ACT 15 (5): 51–80

Flash Study Analysis and The Music Learning Profiles Project

Ithaca College, New York, USA

State University of New York at Oneonta, USA

Amp Up NYC, New York, USA

Independent Researcher, London, United Kingdom


October 2016


Published in Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education 15 (5): 51–80. [pdf]

This paper introduces the Music Learning Profiles Project, and its methodological approach, flash study analysis. Flash study analysis is a method that draws heavily on extant qualitative approaches to education research, to develop broad understandings of music learning in diverse contexts. The Music Learning Profiles Project (MLPP) is an international collaboration to collect and curate a large number of flash studies exploring musicking and music learning in a variety of contexts that fall outside traditional school music education. In this paper the authors present context, rationale, and methods for the project, along with indicative preliminary findings. The project aims to provide an expanding online database of music experiences upon which colleagues in music education and ethnomusicology research can draw, and to which they are invited to contribute. The MLPP aims to benefit the music education community and wider society by helping to democratize research to include more diverse experiences of music learning.

Keywords: flash study analysis, informal learning, alternative music learning, Music Learning Profiles Project, popular music, mentoring

The Music Learning Profiles Project (MLPP) is an international collaboration to collect and curate a large number of studies exploring music making and music learning in a variety of contexts that fall outside primarily school education contexts. The MLPP is concerned with “the continued importance of opening up what we conceive to be ‘music education’” (Green 2011, 19). Rather than using “alternative” learning processes, that is to say rather than bringing (for instance) popular music learning models into school music programs, our interest encouraged us to look outside for modes of music learning, knowing, and doing set apart from school learning. Our hope in this project is to learn and to provide opportunities for others to discover and understand more about such learning phenomena and the particularized bodies of knowledge, musical and cultural, that they engender, with a view then to these understandings being woven into informed practice in music classrooms.

School and college music education around the world are dominated by the hegemony of Western art music, and, to a lesser extent, jazz (Bull 2016; Spruce 1999; Wright 2010). Performance and appreciation of these two traditions have developed discrete pedagogies, supported and maintained by a vast literature, including instructional traditions and “methods” that Benedict (2010) critiqued for creating and perpetuating exclusive cultural contexts, “authentic” only unto themselves. Randles (2013), Kratus (2007), Williams (2007) and Mantie (2014), among many others, have criticized this prevailing paradigm. Allsup (2010, 220) observed that, “considering the diverse array of music that is accessible in today’s global world, it is surprisingly easy to figure out what counts as official knowledge among music educators.” Allsup is here addressing a largely North American audience; however, his observation could be made of many school music education traditions and contexts around the world. This article primarily addresses the myriad musics that exist outside of the official, institutionalized knowledge among many music educators (Berger and Luckman 1967; Hebert, Abramo, and Smith 2016). It is with the practices and knowledges characterized by diverse experiences of musicking (Small 1987) in ways intrinsic to those musics outside of normative school music education that we are concerned in the work of the MLPP.

Throughout the music education profession in the academy, “other” musics and musicians do not have the educational capital or, thus, the cultural capital (Bourdieu 2005) that they do outside of institutions, in non-school contexts. For example, Kallio (2015) notes that popular music education can sometimes be censored in ways that simultaneously legitimizes certain musics through the reinforcement of moral boundaries, and delegitimize others, deeming them inappropriate. The authors believe that music learning in all contexts should be valued and included in discussions central to overlapping the disciplines of music education and ethnomusicology. In countries with long-established music teacher education (or training) systems, such as the US, it is perhaps inevitable that highly evolved pedagogies in a couple of narrow traditions should have necessarily excluded others. Goble (2010) noted “some United States music educators presently appear to be in need of instruction on principles of democracy and the appropriate uses of music.” However, as populations diversify, as employment needs change, and as music education continues to struggle to maintain its place in schools, we propose the MLPP as a timely means to bring to school and college music education broader and deeper understandings of the diversity of musicking and music learning practices in the world. We should emphasize here that we are not suggesting that current school music making is inferior to largely “outside” practices; rather, we aim to draw attention the breadth of musicking that is often excluded from school contexts. The principal aim of the MLPP, then, is to “take this [music education] outside”—to help nurture genuine engagement with music learning in all of its marvelous abundance.

A key impetus for the project derives from observations of the trend that participation in school music education in the US (where three of the four authors are based) is declining, and engagement with school music beyond high school is at an historic low (Rabkin and Hedberg 2011). Outside of school, however, creation, recording, and distribution of a wide range of musics proliferate online, in community centers, home studios, and at music venues the world over. It can seem as though school music education exists in its own detached bubble, safe from the concerns of the real people whose lives and values it briefly engages or forever ignores in pursuit of its own propagation. While it is undeniable that positive music experiences are had by some (perhaps elite or fortunate individuals) in schools, we are mostly interested in uncovering stories of music learning beyond the thin slice of school music education culture with the purpose being to include marginalized perspectives into the broader discussion.

Insofar as it looks beyond the profession’s comfort zone, the MLPP is by no means a pioneering endeavor in music education. The project would have been unthinkable without the trailblazing contributions of, amongst others, Audubert et al. (2015), Azzara (2011), Barrett (2011), Burnard (2012), Campbell (2011), Green (2001, 2008) Higgins (2012), Kaplan (1943, 1945, 1958), Mantie (2014, 2016), Partti (2012), Randles and Stringham (2013), and Söderman and Folkestad (2004). There is a tangible and increasing yearning in the music education community for a reflexive refreshment and re-invigoration of the profession from scholars and practitioners, to bring meaningful music experiences to all young people through the powerful means of the education system—not “just” so that people enjoy better musical lives, but so that, overall, people’s lives, self-esteem and happiness might improve (Wright 2010). We advocate that these examples of lived music and music learning experiences should not be ignored, and should be available for the benefit of scholars, practitioners, and students in music education.


A democratizing orientation

We view this project as part of a larger drive towards making music education more democratic, to expand the possibilities of what music education (and particularly school music education) means for individuals and groups (Horsley 2015; Smith et al. in press). As Lingard observed, “it is through pedagogy that schooling gets done,” and we are concerned about experiences in and outcomes of school music education, particularly the “reductive effects on pedagogy” wrought by the high stakes testing culture in the US (2010, 168–9) and elsewhere, and the pervasive music competition culture (Mantie 2014). These wider issues are discussed at great length elsewhere in the literature (e.g. Allsup 2010; Benedict 2010; Reay 2010; Vogan 2010; Smith 2011, 2013b; Stakelum and Baker 2013). As Barrett advised, “the investigation of diverse music education practices provides opportunities for music educators to question some of the taken-for-granted assumptions that have shaped music education” (Barrett 2011, 5). We aim to challenge colleagues, guiding them to question their assumptions, and—crucially—moving beyond such (wholly worthwhile) critical appraisal of their work, to find ways to change music education for the better, as befits particular local contexts.


Research Methods

The MLPP relies on classic ethnographic case study research techniques, primarily interviewing (Berger 1999; Merriam 1998; Seidman 2006; Spradley 1979), informal and formal observations (Creswell 2007; Lincoln and Guba 1985; Stake 1995; Yin 2003). Such qualitative methods afford in-depth understanding of participants’ music learning experiences, perhaps more than might be garnered exclusively through other methods such as surveys or questionnaires. To date we have worked with musicians active in domains external to mainstream school music education contexts, therefore opportunities for data collection, potential participants, and insights often arose spur of the moment, out of particularized cultural contexts, for example in clubs, in studios, or at social gatherings (Becker 1973; Smith 2013a). Consequently, we drew on a certain authenticity and shared understandings as musicians (Feleppa 1986) conducting ethnographic study as participant observers, that required types of informal, dynamic, and conversational exchanges that often yielded valuable data, leads for additional participants, or deeper, more contextualized understandings of the varied contexts represented in this text. As musician-researchers, we shared with participants what Tiryakian (1973) called a “we-pole” (193), an assumptive frame of reference (199).

The authors’ collective backgrounds in the recording industry, music production, touring, performing, and promoting music afforded us a large network of contacts for generating leads. In addition, each of us teaches or actively researches popular, alternative, or informal modes of music making. Stake’s (1995) notion of collective case study, where researchers select several research sites, informs our approach. We selected initial participants known to us as peers through our own music-making networks and bands, and through contacts in local and regional music scenes. Potential participants were deemed eligible for inclusion if they were known to make music or musics not traditionally included in institutional settings. Using a kind of snowball sampling approach—whereby participants recommended further potential interviewees, and we looked to others in our and one another’s networks (Morgan 2008)—led us to divergent characters, differing perspectives, idiosyncratic narratives, and music learning experiences often contrasting, contradictory, and highly particularized. We have extended the idea of plurality proposed by Stake to a larger number than typical in classical case study approaches. The MLPP brings together a multitude of flash study analyses, each a brief profile of an idiosyncratic musician and music learner who obtained substantial bits of musical knowledge at least partially outside formal institutions. Currently, the MLPP has compiled 30 flash studies. We anticipate that this number will grow well beyond that number as we continue with the project and invite more contributors.

A flash study analysis is a short, written case study. Where case studies traditionally go into great depth (Robson 2011), a flash study analysis is kept to a maximum of 2,000 words. Compiling many smaller profiles over time has generated a large pool of data from which we have begun to draw nuanced understandings of the myriad approaches to music learning extant in and emerging from the early part of the 21st century. We selected those referred to in this paper, below, because they represent the diversity of musicking and music learning from across the 30 cases; themes emerging from the larger data set are also present in this selection. The data presented were collected through semi-structured interviews, with each member of the MLPP team using the same standard 13-item questionnaire developed by the group. Interviewees were asked to talk about what they do, to describe how they learned (and learn) to do this, to identify key learning experiences, to talk about involvement in formal or school learning environments, and to discuss how they see musicking practices passing to a future generation.

Although extant music education research has often focused on music teaching and learning in institutional and compulsory schooling contexts, a number of precedent studies have encouraged us to pursue this project. Early influential studies include Bennett’s (1980) sociological analysis of becoming a rock musician and Campbell’s (1995) ethnography of music learning in a teen garage band. More recently, Green (2001) profiled the ways in which groups of popular musicians learned including through haphazard, exploratory learning, social exchange, and mixing and matching methods and private tuition lessons in highly personalized ways. Similarly, Pitts (2013) used ethnographic methods to analyze the formative experiences of music teachers. Each of these precedent works underscored the significance and prevalence of music learning as it occurs outside the contexts of school-based music education. Music learning occurs in countless other areas including church music, community music, private tuition, open mic sessions, jam sessions, peer listening sessions, social exchanges about music, in recording or production studios, on bandstands in clubs and venues, in DJ booths, in homes, basements, garages, and, increasingly, in distributed, self-guided, asynchronous ways mitigated by social networks, streaming media, and other Internet based platforms.


Flash Study Analysis

Music learning outside of traditional music education contexts represents a largely unexploited and seemingly endless font of potential data. The enormity of the potential cases necessitated succinct, rapid data collection and analysis that might allow us to amass a larger collection of profiles reflective of the diversity of music learning outside traditional contexts. Merriam (1998) and Stake (1995) suggested using comparative case studies coupled with cross-case analysis as a means for developing profiles reflective of complex ever changing social contexts. In order to ensure findings are “worth paying attention to,” Lincoln and Guba (1985, 290) encouraged case study researchers to undertake “prolonged engagement,” and “persistent observation” (307). Such recommendations hold true for in-depth, protracted case studies indicative of particularized contextual know-ledge. We have deliberately chosen a rather different approach. In addition to the preliminary profiles presented in this text, we intend to continue our research with the goal of amassing a robust, ever-growing collection of abbreviated, information-rich profiles of music learning outside of school contexts. We have adopted the term “flash study analysis” to describe our approach. Flash suggests a moment of illumination, akin to the flash of a camera or a streak of lightning across the evening sky. No single flash reveals much in and of itself. Collated, however, many flashes can illuminate much more, providing a richer portrait than any single photograph or greater expanses of a surrounding landscape than a solitary flash of lightning.

Each author/researcher decides what from the interview is important to include, in line with practices established in interpretive phenomenological analysis (Smith, Flowers, and Larkin 2009). This approach acknowledges iterative meaning-making in qualitative, and we recognized “a third hermeneutic level [for] the imagined reader… trying to make sense of the researcher making sense of the participant making sense of X!” (Smith et al. 2009, 41). Since the researchers’ biases and judgments become a research tool with which to analyze and interpret the data, Merriam (1998) suggested that the researchers explore and explicitly provide a critical self-reflection regarding their assumptions, worldviews, biases, theoretical orientation, and relationship to the study that may affect the investigation; while we have not provided accounts of such reflexivity in this paper, it is precisely this activity that underpins and informs the interpretation and coding of data as described. Before a flash study analysis is complete, it is shared with the participant for approval, as a requirement of the IRB-approved process. While there are obvious limitations to such an approach, there are also significant strengths, as we have indicated. The MLPP is interested primarily extra-institutional musicking and music learning, two phenomena for which the participants are often not distinct. In the analyses we thus tend to focus on data concerning these aspects of musicians’ experiences to the exclusion of other elements. Individual flash profiles will likely fall short of Lincoln and Guba’s criteria. We understand this and see it as a strength of the MLPP, rather than a weakness, because collectively the dozen-or-so flash study analyses in this initial publication, coupled with hundreds or even thousands in the corresponding online repository, could illuminate far more. Also, as we discuss further below, this burgeoning collection of flash profiles should allow us and other researchers to piece together larger, macro understandings of music learning in and across immensely varied contexts: to take “the simple precaution of holding before [our minds] contrasting experiences” in music learning (Dewey 1916). The flash study approach we are establishing here has possible potential to be utilized in other disciplines and fields as a new way of data gathering in qualitative research contexts. The emphasis on multiple flashes and plurality of perspectives, rather than deep case studies might be useful in many domains of research, such as, for instance, gaining insights into practices across the arts.

Coding was undertaken iteratively by each of the researchers, as we listened to recordings of interviews, transcribed these and condensed them into flash study analyses. Reviewing analyses, we discussed intersections and commonalities, and collectively reduced an exhaustive list of over forty codes into four themes for the purposes of this paper. One of the exciting features of the MLPP in its present and (we hope) future states is that data can potentially be interpreted under many themes—according to readers’ or researchers’ disciplinary or cross-disciplinary orientation—thereby affording new insights with each interpretation. This is in line with the various hermeneutic levels identified and explored by Smith et al. (2009), as mentioned above. We present an interpretation of data under headings that define a coding salient to us in or orientation as music education scholars. We employed a three-part analysis approach recommended for collective case studies: within-participant analysis (detailed description of themes within each participant), cross-participant analysis (thematic analysis across participants), and assertions (“an interpretation of the meanings”) (Creswell 2007, 75). The researchers independently interviewed participants and wrote narratives describing the individual participant music learning experiences.

After reviewing participant narratives, the researchers met to discuss the initial analyses, identify emerging themes, and interpret meanings from the individual flash studies. Those meetings occurred one or two times a month via videoconferencing over the course of two years. In those conferencing sessions, the authors compared coding, notes, and shared emerging questions. We also worked to refine our understandings of the flash profiles, the themes therein, and their implications for the larger aims of the project. Those conferences spurred further conversation, consideration, and deliberation. Consequently, between scheduled videoconferences, the authors engaged in ongoing discussions via electronic communications, individual conference sessions, and document sharing. The combined outcomes of our conferencing, sharing, and deliberations led to conference presentations and dialogue with other researchers that supported the themes and reflected our observations. Finally, the researchers sent drafts of their findings to the other researchers who acted as external reviewers to get feedback and enrich understanding of the flash studies.


Preliminary findings

As we have explained, above, the merit and potential for the MLPP reside in collection, interpretation and widespread availability of a large data set, which has for the most part yet to be collected. We include here some data from across the 30 flash study analyses completed by the authors to date. The four themes included are taken from across the flash study analyses. These themes are: intentionality, learning by doing, value and meaning of music and musicking, and rejection of school music education. We have not quoted from each case here, but have instead included representative statements from selected studies as appropriate. First of all, we have included brief biographical information on the participant musicians who flashes inform the data analysis in this paper.



The following biographical sketches provide background on preliminary participants in the MLPP. Each of the participants is active in their geographic territory as well as online. Given the established nature of their professional names, including a number of stage names, noms de plume, and preferred nicknames, the primary investigators sought permission during the institutional review process and from each of the participants to use their actual names. So, the names herein represent the names by which participants are widely known.

Gavin is a musician based in London, who takes pride in functioning outside of the mainstream music industry, inspired by “punk, [which is] about DIY, is anti-professionalism and yet maximum content.” Almost entirely self-taught, Gavin has worked creatively in music performance, photography, film, iPad app development, audio production, print editing, copy-writing, and song-writing.

Jacqueline is a 21-year-old musician from London, England. She has been a YouTube guitarist for six-and-a-half years (as of September 2013), and has been labeled as a “heavy metal guitarist” who “just fell into that category” because “I like to play fast.” Her learning experiences were hybridized (Smith 2013a), incorporating formal and informal practices (Green 2001).

Jacquelyn is a musician, actor, teacher, and activist, and primarily a flutist. A theatrical perspective helps her to see the flute as a character or protagonist when she is writing and performing with the instrument. She has learned in hybridized ways, including earning an MA in Irish Traditional Music, on which music was learned entirely by ear.

Rod is a pianist and singer based in London, and has earned a living as a performer for forty years. He plays piano every day, mostly in residencies in restaurants and private members’ clubs, often also singing. Rod took lessons in classical piano as a child, and has since learned by ear and “on the job”.

Anthony The Twilite Tone Khan, a native of Chicago, has produced and written music under the names Ynot, 2 pc. DRK, Master Khan, and Great Weekend. The Twilite Tone explained his work, “I use the mechanism of music, whether it’s production, or songwriting, or… being a conduit of the music… spinning or playing records and weaving them into a tapestry to tell a story.”

Intikana Kekoiea, a Boriqua hip hop artist, grew up in the south Bronx, one of New York City’s five boroughs and the geographic location most frequently associated with the birth of hip hop culture (Chang 2005; Katz 2012). Intikana best described himself, “I am a poet, an educator, a film-maker, a photographer… Everything I do…is through the lens of hip hop.”

Amia “Tiny” Jackson is “a recording artist, photographer, songwriter, radio show host, DJ, MC, and a student” at a small liberal arts college in Upstate, New York. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Tiny Jackson presents as a natural entertainer. She hosts a hip hop radio program that has generated a cadre of fans “in New York but all over too, like in other parts of the world.”

Andy Krikun is a singer/songwriter, rocker, and educator whose musical experiences took him through the rock club scene in Los Angeles and New York, to graduate school, and later teaching rock ensembles at a community college.  Andy’s focus now is on facilitating musical experiences for his students so that they might find their love of music.

DeVeor Rainey is a music educator, musician and composer.  Born in 1966 in the South Bronx neighborhood of New York City, DeVeor’s musical learning journey has taken her from listening to the radio as a little girl, through the birth of Hip Hop, to teaching music in an East Harlem public school.

Sean McPherson is a music educator and the co-founder and bassist of the Twin Cities hip-hop group Heiruspecs. While he values the informality of his hip-hop education, he believes he could have been better prepared for a career as a hip-hop artist if his formal education offered curriculum that considered the career demands of a professional outside of the academy.



Participants in the MLPP exhibited “intentionality” in their statements, actions, ways of seeing their environs, those with whom they interact, and in their self-perceptions (Anscombe 2000; Lincoln and Guba 1985; Searle 1983, 1997, 1998; Schwandt 2007). Anscombe (2000) described intention as a single phenomenon observable in human expressions (e.g., I intend to be a musician), actions (e.g., I make music), and explanations of actions (e.g., I make music because…). The latter category represents a coupling of expression and action (Anscombe 2000) and is most akin to our understanding of intentionality.

Searle (1983) noted that intention and intentionality do not necessarily go hand in hand. In other words, one might intend without intentionality. The “directedness” of intent represents a hallmark of intentionality (3). The authors found Anscombe’s (2000) coupling of action and expression, and the directedness of intentionality identified by Searle (1983), to be particularly revealing in our deliberations of participant expressions, actions, and reflections. Intentionality exists as part of the weft and warp of “background” forces, including existing traditions, established practices, accepted conventions, and collective belief systems (Searle 1983, 1997).

Regelski (2002, 2013) has applied Searle’s work to essential questions regarding the value of, function of, and de facto practices of contemporary music education. Regelski (2013) described “background” as “the attitudes, dispositions, values, social institutions, paradigms, and practices that shape who we are, what we conceive and value, and what we can create” (8). Pignato (2013) noted that individuals engage those background forces in ongoing reconciliations, locating intentionality “at the nexus of inner mental processes and outward engagement of the world” (9). The expressed intentions of the MLPP participants underscore the degrees to which they function as motivated actors (Tilly 1990), purposefully curating identities, while reflecting on, engaging with, and setting themselves in opposition to the prevailing “background” (Searle 1983, 1997) contexts in which they live, work, and create. For example, the comments of hip-hop producer Anthony “The Twilite Tone” Khan:

So as I, as a kid as I rebelled against it, we circle back, don’t we? We circle back to those things we rebelled against and look at them in a different context… Now I see it with great value. I’m glad. I’m glad that I had that as an institution to rebel against. I’m glad I rebelled and I’m appreciative that I can see that right now, at this moment of time.

Similarly, Intikana Kekoia asserted that “the one question we’re all trying to answer is ‘Who am I?’ ‘Who am I?’ ‘Why am I?’ ‘Why am I who I am?’ ‘Do I matter?’ ‘Who have I been?’ ‘Where do I come from?’” Amia “Tiny” Jackson’s explanation of how she got started rapping reveals a similar outlook:

That’s basically how I started rapping; just from seeing things [going on in her home]. You know, I didn’t really have any other outlets to express what I was feeling, so I did it by rapping. That’s how I started. I wanted to rap about their [adult family relations] problems to let them know, “I understand what y’all talking about.” They used to come and just gossip, like, from watching people be abused, they come in talking about being cheated on. That’s what I rapped about for a lot of my life. It’s about what I seen and how the other females were being treated for a very long time.

Thus we have found the intentionality with which participants speak about their music lives remarkable. The same intentionality informs their navigation of richly complex social lives at once bound to and subject of their music making.


Learning by Doing

A preference for learning by “doing” (as opposed to learning through being “taught”) was a recurring theme, reflecting the “informal” learning practices of musicians identified by Green (2001), also described as “natural” (Green 2008, 42), a notion supported by Stålhammar (2003) and resonating with Bamberger’s (1978, 173) concept of “intuitive musical knowing.” Jacqueline, for instance, learned guitar largely by “watching guitar lesson videos on YouTube, jamming alone and messing around.” Multi-platform musician Gavin, felt strongly that “being fired is the best educational experience you’ll get—every time I get fired from something, I need to get better at something else.” Flutist, Jacquelyn, found that “you learn everything on the job,” while hip-hop bassist Sean described the practical knowledge acquired from “learning on the bandstand.” From across the traditions inhabited by these musicians, most emphasized the importance of learning music in and through non-written forms—also typical of “natural,” “intuitive,” and informal modes of learning (Bamberger 1978; Green 2001). Rod, a pop and cabaret pianist, emphasized the importance or ear training and listening (on the radio) to as many popular songs as possible. Similarly, folk and new-wave rock musician Andy recalled listening to records and the radio to learn songs.  Andy recalled, “I sort of prided myself on this idea of being self-taught and I wanted to follow the way that I thought my heroes had learned music, being self-taught.”


Value and meaning of music and musicking

The value and meaning of music was a theme across studies, and is significant perhaps because of challenges these musicians’ statements may pose to the norms and assumptions of school music education. Flutist, Jacquelyn, for example, offered a critique to pervading neoliberal assumptions that inform so much music education (Parkinson 2014; Parkinson and Smith 2015), especially at college level:

The arts have a value above and beyond that [making money], really, which is immeasurable… and it goes beyond each individual art as well… Music is music, at the end of the day—why do we have to keep defining it in other terms, and justifying it by other value systems?

Music teacher DeVeor commented on how narrow notions of success in music and of music making can fail to include the plethora of music making experiences that are happening everywhere: “When we see the bucket players on the street or the kids drumming on the tables, that should be viewed as a music education experience. They shouldn’t be devalued. That should be significant, you know?” Multi-platform artist, Gavin, hesitated to self-define as “professional,” despite broad, deep skillsets, due to an uneasiness around his impression that professionalism too often implies “corporate” or commodification. He takes pride in functioning outside of the mainstream music industry, saying that “I often deliberately do things with the minimum ‘professionalism,’ but the maximum possible artistic output.”


Rejection of school music education

Learning in more traditional institutional settings would form part of a musician’s approach to learning, but on his or her terms. Guitarist Jacqueline explained that she has taken lessons in “music theory, scales, chords, all of that” but is teaching herself to improve her sight-reading. Gavin expressed disdain for and distrust of the educational system in the UK, saying that “every experience I’ve ever had in an institution has been appalling… I am completely DIY, I don’t believe in academic education—it’s just a good way to make money for a lot of people.” Reflecting on first learning the guitar, folk and new-wave musician Andy recalled that there was little connection between the music that he was interested in playing and the music ensembles at his school, stating, “I had nothing to do with any formal music program, school music or private lessons after the age of 11.” Similarly, Anthony “The Twilite Zone” Khan, recalled that “I wanted to create music. I didn’t want to be in the marching band anymore… it actually inspired me to want to rebel against convention and structure. Think outside of the lines or to color outside of the lines.” Due to limitations and access to “master” musicians, learners “on the outside” often do their learning quite differently from school learners. Thus, they ascribe “pedagogic authority” (Bourdieu and Passeron 1977, 19) to a range of role models who are excluded from much discourse in mainstream music education. The benefits of such “constructivist” learning (see e.g. Custodero 2010) need to be explored further, we argue, shedding light on a medium of learning through doing and learning as knowing. The mentoring approaches that also seem to pervade learning practices need closer investigation to establish challenges and merits.


Areas of intersection

We have begun to see that although the participants are somewhat diverse in regard to demographics, musical genre, and previous music experiences (and will be increasingly so as the project grows), there are similarities in the music learning experiences across the pool of participants. For example, in examining some themes from the first 13 flash study analyses conducted, we were able to see similarities across a majority of cases. We often identified similar themes that were described differently by various participants. For instance, in several instances the theme of gaining professional experience from “learning by doing” was present (e.g. “professionalizing on the job” in the Jacqueline Mannering flash study analysis, “learning on the job” in the Rod Melvin analysis, and “learning on the bandstand” in the Sean McPherson analysis). Likewise, in multiple cases the theme of creating a musical identity was present, although it was described in different ways throughout various case studies (e.g. constructing a musical identity, crafting a persona, and curating an identity).

From the flash study analyses, we also identified the following areas of intersection:

  • Learning Inside
  • Learning Outside
  • Hybridized Learning (mixture of formal, informal, etc.)
  • Intentionality
  • Practices
  • Identity
  • Currencies
  • Development
  • Curating of skill set, and of knowledge set
  • Learning by doing
  • Epiphany Moments
  • Paying Dues
  • On the fringes of celebrity

As more flash study analyses are completed, the compilation of recurring and intersecting themes will continue, and through examination of them it is hoped that the profession can develop and deploy deeper understandings about how musicians learn and can learn. While traditionally, the findings from qualitative case studies are not generalizable, the MLPP aims eventually to include such a large number of flash study analyses that commonality of emergent themes might be generalizable across music learning contexts as well as offering numerous particular and specific pedagogical approaches upon which to draw. We hope that scholars in other disciplines and fields might also find this qualitative-approach-on-a-quantitative-scale to be beneficial in their own work. Scholars might also farm through the repository of flash studies discovering new areas of intersection among them flashing new light upon existing data.


Utility of the Music Learning Profiles Project

In collecting, analyzing, and presenting profiles in an online repository, we hope to create a database for, and a community around stimulating discussion within the field of music education regarding what might constitute valuable music learning experiences. We foresee a collaborative discussion, ongoing and generative of new leads for potential participants, expanded awareness of myriad approaches to music learning practiced around the globe, and deeper under-standing regarding commonalities, differences, trends, and anomalous individual possibilities that emerge from the flash study analyses. By hosting data primarily in an open-access online database, we aim to keep the data alive. Analyses should change, or be able to change, as more cases and more flash studies are added. Hopefully then understandings derived from analyses could be incorporated into discussions affecting policy and curriculum decisions in music classrooms and in music teacher education contexts, democratizing music education access and practice.

In July of 2014, we presented the core elements of the MLPP during a workshop session at the 31st International Society for Music Education World conference in Porto Alegre, Brazil. That session yielded valuable input from the scholarly community and strongly suggested that colleagues would seek to contribute to the MLPP and to search the online repository. Prior to and since then, we have also presented the project at other conferences and symposia, continuing to gather feedback (and support) for the MLPP. For the present, we invite other scholars (including graduate students) to contribute to the online database that will be curated by the authors currently comprising the MLPP; there will be a template for construction and submission of flash study analyses to ensure sufficient similarity for comparison. The MLPP database will have applications as a research tool and as a teaching and learning resource for master’s and doctoral level music education scholars, for undergraduate pre-service music teachers, and for students in elementary and secondary settings. Scholars in music education, ethnomusicology, popular music studies, cultural studies, and related fields might use the database in much the same way as they might use traditional collections of case study analyses; to gain particularized knowledge in regard to each of the participants. The breadth of cases considered offers, however, opportunities for a level of consideration that transcends the particularized contexts of the individual profiles. Eventually, scholars will be able to cross reference the profiles in the MLPP database, in pursuit of macro level understandings of music learning, as it occurs outside traditional music education contexts. Additionally, scholars might use the text as a methodological model, creating abbreviated case study analyses en masse in other areas of music, music education, and other disciplines and fields research using the flash study analysis model. Faculty teaching graduate seminars in music learning, informal learning, popular music, alternative music education, and qualitative research methods could incorporate the MLPP into their courses.

The database offers profiles of music learners and learning that are increasingly relevant to participants in contemporary music education. Many of the musicians profiled in the MLPP database resemble young musicians likely to be encountered by—or even to be—graduate students, particularly those already working in the music education profession. We encourage submissions from students, that profile discrete instance of music learning and that might, thus, provide emerging researchers with a path toward peer-reviewed publication. Finally, pre-service teachers might learn about musics and musicking all too often overlooked in their studies. Like their graduate counterparts, pre-service music teachers will likely encounter or be musicians who share much with the musicians cited in this article and in the nascent database. It is our hope that pre-service teachers will use the MLPP database beyond their own courses of study, and as they enter the profession.


Implications for Music Education

The artists featured in the flash study analyses above exemplify lives dedicated to what Froehlich (2007, 101) poetically described as “voluntary immersion in a music-making culture.” For some this has meant brushes with formal(ized) (e.g. school) music education experiences. For others it has not. For all, though, there is a recognition that the active pursuit of music is essential to creating and living a life. We hope that readers will gain a strong sense of the deep meanings that these musics and musickings have for the musicians in our flash study analyses. The cases here are certainly not to be viewed merely as anecdotes about “other” musics and practices. On the contrary—they represent parts of the vast majority of meaningful engagement with musical activity around the world—that is, outside of schools, and in people’s lives. How these people learn, what they learn, and what they believe to be important for others to learn in music, should inform music teachers’ work in several ways. These could include music teachers doing the following:

  1. Looking for evidence of and potential for an eclectic breadth of musicalities among students;
  2. Incorporating learning and music-making approaches from more diverse musicking traditions into school music activities;
  3. Valuing a wider, more inclusive range of musical traditions;
  4. Permitting and incorporating a range of musicalities, creativities and musickings in the school music classroom.

We acknowledge that our colleagues in the music education profession are frequently not averse to such ideas, nor unaware of them. Our aim is to suggest additions to the possible palette of music education experiences. As Froehlich (2007, 65) asserted, music teachers’ reflections “have practical value if they help each teacher to understand… where school music fits into the larger scheme of education as a social mandate, and the specifics of school politics created by daily interactions with colleagues and administrative superiors.” Froehlich draws practitioners’ attention to the “hidden curriculum”—the ideology that frames education in the US—and “deep-seated problems with what is considered valued knowledge by those who hold the power to make sociopolitical and educational decisions” (Froehlich 2007, 96). We firmly believe that any attempt to engage in an ethical musical pedagogy requires that educators strive ceaselessly to provide relevant, salient experiences for their students—with respect to, and even in spite of, the broader socio-political environment that enables and that may constrain their work.

Contemporary musics are created, performed, and understood within disparate cultural, social, geographic, and economic contexts, and although connections between such contexts have led to greater understandings and the popularization of hybrid musical forms (Hebert 2009), bridges between those cultural contexts and schooling often remain under-supported. Musical movements emerge from situated cultural places (Hebdige 1979), and from “poietic” spaces (Nattiez 1990). Such locales differ considerably from one another and most certainly differ from the spaces available to aspiring musicians in school contexts. It is worth recalling that, more than 20 years ago, Björnberg noted:

The open, informal and collective learning processes at work in the everyday practices of many popular music styles differ in several respects from those of institutional education. To what extent and how such “alternative” learning processes can be used (and to what extent they are even necessary) in teaching popular music within music education institutions remains an urgent question. (1993, 76)

We intend to use data gathered by MLPP to help stimulate the on-going discussion regarding what constitutes music learning, and to construct an ever-evolving theoretical framework which will explain and explore learning habits, practices and styles of musicians in all contexts, both inside and outside of hegemonic, institutional music learning contexts. Perhaps this conversation will happen in scholarship impacting practice or perhaps it will engage a policy debate impacting local school systems. We anticipate that this database will serve multiple functions. It will be a repository of stories of musicians who learned outside of institutions of music learning. By capturing these stories and archiving them, music educators might consider avenues towards engaging broader learner-ship through less traditional practices. Secondly, the database will act as an accessible publication option for graduate students and other early-stage scholars. Since the database will be open to contributors of all backgrounds and curated by a team of scholars, the smaller, less cumbersome flash profiles might serve as a more feasible initial option for research submission. We anticipate that the themes that emerge from the research will provide ample pathways towards building this as an evolving overarching theoretical framework regarding outside music learning practices. In general, however, we believe that MLPP will provide a platform for dialogue about music learning habits and practices often overlooked and marginalized. Our plans for the MLPP are ambitious, and to date the MLPP has received no institutional or external funding. The authors hope that the publication of this paper will serve to validate our nascent project, thus strengthening future applications for funding to pursue this research (no grant applications have been made to date in connection with this work).

The MLPP aims to bridge the interconnected fields of music education and ethnomusicology. Students and academics from each can learn from one another’s approaches and perspectives, and we hope that the MLPP will facilitate cross-fertilization of ideas, methods and practices. Such a hybridization has been referred to as “applied ethnomusicology” (e.g. Harrison, Mackinlay, and Pettan 2010). Music educators, in particular, may find the applied ethnomusicological perspectives enriching to the discussion of socio-cultural aspects of musical learning practices. Music education exists within spheres of culture that include sub-spheres of time, place, peoples, and cultures. Music education, as a discipline, is poised to gain tremendous perspective by the convergence of ethnomusicological considerations in pedagogical frameworks. Consequently, the MLPP will preserve and celebrate the cultural authenticity of individual learning styles through the dissemination of applied ethnomusicological perspectives.

For too long, certain musics have been displaced from the discourse of discussion and analysis in scholarly work in music education. The MLPP aims to help democratize the field of music education, liberating ideas and empowering voices, and disrupting conventional thinking and entrenched attitudes, by including and valuing perspectives from wider and marginalized communities. It is an aspiration of these authors that the MLPP will serve to diversify music education practice, ensuring the greatest possible cultural relevance to students, teacher, and regional local and broader contexts, through recognition of the musical variety beyond institutions. It has been widely documented that in many (although by no means all) international contexts, music education in K-12 schools appears to be losing the battle with 21st century students on cultural relevancy merits (Green 2001; Harrop-Allin 2011; Kratus 2007; Marsh 2011; Mok 2011; Pitts 2011; Preston 2013; Williams 2011). Hopefully the MLPP can influence the next generation of music educators to effect change in K-12 settings. Constant rethinking, reshaping and evaluating is the only way school music can become and remain relevant to, and in the eyes of, the younger generation whom it serves.

As Froehlich (2007, 100) wrote, music “has the advantage of being integral to our students’ life outside of the school environment.” With music being thus “integral,” school (and college) music educators (and their administrators) have an ethical responsibility to facilitate and recognize meaningful, valuable education in music for all of our students. Exactly what form(s) this takes will necessarily vary from context to context. Hopefully educators will feel inspired and empowered by the richness of music learning presented in the flash study analyses—both individually and in aggregate—to work to conceive and help students to achieve appropriate and relevant music education goals, “developing understanding, insightfulness, qualities of mind” (Swanwick 1988, 36). Scholars (e.g. Allsup 2010; Smith 2013b) warn against reification of musics, works, practices and knowledges; we are at pains to articulate, therefore, that we do not attempt or desire, by solidifying our “findings” in written form, to crystallize those practices or approaches that we discuss. There would be too great an irony in this work being allowed to lose momentum, and thus to perpetuate the canonizing of practices in the very epistemological mode that we seek to challenge.

 About the Authors

Radio Cremata is an Assistant Professor of music education at Ithaca College. He specializes in Technology-Based Music Education and is an advocate for marginalized communities utilizing emerging music education approaches that advance student creativities empowering students to become co-creators of their educational experiences. He has developed traditional and progressive programs that have earned him teaching and grant honors from the Roland Music Corporation, Berklee College of Music, New York, Texas and Florida School Music Associations, PBS and the Henry Ford, Univision, Grammy in the Schools Foundation, and the Fender Music Foundation. He serves on NAfME’s Council for General Music Education.

Joseph Michael Pignato is a composer, improviser and music education scholar. He currently serves as Associate Professor in the Music Department at the State University of New York, Oneonta, where he teaches music industry courses and directs two ensembles that perform experimental music and improvised rock. His research interests include improvisation, alternative music education and music technology.

Bryan Powell is the Director of Programs for Amp Up NYC, a partnership between Little Kids Rock and Berklee College of Music. Bryan is the founding editor of Journal of Popular Music Education, a peer-reviewed academic journal published by Intellect Ltd. Additionally, Bryan is the Executive Director of the Association for Popular Music Education, an organization dedicated to promoting and advancing popular music at all levels of education.  Dr. Powell currently serves as the NAfME Popular Music Education SRIG Vice-Chair.

Gareth Dylan Smith is a Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in London, England. He is Vice-President of the Association for Popular Music Education, and Chair of the International Society for Music Education’s Special Interest Group on Popular Music Education. Gareth has presented research on five continents, and is lead editor of the forthcoming Ashgate Research Companion to Popular Music Education. He is leading efforts to establish the world’s first journal of popular music education. Recent publications explore issues around democracy, gender, entrepreneurship, work-life, balance, ‘authenticities’, and ‘success’ in popular music. Gareth is an active drummer. Having recently finished a stint with Aerosmith tribute band, Toxic Twins, and relinquished his annual pantomime chair to a former student, Gareth is completing a master’s degree in popular music performance, collaborating with performers in Moscow, Glasgow, London and New York, completing a concept album entitled Tinker Tailor Soldier Rock.


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