Doctor of Musical Arts Dissertations


A Comparison of Teacher-Guided Instruction and Self-Guided Student Practice Strategies

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)


Contemporary Music

First Advisor

Kevin Schempf

Second Advisor

Elaine Colprit (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Laura Melton (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Steven Boone (Committee Member)


It is commonly understood that the foundation of private instrumental studies at the collegiate level is one, hour-long, teacher-guided private lesson per week followed by self-guided student practice until the next lesson. This model allows a teacher to tailor instruction to fit a student's particular needs, however, because the majority of a student's time with an instrument is during self-guided practice, there are unique challenges that must be addressed. Students must recognize key concepts from a private lesson, know how to produce desired results technically, devise a strategy that will solidify key concepts in familiar and novel domains, and demonstrate their success in the next week's lesson. However, the processes involved in skill acquisition transcend domain and have been studied both in musical and non-musical contexts.

In this research I will observe and compare the behaviors of students during private lessons with students' behaviors during subsequent self-guided practice sessions. The purpose of this study is to:

  1. Determine if there is a measureable difference in student behavior during a private lesson and during a self-guided practice session.
  2. Identify factors that mediate differences, if present.
  3. Determine if accumulated lessons affect self-guided student practice.
  4. Provide insight as to why different behaviors occur by comparing the findings from each student.

A series of three private lessons and three subsequent student practice sessions from three students were video taped and analyzed, and after all video data were collected, an exit interview was conducted with each student participant. Descriptive statistics from each private lesson were compared with descriptive statistics from each self-guided practice session, and responses from the student exit interview were used to add additional insight to this comparison.

It was found that there are measureable differences between student behavior during a private lesson and during a self-guided practice session. The results indicated that specific performance directives during a private lesson translate into self-guided student practice behaviors that are more focused and productive. Further research is needed to explore the effect of varying types of feedback during a private lesson on self-guided student practice. The results do not suggest that accumulated lessons affect self-guided student practice; however, it is likely that observations over a longer period of time would affect that result. The data show that further research is needed to provide insight as to why different behaviors occur among students, but the data suggests that individual differences between students is the primary cause of differing behaviors.