Now we know the study of creativity began with some behavioral psychologists in the early 1900s (What Does It Mean To Be Creative?) and there are some different ideas about what makes up the creative process which can include elements of convergent and divergent thinking. But you might ask, what do I do with this information? The answer is simple – embrace the messy and start creating! Don’t wait until the beginning of the school year, or until the next concert is over. Creative work can begin with your students today.
Where to Start?
What are the musical skills you are working on in class right now? Maybe you’re working within a specific key, or learning about specific notes, rhythms, or expressive elements. Using what you are already doing in class, encourage students to improvise, compose, or just create something that shows their understanding. Often with students who are new to creating their own music, I’ll have them echo short patterns first (rhythmic or melodic), then encourage them to change one note in the pattern, then encourage changing all the notes. It’s a scaffolded process that gets students creating in a way that feels safe.
Once students are comfortable creating their own short patterns, then you can move into something a little more complex. This could be a longer or more intricate composition, creating with more stipulations, or even creating in groups. One fun activity we did in class this semester was affectionately referred to as “the puppy project.” This creative project is fun and easy: display three different images of puppies for the class to see, put students in small groups (groups of three work well), and have students work with their group to create music that reflects one of the puppy pictures. Once students have completed their composition, they can perform it for the class, who must then guess which puppy the music represents. This works especially well if you can find three very different puppy pictures – maybe one sleeping, one playing, and one sitting still.
Another idea is to encourage students to recreate a popular song using their instruments and/or voices. Again working in small groups, students could start by learning the melody and then add bass and harmony parts as they are ready. For younger students, consider providing a list of songs you know will work well, such as something in a familiar key or with a limited melodic range. Some songs I’ve used include We Will Rock You by Queen, What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction, or Flowers by Miley Cyrus.
Here are some additional blog posts that describe creative activities you can try:
- Four Creative Activities for the End of the Year
- The Snowball Fight – A Music Composition Strategy
- Inspiring Creativity With the Chrome Music Lab
- Creativity With Composing Pieces
What to Read?
If you really want to learn and think more about creativity in the music classroom, here are some books I can recommend.
- Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, by Scott Barry Kaufman & Carolyn Gergoire. In this book, the authors discuss the “10 things highly creative people do differently.” It provides some great things to think about regarding creativity in our own lives and in our students’ lives. Read more of my thoughts about this book here: Are We All Wired to Create?
- Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace. I read this book several years ago and truly enjoyed it. Written by a co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, this book is a great look into what creativity is and can become.
- Music Outside the Lines: Ideas for Composing Music in K-12 Music Classrooms, by Maud Hickey. This book provides the reader with a rationale for why we should incorporate music composition andpractical ways to do so, making it a comprehensive resource for all music teachers.
- Musicianship: Composing in Band and Orchestra, edited by Clint Randles and David Stringham. With chapters by 35 music educators, this book includes an introduction to the value of music composition, how to implement music composition, and a variety of lesson plans.
- Creative Musiking: Practical, Real-Life Ideas to Get Your Learners Creating Their Own Music, by Steve Giddings. In this book, the author provides practical ways for students to create in the music classroom, including improvisation, composition, jamming, and more.
- Unlocking Student Creativity Through Composition, by David Getz. This book provides a step-by-step approach to getting students composing in the classroom, along with lesson plan templates and examples.
- The Creative String Orchestra, by Marissa Guarriello, Sarah Gulish, and Matt Shaffer. Here is another great resource for incorporating creativity in a large ensemble setting. Written by three outstanding music educators, you’ll learn how to incorporate improvising, creating, arranging, and performing in the music classroom.
- Creative Activities for Young Bands, by Matthew Clauhs. Beginning instrumentalists can be creative, too! In this ebook, you’ll find a variety of activities to foster creativity in young students, including lesson plans, video examples, worksheets, and more.
- Songwriting for Music Educators, by Kat Reinhert and Sarah Gulish. This ebook provides resources for music educators who want to create their own songs and incorporate songwriting in their classrooms! Songwriting is a fun way for music students of all ages to engage in creativity.
- Pass the Baton: Empowering All Music Students, by Kathryn Finch and Theresa Hoover. While not entirely about creativity, I couldn’t leave my own book off this list! Kathryn and I share how you can empower students, transforming them from passive consumers to vibrant creatives.
Do you know of a great resource that I’m missing from this list? Please share it!
At the end of the day, something is better than nothing. Remember that creativity is messy, and that’s a good thing! Start somewhere. Take a risk, do something different, and enjoy the ride! Your students will thank you 😀
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