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Creativity vs Performance

Updated: Dec 5, 2018

Photo by woodleywonderworks / CC BY

What does music education look like in the United States? For many of the kids in Northern VA, it starts with general music classes in Kindergarten and early elementary school. Around the third grade, kids start learning to play the recorder. Around fourth grade, they get to try other instruments like the violin or clarinet. If you're lucky enough, your parents might pay for your private lessons. At some point, your kids might choose to audition for the school orchestra, band, or choral group.

In most cases, particularly with middle and high schools, kids' music education is focused on one thing: performance. Kids are given something to learn, they practice and finally perform (either for the teacher, parents, or a bunch of strangers at a recital). This is great because it teaches kids the value of practice, discipline, and patience while teaching them skills in music. It trains their brains to take abstract ideas (like notes on sheet music) and transform them into something real (like a melody you can hear). These are just a few examples, and there many more benefits to music education.

Here's the problem. Many kids struggle with playing instruments. Some will simply not have the talent. Some will not have the discipline. Some will not have access to affordable music lessons or instruments. Some will have physical or mental disabilities that make it almost impossible for them to master an instrument. What happens to these kids? They either 1) don't try, 2) try and fail, or 3) stop trying at all. It's no surprise that about 80 percent* of kids don't participate in music education at all by the time they're in high school. What percentage of those kids love music? Something closer to 100 percent.

What if there was a way for all kids to engage in music education, regardless of their ability or desire to perform in front of an audience? What about that other 80 percent? Wouldn't it be great if those kids could also enjoy the longterm benefits of music education? It absolutely is possible. How? By focusing, not on the performance side of music, but rather the creative side.

Performing music and being creative are mutually exclusive. Just because someone knows how to play an instrument doesn't mean they can create a song from scratch. Someone can be expressive in music, without being creative. I was this way from age 7 to 15. I took piano lessons and became pretty good at reading and playing sheet music, but I wasn't ever creating any music of my own.

How is it possible for kids to be creative in music without having to know how to perform it? With music technology, kids can create beats, compose melodies and harmonies, and record vocals...all without musical training. Music technology allows kids to arrange sounds on a computer in a similar way to painting on a canvas. Creating with music technology is not based on executing a performance. It's based on having an idea, experimenting, failing, learning, and eventually succeeding...finding the right combination of sounds to create your own music.

Music technology makes music education inclusive, not exclusive. It allows kids with physical disabilities to combine pre-made drum and music loops to compose music. A kid might not be the best singer, but with music technology, she can create her own versions of her favorite pop songs (i.e. remix). Not every kid can be a great performer, but literally, all kids have creative ideas. Music technology gives kids the ability to express their original ideas.

We need to rethink music education for our kids. We need to allow kids to create their own music in the same way they do with paper and crayon, canvas and paint, tablet and Minecraft, and Legos. Music technology labs and programs belong in every elementary, middle, and high school. Music technology programs need to be available to kids with disabilities. Let's use music technology to give the gift of creativity to ALL kids. It's creativity that kids yearn for, and ultimately, it's creativity that makes us human.

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