UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Piano exams : understanding why we do them Ma, Amy


Some students commit to many years of study in classical piano and achieve high levels of certification but do not show much interest in playing the instrument afterwards. The purpose of this study was to explore social and cultural norms that impact long-term student motivations to attain high-level piano qualifications in cases where students have no subsequent plans to pursue professional musical activities. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 9 ex-piano students, all of whom were enrolled in or had recently completed graduate programs in fields other than music or music education. Bourdieu’s theories of cultural capital and habitus provided the framework for data analysis. Self-Determination Theory was then applied to the narratives to determine if each student had internalized the belief that the piano credential was a valuable asset. The narratives showed a theme of concerted cultivation by parents. All participants exhibited a habitus of scholarly study that extended to their classical piano studies. Students became self-motivated when they reached a minimal skill threshold by the age of approximately 11 years, and confidence in their own competence fueled the desire to continue with their piano studies. Students felt that ownership of a piano qualification validated their ability to play, although none expressed the belief that these qualifications brought social or economic benefits. Further research to include a more diverse group, including parents, teachers, and non-graduate students, would provide more insight into whether these patterns can be applied more generally to classical piano study and to other extracurricular activities.

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