Informal, interdisciplinary study group at the Reid School of Music (ECA) exploring current topics in music and arts research. We identify these based on our collective interests and expertise in ethnomusicology, psychology, digital and online education, and applied community music research. We range widely across topics, because we’re interested primarily in the material and practical situations of music and arts activities in social life. This scope allows us to examine methodological aspects of music research, such as creative practice, participation and representation.

Study day, 18 April 2024

Semester 2, 2023-4

  • How do music and arts educational situations prepare us for creative, interpersonal communication? – Fri 2 Feb, 11am
  • Classical Music Futures  – who’s doing the research and what do they have to say? –  Wed 14 Feb, 11.30am
  • Musical improvisation research and ethics – Tue 26 Mar, 10am

Semester 1, 2023-4

Semester 2, 2022-3

  • Together in Music (ed. Timmers, Bailes and Daffern), Part 1 – Tu 7 Feb, 11am
  • Together in Music (ed. Timmers, Bailes and Daffern), Part 2 – Fri 3 Mar, 11am
  • Situations group study day and social – Tue 14 Mar, 1-6pm – with Jutta Toelle
  • Together in Music (ed. Timmers, Bailes and Daffern), Part 3 – Thu 25 May, 11am

Semester 1, 2022-3

For more information, email Nikki or Una (Reid School of Music, ECA)

Creative arts education study day: Current and future situations – 18 April 2024, Alison House – Atrium and online (Teams)

What experiences of creative arts education could foster the future-proof leadership skills needed for the next generation of artists and musicians to thrive? What features of an (inclusive) creative education environment could meet or exceed these needs?  This study day includes discussion sessions, presentations and responses to enable conversations about music education, participatory arts and inclusion.

Participants include postgraduate students and researchers (established and early career), with contributions from invited specialist education researchers, Rebecca Berkley (University of Reading) and Guro Gravem Johansen (Ingesund Music College at Karlstad University), this study day builds on regular meetings since September 2022 of the Musical Situations study group. With research expertise including music psychology, participatory music arts and health, and performance research, our discussions begin from the shared view that situated communication and interpersonal relationships are of key significance to creative arts education.

We warmly welcome all those with interests in the topic from relevant intersecting domains, such as: the impact of digital and learning technologies, including creative-arts specific generative technologies; non-institutional/marginal community arts experiences and expertise; current school classroom arts education practices; current HE practice in Music and related arts programme delivery; EDI concerns in both HEIs and creative industries.

Broad aims for the day

  • A chance to bring together researchers who are concerned with development of new ideas for arts (music) education training and skills that generate inclusive knowledge generation and artistic practice.
  • Enable and benefit from contributions to the topic from a range of perspectives through PGR and ERC participation
  • Come away with a better understanding of where ‘music’ education training and ‘arts’ education training currently sit in relation to one another, and who are the stakeholders in this discourse

For more info or to let us know that you’d like to join for some/all of the day, please email Nikki or Una.


10.00 – 10.15am  – Welcome and intro to the theme of ‘creative arts education future’ (Nikki and Una)

10.15 – 11am – Micro-updates / introductions – a chance to share what research-related activities people have been up to in the past 2-4 weeks (Invitation to everyone)

11.00 – 11.45am –  Researcher development – the proposal writing treadmill!   Informal sharing from Nikki, Christian and Una about recent experiences preparing grant applications.  Discussion with everyone about how this type of writing activity relates to all-round professional researcher development.  https://www.vitae.ac.uk/researchers-professional-development/about-the-vitae-researcher-development-framework

11.45 – 12.45 pm   – Lunch

12.45 – 1.15 pm –  Return to the theme of ‘creative arts education future’ with 3-minute pitches:  If you could change one single thing about your own music education experiences/background, what would it be?  (Invitation to everyone.)

1.15 – 2pm     –   Rebecca Berkley (Associate Professor in Music Education at the University of Reading, UK) is an outstanding choral director. Her current research examines the significance (and challenges) of developing fluency through musical literacies to support inclusive practice in formal and informal music education, with a focus on professional practice and leadership training for musicians working in education. Rebecca led the BERA-funded research project, Musicianship for Teachers, teaching classroom musicianship to general primary classroom instructors. She is the director of the Sing for Pleasure Musicianship for Singers programme.

2 – 2.45 pm    –   Guro Gravem Johansen (Professor of Music Education at Ingesund Music College at Karlstad University) specialises in instrumental practising, and learning and teaching in jazz and improvised music. She is Editor-in-Chief for the peer-reviewed journal Nordic Research in Music Education, and wrote the book “Children’s guided participation in jazz improvisation: A study of the ‘Improbasen’ learning centre’ (Routledge, 2021).

2.45 – 3pm  – Break

3.15 – 4pm –  Discussion

4pm – Close

Fri 8 Dec ’23, 11am

Ethnomusicological insights on situated musicality

Fantastic final session of the year, learning about Christian Ferlaino’s ethnomusicological research on sound-making practices and meaning among various communities scattered across the central Tyrrhenian part of Calabria, Italy.

Drawing on extensive ethnographic data, Christian’s work demonstrates how ‘those who use sounding objects show refined musical abilities, which are expressed through making sound rather than music’. Ferlaino suggests that the skilful behaviour of individuals in these communities challenges any definition of musicality that holds an implicit distinction between musician and non-musician.

‘For those who keep using sounding objects throughout their lives, making sound is a leisure activity, a way of expressing oneself through sound, similarly like making music. The sound of these devices also has an ecological component that allows people to establish relationships with the environment and dialogue with the surrounding natural soundscape. Sounding objects are also a place for experimentation for [so-called] musicians and non-musicians who use them throughout their lives. […] The fact that the abilities ascribed to musicality manifest also in non-musical contexts, as discussed in this paper, calls for a more encompassing definition of musicality, one that is not bound to a specific definition of music.’

The discussion afterwards explored these ideas in relation to a range of connected ideas: D/deaf and signed musics; Trevarthen’s Communicative Musicality; Ian Cross’s contributions to theorizing music and communication research in the field of music psychology; Ruth Finnegan’s anthropological insights of art as multi-modal experience, and C. Thi Nguyen’s concept of art as process.  It was great! Happy festive holidays, everyone.

Study Day – Tuesday 14 March, 1-6pm


1.30pm – gather and welcome

2pm – get started

–          Jutta’s presentation on current research project-in-progress, on unconducted orchestras.

–          Musical Situations group: Take 5 minutes to say something about our own research project or preoccupations.  One slide, 5 mins. It’s good to prepare but don’t over-think it!

Optional prompt: What have you been finding out already lately, and what would you like to know more about?

–          General discussion

–          Time to plan future meeting dates and topics

5pm – people in Edinburgh:  56 North (West Crosscauseway/Buccleugh St) for drinks or food together

Fri 3 Nov, 11am

Listening methodologies for qualitative music research

This is a topic that I’m really looking forward to discussing!

Musicians have a particular interest and expertise in listening. Any research that deals qualitatively with musical phenomena – processes, behaviours, cultures, etc – may have to define sensible and robust ways to examine the consequence of the particular ways that people listen to music.  Sometimes those listening experiences are the focus of the research, but usually they are not.

Here are a couple of readings to browse:

  • Holmes and Holmes (2013), ‘The performer’s experience: A case for using qualitative (phenomenological) methodologies in music performance research.’ Pretty heavy on the ol’ epistemological stuff. What I think it does well should be to provoke some chat about how to access and report on music-specific experience through qualitative data.
  • Lavee and Itzchakov (2023). ‘Good listening. A key element in establishing quality in qualitative research.’ I think this is interesting alongside, because it’s absolutely not music-specific – but there are principles here that apply for any form of qualitative person-interested research. (And if music research isn’t person-interested, I’m not sure what’s the point…!)


Friday 17 Nov ’23, 11am – with Naomi Kayayan

Participation and learner engagement in piano performance education 

This is a special session, with a talk from Naomi Kayayan, PhD candidate at Royal Northern College of Music.  Naomi’s PhD research examines student-teacher partnerships and engaged learning practices in a conservatoire setting, particularly looking at piano performance education.  Taking place on Friday 17th November, 11am – 12.30pm at Alison House.


Fri 6 Oct ’23, 11am

Understanding performance anxiety as a University Music situation

Fascinating discussion today led by Yi.  The majority of research into Music Performance Anxiety is based on a psychological (individual treatment) model of the problem. But social support strategies can and do benefit University music students. Social contexts for learning and teaching are shaped by implicit and explicit pedagogical ideals. How well do University music teaching contexts recognise or reinforce these, for better or worse?  As music performance anxiety research engages more critically with the complex of socio-cultural expectations that music students must work within, there is greater scope to develop social interventions that may alleviate MPA – e.g., [1] and [2].

We noticed that [1]  reports on a very unbalanced sample of male/female participants. This may well be representative of the cohort — but we wondered about the implications for how beneficial the reported coping strategies would be for non-female-(identifying) students?  A reminder that sex and gender differences are often overlooked in research design, study implementation and scientific reporting, as well as in general science communication.

Fri 22 Sep ’23, 11am

Creativity and the time-pressured situation of musical performance

First meeting of the new academic year!  The processes of improvisation and its relationship to creativity have been theorised in both domain-general and music-specific terms.  When improvisation takes place through musical performance it’s happening in time-pressured circumstances. Both the occurrence and duration of the material events and actions that constitute the improvisation are contingent on an emerging, embodied situation that is indexed in time.  The site of production – the people, the place, the room, the moment – of music improvisation is relevant to the creative expression which unfolds.

Pre-reading for this discussion topic: Linson, Schulkin & Clark (2020), ‘The fast and the curious: Creative improvisation as action-oriented abduction‘.

Friday 2 Dec, 11am – with Andrea Schiavio

Topic: Music perception and creativity

This is a special one – Dr Andrea Schiavio will be visiting with us from the University of York, to talk about Andrea and Nikki’s recent paper!

“When we listen to music, as well as to other patterns of sound…” Dowling, 2012.

“The study of music perception encompasses a broad range of phenomena, including the perception of basic attributes of sound such as pitch, duration, and loudness, the principles by which lower-level features are extracted so as to produce higher-level features, the perception of large-scale musical structures, cultural influences on music perception, developmental issues, aberrations of music perception; and so on.” Deutch, 2017.

A huge amount is known about musical perception thanks to scientific research into psychoacoustics, the science of audition.  However, sound is only one dimension of musical experience.

Listening can appear, outwardly, as a passive activity.  The situation and conventions of European classical music performance heighten this illusion. Yet we know that this perspective is not sufficient to explain either the processes or the products of artistically-motivated, human behaviours.  So, how else should we look at things?  Scientific research into ‘music’ is vast. But dominant narratives about musical meaning, function and value do tend to shape the way that evidence is both generated and interpreted.  Perhaps existing evidence already explains the fundamentally expressive and creative character of musical participation?

Reading: Schiavio, Moran, Antović & van der Schyff. (2022). ‘Grounding Creativity in Music Perception? A Multidisciplinary Conceptual Analysis.’ Music & Science, 5.


Friday 18 Nov, 11am

Topic: Participating in digital (music) education

Digital, online infrastructures influence everyday situations of life and living.  Digital tech and data shape our children’s educational opportunities, and organise the interactions between teachers and learners.  Should music education be any different?

Situations of instrumental tuition are typically 1:1 or 1:2.  What transactions actually occur in these relationship-led sites of learning?   How do these attention-rich, expensive, privileged opportunities relate to classroom music curricula?  How should they relate?

Reading: Virginia Eubanks (2018). Introduction to Automating Inequality : How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

More reading: Keri Facer and Neil Selwyn (2021). ‘Digital technology and the futures of education – towards ‘non-stupid’ optimism.‘  Background paper for UNESCO Futures of Education initiative. UNESCO.

Thursday 27 Oct, 10:30am

Topic: Music’s situation in higher education

How do institutional forms of knowledge and culture shape the research we do and the things we say and teach about Music in Universities?  Do institutional hierarchies affect the way that music-interested scholarly communities organise themselves, and who is involved?  (How) do we think this shapes general music education? Public and everyday discourse about music?