Composing, improvising and doodling

Encouraging creative exploration

We often talk about wanting children to be ‘creative’; linked to this are the terms ‘creative learning’, ‘creative teaching’, the ‘creative process’, as well as terms such as ‘innovation’, ‘imagination’ and ‘flair’.   We need to think carefully about what we might expect of children at different ages and with a range of skill levels and prior experiences, and how this might be different to older children or adults. We also need to think carefully about how we, as teachers, are part of this context and are, in effect, co-creators of music and ideas.

'Music is a creative art. All musical activity – listening, making and interpreting – requires creative thought; the exercise of imagination influenced by personal choice and preference.'

(1) Paynter, 1982: xiii

Sometimes we get ‘experience’ mixed up with creativity. Just because some children have more ‘technical skills’ than others, for example gathered through learning a musical instrument, does not mean they are ‘more creative’. In some cases, children with the ‘technical skills’ become so bound up in the need to ‘do it right’ that they become inhibited in their ability/willingness to creatively explore. In order to help children to have the confidence to explore creatively within a formal learning context, there are a number of things we can consider, including:

  • the environment – how can we promote risk-taking and a ‘have-a-go’ philosophy? For example, having a ‘free improvisation’ section for 8 bars in the middle of a known piece can help children to feel less self-conscious as there is a critical mass of sound in the classroom and everyone else is buried in their own exploration which is far less daunting than being put ‘on the spot’
  • the task – do children understand that there are many different ways to explore it?
  • the parameters – what are the parameters?  Some children, in some situations, need boundaries as complete freedom can be too daunting  
  • generation of ideas – what structures are in place for helping children to generate ideas, much like an artist with a sketchbook? Are there a range of stimuli to draw upon?
  • helping children understand that making choices is important – e.g. will the next part of their melody go up, down or stay on the same note? Shall it be played on a trumpet or a double bass? Should the bass drum start quietly or loudly? 
  • getting started - some children find making choices very difficult and asking them to fill an empty space with their own sound is the same as asking them to write a story on a blank page in an exercise book or draw a picture on a plain piece of paper.

1Paynter, J. (1982) Music in the Secondary School Curriculum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.