Creativity in the Music Classroom

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Creativity in the (Music) Classroom

Creativity as a form of musical learning tends to present itself in children aged 16 and above, after the prior stages of reactionary learning, knowledge gathering, experimentation and evaluation.[1] It is then fair to state that creativity, as part of the learning process, is an indication of the individual students’ ability to synthesise information, extrapolate ideas, and experiment with these ideas in realisation. As teachers of a creative art, we as music teachers should foster creative learning in the classroom at the earliest possible opportunity – that is, once the students are confident, as opposed to competent, in their craft. We should also guide these students carefully through the various creative processes encountered through these lessons, so that they become aware of these processes without hindering or impacting upon creativity in the future.

As Julia Cameron once said, “Art is not about thinking something up. It is the opposite -- getting something down.” Creativity is the result of synthesising one’s knowledge, expressed through a medium outside of the original form. In the classroom, it appears as creating a particular “something” from scratch, so long as the student keeps to the rules of that particular “something”. Originality comes in the form of creation, in that no-one has made that particular expression before. Whether the creation is carefully recorded for future analysis or reproduction is subject to the teacher’s purpose for setting the process in motion.

In the music classroom, creativity tends to appear in two main avenues: in composition and in performance. Furthermore, performance can be divided into three main processes: recreation, improvisation and arrangement. These avenues for creative learning are relatively narrow considering the processes involved suggest that a vast amount of knowledge and skill is required. As well, when one considers that both the current and future Curriculum Frameworks have given greater importance to the theoretical, historical and contextual learning in music, music teachers must themselves be creative in providing adequate lessons to students to facilitate their creative thinking.

Burnard and Younker’s article considers the compositional aspect of creativity, stating that teachers should strike a balance between letting the students run their imaginations wild and managing the resulting compositions for assessment.[2] This should be handled via stating “constraints” as part of assignments, so that students compose with the same set of criteria that guides, rather than restricts, their learning. As Stravinsky said, “my freedom consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have designed myself... the more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.”[3] In other words, when one defines the rules that students cannot break, students will concentrate on bending or even breaking the rules that they are allowed to redefine.

The results of such experimentation – apart from creating new works that the world may or may not have heard before – give students practical understanding when they identify these elements, forms or whatever the teachers have taught, in works that they encounter in the future. However, such experimentation relies on the students’ knowledge before attempting the composition – which, hopefully, has been cemented by the teacher in previous lessons. Studies have shown that children compose based on what they know, with a higher tendency to rely on their musical skills over their instrumental skills.[4] As well, their compositional approach is highly influenced by their performance skill, and their strategies are reliant on their mental age, their musical experience, and their musical skills.[5]

If students are unaware of the boundaries they are allowed to push, students may be unwilling to step outside of it. The...
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