An investigation into the nature of musical creativity and some of the factors that affect its expression and perception in musically trained and untrained individuals (29/03/11)
Creativity and its expression in music are central to the essence of what it means to be human (Hodder, 1998; Blacking, 1995), but are characterised by an elusiveness and multifaceted complexity that seem to both defy definition (Torrance, 1988; Nettl, 2000) and hinder investigation (Hargreaves, 1986). Their function depends on powerful cognitive mechanisms which enable the individual to hold, shape, refine and reflect on ideas, for the most part unconsciously (e.g. Fauconnier & Turner, 2001; Boden, 1998; Pressing, 1988). This study has sought to appropriate such processes in order to access the individual’s most fundamental capacity to be musically creative, employing the essentially intuitive, unmediated and universally accessible medium of vocal improvisation. Thus, 40 musically ‘trained’ and ‘untrained’ participants vocally improvised a melody based on a given chord scheme referent. These were transcribed, rerecorded instrumentally and randomly ordered on a CD from which seven expert and three non-expert judges could aurally evaluate their creative value (Amabile, 1982). The total scores of the expert and non-expert evaluation groups were separated and subjected to statistical analysis, in relation to the experience of formal instrumental (FIMT, Seddon & O’Neil, e.g. 2001) and singing (FST) tuition, highest and lowest ranking, repeated improvisational attempts, gender and age. The highest and lowest ranked improvisations were identified and subjected to musical analysis from their transcriptions. In relation to the musical content of the improvisations, the results demonstrated that the vast majority of musically untrained and trained participants were able to generate essentially coherent melodies, many possessing quite detailed melodic, rhythmic and structural elements. There was also clear evidence of a propensity to generate a climax and place it at, or just after, ‘two-thirds’ of the way through a melody. In relation to the evaluations, both expert and non-expert evaluator groups produced some significant results although the often marked differences between them indicated that differing perceptual capacities and conceptual understandings were in operation. Thus the non-expert evaluations possessed a different kind of validity to those of the experts, based on more global and emotional criteria than the experts’ more cognitive and specific focus. Both experts and non-experts agreed that age, and thus experience in a culture, was a significant factor in the ability to be musically creative. The effect of training was addressed by correlating the mean total ratings of the improvisations of participants with and without FIMT and FST, for which the expert and non-expert evaluation results showed different patterns. Thus while the non-expert results indicated a significant interaction between instrumental and singing training, those of the experts suggested that neither form of training had an effect on the production of creativity, as all four measures were remarkably similar.