To Think or Not To Think: The apparent paradox of expert skill in music performance

Andrew Geeves, Doris J F McIlwain, John Sutton, Wayne Christensen

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    31 Citations (Scopus)


    Expert skill in music performance involves an apparent paradox. On stage, expert musicians are required accurately to retrieve information that has been encoded over hours of practice. Yet they must also remain open to the demands of the ever-changing situational contingencies with which they are faced during performance. To further explore this apparent paradox and the way in which it is negotiated by expert musicians, this article profiles theories presented by Roger Chaffin, Hubert Dreyfus and Tony and Helga Noice. For Chaffin, expert skill in music performance relies solely upon overarching mental representations, while, for Dreyfus, such representations are needed only by novices, while experts rely on a more embodied form of coping. Between Chaffin and Dreyfus sit the Noices, who argue that both overarching cognitive structures and embodied processes underlie expert skill. We then present the Applying Intelligence to the Reflexes (AIR) approach-a differently nuanced model of expert skill aligned with the integrative spirit of the Noices' research. The AIR approach suggests that musicians negotiate the apparent paradox of expert skill via a mindedness that allows flexibility of attention during music performance. We offer data from recent doctoral research conducted by the first author of this article to demonstrate at a practical level the usefulness of the AIR approach when attempting to understand the complexities of expert skill in music performance.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)674-691
    Number of pages18
    JournalEducational Philosophy and Theory
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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