there was an art student who was very talented. He wanted to make art his career. He chose a good school and spent 4 years learning about art. He studied the history of art, the theory of art, the techniques of the masters and spent many hours practicing and reproducing the art made by the best artists. He fulfilled all of the requirements for his degree and graduated after 4 years.
Unfortunately, he had never created a real piece of art of his own.
there was student who wanted to be a writer. She was well read and wanted to be a famous novelist. Her favorite author was John Steinbeck. She loved the way he turned a phrase. So, she chose a good school and spent 4 years learning about writing. She studied and analyzed the best literature from many times and places and the mechanics of writing. She could read aloud with passion and even had memorized the remarkable phrases of John Steinbeck. She fulfilled all of the requirements for her degree and graduated after 4 years.
But she never produced any original writing of her own.
It would seem to be unthinkable, yet some of our most talented music students never really create their own music. Sure, they may write a Bach-style chorale in theory or arrange a piece in an orchestration course, but do they have a significant portfolio of original work by the time they graduate?
The art student will. The writing student will.
Why have we restricted the concept of making music to reproducing music that others have created?
Because it is a vicious cycle.
Children are naturally creative. We're holding them back!!
Don't believe me? They've done studies!
Many of you have probably heard of Bloom's Taxonomy. Check out this Learning page and review.
Notice that the very top of the pyramid - the highest level of thinking - is to CREATE.
This does not mean that children should do all of their remembering before they do any understanding or all of their understanding before they can apply something they have learned. That would seem obvious. Yet we as music educators tend to think that only older students can create. That they must learn how to read and write music before they can create music.
The reality is that children at any age are capable of running up and down this pyramid constantly - all the way up to the top, only to skip down and remember something, skip up to analyze, then skip down and understand. They they may return to create and then to apply by performing what they have created. They will then evaluate their creation, which requires them to remember and understand related content again and apply that information to revise and improve their creation before they repeat the performance and evaluate again. It is a fascinating process.
The key is guiding them to participate in every level.
Creative discovery: spontaneous originality develops into imagining as audiation develops. Intentional creativity requires audiation.
Finding out what the sound can do.
Allow children to explore the sounds an instrument makes or how their voices can produce different kinds of sounds. It only takes a minute or two.
Trying different patterns and combinations with a particular result in mind.
Given a short melody, ask children to come up with the tune for the last measure; allow class to choose their favorite.
Composition/performance is simultaneous. Choices are made based upon experience in experimentation.
Ask the children to think (audiate) what they will play for one measure. Use a midi loop and choose random students to play or sing in 4-beat increments.
Musical creation that is saved (remembered, notated, graphed, recorded) and can be revised and reproduced.
Have children write their melody in solfege or traditional notation. In groups, they can string the measures together, revise, and perform.
It doesn't have to be difficult. It just has to be deliberate.
Some advocates for music education have particularly stressed the cooperative nature of students performing in groups. We think of musical learning as encouraging cooperation and self-discipline. That may be true, but if that is the only focus . . .
Libby Larson (composer) said:
"What you are describing about cooperation and self-discipline is training for line workers in a factory. Those are all goals for factory workers, reflective of the industrial model. To teach a child to think in music is the way to teach that child creativity. The new model for American music education should be based on teaching for creativity. Creativity is authentic thought. The way to teach creativity in music is to train the mind to think musically."
Here are some examples of creative activities for the music classroom:
Compose a Melody
Song Parody webpage
Telephone Number Music
Variations and Arrangements
Write a Rap Song
Jazz Improvisation on Piano
Here's a great app for composing without traditional notation. Students would be fascinated to add their own touch to the class composition!