An experimental study of the effects of improvisation on the development of children's creative thinking in music

Koutsoupidou, T., & Hargreaves, D. J. (2009). An experimental study of the effects of improvisation on the development of children's creative thinking in music. Psychology of Music, 37(3), 251.

Abstract:

Researchers used a quasi-experimental design to examine the effects of improvisation on the development of children’s creative thinking in music. The study was conducted in a primary school with two matched classrooms of six-year-old children over a period of six months. One intact classroom used as the experimental group received specific training and opportunity to utilize improvisation in their music lessons, whereas the control group received more traditional and didactic music lessons over the same time period. The researchers administered Webster’s Measure of Creative Thinking in Music (MCTM II) before and after the intervention to assess students’ ability to manipulate four specific musical parameters: extensiveness, the length of time involved in a musical response; flexibility, the range of musical expression in terms of soft to loud, fast to slow, and low to high; originality; and syntax, the extent of manipulation of musical sounds in a musical manner according to patterns of musical repetition, contrast, and sequencing. Analyses of pre- and post-test data revealed that improvisation affects the development of students’ creative thinking in music, specifically promoting musical flexibility, originality, and syntax in children’s music-making.

Key Findings:

Overall, the researchers found that improvisation had significant effects on children’s development of creative thinking in music. The experimental group scored significantly higher on the post-tests while the control group demonstrated only slight progress in creative thinking and decreases in musical originality and syntax.

Musical originality, the way the child manipulates musical sounds in a unique fashion, increased among the children in the experimental group, whereas the control group demonstrated either no improvement or a regression in musical originality.

The experimental group produced significantly better results than the control group on measures of musical flexibility and syntax, though the experimental group did not show a significant improvement on the measure of musical extensiveness as compared to the control group.

Significance of the Findings:

The present findings provide a better understanding of the mechanisms by which musical improvisation might promote children’s creative thinking in music, which could impact creative thinking in other subjects as well. The researchers’ findings support the hypothesis that “Encouraging children to be creative in the classroom can promote creativity, while preventing them from engaging in creative activities might inhibit their creative potential” (pp. 265-266). Specifically, the research shows that students involved in musical improvisation exhibit more musical originality, a trait generally considered as the most distinctive aspect of creative thinking. The study contributes to a growing field of research that investigates specifically how music and art making impact the development of creativity in students.

Methodology:

The researchers conducted the study at a private primary school in England using a quasi-experimental design. They identified two intact classrooms and randomly assigned one of the classrooms as the experimental group and the other as the control group. The experimental group consisted of twelve six-year-old children and the control group consisted of 13 children of the same age. The experimental group received improvisational training and the control group received directed instruction during weekly music lessons over a period of six months. Both groups received their musical instruction from the same instructor.

The researchers collected data by administering pre-and post-test iterations of the Webster’s Measure of Creative Thinking in Music II (MCTM II). The tests assessed four factors of children’s creative thinking in music: musical extensiveness, flexibility, originality, and syntax. The researchers used a mixed methodology for the analysis of the test data. Analysis of musical extensiveness and flexibility was quantitative, while analysis of originality and syntax combined qualitative analysis (video observation in order to create rating scales for each criterion) and quantitative analysis (use of rating scales for scoring). Statistical tests were performed to achieve the final analysis of all the test results.

Limitations of the Research:

Due to the small sample size of children participating in this study the findings cannot be generalized. Additionally, there were limitations due to the instruments used in the study: For one, the control group may have progressed in areas that were not tested by the creativity measure. Also, the researchers argue that the measure of extensiveness is not valuable as a measure of creativity.

Questions to Guide New Research:

More empirical research is needed which links improvisation and children’s musical and creative development. Future research could build upon this study by examining children in different geographical areas with children of different ethnic backgrounds participating in various musical cultures and genres. It might also examine the relationship between musical improvisation and the development of general creativity – not only musical creativity.