Curious, Collaborative Creativity in Your Ensemble!

Curious, Collaborative Creativity in Your Ensemble!

By NAfME member, Caron L. Collins, Ph.D.
The Crane School of Music,
State University of New York at Potsdam


Utilizing the creating, performing, responding, and connecting standards all within a single ensemble rehearsal seem impossible? Some of us feel overwhelmed when trying to find time to plan and implement all our NAfME 2014 Music Standards. Many of us find that we barely have enough time to properly prepare our students for their next performance, let alone set aside time in their rehearsals for students to compose, analyze, discuss, and share. We understand the importance of 21st century skills, but we often fall short in helping our students to develop them within our bands, choirs, and orchestras.

The Curious, Collaborative, Creativity (CCC) approach, studied in several K-12 schools and two universities, provides a way for student-centered learning within our ensembles, while maintaining musical excellence and developing life-long musicianship.


What is Curious, Collaborative Creativity?

Students explore a variety of traditional and new music through collaboration. Inspired by the Comprehensive Musicianship through Performance (CMP), Project-Based Learning, and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the CCC format shifts the control of the ensemble solely from the director to student-teacher teams.  Together the students and teacher select and/or compose the music they wish to explore; develop their curiosity through shared ideas and individual contributions; investigate through collaboration; and then produce a creative performance with the audience.   

The primary goal of CCC is to develop a total understanding and competency in performing, responding, and creating with the members of an ensemble.  Musicians work together in teaching, composing, improvising, creating, analyzing, interpreting, and sharing comprehensive artistry in a three-step process. As we step off the podium and begin collaborating with our students, they take ownership for their own performance and become informed musicians. “Instead of the measure of success being ‘listen to what my group can do,’ it is [about] evolving toward a student-centered measure of ‘look at what my students know, can do, and value about music.’” (Teachout, 2007, p. 23)



Choosing our Music and Forming our Teams

In Step One a variety of music is chosen through a democratic process. “When students are given space to explore freely, to work democratically, they will create (from one of their musical worlds) a context about which they are familiar, conversant, or curious…The materials that students choose to explore will represent a world that is theirs, a world they understand, a world that defines who they are.”  (Allsup, 2003, p. 35)

  • The students begin their exploration of the music through the guidance of the teacher in order to inspire their natural curiosity about the music. Students listen to recordings, sight-read through literature, and experiment with their own improvisations to begin the selection process. The music selected represents the varied interests of the students, styles, and genres.
  • Students are given a questionnaire to determine objectives, roles they would be interested in assuming, and musical projects they would like to create.  Exactly what students decide to do is based entirely upon what they desire to learn through the music they have selected with their teacher.
  • The teacher organizes the students into teams and begins planning the rehearsals based upon results of the questionnaires.



Collaborating Together to Learn and Discover

During Step 2 the students work together in their Performing, Creating, and Responding teams. “Within this framework, students pursue solutions to nontrivial problems by asking and refining questions, debating ideas, making predictions, designing plans…communicating their ideas and findings to others, asking new questions, and creating artifacts.”(Blumenfeld, et al., 1991, p. 371). 

  • The Performing Team collaborates with the teacher in analyzing, interpreting, rehearsing, evaluating, and refining the music being rehearsed. 
  • The Creating Team works with the Performance Team in imagining, creating, evaluating, and refining the music being improvised or composed. 
  • The Responding Team enhances the understanding of the music through written word, visual displays, interpretive movement, videos, and more.
  • The teacher becomes the facilitator as well as the director of the ensemble in leading the students in making connections to the music.



Informing while Performing

Step 3 is the culmination of the musical journey: The “Informance”. Infused in the performance of the music, the students share what they have learned and involve the audience in a deeper understanding of the music. This can include:

  • Performance and Creativity team presentations, perhaps with a student conductor, composer, or student improvisers providing a demonstration and discussion with audience
  • The Responding Team’s musical enhancements of dance, movement, artwork, and videos
  • Audience participation to creates an enlightened musical performance where the boundaries of director-student-audience dissolve into a greater aesthetic experience. 


How Do I Do This?

Sound difficult and time consuming? Actually, it does not require any more time than you currently devote to planning, directing, and teaching in your ensembles. In fact, as your students progress through the three-step process, the director’s responsibilities are reduced and student-ownership increases, which result in deepening the students’ musical understandings, increasing musical skills, and strengthening the ensemble.

To find out more about Curious, Collaborative, Creativity, see Dr. Caron Collins’s webinar “Flipped Out: Transforming Your Ensembles for the 21st Century,” now online at NAfME Academy.



Allsup, Randall, “Mutual Learning and Democratic Action in Instrumental Music Education” Journal of Research in Music Education, 51:1, 2003

Blumenfeld et al. “Motivating Project-Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting the Learning.” EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST, 26(3&4) 369-398, 1991

Teachout, D. J., Understanding the ties that bind and the possibilities for change, Arts Education Policy Review, v108, n6, p19-32, Jul-Aug 2007


About the Author

Caron Collins

Caron Collins, Associate Professor of Music Education at The Crane School of Music, State University of New York in Potsdam, has 25 years teaching experience in K-12 instrumental and general music, and 10 years at the college level. Currently, she teaches undergraduate courses in modern instrumental methods and graduate music courses in action research and learning styles. She is music director of the Campus-Community Band, a collaborative, inquiry based ensemble. Dr. Collins has published articles and presented clinics at numerous state and national conferences.  She earned her undergraduate degree from Indiana University and doctorate from The Ohio State University.


Connect with Caron on Facebook or visit the CCC Website


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