If you're just tuning in, this is the second part in a series of posts comprised of a summary and response to articles from the Music Educator Journal. My Synthesis of Music Education students at Southeast Missouri State University are taking turns assigning articles of their choice, and leading discussion and activities surrounding the articles. I'm posting my own thoughts on their selected articles here to add to the conversation. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.
Today's article is:
Whitcomb, R. (2013). Teaching Improvisation in Elementary General Music: Facing Fears and Fostering Creativity. Music Educators Journal, 99(3), 43–51. https://doi.org/10.1177/0027432112467648
Dr. Whitcomb points out that while improvisation skill is vitally important to the process of becoming fluent as a musician, educators still struggle to incorporate enough of it in the elementary general music classroom. Many of us feel that our own experiences with improv are inadequate, that we don't know enough strategies to teach the skill, or we worry that there just isn't time to deliver it as part of the curriculum. This article gave tips to overcome these challenges and provided lesson ideas
One strategy that Dr. Whitcomb suggests which really resonated with me was that of learning alongside your students. I'm fascinated by the additional benefits of a teacher modeling the exploration and vulnerability required to learn a new skill. In addition to progressing along a sequentially more difficult set of tasks which would lead to better improvisation skill, students could also gain insight in to the process of learning something new, of overcoming fear and/or intimidation, and of making mistakes along the path to learning.
I am thankful Dr. Whitcomb reminds us that improvisation can occur within any style of music. In my conversations with music education students, many know that improvisation occurs in jazz music, but don't think of the ways that it can bring other musics to life including other popular styles, baroque ornaments, folk songs, and so many others. There are several suggestions for activities in the article which could easily be expanded in to lessons.
My own experiences with teaching improvisation were deepened in my experience completing Level 1 Orff certification. While I think I knew it intellectually, in practice, I had not been fully reveling in the fact that improvisation can spin out of the study of almost any music or musical style that I am exploring with my students. I'm reminded of the Orff teaching process:
We don't have time NOT to include improvisation in our teaching. As we learn more about the effects of play on memory and learning, playful activities such as improvisation stand out as perfect activities to reinforce learned skills and knowledge meaningfully.
I'm curious - what are your own personal experiences with improvisation? How will you use it in the next lesson you teach?
"Improvisation is a natural outpouring of a student's mastery of a skill - a celebration of their learning in the most authentic way."