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My Ph.D dissertation


The aim of this qualitative study is to explore how free accompaniment practice may broaden the performer identity for Western classical piano performance students in higher education. I employed an interpretive multiple case study and music elicitation as arts-based research methodology based on observations and interviews of three students in the classical piano performance program over a semester at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland. Multiple analytic methods were incorporated to synthesize individual cases of the research participants as well as across cases to generate key themes. Building on Pierre Bourdieu’s practice theory as the theoretical framework that grounds this study, I position free accompaniment practice as an agent that disrupts embodied habits, or habitus (Bourdieu, 1990), which guides classical piano students to broaden their learning process as they approach an unfamiliar topic through improvisation-led practice. The findings revealed novel insights that highlight free accompaniment as a highly valuable practice as an important exposure source of musical habitus that is framed to deliver learning outcomes that reach far beyond disseminating performance-centered skills to students. Implications are presented to encourage further research in promoting and adopting free accompaniment practice at other higher education institutions with music programs that have not yet acknowledged improvisation as a formal topic of study at the institution level.

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