Balancing Act

Technical skill vs. Creative practice.

Where does one end and the other begin?

To be musically creative, one must acquire a modicum of skills.  To succeed in becoming skillful, one must have a passion for contributing to their art.

In most music classes (especially performance-based ones) the problem is framed as such: “How can I integrate the creative process into my technical-skill driven class?”  In my classes, I tend to approach this problem from an opposite view: “How can I integrate musical skills into a highly creative and personal project?”

It’s a strange balancing act.  On one hand, you can have a highly skilled group of musicians that absolutely rely on someone telling them what/how to play, and on the other a group who has the greatest concepts and designs but little technical know-how for putting together a polished final product.

The question is this: why are these two separate?  Why can’t we cut back on performing and spend some time in the lab?  Why does a choir class have to only explore the performing of pre-written music?  Why does a music tech class have to produce music with no intended audience or performance goal?

I’d like to see a new generation of lean, efficient music classes that buck the trend of performance/non-performance.  Picture something like a band class that can write it’s own music.  Or a guitar class that performs in duets and trios.  Or a music tech class that can double as a pool of electronic performers.  Heck, a music history class that was involved in writing the program notes would be a fresh change of pace even!

Recently, I asked a few students who wanted to record rap songs they had written to instead team up as co-producers for this song and each take a verse.  Make the beats, make the lyrics, record it – the whole shebang.  They have worked in my lab independently now for a few weeks and are starting to show some sweet results on both the production and the lyrics.  Technical skill + Creativity at work to create something totally unique to the high school experience.  That’s what music class is for, friends.

Next time you sit and plan a lesson, think of one thing that is under your “we could never do that” list, and give it a try.  You might be surprised at what happens.

Author: Will Kuhn

I teach music technology to high schoolers. I do some other stuff too. @willkuhn on Twitter.

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