Category Archives: Creativity

ISME 2016

So, now that I’ve given my presentation for the 32nd annual conference of the International Society of Music Education I don’t have to worry about the spoiler alert! I am very grateful to Dr Brad Merrick for showing up and stimulating a bit of informed conversation afterwards. I will follow this post up with some general impressions of the conference in general, so stay tuned! For those of you out there who just couldn’t make it, despite your best efforts, here it is in a nutshell:

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Hi, my name is Aengus Kirakowski, I am a musician and music teacher and I also recently completed my MA in Digital Arts and Humanities in University College Cork. Just in case some of you are unfamiliar with the world of Digital Arts and Humanities – it is a growing interdisciplinary practice which focuses on the use of IT in academia and the arts. I therefore had the opportunity to investigate what I felt to be a growing problem with private music teaching.

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The problem I was finding as I developed my teaching practice was basically a confusion of interests between myself (as teacher) and the students and their parents. I teach classical guitar, and have a few core method books with nice and whimsical duet arrangements of Beethoven, among other things. Of course, some students take to it better than others, but I would often try to mix things up by checking out songs from YouTube that they were interested in. Almost invariably, the motivation was stronger, with a better ear for detail from the student, and I found myself wondering at the difference between a book that would likely stay closed for 4 days out of the week, in a guitar case, and a website which was most probably a daily visit and place of influence for a young person.

So how can I justify valuable lesson time spent transcribing and interpreting songs from YouTube when many parents are looking for grade results, or a young John Williams virtuoso?

After all, the skill-set I was introducing to the student (playing by ear, transcribing, interpreting) was no less admirable than the preoccupation with sight reading and music history, and the content generally contained interesting musical lessons – song structure and rhythmic syncopation, to name but two. But the lessons felt so different, there was always a lingering fear that we weren’t making true progress!
Was this use of the screen rather than the book distracting us from a higher/better educational goal? Or was there a genuine, albeit unfamiliar, educational opportunity presented?

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During my research I was interested by a distinction made by Beckstead in an article from 2001 – an amplicative use of technology serves a higher educational goal and does not effect the teaching practice, whereas a transformative use of technology can change the course of the learning.

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When we think of the first known recourse to notation in music education, the system of Neumes, we might say that its goal was to amplify a tradition that was already there, which itself was serving the higher goal of worship.

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However developments in architecture and acoustics brought about a development in style and complexity of this devotional music.Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 18.25.51

The arrival of the printing press has to be said to have transformed the practice of music – with unprecedented access to printed scores, as well as music being written for more secular and casual contexts (i.e. non-sacred).


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As instruments were further developed and grouped to form what we would come to call the orchestra, the performance space was also under continual development, all in a complex interplay with the possibilities and limitations imagined by composers.


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By the early 20th century we have composers like Varese, and later Stockhausen who were particularly outspoken about these limitations and craved sonic means which would match their conceptions of what music could be.

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Further into the 70s, Steve Reich’s experimentation with sequencing technology led him to develop his own style of music, now known to represent the forefront of the minimalist movement in music.

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By contrast, the trend in music education at the time was one of conservation. Maybe it was this over-arching sense of sanctity in teaching practice which prompted Paynter and Aston to develop lesson plans that engaged more with the spirit of the times. It was an approach which allowed the student to explore the media (new and old) of music in a creative way, rather than in a re-creative one. For example by recording various instruments on tape, then altering playback speeds and creating soundscapes from the various textures.

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A like-minded contemporary in Canada, Schafer was imagining a total break from the history of the Western Canon. … What both writers recognised was a need for education to be at the forefront of development, rather than generations behind. Despite the differences in era, my experience in teaching resonated strongly with the views of Paynter and Schafer in the 70s.

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We are now surrounded by technology and tools which present great possibilities, it seems counter-productive and culturally insular to prescribe musical content on the basis of its educational merit. … and rather than drag our re-creative tendencies into this age, by merely transcribing songs from YouTube for example, a creative approach is needed which will empower students to explore. So how can this be done?

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The application of Bloom’s taxonomy to the teaching of music was apparent to me from the start. Playing and learning to play music is such a blend of the cognitive (understanding of musical text for example), the psycho-motor (being able to play what is written on an instrument) and the affective domains that even if it cannot fully describe the experience, divisions like this can surely help us gain a methodological stance in a mixed media environment.

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Even though the psycho-motor and affective domains are still important, there’ve been interesting developments in the cognitive domain – originally beginning with simple knowledge through analysis up to evaluation, a revision made by Anderson and Krathwhol’s puts ‘creating’ as the highest order of cognitive development, notice also the change in word-types – verbs replacing nouns suggesting more of an active (and ultimately creative) learning.

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Another more recent development of the taxonomy, made by Anthony Churches, adds IT activities to this verbiage, including digital skills like editing and social networking – all as valid learning terms. Blooms original taxonomy, with these revisions finally offers us a possible way of structuring these sessions from the screen (which I spoke about earlier) in order to ensure that there is some direction in learning.

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Inspired by this I drafted a rudimentary Process Map, paths through which might be used to make out various lesson plans or more long-term creative projects. Along the top we have our Bloomian categories, with our creative end-goal. The map itself includes a handful of digital tools I had recently come across, expressed in some of Churches’ new digital keywords.

Here is a video clip giving an illustration of one path through this process, using some of the tools I mentioned, with music from a fourteen year old guitar student of mine who has given me her permission to show it at this conference.

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Around the submission date of my thesis, the OECD report was released which showed a clear echo of my own concern and research from the last few months.

We can’t launch into the 21rst century with 20th century practices. We need to develop ways of teaching that are student-centred; that inspire the student to create; that use existing technology in educationally meaningful ways.

Most importantly, as music teachers in this age we have to be open to explore with the student.

We Interrupt this Broadcast…

I recently attended an afternoon of talks at UCC, given by visiting speakers Lee Campbell and Erika Piazzoli, which centered around teaching methodologies for language classes.

Campbell’s interest and research into teaching was partly inspired by his use of Skype and Textwall in EFL classes – which created a different interactivity, where participation was boosted by a virtual wall – and brought him to investigate into ‘performance’ in teaching. The general idea is to create contexts in which the students have to perform in role-play, using what they should have acquired so far in the course. One example is a fake speed-dating session, where participants have to create a new identity for themselves and rate each other. This, and other scenarios, is an alternative route to achieving the usual competencies as laid out in the lesson plan, rather than forming any new skills as such. In fact, as he went on to talk about the liminality achieved in the classroom, through the use of technology and performance, it struck me the extent to which these methods were far out on the orbit of the final marking and grading. Especially speaking of ‘interruption’ – deliberately causing some kind of unexpected scene in the classroom, in the hope that the students are forced to ‘think on their feet’ – the line between what is real and what is a game become blurred, as well as the line between performance and competence. What a great idea – a transcendence of the unquestioned roles of teacher and student, where both collaborate to a sense of theatre in aid of learning.

All through Campbell’s talk I was waiting for a recognition of transactional theory, or some off-shoot of it, where it is often posed that even in our native language we are constantly performing or playing games with each-other. Indeed, Wittgenstein’s ‘language games’ (from his Philosophical Investigations) were a significant precursor to this idea and (arguably) the subsequent disciplines based upon it. To interpret Wittgenstein: our verbal expressions are not ultimately reducible to their literal meanings but are clues to the nature of the surrounding contexts in which they are embedded, or, in other words, the games in which they are only a partial element. As such, the nature of language is better understood as convention rather than something which can be reduced to a calculus. Despite this and a whole delta of similar ideas in the 20th century regarding language and its acquisition, we are still gripped by the idea of the calculus – that language is defined by its theoretical components and hence must be mastered before any meaningful application is to take place. Perhaps instead the theoretical components should be viewed as tools to be applied to situations, scenarios, or games in which we will really learn something. Unfortunately, this ‘something’ (if we imagine it as a singular thing) cannot be codified as easily as the tools by which its acquired, hence our obsession with theory and the recognition that it has been ‘understood’ (or, in Wittgenstein’s own example – that the student can ‘continue the series’ once shown).

Here is an interesting video I came across recently, which offers a more lucid illustration (albeit a particular interpretation) of Wittgenstein’s thought from this period. All of the video is good, but particularly pertinent from 3:58 on:

A methodology like that described by Campbell is interesting because it not only acknowledges the importance of performance and games in the learning of language, but through staged interruptions attempts to further blur the difference between performance and reality – coaxing the student into a ‘real’ scenario where they will have to interact in the language. It is also interesting because it was inspired by the use of technology, which created a kind of detachment in the participants, allowing them to more easily shed their student-roles and enter a liminal state in which they will more willingly and opportunistically use what they have learnt so far.
In earlier posts here, there are similar references to students leaving their typical student roles for something more involved and yet detached – for example creative projects which utilise current music technology and challenge the student to use what they have learnt. ‘Detached’ – because the student generally is required to detach from their usual setting of reading music and ‘getting it right’ to creating something (anything!) – a detachment which is aided perhaps by the game-like interaction of various web technologies. ‘More involved’ – because the student is literally more involved in their own musical education by creating their own learning content and playing through their own creative projects. Collaboration figured highly in my own investigation, in the form of collaborative composition between teacher and student,
Also similar to Campbell, the effect of the technology was enough for me to realise fully that there are other ways to teach. This is testament to the ‘Transformative’ power of technology in teaching – a term important in my own MA thesis from last year, part of which you can view here. However, the technology, like the rules, is yet another set of tools for us to use which by no means encompass what we (as teachers and students) are striving towards.

Here’s a beautiful talk, given by celebrated bassist Victor Wooten, where he discusses music as a language, and how both are acquired compared to how they are theoretically described:

To sum up – I was interested and inspired by what Campbell had to say because I felt it resonated so well with what I have discovered in my own research, despite the differences in context or discipline. There seems to be a trend in thought around education, which is at least partly inspired by the affordances offered by technology, that acknowledges the importance of interactivity and creativity. The idea of a preformed ideal of the perfect state of knowledge or competency displayed by a student in a given field is increasingly under scrutiny as the importance of the creative force in education is better recognised. It may be that advances in technology are accidental to a more broad trend in thought, bringing us out of the darkness of the Enlightenment period (sorry! it was too good a paradox to ignore), but maybe it is how we use the technology which illustrates this better than the technology itself. When discussing ideas like these with a friend of mine involved in business start-ups he rightly summed up a new and important responsibility of the music teacher – to ‘Understand the Shift’ – this is imperative, on a whole bunch of levels!

A pedagogical framework for tech-infused creative design

Unwittingly in line with last months’ OECD report, it became important in my own research to consider some kind of learning framework that might ensure a students’ progression in a learning process as I was imagining it.
It seems to have come as a shock to many people that the wholesale stockpiling of up-to-date computers to the classroom would not in itself ensure that a student is learning, let alone learning faster or better. The OECD report demonstrated a negative relationship between classroom learning and ICT use, to some extent shattering the utopian ideal of a multimedia education as the quick-fix antidote to book-bound boredom in the classroom. Again, we have Technology with a capital ‘T’ apparently not fitting the bill, verifying for many that it cannot be used effectively in education. The report, however, demonstrates the need for effective integration of technology into education:

“We have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology; adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.”

Kieth Sawyer, in his blog The Creativity Guru, notes how he has previously observed this breakdown in potential and created a Masters course which deals with specifically this issue – “to teach how to combine learning sciences research, innovation, and software development”.

Unaware that the OECD was at this point compiling findings on this topic, I began to look into possible frameworks for a Transformative integration of technology into a student-centered design for musical instrument pedagogy:

1.3 – Bloom’s Taxonomy and how it applies to music pedagogy

Bloom’s Taxonomy presents a structured approach to student centered instructional design, which has undergone recent revisions to include an integration of technological terms into its activities and learning outcomes. Another revision significant for the present study is the inclusion of creativity as a goal in the Cognitive domain of learning. Considered altogether Bloom’s Taxonomy and the subsequent revisions may offer an instructional design appropriate for the transformative integration of technology into music pedagogy.
Of the three domains of learning offered by Bloom’s Taxonomy, the Cognitive and the Psycho-motor are acutely intertwined in instrument pedagogy. As previously noted, the dominant focus in many schools lies on the psycho-motor domain of musical performance because it yields observable ‘results’ which tend also to represent the teacher’s own background in classical music performance, and at its worst is a teaching method which favors the ‘talented few’ (Webster 2009). The close relationship between the cognitive and the psycho-motor domains make it more difficult to determine what it was the student actually learned through the experience. Bloom’s Taxonomy and the respective hierarchies offer a structure for teaching and learning, which may alleviate disputation in problems like these. Blooms original hierarchy within the cognitive domain distinguishes between:

• Knowledge – the ability to recall facts.
• Comprehension – the ability to interpret new information in the light of knowledge gained.
• Application – the ability to utilize previously gained knowledge in new ways.
• Analysis – the ability to break down information into its components
• Synthesis – the ability to bring pieces of information together
• Evaluation – the ability to judge the value of material for a given purpose.

Despite the ability to play from a large repertoire of music, which represents significant progress in the Psycho-motor domain, it is not necessarily the case that the student has moved beyond the Knowledge stage of the cognitive domain. The application of this taxonomy to musical pedagogy involves a discursive approach to the subject, where the student can talk about what he/she has learned. For example, a student may recall how many beats are in a bar of ¾, but may find difficulty in interpreting a particular rhythm within a ¾ bar. Application of elements such as these are rarely asked of a student, where he/she must utilize them in a new way – for example, to write a simple melody in ¾ that utilizes a syncopated rhythm. Part of the thesis here is that such Application of Knowledge may aid their Comprehension of musical elements. The more they are asked to break down new information into such components (basic rhythmic Analysis in this case), the more it equips them to Synthesize the components in novel ways, until they reach the stage where they can judge how such rhythmic components might be used for a particular effect (using combinations of shorter notes for climax sections, for example).
A revision of Blooms original taxonomy, made by Anderson and Krathwhol 2001, replaced ‘Synthesis’ with ‘Creating’ and restated it as the highest order of thinking in the cognitive domain:
‘Create’ – the ability to put elements together to form a coherent whole or make an original product.
This new category can be expressed using verbs like designing, constructing, planning, producing, inventing, devising, making. This revision was made partly on the basis of Bloom’s own noted dissatisfaction with his original taxonomy for not differentiating between different types of knowledge within the hierarchy. The Knowledge referred to as the first step in the thinking process is taken to be Factual Knowledge, such as essential terminology or knowledge of basic elements, while the other steps in the hierarchy are examples of Procedural (e.g.: ‘Application’) and Conceptual (e.g.: ‘Analysis’) Knowledge. Anderson and Krathwhol’s revision accounts for these different types of knowledge by adding a second dimension to the hierarchy, forming a Taxonomy Table with the types of Knowledge on the vertical axis and Cognitive Processes on the horizontal. They also change the category names into their verb forms to allow them to overlap, giving the teacher a freer use of the terms.

Table 1 – Example Taxonomy Table for Anderson and Krathwhol’s revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy

Added to the Factual; Procedural; and Conceptual Knowledge types is Meta-Cognitive Knowledge – “Knowledge of cognition in general as well as awareness and knowledge of one’s own cognition” (Krathwhol 2002, 214). Meta-Cognition is now a significant knowledge distinction where it was unrecognized as such during Bloom’s original research in 1956.
The addition of the second dimension means that Creative activities can both serve as immediate and long-term goals in education. Creative activity can be one involving Factual; Conceptual; Procedural or Metacognitive Knowledge. So, for example, a task in composing a melody which utilizes a dotted rhythm, or even just a newly learned note on the instrument, would be a Creative task employing Factual knowledge.
By introducing a student-centered process which is derived from the possibilities offered by various technologies and by the context of Web 2.0, the long-term goal is to teach the student how to control their own learning and creativity – a Creative goal involving Metacognitive Knowledge. This involves the learning of new technical skills which can be utilized in self-teaching.
A further revision of the taxonomy, entitled Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, was devised by Andrew Churches to account for the “new processes and actions associated with Web 2.0 technologies, infowhelm (the exponential growth in information), increasing ubiquitous personal technologies or cloud computing” (Churches 2009). It includes activities associated with technology in each of the categories, with a focus on collaboration as the most recognized general activity on the web.

The additions include (by order of category):
i) Remembering – bookmarking; social networking; searching
ii) Understanding – commenting; annotating; subscribing
iii) Applying – playing; uploading; sharing; editing
iv) Analysing – mashing; linking; media clipping
v) Evaluating – blog commenting; reviewing; posting; collaborating; editing
vi) Creating – programming; animating; blogging; mixing; remixing; broadcasting.

Bloom’s original division of the learning process into the domains and their categories offers practical musical pedagogy important alternatives to the learning process which must be considered. The first revision, the addition of Creating as a higher-order thinking category, offers a systematized goal for the instructional design – that of creating new content as one learns. The second revision mentioned above categorizes the new activities being taught, justifying the process map above as a learning process which includes tasks such as editing, uploading and collaborating.
The Psycho-motor domain is not as well documented or revised as the cognitive and affective domains. A hierarchy suggested by R.H. Dave (as cited in Kennedy 2006) suggests the following:

• Imitation – observing another’s behaviour and copying it;
• Manipulation – ability to perform from instructions rather than imitation;
• Precision – ability to perform a given action without instruction or imitation in a smooth and accurate performance;
• Articulation – the combination of two or more skills in a series of actions;
• Naturalisation – a high level of performance which seems natural and combines many skills.

Another hierarchy by Simpson (as cited in Kennedy 2006) offers:

• Perception – use of observable cues to guide physical activity;
• Mindset – has adopted the right frame of mind and disposition to carry out the action;
• Guided Response – Can utilise trial and error in practice of the action without being discouraged;
• Complex Overt Responses – imitative responses to complex activities are accurate and highly co-ordinated;
• Adaptation – can use the acquired skill in new and different situations;
• Origination – ability to adapt the acquired skill in novel ways to fit special situations.

Both hierarchies suggest a general transition from imitating an activity from a perceptual cue to the ability to independently apply and adapt the skill for new situations. However, the growth of musical notation from a mnemonic system to aid the vocal performance of plainchant, in turn to tablatures which applied to a particular instrument like the lute, and finally to an abstract system of notes as we now know, created much more of a cognitive element to music than simple imitation of an activity. What were essentially direct performance instructions developed into a symbolic language (Grout and Palisca). Because of its complexity in abstraction, and lack of reference to a particular instrument, western musical notation can represent to a young learner something of a forbidding aspect of music. It is hoped that by addressing this aspect of music early in musical education, with iterative recourse to the psycho-motor domain of playing an instrument and creating sound, that the student is less intimidated by what has become the cognitive aspect of music education.
The hierarchies and their respective terms also serve as important structures for creative exercises, which otherwise might be deemed a waste of time by other teachers. For the purpose of the survey it will be important to present some type of learning outcomes for the exercises because not all teachers are entirely sympathetic to the cause of ‘creative music’ and the type of content produced. Learning outcomes, loosely interpreted, then will play a triple function – that of structuring the transformative integration of technology into musical education by making the distinction between cognitive and psycho-motor domains of learning (a distinction important for pedagogical purposes); of providing necessary limits for creative exercise; and as a widely-known convention within which to present educational benefits and findings with other teachers.

1.4 – A Transformative Integration of technology using Bloom’s Taxonomy as an instructional design model

As stated above, the present study will attempt to draft a student-centered teaching method for musical instrument pedagogy by presenting the instrument as a creative tool, with which the student can construct their own understanding of music on that instrument. Using Bloom’s original taxonomy and the subsequent revisions as a guide, many of the concepts around creativity anand student-centricity, discussed earlier in this review, can be implemented into practical lesson plans. For example, Faultley’s conception of the new creativity in education – ‘Pluralistic Developmentalism’ – is facilitated by Anderson and Krathwhol’s revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy, where ‘Create’ replaces ‘Evaluate’ as the uppermost category. The introduction of a two-dimensional chart for the Cognitive domain, where even tasks employing basic Factual knowledge can involve the cognitive process ‘Create’, facilitates the introduction of ‘creative experiments’ as valid learning experiences at all stages of learning and development. The central hypothesis for the lesson design, with reference to Bloom’s taxonomy, is that development in the Cognitive domain (towards the Creative goal) can provide intrinsic motivation in the student for further development in the Psycho-motor and Affective domains.
The division of learning into these three domains also facilitates the integration of technology at different parts of the learning process – for example, the use of musical notation softwares for compositional tasks; the use of Digital Audio Workstations for sound editing work; and the use of streaming websites for evaluation of both one’s own work and that of others. Churches’ inclusion of verbs like searching; commenting; uploading; & broadcasting as describing new and important learning activities aligns with a ‘transformative’ view of technology in education, where the immediate tasks and goals are transformed by the technology. The technical instructions in Paynter’s project Sounds on Tape serve as a dated precursor to Churches’ revisions, while the set of teachers for which Webster (2009) was presenting the digital tools would certainly view these new activities as incumbent on valuable lesson time.
The identification of collaboration as the most significant activity on the web, and consequently as a verb in the penultimate category ‘Evaluating’, facilitates the ‘novice-expert continuum’ as described above in reference to Faultley’s ‘Pluralistic Developmentalism’. By collaborating online with the teacher, the student begins to learn the possibilities of these digital platforms, while still maintaining an authentic learning trajectory. The long term learning outcome is to teach the student how to control their own musical learning and creativity using these new activities – a Creative goal involving Metacognitive Knowledge.
The aim of this thesis is to provide and assess an example of a ‘transformative’ integration of these technologies into a constructive, activity-based student-centered pedagogical design.
Bloom’s Taxonomy and revisions are used loosely to create a structure for achieving these creative student-centered goals, which can also be communicated to other teachers and perhaps help them identify areas of music technology they need to develop. However, to develop a truly open-ended process the current study proposes an online survey in which a participant’s stance on the use of technology in music education is measured against their use of the technology and their beliefs about teaching in general. The participant will then be presented with a small production based on some activities from the focus group in which the general teaching method and some of the tools are presented to students.
As such, the survey will help in assessing the degree to which the learning process drafted in this paper can facilitate different views on music pedagogy – for example, whether a teacher who believes in the ‘amplicative’ use of technology will necessarily reject the learning process as proposed here, or see ‘amplicative’ uses within it also. On the other hand, the survey will also serve a social function in raising awareness of these new possibilities in teaching among its participants, in order to create a network of interested teachers. Participants will be given access to a WordPress blog (, which features the research leading up to the survey as well as ongoing projects.

Enter the digits!…

Unsure whether or not the digital artefact I collaborated to produce ticked enough boxes for our Digital Art project, I started to experiment with the sound-file in the Digital Audio Workstation Audacity.

Although I had used GarageBand for the basic editing (bit of cutting, splash of reverb), I had heard of some of Audacity’s in-house effects and took the opportunity to mess around with a few. Paulstretch basically stretches the sound-file you apply it to, in only extreme amounts – my five minute track for the slideshow was turned into an ambient texture lasting about 30 minutes! With a bit more cutting, I finally arrived at this:

Each of the three sections of the original piece is represented here. After cutting out these representative bits I joined them up together to form this new piece – a simple cut and paste job, an open-ended jigsaw with my own pieces that occupied me well into the wee hours!

It occurred to me that there seemed to be something of a progression of thought between the original invitation to create and this final, open-ended exercise – both driven by a specific goal (the submission for the module). Would it be possible to steer a young student through something of the same process, utilizing some of the same software? What would the educational benefits be? Are we beginning to steer away from Music (with the capital ‘M’?).

Creativity and music education

The following is an extract from the literature review of my thesis. Its the first section which deals with creativity in music education, considered apart from any use of technology. I am certain that there are hugely important references which are missing from this review, and so comments or suggestions from more enlightened beings are greatly appreciated! On the other hand, I had that strange mixed emotion of fear and excitement to learn that in fact I was not the first (to put it mildly) to think these thoughts.

Approaches to music education have varied greatly over the course of the 20th century. Viewed in isolation, these variations seem like they owe themselves to the idiosyncrasies of the pedagogues, educational theorists and composers who have proposed them. However, recent literature utilizes a more context-driven analysis, which attributes these variations to developments in much broader contexts.

In an article just after the turn of the 21rst century, Faultley uses the symbolism of Orff’s Wheel of Fortune in ‘Carmina Burana’ as a metaphor for the waxing and waning of the idea of ‘creativity’ in music education. He cites Grieg:

“To be too original is always a fault. Indeed, if any one attempted to produce a thing that should be entirely different in all its particulars from everything that had gone before, he would utterly fail; and supposing it possible for him to succeed, his production would be universally rejected.” (Grieg 1896, as cited in Faultley 2004).

Note in Grieg’s words the automatic assumption that a student’s composition is a work for the public domain, where it will be finally and absolutely measured as an artistic object, rather than be an exercise in understanding.

Eight years later, in his treatise on The Evolution of Harmony Kitson stresses that ‘The student must be compelled from the very start to think out his own chord progressions’ (Kitson, 1914) where ‘original work’ is one of the types of exercises that will ensure the student’s development as a composer. The two accounts are by no means incommensurable and their apparent disagreement arises from the ambiguity around the term ‘original’. What Grieg is denouncing is the attempt to be different just for the sake of it, and what Kitson is stressing is the need for students to think for themselves using what they have learned. They are both writing in the same artistic context, with slightly different conceptions of what is meant by originality in music education. However, in both cases the artistic product of the student is ultimately measured against the greater tradition from which the teacher is operating – a tradition now referred to by historians as the Western Canon, and which we will call the hegemonic influence on educational praxis.

Even new works by respected composers were judged and badly received because they did not align with the previous tradition. The well-documented public reactions to Schoenberg’s String Quartet No.2 (premiered in 1908) and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (1913) illustrate the hegemonic backdrop within which Grieg and Kitson were also writing (Burkholder et al. 2006, 801-824).

Throughout the 20th century ‘serious’ concert music developed into a variety of styles and approaches, many of which decidedly branched away from the received tradition, leaving music education as a conservatoire of inherited sacrosanct content and traditional methods against which a student’s progression could be measured. Breakthroughs were being made regarding the instruction of this content, with some new pedagogies designed to suit the mental development of young people (such as Orff and Kodaly), and a development into instrumental skills (for example Bela Bartok for the piano). Meanwhile, by the middle of the twentieth century, composers such as Varese, Cage and Stockhausen were questioning and recreating the foundations of Western music, influenced and aided by developments in technology (Beckstead 2001).

This misalignment between education and context inspired Klotman (as cited in Beckstead 2001) to estimate that music education in the twentieth century has been at least a generation behind real world developments.

By the 70’s, educational theorist and teacher John Paynter addressed this divide directly when he said “The musical techniques of our time are relevant to our situation because they grow from it. They must, therefore, have a place in the work we plan for our classes in schools” (Paynter and Aston 1970, 6). He offers the view that the preoccupation in music education with re-creative activities is a result of the tendency to view music as a ‘leisure activity’, accompanied by the belief that creative projects will only serve to slow the ‘more musical’ student down in his/her attainment of performance skills necessary to do well in public examinations. Paynter rejects this viewpoint and maintains that, in order for any such skill enhancement to be meaningful there first has to be an “understanding of the medium and its potential. We can only discover this through creative experiment” (ibid, 7). Much of Paynter’s creative projects involve playing with traditional mediums – extended techniques for traditional musical instruments, projects involving traditional notation, as well as graphical notation – which are supplemented with recommended listening from the contemporary oeuvre in which objects of the lesson were being used, such as Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique or John Cage’s prepared piano. There is also a project involving Sounds on Tape, which will be considered later in this review, as a ‘transformative’ implementation of technology in education.

Paynter’s Canadian contemporary R. Murray Schafer is a little more radical in his call for change in music education:

“The basic vocabulary of music will change. We will perhaps speak of ‘sound objects’, of ‘envelopes’ and ‘onset transients’ instead of ‘triads’ ‘sforzando’ and ‘appogiatura’ … Students will perhaps be trained to describe music in terms of exact frequencies or frequency bands rather than in the limited nomenclature of the tonal system” (Schafer 1969, 3).

In The New Soundscape Schafer deals much more with music as sound, diverting attention away from its notated representation, in a discursive style of teaching where he explores concepts with the students rather than lecture to students about them.

Pockets of ground-breaking pedagogy such as this were accompanied by ongoing debates within the field of psychology from the 50’s, when Guilford expressed a need for research into divergent thinking in education in his presidential address to the American Psychological Association. Constructivism was also coming to the fore in educational research, with it’s roots in the works of Piaget and Dewey, stressing the importance of activity-based learning; the students’ construction of their own understanding; and a reassessment of the teacher-student relationship to one of partnership rather than instruction. Despite these debates, the surrounding educational environment remained cautious. ‘Creativity’ in an educational context was still being avoided due to problems with definition and criteria, and possibly as a result of previous ‘unscientific’ attempts (Webster 2009).

Webster discusses some of the recent developments in research for the teaching of music and creativity against the backdrop of this slow and reluctant uptake on the part of schools and institutions in North America. Webster notes the increasing presence within the modern educational research literature, of the post-modern tendency to question inherited conceptual systems; to favour more the analysis of the surrounding social contexts; as well as the use of qualitative methodologies. Although the positivist approach is still important for curricula and teaching praxis, Webster observes a shift in educational theory from the assessment of composed pieces as final products to the learning process itself. Meanwhile, Webster notes the tendency for music teachers in North America to concentrate on musical performance rather than composition, focusing mostly on students who exhibit some talent for performance in the first place, while according to his account the Australian and English systems had apparently incorporated a more balanced approach.

However, in the UK, Faultley (2004) documents how the reformative campaign in music pedagogy in the 70’s went into a gradual decline, as educational institutions found it increasingly difficult to incorporate it into their ever more exacting curricula. The exploration of sounds, so bravely put forward by Paynter and Schafer, seemed to show no signs of progress in a young persons’ education. Such unregulated experimentation and lack of evaluative criteria tarnished the word ‘creativity’ in the minds of those who were drafting the national curricula for England and Wales in the 90’s. They replaced ‘creativity’ with the word ‘composition’, with all the connotations of creating artistic objects more aligned with the older ‘proven’ tradition of composers, as it reflected better the rest of the internal structure of curricula at the time. The hegemonic influence embodied in the writings of educators like Kitson became a touchstone for training in harmony, which at its best enabled students to write passable imitations of Bach chorales.

Such a rigorous transformation of creative exercises into quantifiable summative assessments is observed by Faultley (2004a) as resulting in the neglect of the student’s qualitative interaction with the music. For example, if a piece made use of an ostinato rhythm it didn’t really matter what it sounded like or whether the student liked it, as long as the student could identify it as an ‘ostinato’. Driven by the need for formative assessment, and a noted climate of fear in this regard from the Office For Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED), teachers developed different strategies for intervention into the group creative work based on the requirements of the lesson, rather than trying to engage the students in open-ended creative work as such.

Atkinson (2000) discusses the possible repercussions of an educational system that relies heavily on quantifiable goals. A narrowing of focus, driven by a desire for results, utilizes an approach of ‘what works’ – resulting in the increased centralization of content and delivery across the board. She cites the National Literacy and Numeracy strategies in the UK, of 1998 and 1999 respectively, as examples of this blanket application of practicality that have only the semblance of a solution. The database for classroom practice offered by OFSTED in 1998 is another point in case – where it was claimed that further educational research might be unnecessary due to the supposed scope in the database of possible classroom situations. Atkinson describes a counter move to this situation based on the ideology of post-modernism.

The unsettling of accepted frameworks in all disciplines drives the particular focus on education in post-modern thinking as the site for challenging the inheritance of out-dated ideals. Atkinson offers the ultimatum that educational practice will either narrow further down along the line of ‘what works’ and ‘best practice’ to the point of alienation of the students from the process, or else broaden to a policy of embracing multiple voices and perspectives. The obvious danger of the latter is the so-called ‘balkanization’ and loss of standards/quality in education and culture, but this has to be weighed against the erosion of differences “in the quest of national standards” (Atkinson 2000).

The slow re-admittance of ‘creativity’ in education, according to Faultley (2004), arrives at:

“the post-creative stage, which could therefore be regarded as post-postmodernism. Rejectionism has itself been rejected. Non-hegemonic relativism has been replaced by ideas of inclusion, wherein different musics are valued in their own right. The tacitly understood notion of creative music, that music could spring fully-formed from inexperienced pupils, has been replaced by notions of progression in learning” (Faultley, 2004. 346. My italics)

No longer do the creative exercises by students necessarily have to be weighed as artistic objects according to a tradition, but as signs of some progression in learning, which also may be valued independently. ‘Pluralistic Developmentalism’ is a key term suggested by Faultley to describe this new version of creativity which celebrates many forms of music-making; seeks to help pupils to learn; and ultimately allows students to move along what he describes as a ‘novice-expert continuum’. There is a hint of this continuum in Paynter’s work from the 70’s, as he suggests further listening at the end of each creative exercise, where the student can hear a contemporary composer using the same techniques covered in the lesson. The need for quantifiable goals in subsequent years of educational practice drove the composers/experts out of the sphere of influence, replaced by a curriculum that presented the same techniques merely as something the student had to do to progress in a system of learning, devoid of its original artistic context. Open-ended learning, with interaction between novices and current practitioners of the subject or art, is proposed by Faultley as a possible antidote for the blanket approach of standardized curricula.

While a ‘novice-expert continuum’ may be facilitated by schemes whereby a composer works with groups to help create a piece of music, as described by Kaschub (1997), the ubiquity of alternative influences on a student in an age of information presents both a threat to the validity of formal learning as well as an opportunity for engaged learning.

Giddens (1990) suggests three basic characteristics of the late-modern era that may account for a replacement even closer to the individual student than that of standardized curricula. The detachment of time from space, as a result of a dependence on high-speed information; the disembedding mechanisms of late modernity which displace institutions (cultural and otherwise) from their place in local society to a more centralized and global stage; and lastly the resultant prerogative of the reflexive project of both institutions and individuals in such an age where information is ubiquitous and constantly updated.

At no other time in our historical review has the incongruity of context between education and its surroundings been felt to such an extent as the present, ‘late modern’ or ‘postmodern’ age. For example the students in Paynter’s class would generally have had to be informed by the teacher of the likeness of their projects to compositions of the avant-guard, such as Stockhausen. Student access to these resources were facilitated in the 70’s by magnetic tape technology. Now, with the ubiquitous presence of influences (musical and otherwise) provided by Web 2.0, and young peoples’ engagement with those influences on that platform, we have a situation where the student already has a long list of influences that inform their evaluation of presentations made by the teacher.

Partti and Karlsen (2010) offer a description of the kinds of musical engagements that might preoccupy a young person outside of their formal education. The list goes from constantly listening to his/her iPod in many different situations (such as travelling on the bus, or ‘creating their own space’ while studying in a noisy environment); to playing music-orientated games like Guitar Hero; to playing a gig in Second Life. Examples like these are not only recreational, but tend to be instrumental in the construction of a young persons identity.

The importance of identity, and of the relationship between motivation and identity, was illustrated by a study carried out by Macdonald et al. (2002). In the introduction to this study, music is identified as a crucial part of our identities, as identity construction is increasingly a need of our time. A continuing lack of clear social hierarchy opens up more and more choices for us to make, unlike traditional society where much of this was decided for the individual. Macdonald et al. identify music as a crucial part of this reflexive process, especially as it is facilitated in different ways by online Communities of Practice and music sharing websites like YouTube. The study, however, deals with communities of practice not necessarily mediated by the internet. Instead Jazz music as a profession is taken to be an example of a community with which one identifies, and within which one constructs and identity. A focus group involving professional Jazz musicians was held in order to collate individuals’ experiences of the profession in both a strict sense (summarized in the study by the title ‘Jazz is’) and in the broad sense of a lifestyle (‘Jazz life is’). Among the findings was the idea that identity construction is the result of negotiation with other identities, and that where a conflict of identities arose ‘hegemonic influences’ came into play.

The second focus group held and presented in this study centered around musical pedagogy – the relationship between musical identity and motivation. Focus groups comprising of teachers, parents and students helped clarify that the construction of a positive musical identity is a deciding factor in a student’s motivation to learn. Children with internal motivations, such as self-interest, displayed ‘mastery’ behavior, where obstacles to their learning were seen to be surmountable. Children with external motivations, such as seeking to please parents, were observed to display ‘helpless’ behavior, where the situation was out of their control.

The value a student places on a lesson was further broken down into Value; Expectancy; and Affective components (Eccles et al, 1983, as cited in Macdonald et al. 2002). Value components include attainment value (the value to the individual of achieving the task); utility value (the usefulness in future applications of what they are learning); perceived cost (as measured in time which could be spent doing other activities); and intrinsic interest (the joy and absorption in the task itself, for its own sake). It is this last component which is identified as most important and most conducive to creativity in a given subject (Amabile, 1996).

The particular example as studied by Partti and Karlsen (2010) is the Finnish website Mikseri, an independent music sharing website which encourages large discussion threads of comments on each members’ work. Aside from the more recreational functions a website like this provides such as ‘mood regulation’, it is a veritable playground for the construction and presentation of identities as well as being a site for informal learning-by-doing. Some of the example threads cited from the website exemplify the belief that learning of a more specific and applicable kind takes place there:

“I haven’t had any instrument lessons mainly because my own enthusiasm would have dropped right at the start if my parents had put me through piano lessons. I am simply not interested in studying ready-made stuff; I actually just want to come up with new things” (Mikseri member, as cited in Partti et al 2010, 374).

Although a sample of the members’ work would be interesting, the statement itself is a clear example of an education carried out mainly by self-directed activities, and motivated by an identity constructed primarily online. It is also a perfect expression of antithesis of what Wenger decried as the ‘obsessive focus on curricular content and test scores’ (Wenger 2006) of the present educational system, which discourages students from personal engagement in learning.

Examples such as this, and the fictional day-in-the-life account cited above, are offered by Partti and Karlsen as posing a threat to formal learning and universally applied curricula. The tendency towards the ‘destabilisation of cultural cannons’ in late modernity, as construed by Giddens (1990), along with the structural problems a rigid system faces in an increasingly fast-changing environment of information, both contribute to the danger of traditional learning being made redundant.


In summary, during the course of the 20th century, concepts like ‘originality’ and ‘creativity’ in musical education have surfaced and resurfaced in various forms. The presence of an unquestioned musical tradition influenced Grieg and Kitson to take a restrictive view on a student’s ‘originality’. Theoretical and technological advancements being explored by modern composers in the 70’s influenced educators like Paynter and Schafer to take creative and experimental approaches to teaching, also incorporating the new techniques and technologies in their lessons. The subsequent need for standardization then took elements of both of these schools of thought, but implemented rigorous controls which disembedded them from their original context, be they hegemonic or experimental. Faultley (2004) and Atkinson (2000) also observe this implementation to be part of a nationwide sweep of standardization. A longitudinal study by Bromley et al (2011) of social science text-books from 73 different countries over a 40 year period, demonstrated a similar correlation between the over-arching political climate and the general teaching styles employed in the schools.

However, an even more widespread disembedding mechanism, a characteristic of the ‘high-modern’ information age, has created a ubiquity of alternative influences for the student. The range of possible influences online is now so great that they present a need to create an identity, in what Giddens calls the ‘reflexive project’ of both people and institutions. In one century, a student-centered approach in musical pedagogy (and education in general) has gone from one cautiously considered to one which may be necessary if formal education is to survive in any meaningful way.

The present study will attempt to draft a student-centered teaching method for musical instrument pedagogy. By presenting the instrument as a creative tool, with which the student can construct their own understanding of music, there is a possibility that the reign of influences from either side (teacher’s or student’s) is kept at bay for the sake of a more open-ended approach. Rather than simply importing the content of a student’s influences from the internet into a music lesson, this study proposes ‘creative experiments’ with the means of production behind these influences – much in the same way as Paynter presented the new techniques before supplying the recommended listening. As such, the instrument will be presented as a creative tool among others, in a learning process that also employs digital tools for the creation of music.

Use of web-based technology will facilitate a more active learning that has an asynchronous element which allows students to add to their own projects in their own time in the intervening week between lessons, utilizing the high-modern condition of ‘separation of time and space’ as construed by Giddens.