Categorizations of physical gesture in piano teaching: A preliminary enquiry

The following taken from Communicating musical knowledge through gesture: Piano teachers’ gestural behaviors across different levels of student proficiency. (Psychology of Music, SAGE Journals).


The significance of the “physicality” involved in learning to play a musical instrument and the essential role of teachers are areas in need of research. This article explores the role of gesture within teacher–student communicative interaction in one-to-one piano lessons. Three teachers were required to teach a pre-selected repertoire of two contrasting pieces to three students studying piano grade 1. The data was collected by video recordings of piano lessons and analysis based on the type and frequency of gestures employed by teachers in association to teaching behaviours specifying where gestures fit under (or evade) predefined classifications. Spontaneous co-musical gestures were observed in the process of piano tuition emerging with similar general communicative purposes as spontaneous co-verbal gestures and were essential for the process of musical communication between teachers and students. Observed frequencies of categorized gestures varied significantly between different teaching behaviours and between the three teachers. Parallels established between co-verbal and co-musical spontaneous gestures lead to an argument for extension of McNeill’s (2005) ideas of imagery–language–dialectic to imagery–music–dialectic with relevant implications for piano pedagogy and fields of study invested in musical communication.


The findings of this study revealed that the instrumental teaching context not only makes use of spontaneous co-verbal gestures, but also avails from a set of gestures, that in analogy to co-verbal gestures have here been termed spontaneous co-musical gestures. Whilst McNeill’s (1992, 2005) spontaneous co-verbal gestures provide a relevant conceptual basis for theorizing the interactional communication between teacher and student, spontaneous co-musical gestures were ubiquitous and an essential element in the process of musical communication between teachers and students. Moreover, teachers were observed as employing both spontaneous co-verbal and co-musical gestures simultaneously and in some cases independently for the achievement of specific music instrumental pedagogical ends.

The strongly significant and moderate effect size of the correlation between teaching behaviour and gesture types suggests that there is a relationship between the didactic intention of the teacher and the forms of gesture they use to communicate information to the student. The nature and effectiveness of this relationship should be a subject of further investigation. Such a step might help in the development of teaching strategies alongside factors such as students’ ages and skill levels.

The communicative parallels established between co-verbal and co-musical spontaneous gestures can have important implications for piano pedagogy and fields of study invested in musical communication by instigating new lines of enquiry, promoting empirically based practical and useful knowledge for practitioners. These findings are specific to the context of the Western classical music tradition and considerations of other musical cultures in which music notation may be regarded differently demand their own specific contextual approaches.

Source: Lilian Simones, Franziska Schroeder, and Matthew Rodger

Categorizations of physical gesture in piano teaching: A preliminary enquiry

Psychology of Music. January 2015 43: 103121, first published on October 8, 2013 doi:10.1177/0305735613498918


CALL FOR PROPOSALS: Learning and Teaching Music in the Twenty-First Century: The Contribution of Science and Technology

Submission deadline: December 15 2014.

Learning and Teaching Music in the Twenty-First Century:
The Contribution of Science and Technology
International Symposium
November 5 – 7, 2015

Schulich School of Music, McGill University, and
Department of Music, Université du Québec à Montréal, Québec, Canada

The aim of this bilingual (English-French) conference is to bring together researchers from instrumental and music pedagogy as well as those from performance,  science performance and music practices to discuss the contribution of scientific research and technological advancements in music learning and teaching contexts in the twenty-first century.

We welcome submissions on any topic relating to learning and teaching of music cross-themed with science and technology, including (but not limited to):

Learning and teaching music – individual and collective settings – all levels/formal and informal settings
Instrumental practice
Control parameters – physiology, physics and psychology of instrumental practice
Traditional and augmented/hyper instruments
Performance and creativity
Learning and technologies
Music, health and well-being
The musician’s health and well-being
The benefits of music on health and well-being

The conference will include scientific presentations (talks, posters and discussion panels) from international researchers in Canada’s two official languages, English and French. This conference seeks to gather researchers, teachers and practitioners from across disciplines (music performance, collective and individual instrumental teaching, science of performance, musicians’ health, music learning and technology, etc.) to foster interdisciplinary collaboration and the development of evidence-based music pedagogy.

Three types of proposals associated with the topics listed above are welcome:
1.       Oral scientific communication;
2.       Scientific poster;
3.       Panel discussion.

For detailed guidelines, please see

Keynote speakers
Aaron Williamon, Director, Centre for Performance Science. Royal College of Music, London, UK.
Marc Leman, Director, Institute for Psychoacoustics and Electronic Music,  Ghent University, Belgium.
Wendy E. Mackay, Research Team Director IN|SITU at INRIA, Paris France