Musical sensibility can significantly help people to become better teachers as well as researchers, says a new study.
Lead researcher Liora Bresler, University of Illinois professor of education, says that the inherently performative and improvisatory aspects of teaching, along with the temporal, polyphonic aspects of scholarly research, compares favourably with musicianship.
She added that knowing there was an audience to perform for "really intensifies the relationship between the music and the performer."
This is analogous to how a teacher should think of a lecture or a researcher a presentation at a conference.
"A musician would approach a piece of music by looking for meaning, and then how they would interpret it and perform it," she said.
"All throughout that process, they pay much more attention and are much more focused and organized, because they know they have an audience to perform for," she added.
Similarly, when a researcher prepares to delve into a subject or a teacher reviews notes for a lecture, Bresler said the whole process of making meaning is intensified.
Teachers can think of a lesson "as if it's a musical form - there's harmony, rhythm, tension, orchestration, higher- and lower-intensity dynamics."
"When you teach, you have a lesson plan, but you're not bound to follow it. You play, follow up, improvise and adapt, as the situation dictates. It's intellectual engagement, and you want to be engaging. So having a real, live audience makes a difference," she added.
Bresler said that while research has a more significant solitary component than teaching, the intellectual retreat of research is preparation for the more social aspects of scholarship - similar to a jazz musician who practices licks in private so the music is heard as effortless and spontaneous on stage.
"In qualitative research, thinking about a project is a solitary activity," she said.
"Going to places, interviewing people, presenting research at a conference are all highly social activities, somewhat like a performance. Data analysis and writing up the actual research are both solitary activities, but they are informed by the same two-way communication between author and audience that informs music," the expert added.
To train better scholars and educators, Bresler said people need to be trained how "to see better, to listen better, and to make better connections."
"Our different sensibilities help us become better teachers and researchers in the sense of making meaning and communicating to others," she added.
The study was published in the British Journal of Music Education.