#whatifmusiced – Thoughts On Creativity

I am teaching an intensive 1 week Music Technology course at Oakland University, Rochester MI titled Teaching For Musical Understanding with Technology. Our first reading was chapter 2 from Scott Watson’s book Using Technology to Unlock Musical Creativity.



“In order to be creative, you need to be able to view things in new ways or from different perspectives.” (pg. 15) Being creative or innovative is not always creating a brand new idea, sometimes it is reinventing common things MacGyver was a genius! He could create anything with a rubberband, bobby pin, and a piece of chewing gum. Who would a Musical MacGyver be?

How do we design experiences for musicians to create, reinvent, and innovate in our programs? As I read the teachers reflections to this reading, there are recurring themes emerging.

  • There is a tradition of excellence at district and state festival
  • My administrator is basing my teacher evaluation on how well the ensemble performs at contest
  • I was never taught this way
  • I don’t know how

These are going to become the springboards from which the rest of the week’s discussions and projects will launch. This begins with laying groundwork for teachers, administrators, and parents to see other ways, different ways, of being a musician. As one instrumental music teacher in the class wrote, “we must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater”, the changes need to be small and deliberate. Beginning with relevant and timely music that will engage the learner/musician to become more autonomous when approaching musicianship. Autonomy in learning emerges when musicians are asked to solve musical problems through a project based approach.

“Advantages for me as a teacher of creating musical activities include finding the time spent with students to be more enjoyable, perhaps because my role moves naturally to that of a coach and facilitator. I also enjoy the opportunities for personal artistic expression when modeling musical creativity.” (pg. 19)

 The experiences that you design for musicians to be creative, artistic, expressive will have a longer lasting effect than the piece of music they are reading and performing. The musicians that visit your classroom may not remember the specific piece they played, the concept, or rhythmic passage you were rehearsing, but they will remember how you made them feel as a creating musician.

My frame for tomorrow’s discussion will be a question I will ask. How do we as music educators create relevant experiences for learner/musicians?

“…technology tools have become indispensable to music makers outside the world of education”. (pg. 20)

This is a cry for help. Technology tools that are absolutely necessary to “real world” music makers are often ignored by contemporary music educators. Where does this leave the musicians in our classrooms?

I would like to ask “What if…” What is music education was different?

What are your “What ifs”?



Voice and Choice in Music Education

Image from www.freegreatpictures.com

Image from www.freegreatpictures.com

Technology integration is most effective when it provides a transparent scaffold within a musical learning experience. The technology provides a differentiated experience from learner to learner, where music learners can have their voice and choice in deciding which technology best suits their needs and how they choose to use technology to support their musicianship. However, it is important not to concentrate too much on the technology itself. The music must remain the focus of the learners’ experience, with the technology becoming a vehicle for learners’ musicianship. Technology simply provides musicians multiple pathways to express, problem solve and show understanding of learning goals, thus fostering divergent thinking.

I have experienced a shift in the culture of my classroom. I find that learner/musicians engage deeply in experiences that connect to the music that is the soundtrack of their lives. It is relevant, current, and forward-thinking; they see themselves as innovators and creators of new music. It is a new mindset, and technology is at the forefront of this seismic shift.

Digital musicians must find a distinctive musical “voice.” They may build on what has gone before, so they may sidestep existing work. Either way, they become a new kind of musician: one who originates and performs, who creates and produces, and who harnesses the potential of technology in new and exciting ways. (Hugill, 2012)

When music learners are given these choices, they begin to take more ownership of their learning and construct their own understanding within an inquiry-based learning environment. Creating opportunities for musicians to show their understanding of musical concepts in their own way nurtures an environment where they feel valued and honored. This model also fosters divergence in the ways different musicians interpret and create music. While some may choose technology, some may prefer creating music with acoustic instruments, and still others may opt for a cappella. The important idea is that all are acceptable. We, as educators, just need to ensure that all are available. Making music on acoustic instruments has been accepted as a way of being a musician for a long time; it is making music through technology that we must now also consider valid.

While it is tempting to just dabble with technology in the musical classroom, it cannot be simply an extra “add-on.” Learning to use technology as a musician should be one of the core processes in the classroom. Technology should be ubiquitous, transparent, and ever-changing; it must constantly evolve along with learning. Educators should not simply plan “Technology Tuesdays” or tell students, “When you are finished with your work, you may play a game on the iPad.” Because learners are not inherently born with an understanding of how to use technology, they need to engage in experiences that foster their understanding of its appropriate uses. If the only way learners use technology in a classroom is to play games after they are finished with a lesson, they will come away believing that is all music technology can be. Instead, technology must support music learners’ engagement in new musical experiences in new ways.