I found out a new fact last week…
We had 6 little chicks hatch last week and I was amazed at how incredibly packed into their eggs they were. How could they get the movement needed to hack away at the inside of the shell? Then I found out they have a special little bone on their head that saws away at the shell. Within days of hatching it disappears.
Now you probably know more about chickens than I do, but for me it was a new fact – something interesting and fascinating to be added to what I already knew about chickens. It got me thinking about how new ventures in music making – our musical creativity – comes from the combination of facts we know, or to put it another way, the basic skills we have, at our instruments.
Developing basic skills
Suppose one of my pupils is learning how to play a C major chord for the first time. This chord has been around a long time, but for them it is a new thing. They are not creating something new, but they are discovering something that can become a building block for creativity.
If they take that pattern of tones and semitones (whole and half steps) and use it from a different starting note it becomes a different major chord. Then they could work out the other different major chords coming up with all 12. We call this transposing.
Now suppose I gave the task of doing this to a dozen pupils, I could be sure the outcome would be different for each one. Some would try it on the white notes only. Some would give up after knowing they could do it. Some would get side-tracked and go off and find other combinations altogether. All acceptable outcomes.
Note: Repeating a pattern in different contexts (transposing) actually helps establish a full understanding of the basic pattern.
Combining skills to create something new
When we combine a known pattern with another known pattern we create something new. This could be when the pupil starts trying different major chord combinations by forming progressions with that major chord starting on different notes. Each person’s way of creating that new thing will be different because of their particular personality and experience. The more comprehensive their experience, the more likely it is that they can create something truly innovative.
Let me give an example. One of my first song writing attempts was when I was about eleven years old.
Skill 1 : I knew about various chords but I didn’t know a good order to use them.
Skill 2: I could also sing but didn’t really know how to frame a melody without harmony.
• I wrote down the chords and the order they were used from a song I liked from a popular musical.
• I just played the chords at the piano and sang a new melody to them until I came up with something that didn’t sound like the original melody.
• I wrote down what I came up with so I could make further adjustments as needed later
At first, I didn’t share this idea with anyone because it felt like cheating, but I’ve come to realise it was a helpful way to learn about chord combinations that work together. As I’ve grown in my understanding of chords, combinations, melodies and harmonies, I can now create my own chord patterns.
We all like the idea of being creative and I really like to give my pupils the opportunity to experiment with the “facts” (basic skills) of music they are learning so that they can develop creatively. The challenge is to make sure we have some good basics learned so that we have something to be creative with.
Over the past week I have marvelled at how the mother hen shows her new chicks what to do as they learn the basics of eating and drinking. It makes me realise in a fresh way that doing stuff alongside our children is the best way for them to learn their basic skills. So if your child or grandchild is learning a musical instrument, get them to show you something they have learned and have a go at it yourself. Like the baby chick’s head bone, you won’t have to do it forever. They will love you for it whether you can do it or not. Their motivation to learn music making skills will probably increase and who knows what creative music making could be hatched some day as a result.