Effects of Vocal Improvisation Exercises on Creativity of Amateur Vocalists in Private Classrooms


Effects of Vocal Improvisation Exercises on Creativity of Amateur Vocalists in Private Classrooms



It is important for vocal teachers to help students achieve their singing goals. Through my own experience and through speaking with other vocal teachers an interesting problem emerged. Many amateur vocal students do not create their own unique vocal qualities and talents, but rather copy the vocal melodies, trills, and tones of popular vocal artists. Because of this, students do not express themselves creatively through music, and lose the opportunity to find their own unique voice.

What is Creativity?

Although creativity is a difficult word to explain, many definitions of creativity exist. This is because it is difficult to encompass all the aspects of creativity in a definition. In a book discussing the nature of creativity, Calvin Taylor (1988) explains that, “creativity is a very complex human performance and occurrence, one of the highest-level performances and accomplishments to which mankind can aspire” (p. 99). There are four approaches to creativity: the creative environment, the product of being creative, the process of creating, and the person who is the creator. It is easy to understand how such a complex subject can be difficult to define. Although it is true that creativity is difficult to define, many people can agree on what creativity is without having a definition. Teresa Amabile (1988) supports this idea in her article on creativity by saying that creativity can only be defined as something that expert observers deem to be creative. Many try to define creativity in simple terms. For example Marshall Dimock (1986), author of a published article on creativity, defines creativity as originality. Others agree that creativity is the process of something new becoming part of existence (Barron, 1988; May, 1994). A few definitions of creativity come closer to encompassing the entire meaning. In the book Human Motivation, Robert Franken (2006) describes creativity as “the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others” (p. 396). I believe that Dr. Betty Edwards (1999) provides the best definition in her book The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Edwards (1999) says, “creativity is the ability to find new solutions to a problem or new modes of expression; thus it brings into existence something new to the individual and to the culture” (p. 203). For the purposes of this study the definition of creativity uses ideas from many of the definitions previously stated. Creativity engages the imagination and uses more original ideas, which brings new works into existence.

Why is Creativity Important?

It is important for vocalists and other musicians to be creative because it allows them to express themselves, which leads to the creation of new interesting musical pieces. Creativity allows human’s to express themselves in original ways and therefore it is “among the most important of all human activities” (Simonton, 2000, p. 151). Some view creativity as a good attribute for people to possess because it fosters innovation. Innovative ideas help society grow into a better place to live. J.P. Guilford (1950) explains that creative people contribute original ideas to society and therefore, “the social importance of the subject [creativity] is very great” (p. 454). Creativity also affects the quality of the music people listen to. Without creative musicians, original pieces of music may cease to exist and society may be left with the regurgitated remains of music that already exists.

Why don’t Amateur Vocalists Express Creativity in their Singing?

Amateur vocalists do not express creativity in their singing, but rather copy the vocal melodies, trills, and tones of popular vocal artists because they have never learned how to be creative. Vocal teachers and music education researchers observe this lack of creativity in their work with adolescent students. One article discusses a study that finds a lack of creativity in fourth grade students and suggests that the natural creativity of the children is being stifled (INTO, 2009). Other experts argue, “as young people progress through their school education, their genuine interest and innate curiosity in exploring the world around them gradually decline and they seem to be educated out of creativity” (Robinson, 2009; Sarason, 1990; Sharan & Chin Tan, 2008; Sternberg, 2006). When discussing the topic of creativity with fellow vocal teachers in San Diego who work for Takelessons Music Studios, many teachers agree that students lack creativity in their singing. Teachers believe their student’s lack creativity because today’s education system focuses on memorization of facts instead of on creativity. Well-known researcher on creativity J.P. Guilford says (1950), “under present-day mass-education methods, the development of creative personality is seriously discouraged” (p. 448). Even music teachers, as a result of their curriculums, emphasize conformity over individual expression. An example of this is the choir, band, and orchestra setting that is prominent in music education. It is evident that student’s do not know how to express themselves creatively when they perform songs exactly as they have heard them performed by other musicians. In a report on creativity in the education system the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCCE) claims, “current priorities and pressures in education inhibit the creative abilities of young people” (p 8, 1999). The NACCCE (1999) believes that this will only change if the education system begins to include creativity classes in public schools.

Improvisation and Creativity

Previous studies on improvisation suggest that a link exists between improvisation and creativity (Campbell, 1998; Harwood, 1998; Marsh, 2008). Improvisation consists of simultaneously performing and creating music (Nettl, 1998; Pressing, 1998), which may aid students in discovering their own creative abilities. Peter Webster (1990), a published author on creative thinking, believes “performances of improvisation involve the creative thinking process” (p 28). In order to improvise, first a student needs to think creatively. In a study done by Amy Beegle (2010), students improvise new rhythms and melodies in a group setting. She concludes that creative thinking occurs when students improvise together. In another study, teachers utilize improvisation activities to teach music creativity in schools (Koutsoupidou, 2007). Mark Kiehn (2003) uses the Vaughan test of musical creativity in his studies on the link between improvisation and musical creativity. He finds that improvisation indicates musical creativity. The researchers of these studies have shown that improvisation and creativity are related, but they have not shown whether improvisation teaches creativity.


Research has shown that creativity has many definitions.  Therefore, even though it is difficult to encompass the entire meaning of creativity in a single definition, it can be defined.  Research has also shown that creativity is important for all people to have, including musicians. Therefore it is important that musicians learn how to be creative.  Researchers and teachers have observed that many amateur vocalists do not express creativity in their singing. Therefore it is important that music teachers find out how to teach creativity to their students. Researchers of previous studies have shown that there is a link between creativity and improvisation. Therefore it is possible that improvisation exercises can teach amateur vocalists how to be creative.


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