An inquiry into the psychological wellbeing of piano teachers engaged in one-to-one tuition in higher music education: How trauma transfers in teaching


Cristine MacKie
Independent Researcher (United Kingdom)

Elizabeth Francis Edwards
Royal Holloway, University of London (United Kingdom)

Prof. Helen Pote
Royal Holloway, University of London (United Kingdom)

One-to-one tuition given by piano teachers to undergraduate and postgraduate students in
institutes of higher music-education is a central and valued part of the curriculum. However,
these relationships are often intense and demand a host of complex psychological processes
involving both parties, such as emotional awareness, self-regulation, and a knowledge of
psychological variables. Thus, the aim of this study was to inquire—from the teachers’
perspective, the factors which affect their psychological wellbeing during one-to-one tuition.
The research draws upon the perceptions and experiences of nine out of the twenty senior piano
teachers―from different musical institutions in ten countries, across four continents―who
attended the focus group. A semi-structured focus-group discussion was facilitated following
the viewing of John Schlesinger’s film Madame Sousatzka (1988). This is an extreme example
of the master-apprentice model, portraying the intensity of the teacher-student relationship
during one-to-one tuition. A thematic analysis was conducted from transcripts based around
the question: ‘Which psychological factors contribute to a healthy teacher-student relationship
in one-to-one piano tuition?’ from which analysis four key themes emerged: i) Power dynamics
and resilience; ii) Relationship boundaries; iii) Isolation and support; and iv) Responsive
teaching. Each of these themes were discussed in relation to determining the support needed
for the psychological health and wellbeing of teachers in institutes of higher music-education,
with the primary focus being on the teacher’s wellbeing. The findings revealed an important
link between the past experience and current wellbeing of teachers. This suggested that within
the one-to-one teacher-student relationship, teachers were unable to disentangle their own
traumatic experiences from their psychological wellbeing, and that they tended to teach as they
were taught