Students’ experience and experience and understandings of the notion of “error” within the specific context of leaning a musical instrument: A grounded theory approach

Aphrodite Michailidi
Panagiotis Kanellopoulos


Error is a complex and multi-dimensional phenomenon. This study focuses on the notion of musical error within Western instrumental music learning contexts. In recent years education research has shown increasing interest in researching the role of errors and mistakes, with a number of learning theories creating fresh perspectives towards its apprehension as a valuable constituent of the learning process. Studying the notion of error within artistic and musical learning contexts poses particular challenges to the educational researcher, as within those realms it has induced particularly ambivalent responses, not least because of the role of personal taste in artistic and musical judgements and their formation. Nevertheless in music and music education contexts terms such as “error”, “mistake” or “wrong” hold a prominent position. Surprisingly, however, and despite the frequent use of such notions in everyday music learning contexts, there seems to be no research in this field. This study aims to offer insights on students' experience and understandings of the notion of “error” within the specific context of leaning a musical instrument. Data have been collected through 30 semi-structured interviews with students learning a western musical instrument. Grounded theory analysis revealed the main category "ambiguity, elimination and acceptance", which summarizes the findings and answers the research questions and six sub-categories, which explain in detail thegenerated theory, including: (1) ambiguity, (2) difficulties in determining the notion of 'error', (3) "authorities", (4) approaches (5) responsibility and (6) the “burden” of error. These original findings point towards a process of continuous redefinition of the notion of error on the part of the students, as well as towards its experience as an obstacle that has to be elimintaed and ovecome through imitation of a "right" model, as a source of guilt and at the same time as  an inevitable element of music learning. These findings form a potentially fruitful basis for further exploration in this subject area.

Key words: Mistake, error, wrong, music education, music, instrumental music learning, performance.