I am in a doctoral program in music education at Columbia University, Teachers College, New York, planning to complete my studies by Spring 2006. The focus of my dissertation is to outline a proposed method for teaching ear training through student creativity using improvisation and composition. Several of my ear training students have participated in my research, which will be published upon completion.
I believe that when students create music, they learn more deeply. There are several reasons why a creative approach may serve the educational needs of the student more thoroughly than a textbook-based approach.
* Students are more engaged in and typically care more about musical examples that they have created themselves than musical exercises in an ear training textbook.
* Students can work with the musical material at a level which is appropriate for their personal level of musical expertise/experience. Rather than be called on to execute exercises which may not challenge their skills, or worse, may set them up for failure, they can create examples that they can be successful with, building their confidence to try more difficult challenges.
* Since students take on the role of teacher during the creative activities (such as dictating melodies or rhythms to the class) there is a higher level of accuracy required than if a student were just performing an exercise for the teacher. Rather than the standard of “understanding it when explained by the teacher” students must rise to the level of “being able to explain it to someone else.”
* The members of the class collectively become repsonsible for identifying errors and analysing musical problems (critical thinking), instead of this responsibility being held solely by the instructor (and not actively thought about by the student).
* There is a wide diversity of musical ideas and material presented since the students have varying musical backgrounds.
* All students contribute something to the class learning process. This is often not the case, as when students lurk at the back of the room and do not want to participate.
* Students take more personal responsibility for their learning. They begin to become aware of their own skill development, since they have to judge what they can and can’t do when considering what to compose or improvise.
For these reasons, I structure most of my ear training class sessions using simple types of improvisation, such as call and response, and through composed musical execises and group compositions created by the students themselves.