Creativity and Inclusion

A personal view from Audrey Podmore, proprietor of The Full Pitcher Music Resources

Creativity and inclusion go hand in hand. It is flexibility and creativity, on the part of teachers and other music leaders, that make possible inclusive practice. And what is that? As with so many things, it’s probably easier to say what it isn’t! It certainly isn’t having everyone do the same thing, in the same way. What good is an equality which means that everyone is equally deprived? Inclusion comes about through acceptance of diversity and allowance for non-conformity. If teachers are afraid to be different, to relate to the subject material in their own way, they will not be able to appreciate and develop the different abilities of their pupils.

Happily, the musicians who formulated the UK National Curriculum for Music decided that the performing, creating and appraising strands of the programmes of study should be taught in an integrated fashion. This, potentially, gives teachers an enormous amount of flexibility in the way they teach. Potentially, because, in practice, most non-specialists do not have the musical knowledge or resources to support a varied approach. Flexibility is the keyword in meeting individual needs: successful teachers constantly adapt the available resources to the needs of a specific pupil, or group, at a precise moment in time. In other words, they improvise! The more extreme, or complex, the educational needs of the pupils, the more flexible and improvisatory must be the teacher's approach.

Teaching is a creative art. The teacher, like any artist needs a ready supply of raw materials and tools to facilitate the shaping of these materials. Then, he must then be trusted to work his artistry in fashioning the raw materials into something that speaks to his pupils. His primary art is teaching, not geography, science, or music. However, today's teachers are under enormous pressure and just do not have the time to undertake the creative preparation for teaching in which they would so like to engage. There is a need, as never before, for published resources to support the musical development of non-specialist teachers and pupils, alike. Given appropriate materials, I believe that the teacher-artist will enjoy exploring and learning with the pupils.

As a publisher, The Full Pitcher Music Resources aims to support teachers’ own explorations and to encourage a sharing, creative approach to music-making. There is often a considerable mismatch between the development of the ‘inner musician’ and his/her technical performance skills. This is recognised in musical arrangements which allow for some degree of improvised input. Pupils with less playing experience, or who have physical/learning difficulties, may be able to contribute an improvised part, whereas the printed arrangement is beyond them. Of course, it demands skills in musical analysis and orchestration to provide a framework in which pre-composed and improvised elements can form an integrated and stylistic whole. It is this framework for musical exploration that we seek to provide in our arrangements for the classroom.

Most teachers do need to have the basic raw materials assembled, a ‘store-cupboard of familiar ingredients’ with which to create nourishing dishes to meet the dietary requirements of individual musical development. It is in the stocking of this 'store-cupboard' that the publisher can make the most useful contribution, rather than in supplying pre-processed, ‘packaged meals’. In other words, sheaves of prescriptive lesson plans can never take the place of the creative teacher, never embrace the diversity of his particular group of pupils.

It is important to understand that, in advocating a creative approach, we are not suggesting that teachers abdicate their right, and responsibility, to set objectives, to challenge pupils to embrace new ideas and new skills, to plan a programme of work that will enable pupils to turn potential into achievement. In fact, in creative work, teachers invariably make greater demands on their pupils. (If you doubt this, compare the requirements for a traditional graded music exam with that for jazz or practical musicianship, at the same level.) The inbuilt need for creative personal development, though, means that motivation is higher. By starting from the pupil's creative input, we follow the proven teaching principle of proceeding from the known to the unknown.

We are all musical beings, born with a great range of musical skills. If this were not so, we could never have developed our complex systems of verbal communication, with their dependence on pitch, rhythm and timbre. In our creative music-making, we need to recognise and rejoice in our own personal abilities and the abilities of all those around us, without regard to disability. I would like to give you a couple of examples of very talented musicians who can participate in a class/group performance only through improvisation:

Sanjeev, aged thirteen, has considerable learning difficulties. He was described, by one exasperated music teacher, as "entirely a-rhythmic". True, he seems unable to imitate the simplest of rhythmic patterns. Yet, when Sanjeev is allowed to play freely, he demonstrates drumming skills of amazing subtlety and complexity. Allowed to contribute, through improvisation, he becomes a real asset to group performance.

As a child, Deirdre was a gifted pianist. Now an adult, a head-injury has rendered her unable to play two-handed, or at a speed appropriate to most of the group’s pieces. Today, Deirdre channels her musical gifts into her compositions. She is also able to make valuable contributions to group performances, in which others play from notated parts while she improvises bass, or inner harmony, parts.

These, of course, are extreme examples but, in most classes, there will be pupils whose level of performance, or learning style, sits uncomfortably with the use of standardised resources. Here are examples, taken from some of our mainstream resources, of creative activity facilitating inclusion:

Resource: Creative Percussion Activities
"Playing/clapping the rhythms of familiar melodies (as in Activity C) is, in itself an important skill to practise. Some children, for example those with physical disabilities may be quite unable to do this. These pupils may be allowed to play freely for the duration of the section. The important point in this activity is that they should learn to recognise contrasted sections in a musical structure.

Resource: Wake Up!
"Pupils can restrict their 'clock-making' to establishing a pulse to be imitated by the rest of the class. A child with poor coordination may only be able to sustain a pulse at their own slow tempo. More able pupils could add pitches to the pulse to create 3-note melodies."

Resource: Exploring Japanese Music
"Tuned percussion with removable bars may make the improvisation activities more accessible to pupils unable to find, or play, the notes on other instruments."

Resource: Voices, KS3
"Singing in parts is as rewarding for performers as it is for listeners. Sounding and holding a pre-determined pitch while someone sings something different takes much practice. Pupils can begin to explore the vocal resources available with this little (improvisation) exercise on random pitches."

Music can be simultaneously appreciated and shared by people of diverse abilities and interests. It is shared and yet it is a unique experience for each one. Sometimes, we can lose sight of this, as we struggle to get everyone to carry out a single, externally-imposed, task. A more differentiated and creative approach allows each to respond according to personal strengths and is a more inclusive experience for many.

When creatively engaged, we are not comparing ourselves to anyone else, measuring ourselves against external standards. We can contribute, give of ourselves, in the humility that is truth, and rejoice in the contribution of others, untainted by envy or disdain.

© Audrey Podmore, 2003