Nothing makes a student’s eyes light up quite like the chance to independently create. For our students to realize their maximum potential, not just in music but in any subject, we must allow space for creation in our classrooms. Creativity is activity, while merely consuming content is largely passive. Creating content allows students to synthesize the skills learned in a classroom. Creation is relevant. Creation is problem-solving. Creation fosters all the traits that we supposedly desire in a student, yet we may be reluctant to allow those traits to develop.
To have a successful classroom that allows for content creation, a few things must be in place. First, the teacher must be willing to cede a great deal of control. In my classroom, students are encouraged to compose their own original music. Often this involves me saying something along the lines of, “Here is the task, you are free to accomplish this in any way you see fit.” From that point forward, the creative process is largely under the command of the student. If I, as the teacher, am overseeing every step of the process, is it their piece or mine? Relinquishing that control may be a difficult adjustment to make, but without it the students can not truly feel ownership.
Relinquishing control does not mean abandoning students. Far from it. Students will want guidance and feedback during the creative process. Students also benefit when a teacher shares new creative tools. My young composers really took off when I showed them how to use Noteflight and Musescore. They were still in control of their creations, I was merely showing them more options to accomplish their task.
Your classroom also has to be a safe environment. Students not only need to be allowed to make mistakes, it needs to be encouraged. Some of the most musically rewarding moments for our student composers have grown out of mistakes. One student has been composing a saxophone quartet, and struggling to find an ending.
“Mr. Guarr, this doesn’t sound very good.”
“Well, why not?”
“It doesn’t sound complete.” (He wasn’t ending on tonic.)
“What other notes have you tried?”
“Go try every note you can think of. Some might sound really bad, but some might sound really good, too. If you do that and still can’t find an ending you like, I’ve got some ideas for you.”
Five minutes later, the student had wrapped up his quartet with a perfect authentic cadence. Not through the study of music theory, but through rigorous trial and error. The student was told to go make mistakes, and the mistakes led to a great musical decision.
Lastly, we need to ensure that the student creations do not live in isolation. Record their creations, post them online, perform them in public. What good is the student’s effort and investment if they never get to share their product? We can distribute student work for FREE with a site like Soundcloud, so take advantage.
Allow your students space to create, and they will become more engaged and involved in your class. They will grow as students, and have a truly memorable experience.
The Trombonist's Mouthpiece by Joe Guarr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License