Career paths in musical excellence: Psychological and contextual variables

Individuals who stand out because of their exceptional performance in areas that are highly valued in cultural terms, in science, sport or the arts, have always aroused the curiosity of laymen and the interest of scientists. Studies on the life and work of talented individuals are of particular relevance as they provide us with information regarding the personal process of developing and expressing excellence, and this information can be used to shape the education and development of youngsters identified as being potentially talented.

In this specific project, we aim to analyse the contribution made by personal and contextual variables on the paths to excellence by professionals in the music arena. The emergence over the last few decades of Positive Psychology furnished psychological research and intervention with new topics such as wellbeing and happiness, success and excellence. Our project falls within the latter sphere of Positive Psychology and seeks to understand how certain psychological dimensions and factors pertaining to context combine in terms of development and professional career processes to explain the excellence achieved by some professionals in the field of music.

At the University of Minho, Professors Leandro Almeida (Institute for Education) and José Fernando Cruz (School of Psychology) lead a research project on the excellence of students and professionals. Studies have already been undertaken using engineering students, choreographers, scientists, F16 pilots (Portuguese Air Force), doctors, fashion designers, athletes, and company managers. Our study runs along this line of research and extends the field to embrace music as that is where our affinities lie.