Creativity in the College Music Classroom: Guidelines for Effective Integration

September 12, 2016


We have many reasons to focus on developing student creativity in the course of music study, including demonstrating relevance to a culture that values creativity, promoting student self-actualization and adaptability, increasing engagement in material, and laying a foundation for our students to succeed in any career path. In addition, focusing on creativity furthers many of the goals of proposed curriculum reforms without the need for extensive curriculum and faculty restructuring. Musicians’ writings on creativity have typically focused on primary or secondary education and equated creativity with composition or improvisation, but post-secondary curricula, from academic courses to methods courses to private instruction, also rely on and can develop this quality. Therefore we and our students will benefit if we understand creativity more fully and interpret the results of research on creativity in ways appropriate to our field.

Creativity is usually defined by researchers as the intersection of novelty and value. Creativity can inspire deeper understanding of factual material, but it also depends on an adequate pre-existing base of knowledge. Researchers have also identified the importance of examples, time spent away from a task, ways of increasing motivation, a safe environment, and collaboration. A focus on creativity also has implications for assessment. This article brings together these perspectives from other fields and demonstrates their application and performance in our own.


Many of us assume that the study of music inherently involves creativity. Yet merely interacting with a creative art does not guarantee creative practice, and it is common to hear of students who feel that the particular ways in which post-secondary music training often involves subjecting music to rules, memorizing facts and ideas, having required work, and being graded has removed the creativity from their involvement with music.1 Even were this not a significant concern, changes in the nature and availability of music careers should inspire us to try to maximize our students’ inventiveness. The College Music Society’s Task Force on the Undergraduate Music Major noted the importance of creativity in global music-making, but asserted that “contemporary tertiary-level music study… remains lodged in a cultural, aesthetic, and pedagogical paradigm that is notably out of step with this broader reality.” The Task Force’s report therefore made a focus on creativity one of its three pillars of reform.2

At the same time, “creativity” has become a watchword in our broader culture, in discussions of education, business, and science, among others.3 A 1999 report by the British National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education pointed out that the current educational system was “designed to meet the needs of a world that was being transformed by industrialisation,” despite the shift to “knowledge-based economies” where employers require innovative, creative employees.4 In addition, creativity can have a role in the difficult-to-define but crucial process of “self-actualization,” through which people more fully embody their potential.5 Many of our students, even in prominent conservatories, do not go on to professional careers in music, but enter other fields or paths in life where creativity is more likely to be valuable than, say, skill with an instrument or eighteenth-century voice leading. To prepare all our students for a world that values creativity, to demonstrate our value to the broader culture, and to prepare future teachers to inspire their students in turn and adapt to a changing musical landscape, we need to understand, and foster, creativity.6

Creativity is also valuable for its direct effects on many important goals of music training. This is perhaps obvious when we are training an essentially creative art, but two aspects that may be overlooked bear mentioning. First, because creativity can foster engagement, it can encourage greater learning even in knowledge-based contexts, and can reward deeper thinking.7 Second, more career-focused music programs often emphasize creativity. For example, The Music Producer’s Survival Guide lists four important attributes of successful music production: creative, relevant, innovative, productive.8 Most of these can be reframed as components of creativity (and they are all presented in the context of a chapter on creativity), as the two crucial elements of the definition of creativity given below are novelty (innovation) and appropriateness (relevance). In any music training program, creativity is likely to be necessary for future (and maybe present) success.

Yet perhaps the most important benefit of an emphasis on creativity as a component of music education is the fact that it can be applied immediately and by individual instructors. Many calls for music education reform focus on curricular change and other large-scale restructuring: the CMS Task Force on the Undergraduate Music Major, for example, asserted that “nothing short of rebuilding the conventional model from its foundations will suffice,” while David A. Williams comments (under the title “The Baby and the Bathwater”), “It is very possible, as we move further into the twenty-first century, that nibbling around the edges of curriculum change is absolutely not enough.”9 While fundamental changes may certainly be valuable, potential obstacles like the need for new faculty and institutional coordination are great. Yet even small advances in creative content can improve educational outcomes: a study on self-reported student motivation and creativity in the classroom found that there was no difference between classes led by instructors who engaged moderately in creativity-fostering activities and those who engaged highly in such activities—both saw increased motivation compared to classes led by instructors who did not engage in such activities.10 Even a moderate focus on creativity can help us reach many of the goals of proposed curriculum reforms, from greater relevance to greater choice to more transferrable skills, much more immediately.11

Should we decide to follow this path, there are many new tools and ideas available to us. Scholarship on defining, fostering, measuring, and advocating creativity has been particularly active in the past twenty-five years, including notably in the work of Teresa M. Amabile, Robert J. Sternberg, Keith Sawyer, Mark A. Runco, and, with particular relevance to arts education, Sir Ken Robinson. There is also an extensive secondary literature that gives suggestions on how to apply this scholarship to the classroom, some of which is referenced to research and much of which is not.

Yet discussions of creativity in the music education literature typically focus on primary or secondary education and equate creativity with composition or improvisation. The Contemporary Music Project For Creativity in Music Education of the 1960s, for example, emphasized education in, and production of, new music, and Justin Gray’s 1960 article “Music Education and Creativity” cited a dictionary definition of “creation,” not “creativity.”12 More modern studies often measure students’ creativity in composition or improvisation, and one article even investigated the statements of recognized “great” composers of the twentieth- century—called in the title of the article “masters of creativity”—to distill implications for music education.13 There are exceptions: Peter R. Webster proposes a model of creative thinking in music and explicitly links it to improvisation, listening, written composition and analysis, while Deborah Rifkin uses literature on creativity to frame and evaluate an approach to texture and timbre analysis.14 But these are relatively limited in scope.

Creativity can be stimulated in a variety of musical activities, not just those focused solely on composition and improvisation. Creativity can arise in academic projects on music, interpretation through performance, and many other media. It can result in the recording of a crossover album, the stating of a particularly groundbreaking idea, a fruitful research plan, or a new way of collaborating. We can encourage creativity throughout the musical lives of our students through a variety of learning activities. But to do so, we must have a clear understanding of what creativity is, and it will help to apply findings from modern research on creativity from other fields.

This article, therefore, will bring together important scholarship on creativity from multiple fields of study and apply it to teaching in music, particularly at the post-secondary level (though the implications are also relevant to other levels of education). It will start with a discussion of definitions of creativity, followed by a set of suggestions derived from influential research and ideas on how to foster creativity. Finally, it will provide suggestions on assessing creativity and prioritizing different kinds of change.


Creativity is traditionally defined by scholars as the generation of novel ideas that have value or are appropriate to the domain in which they exist.15 Both parts of this definition are important: novel ideas on their own are good but not sufficient. Value is difficult to judge, and may change as a group of people’s needs and expectations change. But it is not a useless concept: (for example) answering “How are you?” with “Walrus” is certainly novel, but so unrelated to our expectations for appropriate answers that it is not very valuable and, thus, not particularly creative in most situations.16 Both novelty and value/appropriateness can also be judged on multiple levels: an idea may be novel and valuable within a single person’s experience, or it may be novel and valuable to society as a whole. The former is sometimes called “little-c creativity,” and the latter “big-C Creativity.”17 In our teaching, we are most likely to focus on the former, though at least in part because it may lead to the latter.18

While this is the traditional definition of creativity, many scholars also discuss the importance of juxtaposing seemingly dissimilar things or ideas. For example, Des Griffin writes, “Besides the development of artistic works, [creativity] is intended to refer to the association of things that previously have not been associated.”19 Lene Tangaard and Christian Stadil, similarly, write: “Creative people combine things in new ways.”20 This aspect of creativity may be particularly valued by the business world: business textbook Problem Solving for Managers states, “The ability to tolerate ambivalence between opposites or two incompatible subjects is thought to characterize highly productive creative thinking.”21

Closely related to the connection of seemingly dissimilar ideas is divergent thinking. As Patti Drapeau describes, “Divergent thinking requires students to think of many different ideas, as opposed to convergent thinking, when there is only one right idea.”22 Divergent thinking can be measured through the number/fluency of ideas, originality of ideas, and flexibility of ideas.23 Both divergent thinking and juxtaposition of seemingly dissimilar things are clearly related to the quest for novelty and appropriateness, as both are particularly useful ways of generating novel ideas. Yet both are worth focusing on in and of themselves, as both directly relate to approaches to teaching.

Finally, it is worth noting that there may be multiple creativities just as there may be multiple intelligences. Robert J. Sternberg’s review of the literature suggests that these creativities may result from both domain-specific and general knowledge, different kinds of intelligence and their different combinations, both goal-directed and more random processes, and different kinds of creative results.24 In other words, creativity may come from different bases, and different results might be called creative for different reasons. This would imply that we should not always require students to approach creative tasks in the same way, for example, through random idea-generating (as opposed to goal-oriented) processes. Perhaps as a result, research on creativity has taken many different perspectives, as outlined by Hennessey and Amabile. As long as we keep this in mind, it is likely that the approaches suggested below will be useful in fostering many different kinds of creativities.

Classroom Application

One common suggestion for incorporating creativity is to develop what Teresa M. Amabile calls “techniques (or ‘heuristics’) for the exploration of new cognitive pathways,” using prompts such as “when all else fails, try something counterintuitive.”25 These may certainly be helpful, but of all the suggestions given here, this is the most likely to feel in some way “extra,” since internalizing such prompts and making a habit out of them is unlikely to be directly related to the core mission of a music class.

The following more relevant suggestions and reports do not give exhaustive lists of possible applications to specific classroom activities: rather, they are written so as to be broadly applicable. (Nevertheless, specific activities are suggested where appropriate.) The principles are elaborated below and presented here as an overview. The literature suggests that to lay a foundation for creativity, we should:

1. Understand and take advantage of the relationships between knowledge and creativity.
2. Use examples productively.
3. Provide down time.
4. Maximize productive forms of motivation, and minimize disruptive forms of motivation.
5. Create a safe environment.
6. Encourage collaboration.

1. Understand and take advantage of the relationships between knowledge and creativity. Creativity is not opposed to knowledge acquisition: that is, teachers need not choose between a creative classroom on the one hand and traditional memorization and skill building on the other. As many instructors know, creativity enhances learning. This is because “creativity increases motivation and engagement, which often results in an increase in achievement.”26 In part for this reason, Burleson reports that “imagination emerges as a productive activity facilitating learning, problem solving, and self-actualization.”27

Yet this works two ways: not only is knowledge acquisition aided by creative study, but an extensive literature indicates that creativity requires an adequate, pre-existing body of knowledge. This body of knowledge may assist in the generation of new ideas, but it is crucial in judging the value of a novel idea. This point of view is summarized as the “threshold theory” by Mark A. Runco:

Threshold theory suggests that there is a minimum level of intelligence (the lower threshold) below which the person cannot be creative. ... One important implication of threshold theory is that intelligence is necessary but not sufficient for creative achievement. Thus, if an individual is below the threshold, they simply cannot think for themselves well enough to do manifestly creative work. Above the threshold, they have the potential for creativity, but there is no guarantee.28

A theory of creativity presented by Amabile similarly emphasizes: “Expertise is the foundation for all creative work.”29 Traditional learning, including memorization, is important even in the creative classroom.30 This might explain, in part, why Myung-Sook Auh found that two of the greatest predictors of student creativity in music compositions were students’ musical achievement and academic grades, while Peter Webster found that “music achievement correlated significantly with all modes of creative behavior [composition, improvisation, and analysis] and was the single best predictor of each mode.”31 In both studies, achievement—academic or musical—seemed to be an important foundation for creativity.

2. Use examples productively. Giving students examples of other people’s solutions to a problem does not necessarily stifle creativity, and may even aid it at certain points in the creative process. Kulkarni et al. asked study participants to draw alien creatures, giving the participants examples at different points in the process and scoring participants’ drawings through counting uncommon and novel features in the drawings and through Likert-scale ratings by other raters. They report:

While exposure to examples increases conformity, such exposure early in the creative process improves the creativity in the output…. Furthermore, exposure to examples followed by prototyping and subsequent re-exposure to the same examples improved creative output even more.32

This suggests that, while not necessary, it may be useful and at least not harmful to give students examples of good responses to an assignment or activity, particularly when a certain degree of conformity (say, to stylistic or scholarly norms) is desired. Benefits may be increased if students then explore their own ideas (“prototyping”), followed by re-exposure to the examples.

3. Provide down time. Intriguingly, time spent away from a task, called “non-conscious cognitive process” (NCCP) time or an “incubation period,” may be beneficial for creativity. Ritter and Dijksterhuis found broad support for this idea in their review of the literature, specifically suggesting that “when stuck on a creative task, during an incubation period one should do something undemanding that is very different from the main task.”33 This would suggest that class periods that are packed full of similar activities and courses of study that allow for very little down time (particularly common in music study) are both likely barriers to creativity—and, unfortunately, both are difficult to avoid. But teachers who are willing to, say, give up some of the “material” their class teaches to allow for some less demanding in-class activities may experience some benefits. Coral Campbell and Beverly Jane also describe a study where students were introduced to a project and asked to brainstorm, then had several days before they were asked to complete it. Notably, the authors emphasize the importance of inputs before the NCCP period, in the form of well-defined tasks, content and process knowledge (the “expertise” that Amabile asserted is the foundation of creativity), learning strategies for higher-order and creative thinking, and brainstorming-type tasks. Campbell and Jane concluded, “We can definitively state that the inclusion of NCCP time enhanced creativity,” and added that a particularly helpful element was that students had time to discuss their projects with other people.34

4. Maximize productive forms of motivation, and minimize disruptive forms of motivation. Amabile’s article “Motivating Creativity in Organizations” gives extensive research-based advice, of which the most important is: “There is abundant evidence that people will be most creative when they are primarily intrinsically motivated, rather than extrinsically motivated by expected evaluation, surveillance, competition with peers, dictates from superiors, or the promise of rewards.” As Amabile describes it, “Although the two skill components [of Amabile’s model of creativity, i.e., expertise and skills in creative thinking] determine what a person is capable of doing in a given domain, it is the task motivation that determines what that person will actually do.”35 This common-sense but important insight is often behind calls for more Problem-Based Learning (PBL), community outreach assignments, or student collaboration in the implementation and assessment of a class, all of which aim to increase students’ intrinsic motivation. It also may help to explain why Auh found that among the best predictors of compositional creativity was “informal musical experiences,” where motivation is likely to be intrinsic rather than extrinsic.36

Amabile does, however, also identify types of external motivation that can be helpful in boosting creativity. Specifically, “informational extrinsic motivators,” which “either confirm competence or provide important information on how to improve performance,” and “enabling extrinsic motivators,” which increase a person’s involvement in a project, are positive for creativity.37 This suggests that classes that use worksheets and tests extensively may need rethinking: the traditional foundation of giving feedback on graded work is to mark items incorrect (so as to justify the grade given), but this type of feedback is only helpful if it “provides information on how to improve performance.” Receiving a graded worksheet with many instances of, say, parallel fifths marked as incorrect suggests incompetence rather than competence, may not indicate the root of the problem and does not invite a student into greater involvement. Rather, it suggests “constraint on how work can be done,” which Amabile calls a “controlling extrinsic motivator” and identifies as “detrimental to intrinsic motivation and performance.”38 This differentiation of good and bad motivation is arguably common-sense, and makes its way in less scientific language into other texts: for example, Brian Tracy’s more business-focused text Creativity and Problem Solving states, “When you work (or have worked) for a company where your ideas are encouraged and stimulated, where your bosses and coworkers treat your ideas with respect and interest, you will feel yourself to be more creative in your job.”39

5. Create a safe environment. This is one of the most important, yet difficult, elements for maximizing creativity. When stakes are high, it is comforting to work with questions that have a single answer; when stakes are low, students may be more willing to engage in divergent thinking. This is especially important in the context of a class where students feel particularly personally exposed. For example, when students create compositions that have some personal meaning, they may feel that criticism is directed at them rather than the artistic object or the craft. Classes where students perform in front of their peers, like performance master classes and aural skills classes, are probably those where a safe environment is most crucial for effective performances of any kind, much less creative ones.

In addition, the kinds of praise we give students may actually make them less likely to take risks. Psychologist Carol Dweck has studied the ways our attitudes about learning affect us: in particular, she reports on the contrast between a “fixed mind-set,” which believes that intelligence and ability are inherent and unchangeable, and a “growth mind-set,” which believes that these qualities are malleable. The fixed mind-set is fed by praise for intelligence or ability and leads in studies to less learning, risk-taking, and honesty, as students become fixated on continuing to get this praise rather than learning. The growth mind-set is fed by praise for effort and improvement, and leads to better learning and risk-taking.40 For good reason, programs of higher education in music often emphasize high standards; but when this attitude of discriminating between the talented and the untalented, the good students and the bad, affects everything we do, it is likely to stifle creativity in all but the highest-achieving students. Patti Drapeau succinctly states, “The creative problem-solving process is also driven by students’ confidence.”41

How can we make students feel safe, respected, valued, and capable when they get things wrong? Dweck suggests praising effort, for example, “I liked the effort you put in. Let's work together some more and figure out what you don't understand.”42 Problem-based learning and other strategies of the student-centered learning movement can also be effective at both maximizing intrinsic motivation and providing a “safer” assessment environment in which to work: Duker, Shaffer, and Stevens emphasize that assessment of problem-based learning can be designed to mix evaluation (summative assessment, including the upholding of high standards), feedback to help improve (formative assessment, designed as an enabling or informational motivator), and even self-assessment, while Davidson and Alegant and Sawhill list the many ways a student-centered classroom facilitates success for different kinds of students (and give practical ideas for moving in this direction).43

But the fields of music study offer many particular options for projects that allow students to feel competent and capable, and as Robin Moore argues, “creative, student-driven projects and experiences” can have great relevance to “the practical concerns of aspiring musicians.”44 Perhaps, instead of testing students’ knowledge directly, we can ask them to use their knowledge to do something creative, such as composition, creative or analytical writing, debating, translating from one art form to another, or even teaching their peers. Any of these tasks moves our focus from an instructor’s method of evaluation to a student’s creativity, and potentially increases self-motivation as a result. For example, a composition that must use correctly-drawn note shapes that correctly fill measures in a designated time signature can still be graded on accuracy and understanding, but gives the student an outlet for creativity, potentially an enabling motivator on its own, and gives the instructor opportunities to both give informational motivators (“By the way, you’ve used something called a motive here. You could think in future compositions about the ways these motives create a compelling web of relationships”) and praise elements of the student’s work beyond simply their performance on the technical task, helping students understand their strengths.

6. Encourage collaboration. Creativity can certainly occur within a single person, but the novel juxtaposition of ideas is especially likely to happen in a true collaboration. In an interview, creativity and education expert Sir Ken Robinson stated unequivocally, “Most original thinking comes through collaboration and through the stimulation of other people's ideas.”45 “Group work” often gets a bad reputation, but collaboration can take many different forms. Gerhard Fischer et al. note:

To support both the individual and the social aspects of creativity, as well as the interplay between them, co-creation may take on different forms, such as (1) serial: creating something (perhaps in isolation) that is then brought into the social venue so that others can build upon it (either in the social context or in isolation); (2) parallel: separately creating elements that are then brought together and combined into something new; (3) simultaneous: jointly creating something at the same time.46

This suggests many possibilities for different kinds of classes, far beyond the “simultaneous” group work that is common during classtime. Serial collaboration could include students writing compositions individually and putting them in an accessible location so that others may harmonize and/or orchestrate them, having some students put summaries of articles in a document and then asking other students to find common threads, or having students do recording projects where they may use tracks recorded by each other. Parallel collaboration includes projects with roles delegated to different students, whether they are research projects, compositions, or even practicing individual parts that will be put together into a chamber performance. Possibilities are even greater in interdisciplinary classes or where connections are made to other arts or fields.

Assessing Creativity/Assessing Creatively

A teacher who wishes to incorporate creativity must also consider how creativity will (or will not) be assessed in class. Assessing creativity directly may communicate to students that it is valued, but we must make sure not to do so in a way that emphasizes negative motivators over positive ones. Runco warns:

If schools care about creativity and give children exercises and tests of creative potential, but if those are given in a test like academic atmosphere, the same children who always do well on tests will excel, and the children who do moderately or poorly on traditional tests will again do only moderately or poorly.”47

Several music-specific measures of creativity have been devised, including the Measures of Creativity in Sound and Music or MCSM, but they are typically not designed as a grading tool and tend to focus on elementary-age students.48 Maud Hickey adapted Amabile’s “consensual assessment technique,” whereby creativity is essentially judged by the perceptions of experts in the relevant field, but this will only be successful in the classroom to the extent that the instructor has access to relevant experts or has enough trust from students to act as expert her- or himself.49 (This trust is essentially claimed by instructors when they designate a certain amount of points for “creativity” or “musicality” in a composition, performance, or writing project.)50 But methods of creativity assessment can also be developed in ways that are more transparent to students: for example, an instructor could give separate grades for the novelty and the appropriateness of a given task completed by students.

Prioritizing Change

One of the most difficult aspects of changing one’s teaching is prioritizing change: even teachers who enthusiastically agree with the aims and methods of a curricular change can feel overwhelmed when it comes to actually figuring out how much to do in a given class and term. Unless one has unlimited time, change must of necessity be incremental. Where to start? The answer is probably to start small: as Phil Duker writes of Problem-Based Learning, “From my own experience, mixing in these kinds of problems can be quite successful within the structure of a more traditional class and serve as a refreshing change of pace for both teacher and students. In short, an instructor can freely experiment with this approach without committing to full-scale adoption.”51 There are many resources to help with this, including those in the bibliography by Davidson and Alegant and Sawhill on student-centered teaching and Duker, Shaffer, and Stevens on PBL.

Two more practical, immediate ideas may also help, of which the first is to consider the use of motivators in one’s class. To what extent is the work in a given class motivated by external constraining motivators (“I’ll take off this many points for this kind of mistake,” “You’ll get this many points for doing this,” etc.) and to what extent is it driven by enabling or informational motivators (“If you complete this, you’ll get to do this,” “Once you’ve mastered that, we’ll learn this,” etc.), or, even better, intrinsic motivation (“In this project, you’ll choose a piece you’ve always loved and do this,” “This project will further your career because of this,” etc.)? Simply asking this question may suggest some particularly valuable avenues of change.

The second idea is simply to juxtapose seemingly opposed ideas and get reactions. For example, what is the difference between a fourteenth-century courtly love song and a modern pop song about impossible love? How would you perform a Debussy piece in the style of Mozart, or, perhaps, Metallica? (There are actually quite a few heavy metal versions of Classical/Romantic pieces, often available on Spotify or Youtube.) What would happen if you analyzed a Bach fugue with Allen Forte’s pitch-class set theories? How is teaching high school band like and/or unlike coaching high school football, and might music education students profit from spending some time with local sports coaches? Each of these juxtapositions relies on divergent thinking—there is no one right answer—and is potentially productive and revelatory. Some may even increase perceived relevance and, therefore, intrinsic motivation, once students start thinking about relationships between what they are learning and other aspects of their daily lives.


It would be easy to dismiss creativity as another buzzword whose vogue will pass, but to do so would be to ignore an opportunity to reinvigorate our teaching, engage more directly with our students, better prepare these students for a wide variety of potential careers in music and beyond, and (one would hope) even have more fun in class. Many, perhaps most, of us are already engaging in some practices that foster creativity, and the suggestions above are valuable in confirming the importance of these and in helping each of us along a journey of incremental, but important, change. This kind of change, which does not require complete redesign of curricula or mass replacement of faculty, must be a part of both individual teachers’ outlooks and our broader conversations about the state of music education today.

This article has brought together the major strands of research on creativity from psychology, business, neuroscience, and music itself in order to derive suggestions for higher-ed teaching in music. This distillation of literature on creativity is intended as a way of starting conversations and thought processes about being more conscious in our use and fostering of creativity. These conversations may be linked to specific calls for curricular reform, like the report of the CMS Task Force on the Undergraduate Music Major, or they may be carried on independently: as reported above, even small changes in favor of creativity may have large benefits in learning outcomes and skill transfer to situations outside of the classroom. But if we are serious about helping our students understand and participate in a fundamentally creative art, about giving them tools that will be truly useful in their careers, about maximizing their intrinsic interest and (thereby) their passion for music, about helping to form truly interesting musicians, scholars, and citizens of the future, we must take creativity seriously. Fortunately, this is well within our reach.



1Rifkin, in “Cultivating Creativity in the Music Theory Classroom,” comments, “I would wager that most music majors think that music theory is not their most creative class.” The problem may be particularly acute in music theory classes, but the problem is not unique to these.

2Shehan Campbell, Task Force Convener, Transforming Music Study From Its Foundations.

3This is increasingly true in music, even in academic contexts. For example, one of the suggestions from Drapkin, “Recommended Course Additions to the Higher Education Music Curriculum” for 2015 was titled “The Empowered Artist: Artistic Identity, The Mindset of Success and Creative Collaboration.”

4National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education, All Our Futures, 16 and 14.

5Burleson, “Developing Creativity, Motivation, and Self-Actualization With Learning Systems.”

6Keith Sawyer surveys research that indicates that “balancing structure and improvisation is the essence of the art of teaching," arguing that this makes teaching "a creative art": Sawyer, “What Makes Good Teachers Great?,” 2.

7Drapeau, Sparking Student Creativity, 5 and 117.

8Jackson, The Music Producer's Survival Guide, 147.

9Shehan Campbell, Task Force Convener, Transforming Music Study from its Foundations, and Williams, “The Baby and the Bathwater.”

10Rinberg, Dow, and Plucker, “Creativity as a Predictor of Course Effectiveness,” 128.

11Patrick Finn, in Critical Condition, also suggests a broader societal purpose for emphasizing creativity, arguing that if we replaced “learning critical thinking” with “exploring creativity” as the purpose of education, we would foster more loving, constructive, networked thinking rather than destructive, individualistic thinking and in the process better prepare the innovators of the future.

12Gray, “Music Education and Creativity,” 58.

13Studies focused on composition include Auh, “Prediction of Musical Creativity in Composition,” Hickey, “An Application of Amabile's Consensual Assessment Technique,” Thomas Priest, “Using Creativity Assessment Experience,” and Folkestad, “A Meta-Analytic Approach to Qualitative Studies in Music Education.” Studies focused on improvisation include Baltzer, “A Validation Study of a Measure of Musical Creativity,” and Kiehn, “Development of Music Creativity among Elementary School Students.” The study of composers’ statements is Lapidaki, “Learning from Masters of Music Creativity.”

14Webster, “Relationship between Creative Behavior in Music and Selected Variables,” and Rifkin, “Cultivating Creativity.”

15See, for example, Hennessey and Amabile, “Creativity,” 572. While this definition emphasizes outcomes—after all, it is hard to judge the novelty or value of something that does not yet exist—it is also possible to rephrase this to emphasize ways of thinking, as for example Hawthorne and her co-authors’s description of creativity as “a state of being and adaptation of personal skill sets that enables an individual to synthesize novel connections and express meaningful outcomes”: Hawthorne et al., “Impact and Sustainability of Creative Capacity Building,” 67.

16It is worth noting that, in common parlance, people tend to emphasize novelty over appropriateness. For example, Irene-Anna N. Diakidoy and Elpida Kanari found, in a survey of student teachers in music, that more than 60% of respondents considered novelty essential to creativity, while only 10.2% indicated in their definitions that “creative outcomes must also be appropriate or useful”: Diakidoy and Kanari, “Student Teachers' Beliefs about Creativity,” 230. Creativity is also often mixed up with a number of other skills and attributes, including achievement in music and quickness of learning, as shown by Odena, Plummeridge, and Welch, “Towards an Understanding of Creativity in Music Education.”

17E.g., Sawyer, Explaining Creativity, 8.

18The many approaches to creativity, including frameworks that expand the “little-c” and “big-C” creativities into even more categories, are simplified for practical purposes in this article. For a concise, scholarly review of the state of creativity studies in different fields, see Hennessey and Amabile, “Creativity.” For a more expansive investigation of what creativity means to different people and an investigation into what activities may be considered creative in a number of domains including music, see Sawyer, Explaining Creativity.

19Griffin, Education Reform, 193.

20Tanggaard and Stadil, In the Shower With Picasso, 1.

21Proctor, Creative Problem Solving for Managers, 15.

22Drapeau, Sparking Student Creativity, 4; emphases original.

23Runco, Creativity, 9.

24Sternberg, “Creativity or Creativities?”

25Amabile, “Motivating Creativity,” 44. Amabile suggests, as a source of such heuristics, Gordon, Synectics; another more recent source is Sawyer, Zig Zag.

26Drapeau, Sparking Student Creativity, 175.

27Burleson, "Developing Creativity, Motivation, and Self-Actualization," 442.

28Runco, Creativity, 7.

29Amabile, “Motivating Creativity in Organizations,” 42.

30A standard music theory pedagogy text, Rogers, Teaching Approaches in Music Theory, consistently identifies learning facts as a first stage and being creative as a later stage (see particularly p. 8). While this seems consistent with threshold theory, it is likely important to cycle fairly quickly between these stages, and sometimes perhaps to mix them. This might better motivate learning; in addition, there is always more to learn, and there may be various thresholds met along the way to greater knowledge, each of which unlocks new kinds of creative potential.

31Auh, “Prediction of Musical Creativity,” 6; Webster, “Relationship between Creative Behavior in Music and Selected Variables,” 227.

32Kulkarni, Dow, and Klemmer, “Early and Repeated Exposure to Examples Improves Creative Work,” 51.

33Ritter and Dijksterhuis, “Creativity,” 7–8; emphases added.

34Campbell and Jane, “Enhancing Creativity Through Design Technology,” 92. It should be added, though, that Campbell and Jane also reported that the waiting period was sometimes frustrating for students who wanted to get started.

35Amabile, “Motivating Creativity,” 39 and 44.

36Auh, “Prediction of Musical Creativity,” 6.

37Amabile, “Motivating Creativity,” 45.

38Ibid. Eighteenth-century part-writing in music theory classes are perhaps an easy target, and the field of music theory has at least begun discussing whether it is still important for today’s undergraduates (see, for example, Kulma and Naxer, “Beyond Part Writing”). But it is given as a representative of a much larger body of traditional practices that emphasize constraints and are typically marked in such a way as to identify and emphasize mistakes rather than more potentially positive information. It is certainly possible to give a part-writing assignment that is presented and graded in an alternative format more conducive to creativity.

39Tracy, Creativity and Problem Solving.

40Dweck, “The Perils and Promise of Praise,” 34–35, though much of Dweck’s work has explored these and similar ideas.

41Drapeau, Sparking Student Creativity, 121.

42Dweck, “The Perils and Promise of Praise,” 37.

43Duker, Shaffer, and Stevens, “Problem-Based Learning in Music,” Part 3; Davidson, “How Do I Get Started?”; Alegant and Sawhill, “Making the Grade (Or Not).”

44Moore, “Music Curricula for the 21st Century,” 12.

45Azzam, “Why Creativity Now?” There are entire books written on theorizing about collaborative creativity (e.g., Glăveanu, Distributed Creativity); these are outside the scope of the present article.

46Fischer, et al., “Beyond Binary Choices,” 485.

47Runco, Creativity, 3.

48Wang, Measures of Creativity in Sound and Music, modified in Baltzer, “A Validation Study of a Measure of Musical Creativity.”

49Hickey, “An Application of Amabile's Consensual Assessment Technique.”

50One intriguing and particularly democratic move would be to ask the students to rate each others’ work on its creativity: this would put the class in the position of expert (either as a collective or individually) and potentially inspire among the students further thought on what creativity is.

51Duker, Shaffer, and Stevens, “Problem-Based Learning in Music,” Part 2.



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3361 Last modified on March 8, 2019