“Creativity Thinking” in Music Education

A Brief Taste of the Research of Peter R. Webster

Peter Webster

Portions reprinted from the chapter “Creative Thinking in Music: Advancing a Model” by Peter R. Webster at www.peterwebster.com/pubs/WillinghamBook.pdf and other sources. For more current research and resources, it is recommended you visit the homepage of Peter Webster, and especially peruse his slides at http://www.peterrwebster.com/Present/keynoteDesertSkies2017.pdf.

 

“When the history of music education is written many years from now, there will be mention made of the time period represented by the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the new millennium as a critical point in the profession’s history. It will be noted that practical, theoretical, and research-based writings focused attention on both product and process in the teaching and learning of music. Rather than just product (largely music performance), the processes involved in the creation of music are becoming import as well. In addition to the nurturing of fine solo and ensemble performances, a more comprehensive approach to music education is emerging which embraces the study of composition, improvisation, music listening, cultural context, and relationships to other arts. In the United States, this trend began in the sixties with the Comprehensive Musicianship Project and the Manhattanville curriculum project and continued by the Yale, Tanglewood, and Ann Arbor symposia in following years. In more recent times, the National Voluntary Standards in the Arts have come to mark a more comprehensive approach. In other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia, attention to music composition as a curricula focus has been long established. It is clearly the case that no longer can a music teacher expect to be successful by only teaching children how to perform the music of others in a dictatorial fashion, paying little attention to the development of aesthetic decision-making and musical independence of students.”

“Creativity Thinking and Music Education: Encouraging Students to Make Aesthetic Decisions” by Peter R. Webster

sculpture-3365574_1920_CouleurAccording to the above study by Peter Webster, Scholar-in-Residence at the Thornton School of Music, University of Southern California in Los Angeles, “good music teaching” involves the practice and observation of three types of musical behaviors:

  • Listening (most common)
  • Composition (perhaps the least common)
  • Performance: reproduction of music written by others (common) and the creation of music “in the moment” (improvisation)

Several basic tenants are proposed and reviewed in his work:

  • “Music teachers design environments that help learners construct their personal understanding of music.”
  • “Teachers must teach for independent thought” and “…our students can make aesthetic decisions about music… and to develop a sense of musical independence.”
  • “Student decision-making is predicted on the ability to hear musical possibilities without the presence of the sound… think in sound.”

brain-20424_640_PublicDomainPicturesPeter Webster’s definition of “creativity in music” is succinct: “the engagement of the mind in the active, structured process of thinking in sound for the purpose of producing some product that is new for the creator.” Furthermore, this is a thought process and “we are challenged, as educators, to better understand how the mind works in such matters — hence the term creative thinking.” (Webster, 1987)

Creative thinking in literature reveals five common elements:

  1. A problem solving context
  2. Convergent and divergent thinking skills
  3. Stages in the thinking process
  4. Some aspect of novelty
  5. Usefulness of the resulting product

Webster states, “Studies in many disciplines have revealed that creative thinking generally progresses through stages: preparation, incubation, illumination and verification.”

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In 1992, Webster reviewed literature on creative thinking in music education and cited nearly 200 writings. He organized the studies into three major categories:

  1. Theoretical (works based on philosophical or psychological arguments)
  2. Practical (writings designed to inform praxis but not based on empirical evidence)
  3. Empirical (studies of product and process across composition, performance/improvisation and listening, and studies that examined cause and effect and relationship

More recently, he has augmented his research with a bibliography of more than twice that size, including the following references with new trends:

  • violin-3182455_1920_DekoArt-GalleryA heighten interest in the young child and invented music notation and their discussion of it as a window to understanding the child’s knowledge (Barrett, Gromko, MacGregor)
  • New approaches to assessment, including 1. consensual techniques (Hickey), 2. peer assessment (Freed-Garrod), and 3. novice evaluation (Mellor)
  • Attention to the role of collaboration (Kashub, Wiggins, MacDonald/Miell
  • New speculation and experimentation on the role of music technology (Hickey, Stauffer, Ellis)
  • Emergent thinking on the pedagogy of composition teaching (Odam)
  • New work on cause/effect and relationship (Auh, Hagen, Fung)
  • Compositional strategies (Auh, Folkestad)
  • Thought processes while composing (Younker/Smith, Kennedy)
  • New studies on how various musical behaviors (composition/improvisation/listening) relate to one another (Swanwick/Franca, Savage/Challis, Burnard)
  • Developmental patterns of creative thinking (Marsh, Barrett, Younker, Swanwick)
  • Creative performance (Dalgarno)
  • New work on improvisation: 1. empirical (McMillan) and 2. conceptual (Elliott, Kratus, Booth)

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A few of Webster’s thoughts for future considerations

  • We need more work on social context, particularly the role of popular music to frame compositional and improvisational work. Clearly certain popular idioms that are easy to grasp play a dominant role as entry points for compositional and improvisational thinking, but what is less clear is the path toward more sophisticated skills.
  • We need to study the revision process and how it functions in the teaching context. We need to earn how to go beyond the primitive gesturals to encourage kids to think in sound at a more sophisticated level.
  • treble-clef-1132378_1920_deidiRelated to this are the issues of teacher control: when do we step in to change something or suggest a new path.
  • Experimentation with open-ended vs. more closed-ended tasks for creative teaching and research deserves more study.
  • Experimental validity is an issue. How can we make the actual collection of data more realistic and deal more directly with the time constraints and contexts of “school” vs. out of school.
  • When do children start composing music with “meaning.” After age 9, or long before? What does it mean to compose with “meaning?”
  • When we ask children to compose or improvise or listen or perform “in school,” is the result different than if these behaviors were done out of school?
  • When children compose, are they working from a holistic perspective or are then working locally without a plan?
  • Is it fair or correct to evaluate the quality of children’s creative work with the eyes of adults?
  • Are there stages of creative development in children?
  • Is it really possible to study and define creative listening?

 

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References

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention . New York: Harper Collins.

Finke, R., Ward, T., & Smith, S. (1996). Creative cognition: Theory, research, and applications.

Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Gardner, H. (1991). The unschooled mind: How children think and how schools should teach. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1997). Extraordinary minds: Portraits of exceptional individuals and an examination of our extraordinariness. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1999). The disciplined mind : What all students should understand. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Guilford, J. (1950). Creativity. American Psychologist. 5, 444-454.

Guilford, J. (1967). The nature of human intelligence. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Kafai, Y., & Resnick, M. (Eds.). (1996). Constructionism in pracice: Designing, thinking, and learning in a digital world. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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Mark, M. (1996). Contemporary music education, (3rd ed.) New York: Schirmer Books.

Mayer, R. (1999). Fifty years of creativity research. In: Sternberg, R. (ed.). Handbook of creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press., 449-460.

National Standards for Arts Education. (1994) Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference.

Sternberg, R. (1999). Handbook of creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sternberg, R. & Lubart, T. (1999) The concept of creativity: Prospects and paradigms. In: Sternberg, R. (ed.). Handbook of creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press., 3-15.

Wallas, G. (1926). The art of thought. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

Webster, P. (1990). Creativity as creative thinking. Music Educators Journal, 76 (9), 22-28.

Webster, P. (1987). Conceptual bases for creative thinking in music. In Peery, J., Peery, I. & Draper, T. (Eds). Music and child development, (pp. 158-174). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Webster, P. (1992). Research on creative thinking in music: The assessment literature. in R. Colwell (ed.), Handbook of research on music teaching and learning, 266-279. New York, Schirmer Books.

Williams, D., & Webster, P. (1999). Experiencing music technology. (2nd ed.). New York: Schirmer Books.

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PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “CD cover” by kellepics, (picture of Peter Webster from his website), “sculpture” by Couleur, “brain” by PublicDomainPictures, “brain” by ElisaRiva, “violin” by DekoArt-Gallery, “banner” by geralt,  “treble-clef” by deidi, “cranium” by GDJ, “music” by ahkeemhopkins, and “piano” by allyartist.

Where Are the Models, Mentors, and Motivators?

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Peter C.

 

Are You Listening to Solo, Chamber, and Orchestral Music?

foxsfiresidesWhen I was teaching full-time school orchestra music grades 5-12, the following conversation by students in my program may have been shared at the dinner table. “He wants me to spend time and listen to several outstanding players. I was a little embarrassed when he called on me in class and asked, ‘Who is your favorite violinist?’ and I could not identify a single principal string player or even the current Concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra!”

I was dismayed that as many as 80% of my instrumentalists could not respond with the name of a famous classical musician who is currently playing their instrument! This brings the issue to the forefront of my greatest concern: DOES ANYONE LISTEN TO GOOD MUSIC ANYMORE?

Obviously, most people learning how to play golf, tennis, ballet, ice skating, gymnastics or any of the contact sports, could instantly name their “hero” and leading examples in their field. Can you imagine not watching a professional athlete model his/her technique? For example, if you wanted to learn how to be a high-diver or competitive swimmer, would you simply read a book on the subject, study the moves, take a few lessons, practice in the pool, and not once attend a local swim meet or watch the Olympic event when it appeared on TV?

seriestoshare-logo-01Pittsburgh has a strong cultural base, providing a home for the world-class Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Pops, the Pittsburgh Ballet and Pittsburgh Opera companies, and the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera productions, to name a few venues. We are also most fortunate that many amateur or semi-professional groups such as the Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra, Washington Symphony, and River City Brass Band are local (some concerts presented conveniently next door in the Upper St. Clair HS Theatre). Professional soloists and chamber groups visit our city nearly every month, and opportunities to enjoy free concerts are limitless on cable/FiOS television and WQED.

This revelation motivated me to bring my laptop computer to every music lesson and ensemble rehearsal to share musical examples. With truly “basic” technology, there is really no excuse for not exploring a sea of masterpieces, watching a virtuoso performing his craft up-close – thanks especially to online resources such as www.youtube.com. Here are just a few “totally free” audio examples:

Here is the musicianship prescription – tips on providing meaningful motivation, momentum, and exposure to GREAT works of art in order to become more culturally connected and musically literate:

  • Families: Take the music break and listen to Classical (all styles/eras), folk, pop/jazz music at least once a week.
  • Encourage your musician to regularly use his/her computer/tablet to watch performances on the web.
  • Choose several favorite soloists playing the same instrument you are studying, and follow them.
  • Buy CDs of music or download movements of concertos, sonatas, or symphonies from iTunes, etc.
  • Go to a live professional concert at least once a year – more often in the summer, if possible.

Take a trip to the South Hills Junior Orchestra website… Under “Resources,” check out the two sets of free “Series to Share…” additional “Fox’s Fireside” issues by Paul K. Fox, and “Music Enrichment Workshop” presentations by Donna Stark Fox. In particular, download and read the Listening Enrichment Session, the perfect companion to this article.

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© 2017 Paul K. Fox

This “Series to Share” is brought to you by… the Founding Directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO), “A Community Orchestra for All Ages” based in Western Pennsylvania. Feel free to download a printable copy and distribute to music students, parents, teachers, and fellow amateur musicians.

SHJO rehearses most Saturdays in the band room of the Upper St. Clair High School, 1825 McLaughlin Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15241. New members are always welcome! For more information, please go to www.shjo.org.