Developing music improvisation workshops for preschool children through Action Research
MacGlone, Una M.
Improvisation in music is an important skill, which is increasingly valued, and an essential part of curricula at all educational levels. However, understandings of improvisation are conflicting and contradictory approaches exist within improvisation pedagogy. Creative and learning processes from free improvisation are used in Higher Education, and with Secondary and Primary children, but there is scarce research with young children. This is despite potential alignment with preschool curricula, which emphasise creativity and social skills. The aims of this PhD were to investigate and improve a novel method of delivering music education to preschool children through improvisation, emphasising personal creativity and socio-musical responsiveness. The research questions were as follows: How can children’s creativity and engagement in group improvisation be appreciated and evaluated? This question had two further sub questions: What are parents’ and teachers’ attitudes and beliefs about the children, creativity and music?, and, What are the children’s conceptualisations of the workshops? The second research question was: Do the workshop programme, teaching approaches and methods change through two cycles of Action Research? A Pragmatic theoretical stance supported Mixed Methods within an Action Research design, providing a suitable model for enquiry through action, analysis, and planned change. Workshop materials were designed for two 6-week cycles of Action Research for different groups of preschool children (seven in cycle I, six in Cycle II; aged 4-5) in 2016. Prior to the workshops, two original theoretical constructs were proposed and then refined through the process of analysis: Creative musical agency (CMA) and socio-musical aptitude (S-MA). CMA is instantiated when a child creates and executes novel musical material independently in a group improvisation. S-MA is instantiated when child creates a musical response in relation and with reference to, another child’s musical idea in a group improvisation. Video data of the children’s improvisations were sampled and analysed using multimodal video analysis, to gain a rich, nuanced picture of social and musical interactions and expressions of creativity during the children’s improvisations. This involved coding for instances of CMA and S-MA in different musical parameters. In-depth interviews with the children’s parents and teachers and children’s talk from the workshops were subjected to Thematic Analysis. Two experts rated 39 clips of the children’s improvisations as showing CMA, S-MA or neither and were interviewed to explore their views further. In parents’ and teachers’ interviews, the types of strategies they employed were shaped by whether or not they perceived a child as confident and able to share. Their conceptions of children’s creativity were through descriptions of their art activities as well as making up stories and role play. In contrast, music was not readily conceptualised as a creative activity and being musical was understood as possessing technical skill on an instrument. All of the adults identified as non-musical, even though they participated in musical activities with the children. In children’s talk, their understandings of improvising were mediated in distinct ways: previous musical experiences, expressive descriptions of their improvisations, and combinations of these with musical terms. Video analysis indicated that for 10/13 children, the number of CMA and S-MA events increased over the workshop programme. The range of musical parameters for improvising increased through the workshop programme. Between the experts’ video clip ratings there was a slight agreement for CMA (Kappa 0.21 and moderate agreement for S-MA (Kappa 0.5). They accounted for this by proposing that the teacher mediated some children’s CMA events. Video analysis showed children looking at the teacher before 57% of CMA events. The workshop model changed from a linear succession of tasks with a talk section at the end to iterative cycle of playing and talking, as the original model was not effective in facilitating the children’s discourse. This study is the first to use improvisation with a group of this size and age. Two novel constructs of CMA and S-MA offer a promising means to apprehend and evaluate young children’s creativity and engagements in group improvisation. Children’s perspectives in creative tasks are under reported; the distinct understandings of improvisation that emerged here are important in appreciating conceptual as well as musical development at this age. Parents and teachers value music and creativity but their own musical identities may affect how they create music with children. The refined workshop model offers a flexible and responsive template; by capturing children’s understanding of their playing, informed pedagogical choices can be made. Recommendations for future research include creating more CMA and S-MA based activities, and investigating effective teacher training for future delivery. More qualitative studies could investigate children’s cognitive processes in group creativity. Music is a collection of skills, therefore, developing conceptualisations of music education as improving creativity, social skills and critical thinking, presents a powerful argument for teaching and appreciating music in these ways from the start of young children’s education.