This isn’t a list of ten creative things; sorry to disappoint any list enthusiasts. If it were I might have come up with a snappier title. It’s more a reflection on my own creative and teaching practices, which are, of course, closely intertwined.
This week I have a gig coming up so I’m trying to do an hour’s piano practice a day. Shocked? Well, I’m a working Mum and that’s all I can fit in, but tbh, even if I did have time to do more, I probably wouldn’t. Nevertheless, I appreciate my hour at the piano, it calms me down and gives me focus. I like to divide the time into a series of tasks which I then subdivide and so on. I often turn it into a game. This week’s game is to include ten creative things. Ten? yes, it’s a round number, but it’s also quite a lot and therefore challenging in a way that can make for a stimulating and engrossing hour. “Creative things” is deliberately vague. The point is to approach my practice in a more inventive way because it stops me from feeling ground down by the repetitiveness, it throws up connections, one task evolving into the next, and, most importantly, it puts me in a creative frame of mind.
This state is so important to inhabit as musicians, and one we ideally will be aiming to access in our pupils too. Music educator Paul Harris has written at length about creativity in music education and said at a training session I attended, that teachers should aim to “Start every lesson with something creative” which, for example could be how you approach the warmup, use of imagery to inspire shaping in a piece, improvising on a scale, or anything else you dream up. I always try this with my own students, and believe me, it’s not easy! Autopilot teaching it is not. Is it worth it? yes, absolutely; It can have a transformative effect on a lesson, and on the teacher/pupil dynamic. One of the main reasons this is crucial to Harris is that by making a creative space, you are also making a collaborative, and essentially, a safe space for your pupil where they feel secure and able to take musical risks. Creative, gameplay-based tasks don’t fall into binaries like ‘right and wrong’ ‘good and bad’ so the tone is then set for a happy, productive lesson. In turn, by also doing this in our own practice, we’re being kind to ourselves. The intrusive, negative voices melt away and are replaced by playful, more childlike ones, a ‘flow state’ becomes more available to us and the process of making music becomes a positive and healing one.
My gig is on the anticipated-to-be hottest day of the year in London and there are logistics to deal with as always but putting creativity at the centre of my prep has kept me thinking about the music and not the stress. Always something to aim for as players and teachers.
Photo, Robert Crowley