Action and thought in cello playing: an investigation of children’s practice and performance

Lisboa, T. (2008) Action and thought in cello playing: an investigation of children’s practice and performance. International Journal of Music Education, 26 (3) pp. 243-267. ISSN 0255-7614 (print) 1744-795X (online)


This article presents a longitudinal case study investigation of three young cellists' self-directed preparation of a new piece of music for an informal performance. The investigation considers how musical understanding starts to emerge in children's practice and performance. It explores practice at early stages of learning and examines the children's thoughts and action through a comparison between what they say and what they are able to demonstrate through playing. The participants were filmed both in practice sessions and in informal performances. A multi-method approach was used in which detailed analysis of the children's playing, semi-structured interviews and the children's own appraisal five years after the research were combined. The results show that when left to their own devices, the children developed an internal representation of the music that incorporated rhythm and pitch mistakes of which they were unaware. The participants' appraisal five years later confirmed that they all adopted a mainly technical approach to the piece, through repetitive practice strategies, with no focus on musical matters and, therefore, no particular understanding of the structure of the piece. Overall, their interpretation was limited by their technical and conceptual difficulties and there were only a few signs of musical expression.

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