Creative Thinking in Music Classes

2011Symposium_1_2Among the many reasons for a person and a culture to have music is that making music is a creative enterprise, and creative thinking helps us cope with life, solve problems, and make things that we can enjoy and benefit from. At the very heart of creative activity is the act of making something. Indeed, the word creative comes from the word create. Something creative is something that has been created, and someone who is creative is someone who creates. In music, a creator makes things out of sounds. The sounds are collected, organized, and performed for the purpose of fulfilling an intent, usually expressive. The specific sounds that are collected, and the ways in which they are organized and performed comprise all that is creative about music.

Collecting sounds is not like collecting pennies or beverage containers. Sounds cannot be touched, picked up, smelled, tasted, or seen. Sounds can only be heard, and there is no useful place to store them except in the collector’s imagination. Once imagined, the collector becomes the creator, organizing and altering the collection in original ways until they are crafted into a musical work; one that is creative, expressive, and representative of the culture in which it was born.

Because sounds are collected, organized and varied in the human imagination, to be a creator of music, one music and the brainmust be able to think in sounds–not linguistic sounds, which form words and communicate literal meaning, but musical sounds which have no explicit meaning, but do have pitch, rhythm, and tempo. As  others hear the sounds of the music creator through performers, the hearer also organizes the music in his or her imagination. It is the hearer’s organization that the s/he experiences as the music being heard. Because that music also is contained the listener’s imagination, the act of listening to music is also a creative act. If this were not so, every person’s perception and experience of a piece of music would be identical, which we know they are not. Certain structures are heard the same by people of the same culture, but other aspects of heard music differ among listeners.

Teaching students how to think in sound for the purpose of creating and listening to music begins with valuing, modeling, practicing, enjoying, and developing. We must value creativity by encouraging our students to be creative and creators. This can be done by giving them time to play with sounds, delight in exploring sound, and sharing their findings with classmates and teachers. We must model this by ourselves delighting in playing with sound, and doing so in front of our students. We must practice playing with sound, by consistently allotting time in our classes for students to imagine, explore, and organize sounds. And we must teach our students enjoyment by having fun in begin free to create music that comes more from each individual imagination than from the procedures of a textbook. Finally, we develop creativity by challenging students to imagine more than they did the last time, and to relate and connect musical ideas in an ever increasing logic while preserving and protecting the creative intent.


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