Garage Band: An experiment in democratic music education

| April 17, 2011

In our consideration of how creativity is manifested, it’s natural to immediately jump to music and art. But musicians aren’t all that creative or innovative.

At least that’s what Randall Allsup, Assistant Professor of Music Education at Teachers College, would say. Dr. Allsup argues that musicians, at least those trained in the traditional or classical sense, learn to read notation, connect that notation to fingerings on the piano or violin (for example), and reproduce other people’s compositions. Most musicians spend their whole lives not exactly creating, but interpreting what others have created.

Dr. Allsup wants to see more musicians engage in the act of creating, of composition. The greatest realization of creativity is in composing one’s own music as a reflection of oneself.

It is with this goal in mind that he has started a “Garage Band class” for music education majors at Teachers College. The term “garage band” or “garage rock” stems from the concept of young, amateurish musicians rehearsing in the family garage. This type of musical ensemble has creativity and innovation at its core. Dr. Allsup saw the act of democratic musical composition as being modeled by “garage bands” and went about creating a replica of this process with his students.

Dr. Allsup starts the semester by grouping students according to differences, not similarities. The goal is to create a conglomerate of musicians as diverse as possible: students with backgrounds that vary in the instruments they play, the styles of music they’ve studied, the languages they speak, the countries they come from, etc. These “garage bands” are then together for the rest of the semester. They rehearse together, learn together, and create music together. Their charge is to write music that somehow reflects the talents of the entire group.

Rooted in a hope that such collaborative music making can find a space in the music classrooms of public schools across the country, this experiment in democratic music education seeks to explore the possibilities of what can happen when musicians, composition, and creativity collide.

The compositions these TC students have created will be showcased at an experiential workshop, Thursday, April 28th from 7-9pm in the Cowin Center. Come to this open rehearsal/concert at the Creativity, Imagination, and Innovation in Education Symposium and experience creativity and innovation… live.

Register for the Symposium here.