In this issue, we witness different ways in which to illuminate the complexities of music teachers and music teaching processes and the conditions through which students learn and teachers embody different and contested images of professional ideals, ideologies and practices. In studies drawn from as far afield as New Zealand, Australia, Republic of Ireland and the UK, authors locate current debates about practice and offer careful analysis, insights and compelling ideas for change that range from teacher professionalism and accountability to community engagement and government policy. There are a range of theoretical frameworks incorporated (including cognitive psychology, constructivism, interpretative phenomenology, and sociocultural theories of situated learning, zone of proximal learning, and concept formation) and the authors' work relates to a range of contested areas. The articles move between teacher thinking and classroom practice to key factors in students’ learning and achievement and music learning in the ‘third age’. All are concerned with the ways in which beliefs, values and identities, structural and curriculum reforms, informal and formal learning sites, and pre-service and continuing professional development, shape and affirm the importance in building understandings of students and teachers' musical lives and how particular practices get embodied in particular contexts. The sites of practice include secondary school music, conservatoire research, university programmes, music communities and local government sectors. The articles draw on diverse data generated via in-depth interview methods, questionnaires, document analysis, observation and accounts of musical experiences.