While existing research suggests a broad range of cognitive and developmental benefits associated with a diverse music education (see for example Kokotsaki 2007), recent studies also indicate a disproportionate incidence of mental health issues in (particularly classical) musicians. These include a threefold incidence of depression (Gross & Musgrave 2016), increased stress (Roy et al 2016), performance anxiety (Nusseck et al. 2015) and beta-blocker use (e.g. Vaag et al 2016). These issues are reportedly exacerbated by an environment of “constant critical feedback”, “an endless feedback loop”, “the embodiment of one’s work with one’s identity” and “hyper-competition” (Gross & Musgrave’s 2017); descriptions which may well match the conservatoire – and ongoing - experience of many professional violinists.
In response to Gross & Musgrave’s recommendation to “embed mental health within the curriculum” (ibid.), this research project employs relevant psychological models (including those of Dweck, Polanyi, Csikszentmihalyi) to examine how prominent violin pedagogies shape their students’ complete musical and psychological experiences. This will be achieved by unpacking the established violin pedagogies (e.g. the conservatoire, jazz, folk and Suzuki models) in terms of their widely diverse use of improvisation, relationship with the ‘fixed score’, rhythmic embodiment, transferral of declarative and tacit knowledge, musical emotional contagion and opportunity for creativity and individuality. The potentially “transformative” benefit of adopting a multimodal approach to learning, that may expand students’ “ways of knowing”, “music learning identities through music improvisation” Bowman (2002), and “opportunities for more creative tasks […] and links to home and community” (Tomlinson, 2013), are an urgent invitation to re-examine these established pedagogies.
This evidence-based, multi-disciplinary research enquiry into violin pedagogy, will support the design of a hybridised multi-modal learning approach and set of materials aiming to optimise a student’s connection to the music they play, and in turn their well-being and positive musical identities.