ‘scary’ and has significantly less
anxiety surrounding reading a score. Once again, Palmer’s theory that hearing, reading and
writing music can only truly develop through improvisation and aural based activities
to have taken effect. Eric managed to work back up to grade 2 level during this study and is
now stably approaching grade 3.
I believe implementing an extensive use of ear-playing into lessons was effective and
welcomed by the majority of students as a result of the simultaneous introduction of
improvisation. The fact that they experienced the ability to play successfully without any pre-
determined music perhaps warmed them to the idea of learning by ear. I feel their trust,
determination and consequent progress would not have been possible without having
integrated improvisation into their lessons and practice routines. For many students, their
newfound confidence and curiosity also resulted in less apprehension towards taking on more
complicated pieces or sight-reading exercises. Without notation as a central source of
concentration my students have experienced freedom both from the score and their
associated fears, allowing room for listening, enjoyment and cultivating curiosity.
6. Learnacy
The final topic of this paper is learnacy which has emerged as an important concept after
reflecting upon this study. Learnacy is the ability to learn, a concept first coined by Guy
Claxton, similar to literacy or numeracy as the abilities to read and write or work with
Since this term came in to use, it has been understood that learnacy can be learnt
when a teacher strategises to encourage a particular method of learning to evolve in a student
– consequently, the student’s immediate progress increases, they are better equipped to take
on learning beyond the classroom, and teachers are more likely to enjoy their chosen
Palmer, A Practical Guide to Teaching in the Secondary School: Exploring Improvisation,4.
Guy Claxton, Learning Is Learnable (And We Ought To Teach It),Ten Years On, The National Commission for
Education Report, 2004, 23750.
Learnacy is often discussed as a quality desirable in students, where the teacher
is responsible for the cultivation of such an attribute. However, I would argue that learnacy is
equally, if not more importantly, required by teachers themselves. I believe learnacy cannot
develop in the students, let alone the teachers, if teaching practices are led by fear-based
learning, or indeed fear-based teaching.
Providing students with a lesson environment where fears do not thrive will only come
about if teachers can avoid fear-based teaching, allowing creativity and positive learning
experiences to take place for both the teacher and student. I previously I mentioned my fears
about teaching improvisation and using ear-playing too extensively with my students (see
page 15, Ear-playing), and I am certainly not the only teacher who has avoided using certain
techniques due to fear. Another example of this issue is in Lucy Green’s innovative study
which integrated informal learning practices into the classroom setting, challenging the
traditional role of the teacher.
At the beginning of the study the teachers admitted their
anxieties surrounding Green’s seemingly radical techniques. When asked how they felt about
the lessons one teacher expressed, ‘I’m terrified about the lesson today…I’m actually scared,’ and
words such as ‘panic’, ‘dread’ and ‘terror’ were also used.
These fears (mostly surrounding
loss of reputation and ghosts when considering the Five Fears in Buddhism)
were a result
of many factors, such as worrying about what their colleagues will think, if they will fulfil the
syllabus, how their role as the teacher is being experimented with and the unknown reaction
of the students (behaviour as well as attainment).
All these different anxieties surrounding
new pedagogical methods can be pinned down to one concrete issue: the teachers not having
experienced the learning methods themselves. Thus, I propose a seventh fear to
Nachmanovitch’s list: the fear of the unknown. If the teacher has not experienced the learning
process themselves, they may not understand the logic, the struggles nor the success,
allowing for mistrust between the teacher and the method.
We become afraid of the encounter with new musical experience, where
knowledge and expertise are no guide and only the subjective experience
Claxton, 249.
Lucy Green, Music, Informal Learning and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy (Ashgate Publishing Ltd,
Green, 30.
Five Fears in Buddhism: fear of loss of life, loss of livelihood, loss of reputation, fear of unusual states of
mind, and fear of speaking before an assembly.
Green, 2930.
honestly felt can serve, and retreat into the safe past, where we know what to
expect and connoisseurship is paramount.
Drawing upon Christopher Small’s description, we can understand why teachers may shy
away or even fear new teaching methods and contexts. As educators, we put upon ourselves
an expectation to be fully in control and be able to predict the outcomes of our teaching – to
some extent, this is preferable, but can only come about through personal experience which
eliminates the unknown. Eventually this process will eliminate the fear of the unknown. I
experienced this process during this study, which led to a third and final experimentation with
my pedagogical methods: maintaining original tempo when teaching new material (following
improvisation and ear-playing).
During the first months of the study, I noticed something quite specific about the
process of ear-playing in Iranian music: it is always done in tempo, never slower, but simpler
if need be. As Eshghi said emotion first, technique will develop.’ It is believed that if tempo
is altered to be slower, the feeling and phrasing can be lost - potentially it is harder to ingrain
this in a student at a later stage, rather than technique. This is a core attitude I also heard
from some Suzuki teachers. They expressed that if a child cannot achieve a certain technique
it is preferable to set this technique aside. The child will either eventually develop this way of
playing on their own or at a later date when their playing is more developed.
Throughout my classical cello training the number one rule ingrained into me has been
to begin a piece playing slowly; this proved to be a habit hard to break when learning Iranian
music. When playing more complicated passages, keeping the tempo up was something I
needed to make a conscious effort to maintain. At first, I automatically took the tempo down
and played everything with neatly placed technique. As time went by, I began to approach
everything in tempo (as it was intended to be played), and only practiced specific techniques
separately, away from the musical material (for example, spiccato bowing, ornaments, types
of vibrato). Mid-way through the study I still had not fully developed trust with this concept,
nor explicitly felt the positive effects on my learning (as I had done with ear-playing).
Nevertheless, I was curious to implement this method into my cello lessons; I view this
decision as an elimination of the fear of the unknown, and trust in the development of my
Christopher Small, Music, Society, Education, New Ed edition (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press,
1997), 5.
In Spring 2019 I had an observational placement at the Suzuki Hub (Hoxton, London, UK), where I observed
cello and violin tutors, as well as had numerous conversations with the tutors, parents and students.
own learnacy. This paper in particular will not discuss maintaining original tempo as a teaching
method, as I believe it requires a further study to provide secure results. Thus far, there has
been no such research surrounding the effect of learning to play new material up to tempo,
and I believe future research into pedagogical approaches regarding altered and unaltered
tempi would prove interesting and would produce valuable results.
During this study I saw the fear of the unknown subside in my students, allowing for
learnacy to develop, and I will now discuss a few examples. Anya is an adult learner (age 65+)
and has played the cello since childhood, however had not had a lesson in over 20 years prior
to beginning lessons with me two years before this study. She is a very active amateur cellist,
who plays in a range of ensembles from a Baroque string group, to a contemporary chamber
orchestra. The first time I introduced Anya to improvisation and ear-playing she was adamant
she would not be able to play well, fearing an unknown territory of music which she had not
explored during her long experience of playing the cello. Despite her unease, Anya quickly
adapted to these new methods and very much enjoyed the change – I believe this was due to
her already well-developed listening skills. I cannot claim her listening skills have dramatically
improved as with previous student examples, however, the way in which she uses her
listening skills appears to have changed. Rather than concentrating purely on the sound
regarding musical characteristics (for example, dynamics, articulation & character), she has
begun to listen also to cello specific characteristics (for example, bow speed, bow retakes, left
hand finger attack). As a result, during this study she has finally broken some long-standing
bad habits which I did not believe were possible to change. Prior to this study I had attempted
to break these habits with particular exercises or etudes for example, to stop her from
repeatedly lifting the bow when it changes direction, we concentrated on creating a
continuous sound whilst playing legato etudes. To improve her playing habits which were so
innately ingrained in her, required a change of pedagogical approach, rather than further
advice within an already familiar framework of learning. In order for Anya to progress
required my own fear of the unknown to disappear and learnacy to develop, rather than hers
For the reader’s interest, when teaching new pieces up to tempo, my students often displayed a higher level
of their musical abilities and the whole learning process proves to be faster for them. They played with
imagination, correct phrasing and fewer mistakes from the initial stages of learning a piece. As with Iranian
music, at first the pieces were often simplified and the required techniques where prepared separately to
playing the pieces. I should note that this method can only be used successfully if appropriate repertoire is
selected for the student; anything beyond their abilities will be difficult to carry through completely up to
tempo. In the case that a student seriously struggles with this method in addition to the other pedagogical
changes, I simply selected repertoire slightly under their level, allowing them room to progress through the
method as well as with their cello skills.
directly. Perhaps the nervous teachers in Green’s study (see page 21, para. 2) could have
benefited from hearing such a story.
With regards to student learnacy, Margarita Papazova suggests that through the use of
metacognitive approaches and student-centred learning, an effective learner will develop and
should have the following qualities:
- To be conscious of one’s strengths.
- To be motivated and self-confident to succeed.
- To recognise the chance of failure and to learn through the errors.
- To be responsible for one’s own learning.
- To have an inner desire and belief in one’s inner creativity, taking the initiative to put
this into practice.
Towards the end of the study, some of these qualities became progressively evident in Anya
as she began to learn nursery rhymes by listening to recordings:
I’ve been figuring out songs for my grandson to sing along to, it’s great! I don’t need
to fish around for the sheet music anymore! I didn’t know I could even do that.
Once her fear of the unknown was clearly pushed away, she took the initiative to test her own
capabilities and creativity, and consequently is learning more about her personal strengths.
Similarly, Hanna displayed motivation and confidence to succeed, whilst acknowledging the
chance of failure and need to learn through mistakes:
Roxanna: What do you think about learning pieces by ear, or copying what I play?
Hanna: At first, I found it scary, but now I know it’s fine. Even if I don’t get the notes
at first, I just need to really listen, and I’ll get them. Your fingers know where the
notes are, you just need to let them find their way. I still get a bit nervous, but not
like before. Now I know it’s okay not to be right the first time.
Hanna described not only her journey during the study, but also mine and other students’
journey to some extent. She understood her transition from experiencing to eliminating the
fear of the unknown, valuing and trusting her skills. I found the majority of students arrived
at this realisation, however, not everyone was as articulate in understanding the process. For
example, Yoana, who is age 12, at grade 2 level and begun lessons with me 4 months prior to
the study. She is a diligent student, but very self-judgmental as she expects to achieve quickly
Margarita Papazova, Learning to Learn or How to Be an Effective Learner,ANNUAL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF
Conversation in the middle of the study.
on the cello, comparing her cello skills to her recorder skills (which she plays at grade 6 level).
Yoana displayed fear of the unknown throughout this study, I believe due to the inability to
exercise her harsh self-judgment when covering new topics and experiencing unfamiliar
methods of learning.
Me: How do you find learning pieces by ear? Does it still stress you out?
Yoana: I just don’t think I’m very good at memorising music, but it’s not stressful
Me: How about just copying me, bar by bar, not playing the whole piece by ear?
Yoana: [shrugs] I think I’m getting better.
She in fact did show musical and learnacy development comparable to the other students.
Whilst she continues to display dissatisfaction with herself, with only mild appreciation for
her progress, I believe it is simply a matter of time before Yoana will show an active
understanding of her learnacy.
This study has developed and encouraged learnacy in my students, and indeed myself.
It is evident from the majority of students’ acknowledgment and understanding of the process
that their learnacy has increased; this has come about through the change in pedagogical
approaches allowing elimination of particular fears, which have, in the past, withheld their
progress. If a teacher can break away from fear-based teaching, the students will be less likely
to experience fear-based learning. As such, teachers must actively aim to continuously
develop not only their students’ learnacy, but also their own this study is an example of
these two aspects developing side by side.
7. Conclusion
This cross-cultural study has challenged and interrogated my identities, considering and, as a
result, strengthening their interrelationships through creative practice and researcher
positionality. The ongoing process of reflexive analysis has led to experiences, discoveries and
conclusions which are valuable not only on a personal level, but also on a wider level when
applied to a practical context. Although not explicitly discussed in this paper, Iranian music
provided the opportunity to acknowledge the need to explore my ethnic identity alongside
the musical focus. I would propose further research for this personal topic, as this study found
many meaningful insights and instances arising for me. In the context of purely musical
Conversation during a lesson, in the middle of the study.
conclusions, there are many other cultures’ music which could have been used for this study
and I believe may have achieved similarly interesting musical outcomes, albeit without a
personal cultural significance to me specifically. As such, most of the conclusions reached are
not explicit to the cross-cultural experience between Iranian music with Western music, but
rather specific to the cross-cultural experience between a heavily aural music tradition with
a heavily notation-based tradition.
The first conclusion I have reached is regarding teachers placing themselves in the position
of the student. Should the teacher experience the learning process themselves (where they
would effectively be the student), trust and understanding can begin to grow, and the fear of
the unknown disappears. Through varied experiences the individual musician can learn new
skills and develop their existing skills, in ways which their initial learning experiences did not
provide. Moving forward, that individual should aim to draw upon all they have learnt,
expanding and experimenting with their teaching practice in order to provide as well-rounded
an education as possible for their students. If teachers seek situations which challenge their
learnacy abilities, music education can constantly evolve, positively challenging and
improving not only the student, but also the teacher. This is the experience I had during this
study with regards to ear-playing and improvisation, enabling me to have the confidence to
conduct my lessons successfully with less reliance on notation. Subsequently, I was brave
enough to begin teaching everything up to tempo from the initial stages of learning. The
majority of my students showed positive results and welcomed the new teaching methods.
They were in fact more fearless than I had been. The braver the teacher, the braver the
I found that the simultaneous removal of fear of the unknown and of ghosts led to
interesting student experiences. The results showed hearing, reading and writing skills
developing and embodying in the students’ abilities to engage with music in a more rounded
manner. When brave enough to remove notation, we partially remove the fear of ghosts
which manifests in students (and professional musicians) in a number of ways. We no longer
treat notation as a sacred object, which must be replicated exactly. Instead, we listen to the
music, absorbing the meanings and intentions with a holistic and personal understanding.
This personal understanding and notion of “creative performancecan be achieved through
improvisation. Free improvisation allows the student to express something personal to them
For example, Azerbaijani, North Indian or Cuban music, all of which have a heavily aural tradition.
through sound; they do not need a score to create music, they simply need their instrument
and to trust their subconscious’ abilities. Improvisation breaks down the strict boundaries
between performer and composer, where the performer takes on a form of responsibility
exploring their creativity in as worthy manner as a composer.
With regards to the ongoing aim to bind my different musical roles and personal identities,
I have challenged myself to keep the a/r/tography method of research in motion. Theorising
through analysis – specifically self-analysis is a constant cycle for a/r/tographers, which
requires a fascination with process and natural evolution of discovery.
I would like to specially thank the following people for
their guidance, support, and encouragement:
Dr Soosan Lolavar, Faraz Eshghi, Davood Jafari
Natalia Pavlutskaya & Douglas Finch
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Soroush Press, 2000.
Azzara, Christopher D. “Improvisation.” In The New Handbook of Research on Music
Teaching and Learning, 171–187. New York: Oxford Univesity Press, 2002.
Badiee, Rahmatollah, ed. Second Course of Violin: Maestro Abolhassan Saba’s Radif. Second.
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