Composing, improvising and doodling

Ways to promote creativity in the music classroom

From Teaching Primary Music, p. 72

  • encouraging talking – if you observe a group of children making up a piece of music together, talk is always a significant part of the process. You could consider including a short amount of regular planning and reflection time in each session
  • groupings – working in social groups in which children are already comfortable is helpful. This encourages risk taking as children are more likely to communicate effectively and easily, and already have a common understanding of how each other works. In a study of compositional processes with 10 and 11-year-olds carried out by MacDonald and Miell (2000), pairs of friends, as opposed to children who did not know each other well, spent more time actually playing music, and outcomes of the resulting music were significantly higher, suggesting that transactive communication between children who know each other should be encouraged
  • timings – allow an appropriate duration of time for children to play around with different ideas/solutions. We all come up with ideas at different rates. Make sure pupils know how long is available
  • teacher intervention – intervene only when necessary and in a probing/inquisitive/questioning way, rather than telling or showing children what they should do and how to do it
  • modelling – demonstrate a range of ideas and create a bank of ‘go to’ snippets of ideas for children to peruse as they wish, or not at all. These could be stimulus materials (use your imagination – there are many), short musical phrases or process ideas, e.g. ‘Choose a note. Go up, down or stay the same. Then choose another note’
  • purpose – make sure children have buy-in to the purpose and the process. Composing is unfortunately often introduced as a ‘paint-by-numbers’ exercise in which there are a limited number of options and the point of the exercise seems to be to show the teacher that pupils understand the building blocks of a particular style or genre by deconstructing a piece and then reconstructing it with a few of their own ideas thrown in
  • assessment – target setting, a process in which children can be involved in order to think about possible future directions and potential strategies, can be really useful. However, I would recommend that you completely avoid giving grades and marks and also stay away from the term assessment. Use comments, recordings and discussion to generate feedback and new ideas through an on-going formative supportive process. Having a rigid set of criteria by which pupils know their work is judged can deter creative responses, because it appears to become (and often is) a tick-box exercise. 

Daubney, A. (2017) Teaching Primary Music. London: Sage.