This thesis examines how adults learn to play Scots fiddle. It focuses on a group of
adults who are members of an intermediate-standard fiddle class in the city of
Edinburgh, Scotland. The class is part of the wider contemporary phenomenon in
Scotland whereby traditional music is being taught on the fiddle and other
instruments in evening classes, workshops and residential courses. Although the
current investigation is located within the field of ethnomusicology, insights are also
drawn from modern adult learning theory.
A review of related literature reveals that, hitherto, studies which have considered
settings in which traditional music is formally taught have often chosen to focus on
the role of the teacher. As a consequence, considerable emphasis has been given to
the concept of transmission. I argue here, however, that the ethnomusicologists'
prevailing view of transmission as a transfer of information from a teacher to those
being taught may not be the most appropriate framework through which to consider
learning, and particularly so where adult learners are concerned. If we are to deepen
our understanding of how people learn to play traditional music, we need to
understand in greater depth the learner's perspective.
This study took place in two stages — a pilot investigation and a core study. In the
pilot stage, the researcher attended a fiddle class as a participant observer for one
year. This stage highlighted the central importance of seeking insights from the
learner's point of view. In the core phase, the researcher conducted a detailed
investigation, during one term of fiddle classes, into how six adults from the class
were learning the instrument. A particular focus was on the practice that the learners
undertook at home. Semistructured interviews and a questionnaire, as well as a tape
diary and a written diary which were kept by the learners, were used to collect data.
The results of the study shed significant insights into the complexity of practice and
the importance of this activity for learning the fiddle. The findings also highlight the
variable and individual nature of the learning process. In turn, this underlines the
inadequacy of the traditionally held view of transmission as a framework for
understanding how instrumental skills are taught and learned. The implications
arising from this investigation for conceptual understanding in ethnomusicology,
adult music education and the formal tuition of traditional music in Scotland are
discussed, and topics for further research are indicated.