Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Inherent Creativity and the Road to Happiness: Improvisation and Composition in the Music Classroom

Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Inherent Creativity and the Road to Happiness: Improvisation and Composition in the Music Classroom

Article excerpt

Creativity is something that music is inherently supposed to possess, but many music programs do not incorporate creativity into their musical learning. Students constantly recreate pieces of music and the teacher ends up being the creative one. I don't remember being creative at all in my junior high and high school band when I was in school. The only time I was creative was either on the drums in the school jazz band or in rock bands outside of school. Sure, I did a few improvised solos in the university jazz band but the first time I considered myself a composer and a creative trombonist was with my original ska band of two and a half years, The Sidewalks. We've all heard, "oh, you're a musician, you must be creative!" Sorry to disappoint you, but just because we are musicians does not mean we are creative musicians. Music is the only art form where this is not synonymous. For example, if you are a dancer, chances are you've done some choreography. If you are a visual artist, chances are you have done some original artwork. If you are an architect, chances are you have designed original floor plans. Why is that not so with music? I considered myself to be a musician since grade 5 but not once in that whole school music experience do I remember getting to create my own music aside from the very limited time on the drums in jazz band. In reality, the only reason I was even on drums in the first place was because I was mostly self taught and did a ton of creating at home by myself and wanted to try something new.

My Music Room

Over the last few years that I have been at Montague Consolidated School I have tried to give students opportunities to make their own songs or to improvise. Just this past year, I had an activity where they were in groups and each group member was assigned a note from the doh pentatonic scale, which we had done a lot of work on previously. The only parameters that I gave them were: your group has to remember how to play it, and you have to end on. Most of them had no idea what to do and started to learn songs that they knew the melody for already. They could not understand that they were making up their own song. Some students said, "But Mr. Giddings, that's what real musicians do," as if to say "hey, we can't make up our own songs." To which I replied "well, you draw your own pictures don't you?" Some of the tunes they came up with were quite well thought through and others were simple but still worked.

On other occasions I have set up recorder solo 'mosh pits' where students are given a chance to create their own melodies without the insecurities of playing by themselves in front of everybody. Instead, students play an improvised melody at the same time as everyone else while I play a chord progression on the guitar so that there is no one person sticking out. Throughout this process there are opportunities for students to play an improvised solo by themselves over a chord progression. I usually do this once they have at least one scale learned. The best way to practice a scale is not by going up and down the scale all the time but by improvising with it. Improvising really helps the students get a handle on playing in any given key or mode. I learned that the hard way with The Sidewalks. Any horn player who has jammed with guitarists know that the easiest keys for guitar players are sharp keys. If you can't play in E, A, B, D or G, you learn pretty quickly.

Children's Inherent Creativity

Since I started playing guitar, I have realized it is one of those instruments that a person can easily be drawn into composing and improvising with. I have dabbled in a bit of composition and song writing with my guitar, but my problem is that I know too much and tend to over think and analyse what I'm doing. Children don't have any of the inhibitions of a trained musician. In a TEDTalk that I saw recently by creativity advocate and scholar, Sir Ken Robinson, he mentioned that children from a very young age are not afraid to be wrong. …

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