How do popular musicians learn?

Popular musicians acquire some or all of their skills and knowledge informally, outside school or university, and with little help from trained instrumental teachers. How do they go about this process?

It’s an interesting question, and it’s tackled by Lucy Green in How Popular Musicians Learn. The book has sold consistently well since publication in 2001.

Drawing on a series of interviews with musicians aged between fifteen and fifty, Lucy Green explores the nature of pop musicians’ informal learning practices, attitudes and values, the extent to which these altered over the last forty years, and the experiences of the musicians in formal music education.


‘Dr Lucy Green’s work deserves a wider readership than academics and music educators. How Popular Musicians Learn is inviting, accessible, and of direct practical interest to the working player in popular music, particularly those who also instruct students.’   Robert Fripp (from the Foreword to the book)

‘This is a significant and well-argued contribution, not only to the debate about the relationship between learning and teaching, but also to the understanding of the skills, motivations, and purposes that underlie popular music-making. Above all, it shows that ‘love’ of the music is the cornerstone on which all is built. We cannot engineer love in the classroom – but that is what we have to build on if we are really to reactivate music as the common participatory activity it once was.’    John Sloboda, University of Keele

‘By looking at how popular musicians acquire their skills and knowledge, Lucy Green reveals important truths about music teaching and learning.’    Keith Swanwick, London University, Institute of Education

‘…[a] stimulating book…lucid analysis…thought-provoking.’    Times Educational Supplement

‘Lucy Green’s latest book has been on the shelves for only a year or two, but already feels like a necessary part of music education literature… Returning to this book a year after I first read it, I have found new aspects of interest and value, as well as much which has quickly become familiar and helpful to educational discussion. Lucy Green has navigated the boundaries of academic disciplines and musical genres with great skill: I would recommend this book to any reader with an interest in musical learning…’    Popular Music

‘Lucy Green adds a valuable resource to the literature on music learning… a fascinating look at a musical world many classically trained musicians have not experienced. Green’s ability to analyze and synthesize the data and her skillful writing allow the reader to better understand the motivation and learning habits of popular musicians… an interesting addition to the literature on music learning.’    Music Education Research

‘While this book will be of overt interest to music educators, its net is cast much more widely, more widely even than its obvious appeal to working musicians… With its historical perspective, and its focus on the transmission, from many-to-many, of skill and expertise, Green has managed to write a book that is simultaneously of great interest to anyone concerned with the question of lay knowledge and local expertise, with the sociology of creative expression, and with the concept of socialisation, grounded at the level of practice.’    Musicae Scientiae

‘Green’s text is significant, and a watershed in music education. It galvanises a number of ideas which have been developing over the past decade to question received knowledge.’    Research Studies in Music Education

‘… fascinating and challenging… The quality of her empirical research, the entertaining and revealing interviews, their lucid analysis, the setting out of the popular music learning experience, along with the breadth of theoretical material brought to bear on her findings, all make for a thought-provoking and important book that we ignore at our peril.’    British Journal of Music Education

About the Author: Lucy Green is Professor of Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London. Her other books include Music, Informal Learning and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy (2008); Music, Gender, Education (1997) and Music on Deaf Ears (1988).

More information about the How Popular Musicians Learn can be found on the Ashgate website


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