Teaching musicians to stay inside the lines

Something to think about – Hickey (1997) makes an analogy between music and visual arts to demonstrate the exclusion of improvisation and composition in schools: In order to learn to paint, fifth grade students are given paint sets and are asked to paint only by numbers and to stay in the lines at all times. They would proceed to paint in this manner for their entire stay in arts education. She suggests that music education uses the same “by the numbers,” and “stay in the lines” method by relying too heavily on playing notated music.

Now, we would never consider teaching writing skills by having students laboriously copy, over and over, the exact text from a Shakespeare work. Even those dreary research reports are (supposed to be) original works. So how come we almost always teach music – all the way through college – by having them reproduce what’s already there on the page? We need to encourage creativity, exploration, original thinking and production, and so on. Society has moved far beyond the industrial/factory model of training workers to follow directions. We need thinkers and problem solvers, and perhaps music composition, arranging, and improvisation can help develop these skills no matter what career path students follow in life.

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