The “Continuum of Creativity”

Some History:

I began thinking about the concept of a “Continuum of Creativity” after watching Adam Neely’s video “Why No Rap Covers?” In the video, Adam Neely, and Ethan Hein examine the idea of why rap covers are so rare. It comes down to an unwritten rule throughout hip-hop culture that dictates, lyrically and sonically speaking, that covering (biting) other rappers is disrespectful and should not be done. Of course “covering” is common in jazz and in rock music culture, as well as a number of other Western musical traditions. As Adam points out in the video, there is a book of songs that every jazz musician needs to know how to play. In rock music, there are tribute bands devoted to copying entire recordings note-for-note. This all brought me to looking at this through a music education lens. In keeping with the idea of covers, classical musician culture often values “covering” another musician’s music over their own. Modern music education–at least in North America–is very often focussed on the interpretation of “classical” music composed by the “greats,” and it is often seen as disrespectful to not reproduce a work of someone else note-for-note. Considering these seemingly polar opposite ideas toward covering someone else’s work I began asking what this could mean for music education as a whole. 

Also, in Questlove’s recent book, Creative Quest, after discussing George Clinton says that he “…demonstrates how important creativity is to hip-hop, or maybe how important hip-hop is to creativity” (p. 147). This all brought me to the question: Does this mean that Rap and Hip-hop are the most creative musical artforms in North America?

I began thinking about the concept of a “Continuum of Creativity” after watching Adam Neely’s video “Why No Rap Covers?” In the video, Adam Neely, and Ethan Hein examine the idea of why rap covers are so rare. It comes down to an unwritten rule throughout hip-hop culture that dictates, lyrically and sonically speaking, that covering (biting) other rappers is disrespectful and should not be done. Of course “covering” is common in jazz and in rock music culture, as well as a number of other Western musical traditions. As Adam points out in the video, there is a book of songs that every jazz musician needs to know how to play. In rock music, there are tribute bands devoted to copying entire recordings note-for-note.
The Continuum of Creativity to the Continuum of Music-Making

The Anomaly of the Conservatory Approach

It has occurred to me many times that classical music, as taught in a conservatory approach, can be extremely creatively hindering. And it is the only modern Western genre that compartmentalizes composing, performing, and improvising. For example, a common practitioner of rock, jazz, bluegrass, country, or hip-hop is improviser, composer, performer, and arranger–a musician. On the flip side, a common practitioner of classical music trained in the conservatory, is a performer or a composer, not often both and very few (if any) situations exist where the classical musician would have to, both, play the written notes but also improvise, or show up to a rehearsal and compose music with others on the spot. Improvisation, it is seen, is left to the jazz musicians. Even within the niche of a Baroque music specialty, where improviser and performer are one in the same, that is still a very specialized skill that only those trained in the style can do. To put it differently, there is no other Western tradition where the separation between composer and performer is so pronounced as it is in Western classical music practices. Knowing this brought me to this fundamental question: If classically-trained musicians and music educators were “forbidden” to play music from the greats, how would that fundamentally change music education?

I thought: Can there be a way to visually represent these relationships? So I began to brainstorm on Canva in a very visual form in a way I had not really explored before. I began plotting out my thinking on this using an info-graphic which later became dubbed as a think-o-graphic designed to present my thinking and to challenge the thinking of the viewer.

Here is the progression of my first four drafts of this think-o-graphic:

The progression of the idea of a Continuum of Creativity

In Adam Neely’s video, he references Kurt Mosser who classified four types of cover songs:

  1. Minor Interpretation
  2. Major Interpretation
  3. Send-up
  4. Parody

In this infographic, however, I have lumped the Send-up in as a type of major interpretation, and the Parody a type of minor interpretation. In a Parody, the music and melodies are often exactly the same as the original and the only element that changes is the lyrics; hence, its place closer to minor interpretation. The Send-up is more of a major interpretation because the style is often re-written and re-arranged (and a melody sometimes added) but the lyrics stay the same.

Imaginative/Creative to Interpretive

At the very top of this continuum is Original Music Creation which involves the skill of creativity and inventiveness to generate original ideas. On the other end is Interpretive which doesn’t necessarily mean the complete absence of creativity as some educated guesses and choices need to be made to interpret a classical score. However, interpreting a piece (minor interpretation, if you will) is not an inherently creative act. Yes, every interpretation of a piece sounds different than the one before it, but it is essentially the exact same piece of music using only pre-determined and generally-accepted interpretational models. Nothing new is being generated in this scenario.

I’ll let the infographic (think-o-graphic) do the rest of the talking:

At the very top of this continuum is Original Music Creation which involves the skill of creativity and inventiveness to generate original ideas. On the other end is Interpretive which doesn't necessarily mean the complete absence of creativity as some educated guesses and choices need to be made to interpret a classical score. However, interpreting a piece (minor interpretation, if you will) is not an inherently creative act. Yes, every interpretation of a piece sounds different than the one before it, but it is essentially the exact same piece of music using only pre-determined and generally-accepted interpretational models. Nothing new is being generated in this scenario.
Final product “Continuum of Creativity.”

What are your thoughts? Does this speak to you? Does it challenge your thinking? Where do you land on this continuum? Where do your learners fit on this continuum? What would happen to music education if the greats were “off limits?” Leave a comment.

Until next time, Happy Musicking.

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