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Creativity in the Classroom

Greetings to both future and current music educators! Welcome to the new school year, and to a new opportunity to refl ect upon our teaching methods and philosophies. I am honored and excited to have the opportunity to work with ICMEA chapters from across the state of Illinois. ICMEA chapters provide the perfect environment to initiate dialogue on nurturing the creative musician.

As an ensemble teacher with experience in public schools as well as at the collegiate level, I often think about the task of nurturing creativity and critical thinking in the classroom. I challenge you to ask yourself the following question: “How do I provide daily opportunities for my students to be creative?” Music teachers often assume that creativity organically exists in ensemble and music classrooms, but I beg to diff er. Often times we as conductors do more “telling” than “nurturing” in rehearsals. If we pledge to be more creative in our teaching, we can in turn challenge our students to be more creative.

Creativity involves taking risks by students and teachers alike. In my teaching, I work to create an environment that invites student input, questioning, dialogue, and risk-taking. We learn the most when we are stretched, challenged, and when we make mistakes. T e musical process is just as important, if not more important, than the product when it comes to our classrooms and ensembles.

What does the nurturing of creativity look like in an ensemble setting? Perhaps the band is set up in circles for rehearsal, or the orchestra members are asked to take their music and choose a seat next to someone who does not play the same part, initiating new ways of listening. Choir members might be asked to provide input on musi- cal phrasing decisions for a performance

Fall 2011 |

piece. T e ensemble conductor could run a silent rehearsal, communicating completely without words. Students can “air play” their parts, internalizing proper rhythm and developing inner hearing. Are these risky options for a rehearsal? Possibly, but the rewards could range from producing a more musically developed performance to nurturing creativity in our student musicians. Future music educators who participate in our ensembles will learn new techniques and ways of teach- ing in an ensemble class. When a student experiences a rehearsal environment that is surprising, she or he will more likely begin to question why we do things the way that we do, which will hopefully encourage critical thinking and creativity.

Why not incorporate chamber music groups into full ensemble curriculum? Why not provide for our students what Lucy Green calls “informal” learning op- portunities? Why not develop a class proj- ect in which students form small groups and learn how to play or sing songs of their choice by ear? Yes, there is room for Lady Gaga in the curriculum. In Music, Informal Learning and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy (2008) Green states,

Informal approaches usually involve a deep integration of listening, performing, improvising and composing throughout the learning process, with an emphasis on personal creativity. T is is distinct from the greater diff erentiation of skills that tends to mark the formal realm, and its emphasis, very often, on reproduction more than on creativity (p. 10).

Implementing these ideas is easier said than done, as we often have to think about preparation for the upcoming contest or performance. But, won’t these types of experiences help our students to be even better prepared as musicians?

Nurturing independent thinking and creativity in the music classroom will hopefully result in more developed musi- cians in full ensemble settings.

In Teaching Music With Purpose (2006), Peter Boonshaft encourages teachers to take risks and focus on nurturing student independence:

How wonderful is the class or rehearsal where the teacher fosters creative think- ing, problem solving and coming up with better ways. How wonderful is it when the students become the teachers. How wonderful is it when we know we truly succeeded” (p. 211).

As we embark upon another year of teaching and learning, I challenge all current and future teachers to refl ect upon not only WHAT we teach, but also upon HOW we teach, and most impor- tantly WHY we teach the way that we do. With creative teaching methods and risk-taking opportunities provided in our music classes (especially in ensemble settings), we can not only enhance the experiences of our students, but we can nurture the creativity in each and every individual. I wish you the best of luck this year and look forward to seeing ICMEA chapters at the state conference on Saturday, March 24th on the beautiful campus of Eastern Illinois University.


Boonshaft, P. (2006) Teaching Music With Purpose: Conducting, Rehearsing and Inspiring. Galesville, MD: Meredith Music Publications.

Green, L. (2008) Music, Informal Learn- ing and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.


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