Academic journal article Research and Issues in Music Education (RIME)

Children's Musical Empowerment in Two Composition Task Designs

Academic journal article Research and Issues in Music Education (RIME)

Children's Musical Empowerment in Two Composition Task Designs

Article excerpt


Musical composition and other creative endeavors have become increasingly present in general music curricula. Shouldice (2014) reported that 84.2% of Michigan elementary music teachers incorporated composition in their music classrooms. While composition has been included as a national standard in music education since 1994, its practice has been recently re-emphasized as an important element in music learning. Compositional processes are commonly associated with critical thinking, creativity, analysis, and problem solving, skills highlighted among overarching topics of creating, performing, and responding to music in current Core Arts Standards (2014).

Despite interest among music educators and inclusion in many state standards, compositional practices vary (Shouldice, 2014), as do their inclusion in teachers' enacted curricula. Research about the importance of composition is well documented (Burnard & Younker, 2004; Freund, 2011; Randles, 2013), yet reluctance still occurs about how to implement these processes. This reluctance can be attributed to many factors including limitations of time (Shouldice, 2014), techniques necessary on the part of students (Burnard & Younker, 2004; Major & Cottle, 2010; Shouldice, 2014), and of teachers (Volz, 2005). Additionally, tools such as digital media continue to facilitate new avenues for working in sound (Folkestad, 2011; Ruthmann, 2007), but present challenges for teachers without preparatory experiences. Music teachers may feel confident including composition practices, but may question whether or not they are able to provide helpful feedback or assessment (Hopkins, 2013; Reid, 2002) while honoring students' choices.

Despite these challenges, a compositional curriculum can be successfully implemented even among inexperienced teachers (Kaschub & Smith, 2009). Research and resources have become increasingly available (Kaschub & Smith, 2009; Major & Cottle, 2010), yet teachers may have lingering questions about how best to include composition in their curricula and how it might look and feel when implemented.

The purpose of this research study was to investigate fourth-grade students' creating processes under two different task designs: 1) freedom and constraint, and 2) within two compositional settings that differed in location and sound sources. Research questions included, 1) how do students respond to composition tasks with differing levels of freedom and constraint; and 2) how does composing in different group sizes impact composition?

Review of Literature

Music composition may take on many forms, including individually and in groups. Whether composing with software or acoustic instruments, students may do so as a collective activity within a social context (Folkestad, 2011). Each member of a group has the potential to contribute to, as well as detract, from one's ownership in a project (Kaschub, 1999). Kaschub (1997) studied composition led by composers in sixth-grade general music classes and a high school choral ensemble and found that group decisionmaking and the process of revision can be challenging with large groups. Although more students may increase ideas, larger groups necessitate the negotiation of ideas.

At times group size may be dictated by available instruments or technology. Ruthmann (2007) discussed composing with computers as a means to encourage musical thinking for general music students. Although media can dictate group size and the nature of a creative project, it can also provide a different medium for thinking in sound. According to Ruthmann, when students are engaged in this way, ownership over their music may be deeply felt. Ownership, however may be enhanced by smaller groups or individual projects.

While large groups may contribute to diminished feelings of ownership, peer problem solving can also benefit the creative processes. Positive aspects of group composing include modeling techniques and ideas, and collaborative support (Ruthmann, 2007). …

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