The second graders arrived in music class wondering what activity they would be doing that day. The teacher announced they would be singing the song the class created the week before. Andrea said, “We didn’t really make up that song. Those were mostly Elise’s ideas.” The teacher proceeded with the lesson, wondering silently, how do I help each child make creative contributions?
In 1994, The National Association for Music Education, MENC, published the National Standards for Music. Creativity and improvisation were included as standards to be met in the music curriculum. This change brought ideas about creativity and improvisation in school music programs into a new realm. Once creativity and improvisation became part of what students should know and be able to do in music, teachers and schools began to explore how to enhance their students’ creative behaviors.
Oxford Dictionaries Online describes creativity as “the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work” (2010). Hickey and Webster (2001) pointed out that creativity produces something that is original and valuable, with these terms relating to the social context of the outcome. Webster (1990) suggests the term creative thinking should be used by educators in referring to creativity. He believes this term places the focus on the process of creativity and not the product.
Webster (1989) defines creative thinking as “A dynamic process of alternation between convergent and divergent musical thinking, moving in stages over time, enabled by certain skills (both innate and learned), and by certain conditions, and resulting in a final product” (p. 29).
The elementary general music classroom would appear to be a natural place to discover children engaging in creative thought and expression. Experimenting with classroom instruments, playing improvisation games, and movement often come to mind when one thinks about the activities in the elementary general music room. However, while the music classroom is often thought of as an environment in which creativity thrives, upon closer examination the environment may be more about replication of music and musical traditions than about creative expression (Webster, 1988). Most often, students are taught the exact rhythms to play or melodies to sing. Without necessary explorative choices, students learn music by repetition, and often develop into musicians who are not comfortable or confident when asked to improvise or freely create anew.
This type of music education becomes what Gordon (2003) calls craft rather than art. “…craft relies on imitation, but…art relies on creativity and implementation” (Gordon, 2003, p. 40).
Webster (1988) suggests that if the goals for our music programs are to teach facts, music reading, and performance preparation “…then the process of understanding music as art and, in turn, the ability to think creatively about sound and its meaning as art, may be lost” (p. 33). The need for assessment and evidence of success in school music programs may lead to a focus on competition, instead of creative thought and originality. In her book, Growing Up Creative, Amabile (1989) discusses creativity as one of the “…four methods for killing creativity” (p. 72). She believes setting up competitive situations among students is more likely to undermine rather than inspire creativity (Hennessey & Amabile, 1987).
Howard Gardner (1982) finds that once formal training in school begins, children encounter a different experience than “…the holistic way [they] have come to think of, react to, and live with music” (p.157). Gardner believes “…the challenge of musical education is to respect and build upon the young child’s own skills and understanding of music…” (p.157). It is important that the imagination remains engaged during the young child’s transition into formal instruction. Campbell asserts that “…children are musically expressive until they are directed to re-create only what has come before” (Campbell, 2009, p. 140).