Is There Creativity In Convergent and Divergent Thinking?

Is There Creativity in Convergent and Divergent Thinking?

Some scholars believe that creativity can be measured as part of a process, which I wrote about here: What’s the Role of the Creative Process in Music? But others were more interested in looking at what makes a person creative. They found that individuals have measurable characteristics that determine how creative they are. The ability to think divergently is one of those traits. If you’re passionate about creativity in music classes, convergent and divergent thinking is a great topic to learn more about! 

Is There Creativity In Convergent and Divergent Thinking?

J. P. Guilford, who I talked about in What Does It Mean To Be Creative?, was one of the behavioral psychologists who was interested in studying the characteristics of the creative person. What began as a study of intelligence in children shifted to an investigation into the various qualities and personality traits unique to individuals, including what makes them creative. Guilford did not believe that intelligence and creativity were the same thing, and he didn’t think you could measure creativity the same way you could measure intelligence (although at that time, some people did). To understand the elements of an individual’s personality, he eventually created a model that included over 100 mental abilities, organized into three categories: mental operations, mental representations (contents), and products. Several of these components Here’s an image of Guilford’s Cube to better explain: Guilford’s Cube of Structure of Intellect Theory

Two important operations in the cube included convergent and divergent thinking. Convergent thinking is more logical, linear, and analytical. It often follows a set of rules. A convergent thinker will look for one right answer to something. Divergent thinking is more inventive and innovative. It tends to follow varied pathways instead of a straight line. A divergent thinker will often come up with multiple solutions to a problem and be able to elaborate on their ideas. Guilford believed you could measure divergent thinking abilities by looking at fluency, originality, and flexibility. 

Initially, people thought that divergent thinking was the same as creative thinking, though later it was determined that elements of both were actually necessary. 

To build on Guilford’s work, in 1966 J. Paul Torrance developed the first version of his Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. The test measured fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration – all qualities of divergent thinking! Fluency looked at the number of responses generated. Flexibility included the number of different kinds of responses. Originality is how unique responses are, and elaboration looks at the details of responses. An example would be taking an everyday object and trying to come up with as many new uses as possible. What else could you do with a sand shovel? A paperclip? Or a music stand? Here’s some additional info about the tests, if you’re interested: What do educators need to know about the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking: A comprehensive review 

Many other scholars went on to include ideas of convergent and divergent thinking in their work, including Peter Webster, Scholar in Residence at the University of Southern California, Thornton School of Music. In Webster’s model of creative thinking, he felt the process began with divergent thinking, coming up with numerous ideas, and ended with convergent thinking, finalizing a product. Webster also came up with his own Measures of Creative Thinking test which looked at:

  • Musical Extensiveness, how much time the activity takes
  • Musical Flexibility, the extent the parameters are manipulated
  • Musical Originality, how unusual the response it
  • Musical Syntax, how much the response makes logical or musical sense 

If you’re interested, Webster shares the MTCT test kit on his website along with instructions for use and additional information: Measures of Creative Thinking in Music II

So what does this mean for our music classes? It’s probably a good idea to encourage students to think both convergently and divergently, since both are necessary for creativity.  Most people already do a lot of convergent thinking. As musicians and educators, we’re often looking for the “right” way to do something. While there is some validity to this, there is also value in exploring and being open to new ideas. In fact, some scholars believe that practicing divergent thinking can actually increase creativity, so look for ways to add some to your day. Simply doing something differently is a good start! 

Here are some ideas to incorporate more divergent thinking in music classes: 

  • At the beginning of a creative task, take time to imagine numerous possible solutions or responses, instead of only looking for “the right” one.
  • Rearrange the classroom or ensemble seating. Ask students to suggest other ways the room could be configured. 
  • Mix up a routine, performing tasks in a different order or substituting completely different activities
  • Ask students to imagine 5 (or more!) different ways to play a phrase or new endings for a melody 
  • Have students find everyday objects that could be used in musical ways (to help reduce “functional fixedness”)
  • Give students choices or control of something in the classroom, especially if they are used to you always making the decisions

While research about convergent and divergent thinking goes much deeper than I’ve presented here, hopefully this provides a good overview and some ideas for your classroom. Music is a creative art, and often, there isn’t just one right answer. Encourage students to come up with their own solutions, explore numerous possibilities, and look beyond the obvious in their music making. Help them become more creative musicians. 

If you want to learn more about convergent and divergent thinking, here’s a video by John Spencer that discusses the idea: Convergent Thinking versus Divergent Thinking

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