What Music School Taught Me by Adele, Leona Lewis and Friends – Guest Post by Matthew Pink

Can creativity be taught? It’s a difficult one.

The pursuit of artistic practices across all disciplines must involve – out of sheer necessity – the dedication to practice and learning. Sometimes, it has to be said, at the expense of creative flair.

Similarly, if the process of learning involves restrictions and pre-existing straight-jackets unwittingly (or not) passed down from teacher to pupil, then doesn’t the end product (from both pupil and teacher) inevitably end up confined or reduced in some way?

Perhaps the key to great music teaching is better seen as facilitating – the offering of a route map with various options printed thereupon – signposts, helpful clues, pre-plotted pathways – but with the overall goal being that the wayfinder must carve their own route.

Here in the UK, the stock of music schooling has not just been in the ascendance over recent years but has undergone something of a starburst. Music teaching had been traditionally viewed as a little on the dour side, creatively speaking. Alex Kapranos of successful British guitar band Franz Ferdinand supports this theory, “None of us had particularly positive experiences of music in education as children. We were taught that music was written by an anonymous person from the past, to be regurgitated without feeling by you, the child.”

Self-schooled musicians, who have taught themselves by ear, learning the tracks from sheet music or from just sheer bloody-mindedness, have really been the dominant gene pool for a number of years. Creativity was never something that they were taught, it was more like something they learned how to make use of in whatever fashion they could find or that came naturally.

But a sea change in attitudes to music schooling in the UK could well be traced to back to the first words uttered by UK rap doyen Dizzee Rascal after he was announced as the winner of the prestigious Mercury Music Prize back in 2003: he thanked his music teacher Tim Smith for rescuing and inspiring him. This, it could be argued, changed the perception of music schooling for a new generation.

Since then to complement Dizzee’s non-street message, there has been a wave of talent to graduate from the now famous Brit School. The glamorous roll-call includes artists who have enjoyed huge success on both sides of the Atlantic; Leona Lewis, Adele and Katie Melua are just three.

Adele is hugely positive about her time at music school; “The Brit School was amazing; I still really miss it. I hate to think where I’d have ended up if I hadn’t gone to The Brit School. It’s quite inspiring to be around 700 kids who want to be something – rather than 700 kids who just wanna get pregnant so they get their own flat.

I didn’t have some rich daddy who built me a studio. But I loved The Brit School. It was a bit like Fame sometimes – you get people doing their ballet stretches and singers having sing-offs.”

By all accounts, the Brit School seems to be getting a lot of things right in terms of showing the way to creativity and not just imposing top-down, dry music learning. It’s even free to attend, if highly competitive.

Says Katie Melua, “They taught us that you are a person, so you are creative. You learnt that you can do anything you want to if you just go out and do it.” Kate Nash concurs, “I loved the place… I wouldn’t have been prepared for what’s happening to me now if I hadn’t been to The Brit School. Being there gave me the confidence I needed.”?

The other big advantage of learning in a music school environment like that of the Brit School is that you are constantly surrounded by others who eat, sleep and breathe music too. This can be very healthy for creativity. The peers have the same mind-set, the same passion and, if the school is doing their job correctly, complementary abilities which should just give alchemy that little nudge along helping duos, trios or groups form.

Moreover, and this is especially crucial nowadays, at a musical school you can have access to the smorgasbord of music-making, and music-recording technology; technology which has played such a big role in the democratisation of music production as well as the liberation of producers world-wide who have found their own direct distribution channels through social media and the web.

However, whether all of this is geared up to teach pupils how to become a musician or, rather, how to further sculpt the musician that is already in existence, is a debatable point.

Moreover, the music school as described by Adele, Katie Melua et al seems more to be about learning how to harness creativity, rather than how to become creative in the first place. In simple terms – benefiting from a musical education is not the same as being a musician.

But what do you think? Can creativity be taught? Engendered? Or just facilitated? What are your methods to make this happen for your students and your particular learning environment?


Matthew Pink is our newest guest poster here on Music Matters Blog and we are grateful for his support of the online music education community! If you are interested in finding out more about how you can promote your company, event, or product, just send me an e-mail and I’ll let you know about our advertising packages.

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