Creativity and the Teaching of Music and Dance

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Michael Ohene-Okantah


A central aim of the new Music and Dance syllabus is "to help pupils to develop
initiative and understanding in creativity in the Performing Arts, and in other artistic activities".
It is also stated in the rationale for teaching music and dance that the arts involve
composition and performance, that is, creation and presentation, which "help to enhance
the creative abilities and aesthetic sensibilities of individuals" .It is obvious, therefore, that
nurturing the musical creative potential in children is a major focus of the new syllabus.
Creativity, however, is a subject still under intense debate, and a lack of its proper
understanding by music educators will undermine their ability to achieve the goals of the new
The paper, therefore, is an attempt to provide a working definition of the concept of
creativity, and how it applies to children's music education. Webster's model of creative
thinking in music (Webster, 1984a) will be a major point of reference.


Even though the place of music in Ghanaian education is somewhat tenuous, issues concerning music education continue to engage the attention of music educators. One would say it is even gathering momentum. It is hoped that sooner than later such discussions would grab the attention of the powers that be to adopt proper policies, as well as serve to motivate members of the profession to continue the fight to place music where it belongs in school education. In fact, it would be suicidal to the profession if the members cease to talk about it. Ironically, the introduction of the new Music and Dance syllabus seemed to have made the waters even murkier. At this point in time, however, the dust seems to be settling, and we are getting a handle on the new syllabus, as is reflected in this year's presentations.

The major issue that engaged our attention at the 21st Confab at Akropong was the philosophical basis for music education. That discussion served to awake us to the necessity for a strong rationale for our existence. One would not say philosophical issues have been exhausted, but somehow, now a working rationale for music education has been formulated, which has served as the basis for the current goals of school music education for Basic Schools in Ghana. Whereas the concept of cultural education through music was not lost on the planners of the new syllabus, creativity in music education seems to have assumed center stage. In fact, a quick glance through the syllabus would indicate that creativity within the context of music education as arts education seems to be both the underlying and overriding principle of the new syllabus.

The purpose of this paper, therefore, is an attempt to provide a working definition of the concept of creativity, and how it could be applied to children's music education. It is important from the very outset that despite genetic differences in cognitive and affective creative gifts everyone can become a more flexible and creative thinker.

Creativity is a complex issue, and I do not claim total originality for all the ideas expressed here. An attempt has, however, been made to synthesize major concepts in creative thinking, starting with a general overview in a content-free fashion, highlighting how it features in the new syllabus, and, finally, touching on some practical implications for the music curriculum and classroom. A developmental approach to learning underlies the paper, and teachers' knowledge of levels of pupils' musical development is considered crucial to effective music teaching. When the teacher understands the child he is able to adapt both content, and method to suit both group and individual needs.

The New Music and Dance Syllabus

The new music and dance syllabus was an attempt to separate Music from Cultural Studies, and let it stand as an independent subject. Whether this purpose has been achieved by coupling Music with Dance is still subject to debate. However, one thing that can be said for the syllabus is that the syllabus is really new in several respects.

In the first place, there is a deliberate departure from and de-emphasis on Western content and approach to music teaching and learning as has pertained in Ghana over the years. Thus, it is a real first attempt to adopt African approach to music making as method of music teaching in schools - practical aural-oral approach. Secondly, there is evidence of strife to bring a fusion and balance between cultural and contemporary thinking in music education. Also, one clearly senses a conscious reference to psychological principles in curriculum planning in music education. Perhaps, most important and striking is the specific reference to creativity as one of the profile dimensions for teaching, learning, and assessment. Indeed, there is no way children are going to be prepared to "contribute to national artistic excellence" as stated in the general aims of the syllabus if their creative potentials are not developed. And where can such creative potential be nurtured more than through a well-structured education in the arts?

That is not to say, however, that there are no difficulties in dealing with the syllabus. An immediate one might be the tying of music to dance (a real challenge to teachers with only musical training). The non-examinable status of music at the Basic level also poses a challenge. The absence of rudiments of music at the lower levels, and the lack of adequate teaching and learning materials for music are all legitimate and genuine concerns. At this point in time, however, what I perceive to be the major challenge is the need to understand the theoretical foundation of the syllabus, that is, creativity, as well as information on children's developmental stages in music. These theoretical difficulties create practical problems for music teachers, not the least of these being structuring the details of the teaching syllabus in order to achieve the stated goals.

What is Creativity?

The question of the nature of creativity is elusive even to scientists (Michaud & Wild, 1991: 186). Yet there are many definitions and theories that seek to simplify and explain this complex phenomenon. And though Freeman, Butcher and Christie (1968 cited in Davis, 1992: 38) conclude that "there is no unified psychological theory of creativity", they indicate that such terms as imagination, ingenuity, innovation, intuition, invention, discovery, and originality are used interchangeably with creativity. Even more elusive is the source of creativity. Some have credited it to muses, gods, inspiration, or somehow tapping into a universal intelligence (Davis, 1992). According to Adeyanju (1996:1), creativity is the capacity of persons to produce compositions, and ideas of any sort, which are essentially novel and previously unknown to the producer. DeTurk (1989: 27 in Boardman (Ed)) indicates that it is "high-level thinking with a specialized purpose - the production of something new". Creativity is therefore used interchangeably with Creative Thinking. Webster (1998a) prefers the latter.
I See Music and dance Syl1abus (CRDD, 1999)

Perhaps, the definition stated in the new syllabus would summarize it:

Creativity is the ability to produce novel work that is accepted as tenable, useful or satisfying by a group at some point in time. Creativity includes novel compositions, improvisations, ... re-creation and interpretation of existing works in different ways (CRDD, 1999:ix)

In a broader sense, however, creativity is usually defined in terms of four P's: the creative person, the creative product, the creative process and the creative press (environment, climate, ambience, place). Most definitions focus on one or some combinations of these. The P's are interrelated: Creative products are the outcomes of creative processes engaged in by creative persons, all of which are supported by a creative environment (press) (Davis, 1992).

Creative Person

Definitions with a person orientation focus on personality traits of creative people. Rank (1945 cited in Davis 1992:40) describes a creative person as the artist or the man of will and deed, someone who has a strong, positive, integrated personality and who "is at one with himself; what he does he does fully and completely in harmony with all his powers and ideals". Adeyanju's (1961) definition fits in here.

Sternberg (1988a cited in Davis, 1992:41) gives a three-dimensional portrait ofa creative person - Intelligence, Cognitive style, and Personality/Motivational skills. Intelligence, from Sternberg's information processing theory perspective, can be summarized as mental ability with emphasis on verbal ability, fluent thought, knowledge, planning, problem defining, strategy formulation, mental representation, decisional skill, and general intellectual balance and integration. Cognitive style, found in creative persons, evolve around low conventionality: a preference for creating one's own rules and doing things one's own way, liking for problems that are not pre¬structured, an enjoyment of writing, designing, and creating, and a preference for creative occupations, such as writer, scientist, artist, or architect. Personality/motivation dimension include tolerance for ambiguity, flexibility, drive for accomplishment and recognition, perseverance in the face of obstacles, willingness to grow in creative performance, and moderate risk-taking.

Creative Process

Torrance (1955, 1988 cited in Davis, 1992:43) describes creative thinking as the process of (1) sensing difficulties, problems, gaps in information, missing elements, something askew; (2) making guesses, and formulating hypotheses; (3) evaluating and testing these guesses and hypotheses; (4) possibly revising and retesting them; and finally (5) communicating the results. In that regard the creative process is not different from the scientific method.

Wallas' (1926 cited in Davis, 1992:) stage theory outlines four steps of the creative process consisting of preparation, incubation, illumination and verification.

Preparation includes exploring and clarifying the situation, thinking about requirements for a good solution, gathering and reviewing relevant data, itemizing available materials and resources, etc. Incubation may be viewed as a period of preconscious, off-conscious or even unconscious mental activity. Guilford (1979 cited in Davis, 1992:101) suggested that incubation takes place during reflection, a pause in action, and that some people are simply more reflective than others.

Illumination The "Aha!" or "Eureka!" experience. Basically, there is a sudden change in perception, a new idea combination, or transformation that produces a solution that appears to meet the requirements of the problem.; usually followed by a good feeling, excitement.

Verification is checking and communicating the solution. The stages are not an invariant sequence. The creative person usually moves between stages until the final product is realized. Usually a creative idea is a combination of previously unrelated ideas or new relations among ideas. An example is the myriads of different compositions that have been spun from the diatonic scale. Therefore, the creative process is the process of combining those ideas or perceiving those relationships.

Creative Product

Definitions that focus on the creative product invariably emphasize originality, including practical value and social worth. Novelty is not necessarily synonymous with originality. Baron (1988 cited in Davis, 1992:48) adds another dimension to this definition - aptness or fitness - aesthetic fitness, ecological fitness, optimum form, being right as well as original at the moment. The emphasis is fresh, novel, unusual, ingenious, clever, and apt. It is important to note that assembling high quality creative combinations normally requires considerable experience, highly developed technical and stylistic skills, high en,ergy, a lively imagination, and a polished aesthetic taste to know when the idea combination is "good" (Davis, 1992:46).

Creative Press

Creative press is the social and psychological environment. The environment may repress imagination, creativity, or innovation, as in institutions that seem devoted to the status quo; also as in cultures where conformity, tradition and role obligations are stressed (Davis, 1992:48). A favourable creative press occurs in brainstorming sessions with the defining principle of deferred judgment (no criticism, no evaluation). Carl Rogers (1962 cited in Davis, 1992:49) calls it psychological safety; this can also occur in a classroom where a creative climate encourages creative thinking and innovation. Many creative innovations are in response to social needs, e.g. inventions; many types of innovations also require a sufficiently advanced stage of culture and technical heritage. It is society, which decides who and what is creative Creative thinking is a way of living. It involves personality characteristics, attitudes, motivations and conscious predisposition to think creatively. It is a lifestyle, a way of growing and a way of perceiving the world. Living creatively is developing your talents, and learning to use your abilities, and striving to become what you are capable of becoming.

It is noteworthy that children can be creative as well as adults of ninety years or more. Some experts have emphasized sudden insight or systematic work. Creativity is due partly to genetics and partly to environment, which means that creativity can be taught and learned to some degree. There is a balance between personality characteristics, and training/experience. Social circumstances (the social atmosphere) can support or repress creativity - society determines what is creative.


"Creative thinking in music is a dynamic mental process, alternating between divergent (imaginative) and convergent (factual) thinking, moving in stages over time. It is enabled by internal musical skills, and outside conditions, and results in a final product which is new for the creator" Webster (1988).

The basis of the model and the resulting definition may be summarized as follows:

  1. Creative behaviour is normal human response as opposed to an expression of mental illness.
  2. The source of creative power is natural in origin as opposed to supernatural ongm.
  3. Some relationships exist between creativity and cognitive intelligence, and definite groups of cognitive abilities are involved in creative thinking.
  4. Factors guiding the creative process spring largely from rational choice under the guidance of a pervading creative idea rather than from some form of inspiration.
  5. The form of the final creative expression is communicable in a material result. 6. The recognition of the problem, accumulation of facts and materials, and the development of the problem through manipulation characterize stages of the creative process.
  6. In terms of mental activity during creation, the process is an interaction between conscious and non-conscious states.

Webster further indicates that some tentative findings from research into creative thinking in music with children could be summarized as follows:

  1. Musical divergent production skills are measurable and play an important role in the creative thinking process.
  2. Musical divergent production skills are not significantly related to traditional measures of musical aptitude (the discrimination of similar and different tonal and rhythmic patterns) and seem to play an independent role in the definition of musical intelligence.
  3. Musical achievement (training in the knowledge of musical content) does affect the performance on musical divergent production skills.
  4. Cognitive intelligence, academic achievement, and gender, do not seem to be significantly related to musical production skills.

Product Intention

Webster (1988) identifies three principal ways that people involve themselves with music as art:

  1. Composition - the conception and recording of sound structures for presentation at a later time.
  2. Performance/Improvisation - the transmission of sound structures that are either composed previously or actually conceived by the performer at the time of performance. It is referred to as "re-creation" in the new syllabus
  3. Analysis/Listening - the process of understanding and explicating sound structures in written, verbal, or mental from (in the case of active listening).

Thus creativity may be considered from product or process viewpoint, and Composition, Performance/Improvisation and Analysis/ Listening may be considered at the outset of creative thinking as goals or "intentions" of the creator.

Enabling Skills

With the intentions established, the creator must rely on a set of skills that allow for the thinking process to occur. These skills form the basis of a musical intelligence and interact with the thinking process in very rich and profound ways. They are a group of four:

  1. Musical Aptitudes - individual skills that are likely to be subject to great influence by the environment during the early years of development and possibly into early adult life. They include skills of tonal and rhythmic imagery, musical syntax, musical extensiveness, flexibility, and originality.
  2. Conceptual understanding - single cognitive facts that constitute the substance of musical understanding. This involves the understanding of concepts relating to the elements of music - melody, harmony, rhythm, form, etc.
  3. Craftsmanship - the ability to apply factual knowledge in the service of a complex musical task. This involves the skillful use of the elements of music in creating, since "creative musical thinking most often involves the unique, personal manipulation of the materials of music as currently understood by the creative thinker" (DeTurk, in Boardman (Ed) 1989:21).
  4. Aesthetic sensitivity - the shaping of sound structures to capture the deepest levels of feelingful response; achieved over the full length of a musical work. "Aesthetic sensitivity concerns the individual's response to the expressive qualities of the Arts. It involves the development of an attitude, which promotes initiative and the desire to continue to participate in and value the Performing Arts. Aesthetic sensitivity is an 'affective' quality, which consists of a number of learning and behavioral levels such as receiving, responding, valuing, and organizing" (CRDD, 1999:ix).

The uses of these enabling skills vary according to the product intention. Yet the composer, performer, and listener must all possess an understanding of the materials of music - rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, and timbral concepts. In turn, this knowledge is built on an innate core of aptitudes that has been nurtured by the environment. As the creator begins to gain a storehouse of experiences based on the interaction of aptitudes and learned information, the application to solve musical problems begins to reveal craftsmanship. When this craftsmanship is accompanied by the creator's ability to communicate meaningful musical substance over a long time span, then aesthetic sensitivity is in evidence.

Enabling Conditions

In addition to personal skills that drive the creative thinking process, there are a number of variables to be considered that are not musical. These influences vary from person to person and mingle with musical skills in profound ways.

  1. Motivation - those drives (both external and internal) that help keep the creator on task.
  2. Subconscious imagery - mental activity that occurs quite apart from the conscious mind and that may help to inform the creative process during times when the creator is occupied consciously with other concerns.
  3. Environment - the characteristics of the creator's working conditions that contribute to the creative process, including financial support, family conditions, musical instruments, acoustics, societal expectations etc.
  4. Personality - factors such as risk taking, spontaneity, openness, perspicacity, sense of humour, and preference for complexity or ambiguity hold some significance for enabling the creative process.

In terms of child development in creative thinking in music, environment must be singled out as a major factor. There is evidence that teaching and exposure to musical experiences can influence certain convergent listening skills such as tonal and rhythmic imagery before the age of 9 or 10. An encouraging environment for the skills of conceptual understanding, craftsmanship, and aesthetic sensitivity is vital. For adults and children alike, hostile environments can be a great detriment to creative thinking. For children, this may include a harsh and unsympathetic music teacher. Criticism of children's early efforts at creating squelches their creativity. So also can restriction on the use of musical instruments and equipment either at home or in the school.

Thinking Process

The model indicates movement between two types of thinking, - Divergent and Convergent thinking - facilitated by stages of operation.

Divergent thinking involves the generation of many possible sohltions to a given problem - a kind of personal brainstorming. This type of thinking is at the heart of creative thought. It occurs when teachers ask children for many possible answers. For example, children could be challenged to discover how many different sounds a percussion instrument makes or how many techniques might be used in playing it. In divergent thinking, imagination plays an important role and is fueled by the individual's conceptual understanding of the material itself.

Convergent thinking, on the other hand, involves the weighting of those several possibilities and "converging" on the best possible answer. At some point, after amassing a number of possibilities, this thinking process must give way to a more convergent filtering. The mind must sift through the mass of possibilities in order to "create" a final product.

Direct relationships between these modes of thinking and the enabling skills and conditions are noted on the model. The aptitudes of tonal and rhythmic imagery and musical syntax are more clearly connected to convergent thinking. Tonal and rhythmic imagery concern the ability to perceive sound in relation to change and involve the representation of sound in short-term memory. Musical syntax is the ability to shape musical expressions (usually during improvisation activities) in a logical manner according to patterns of musicahepetition, contrast, and sequencing (Webster, 1983). It is closely related to aesthetic sensitivity.

The aptitudes of extensiveness, flexibility, and originality are connected to divergent thinking. Extensiveness is a measure of a person's ability to generate a number of musical ideas or solutions to problems. Flexibility can be seen in the skill necessary to move within the musical parameters of tempo (fast/slow), dynamics (loud/soft), and pitch (high/low). Originality can be seen as uniqueness of the musical expression.

These qualities interact with others such as a child's musical understandings and sensitivities, ability to imagine pitches and rhythms, and ability to craft a piece to effect the final product of the creative effort. Conceptual understanding directly impacts both divergent and convergent thinking. The more musical content in the mind's "databank" the better. And convergent thinking requires the continued development of a knowledge base. Craftsmanship and aesthetic sensitivity are also connected to convergent thinking. A direct link between subconscious imagery and incubation is obvious.

Enabling conditions play important roles in all stages of the creative process and in each of the thought modes. From the standpoint of the teacher, the the key is to establish an environment that fosters creative thinking in music rather than ignored or left to chance.

Movement between Modes of Thought: Stages
The movement betWeen divergent and convergent thinking is characterized by stages, which first begin with a preparatory phase. It is here that the creator first becomes aware of the problems on hand and the dimensions of the total work that lies ahead. It may take the form of initial listening for one who wishes to analyze or listen creatively to a work, initial reading and quick analysis for a performer, or rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic sketches, or early decisions about form for the composer.

Incubation may take the form of subconscious imagery or some "informal" thinking of the problems at hand. It is during this phase that divergent thinking may play a crucial role.
Moving to the stage of illumination, solutions to problems might come suddenly or in a number of small solutions that begin to point the way for the final solution. Movement between divergent and convergent thinking becomes more weighted toward convergent processing. Craftsmanship and aesthetic sensitivity become important here as the work moves towards final closure with internal motivation.
For musical creative thinking, illumination blends imperceptibly with verification. As final drafts' of a composition are completed, the composer may seek as many opportunities to hear the piece as possible, often seeking the opinion of fellow musicians.
From this discussion of Webster's model of creative thinking in music, it is evident that the new syllabus is actually based on it. Music teachers may not immediately grasp its intricacies, but there is no gainsaying the fact that its proper understanding would make the music teacher more flexible, effective, and creative in handling the new syllabus. A close study of the introductory pages of the syllabus would collaborate this assertion. In fact, without this theoretical understanding, it is doubtful if music teachers can make much of the syllabus.

Nurturing Creative Thinking in Children

Discussing the role of creativity in the music curriculum, Kratus (1990: 33-37) points out the need for a scheme that brings structure and sequence to the learning that should occur in music education. Furthermore, he stresses that for creativity to take its place in the music curriculum, a set of clearly articulated goals and objectives must be developed to guide creative learning. No doubt, these goals and objectives must take into consideration the components of creativity, the nature of the subject, and the nature of the learner. Objectives and methods of music instruction must, therefore, encompass the three P's, namely, the kind of personality characteristics we must develop in children through music education, the creative processes children must master, and the quality of creative products they must be able to create.

Creative Thinking and the Child

Campbell and Scott-Kassner (1995) indicate that to a large extent, everything the young child does musically comes out of his or her creative imagination and exploration. It satisfies the inherent desire children have to generate and manipulate sounds, and eventually organize them in structures. They further state that this desire continues through the elementary years and beyond, arguing that children are able to invent sounds and rhythms for say a rap, improvise a melody on say a xylophone, or work in groups to choreograph a favourite musical selection. The creative impulse, Campbell and Scott-Kassner (1995), opine, is alive in children of all ages, and the music classroom is an ideal setting to stimulate the growth of that creativity beyond the initial stages of exploration and discovery. The arts come into being through the creativity of individuals and groups. To deny children the opportunity to work creatively with the materials and structures of music is to limit their capacity to think artistically, and, ultimately to limit the full exploration of what it means to be musical. Teaching music without allowing children to compose would be like teaching art without allowing children to draw or paint. Including composition and improvisation as sequentially developed aspects of a general music programme provides the third element of a balanced programme of listening, preforming, and creating.


The challenge in teaching music is to implement a curriculum that balances performing, listening, and creating. Teachers are naturally drawn to teach those things with which they are the most familiar. Because so much to their own musical training required the development of high level of performance skills, teachers are drawn to emphasize performance with childrell. Yet, teacher who are willing to develop the processes of listening and creating with children will find the rewards gratifying.
Quality programmes in composition and improvisation will foster many important skills. Children will develop a sense of control over the materials of music as they engage in aesthetic decision making. The result is a feeling of pride and of ownership of their ideas. They will develop a musical vocabulary of sounds, patterns, and concepts with which to create musical syntax, assisting them in thinking musically. They will learn to apply critical and creative thinking skills to the process of making musical decisions. These skills will transfer from composing to listening and performing. Children will learn to work cooperatively with others in the composition process. They will learn to assess their own work and the work of others. They will discover that effective composition involves craft, not just inspiration. Children will grow creatively, critically, musically, and aesthetically. Pablo Picasso remarked, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once she grows up." Having provided this theoretical framework, it hoped that a future article would deal with the more practical issues ofpracticalizing the new syllabus.


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