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    Using group improvisation and imaginative listening to nurture creative autonomy in A-level music students: teaching composition for examination purposes in England

    Hartley, Jennie Claire (2023) Using group improvisation and imaginative listening to nurture creative autonomy in A-level music students: teaching composition for examination purposes in England. Doctoral thesis (PhD), The Royal Northern College of Music in collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University.


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    This thesis examines the effects of group improvisation and imaginative listening on teaching and learning in the composing component of A-level Music in one school in England. Problems with teaching composition in schools have long been acknowledged, with the same issues raised across studies spanning several years: how to teach it, and how to interpret assessment criteria. In that context, this action research project developed in response to a perceived association between students’ behaviours in composition and listening, with cautious, teacher-reliant composers also struggling to listen constructively to music that presented new aesthetic challenges. As studies with A-level Music students are rare and there is no research connecting listening, improvising, and composing in this context, a wide range of literature, educational and otherwise, was consulted. This scholarship underpins two central studies in this project, undertaken in the academic year 2020-21. The first study aimed to enable students to participate in group improvisation, addressing preconceptions about genre, skills, and expectations. Thematic analysis of data revealed a correlation between reduced self-consciousness and improved expression of observations and interaction when improvising, the latter supporting a view that positive self-constructs and creativity are linked. The second study used group improvisation alongside imaginative listening tasks as part of a developing composition curriculum. Characterful playing in improvisation, curiosity in listening, and a healthy dimension of perfectionism in composition were found to be connected by the attribute of risk-taking. Significant links emerged between behaviours in improvising, composing, and listening, indicating possible ways of indirectly nurturing creative autonomy and positive creative self-concept. This research informs a potential A-level composition curriculum that interweaves group improvising, listening, and composing. Rather than focussing on skills development, product assessment, or devising a model of the compositional process, this thesis recommends ways to nurture “unteachable” inner attributes such as intuition, self-trust, and aesthetic awareness, essential qualities in critical and autonomous composers.

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