Composing, improvising and doodling

Introduction

'What contribution can music make? It can give immense pleasure to the listener and the performer. This side of it should not be neglected. However, it is as a creative art that music is beginning to play an increasingly important role in education. Like all arts, music springs from a profound response to life itself … Perhaps we should place slightly more emphasis on creative music in schools than we have been doing. Music is a rich means of expression and we must not deny our children the chance to use it.'

Paynter and Aston, 1970: 3 (1)

How do we encourage children’s own music? In many situations, children do not need encouragement to make music their own – ‘borrowing’ music from others and adapting it, bringing in their own interpretations, ideas and making it their own. Listen to small children making up music in the playground as they swing backwards and forwards – it often includes fragments of songs and melodies with which they are familiar and stories and characters they amalgamate with these tunes. Listen to them as they sit on the floor bashing the saucepans like a drum kit.  This kind of uninhibited music making, ‘doodling’ with sounds, is something very natural to them. The question is how to harness this creative exploration and help them continue to grow these ideas as their musical palette develops. It is easy to see how ‘making music’ and ‘creating music’ are so integrally linked when we consider how children develop their own musical ideas.  

The current educational climate, where high-stakes testing often expects children to seek the one ‘correct answer’, arguably works against encouraging creative exploration and risk taking. Yet fostering these skills, including curiosity, imagination, expressing themselves and the willingness to try things out, are key within music and more generally across life. Perhaps as educators we need to reflect upon the extent to which we also model the behaviours, habits and attitudes we seek.

1Paynter, J. and Aston, P. (1970) Sound and Silence: Classroom Projects in Creative Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.