Improvisation and/or Music Education: A Child’s Upsetting Clarity

  • Panagiotis A. Kanellopoulos
Part of the International Perspectives on Early Childhood Education and Development book series (CHILD, volume 27)


Educational endeavours that have sought to bring the aura of creativity in music education are often characterised by an intimacy and a fragility that render them utterly powerless in the face of unexamined convictions, prejudices, impositions, exclusionary practices, and acts of intimidation that prevail in music education—acts of oppression and exertion of symbolic violence whose story is yet to be written, despite recent developments in that direction. In this chapter I will try to ponder over the notion of symbolic violence as a central feature of beginning to learn a musical instrument. Thus I will try to sketch a ‘topical’ notion of symbolic violence, denoting the ways in which teachers impose particular musical practices through induction into learning practices that reproduce musical values that are misrecognised as ‘self-evident’ and ‘natural’, while refusing to engage with their students’ meaning making processes, thus closing the door to alternative readings of their students’ creativity. Further I will offer an untidy reading of a young child’s practice of improvisation showing how children’s complex ‘innocence’ might create a window through which symbolic violence can be exposed, worked upon, and resisted. The chapter focuses on how a 6-year-old girl (Leoni) comes into improvisation and how her practice of improvisation is re-appropriated on the basis of her experience with formal instrumental tuition. I experiment with the possibility of offering a quasi-literary representation of a spontaneous piano improvisation created by Leoni in a home setting, and of the discussion on her music that followed. I then use a long discussion on improvisation I had with her 5 months later—it is between those two meetings that she had begun taking piano lessons, lessons that are seen as materialising a process of symbolic violence. Lastly, I comment on two short improvisations recorded a few days after this last discussion. Resisting oversimplification and reductionist/cognitivist perspectives I try to suggest a poetic, reflective and untidy approach to how we listen to children’s subaltern practice of improvising. I also try to show how children’s creative agency forges a trajectory that is always mediated by culturally framed constraints, yet opens up possibilities for re-appropriation and hence of resistance, through its potential to offer a holistic experience of musical flow, an experience that may not be a priori understood as antithetical or antagonistic to more formal aspects of music training.


Children’s improvisation Bourdieu symbolic violence Creativity in music education Post-colonial perspective in music education Piano lessons 



A big thank you: to Leoni for allowing me to closely look upon her musical doings. To Ruth W. Wright for her critical observations regarding the work of Bourdieu. To Susan Young and Beatriz Ilari for their meticulous and wonderfully dialogic editorial care. To Niki Barahanou for allowing me to share and test with her the arguments presented here as they evolved and to Manos Gerebakanis for his assistance in transcribing and editing the two scores.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Panagiotis A. Kanellopoulos
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Early Childhood EducationUniversity of ThessalyVolosGreece

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