Wspólnotowy Serwis Informacyjny Badan i Rozwoju - CORDIS

Final Report Summary - MUSICALCREATIVITY (Sociocultural Enablers and Inhibitors of Musical Creativity: A Cross-Cultural Comparison)


The capacity for musical creativity is often believed, at least in Western cultures, to be a talent (as in a stable in-born trait) that is naturally (or divinely) bestowed upon a select portion of the human population. Yet in some music-cultures substantially more persons engage in creative musical activities than in others, and many individual musicians find it easier or more difficult to be creative in different social and cultural environments. Why might some music-cultures promote greater creativity than others? What factors in an individual's social and cultural environment might enhance or thwart his or her motivation and ability to be creative? The primary goals of this project were (1) to identify socio-cultural enablers and inhibitors of musical creativity, (2) to understand their mechanisms of influence, and (3) to propose strategies for promoting broader engagement in creative activities and increased creative risk-taking.


Three diverse field sites were selected for comparative case studies: Helsinki, Finland; Cape Town, South Africa; and Los Angeles, United States. Conducting a cross-cultural comparison was crucial because the assumptions, beliefs, norms, and values that govern socio-musical behaviors often are deeply ingrained, naturalized, and taken for granted. Different cultures can provide alternative models of practice, as well as help us understand how the same human struggle to be both creatively expressive and socially accepted may be impacted by different environmental factors. Finnish, South African, and American music scenes were selected in particular because of their distinct cultural attitudes and belief systems, different approaches towards music education and funding, and varying degrees of institutionalization, commercialization, ethnocultural diversity, and socioeconomic inequality. Because each city has multiple music scenes with widely varying creative practices, musicians in the study were selected from three idioms in each site: classical music, jazz, and a local folk/traditional music. Several months were spent conducting in-depth qualitative research in each field site. This included ethnographic participant-observation of formal and informal performances, rehearsals, and learning situations as well as in-depth interviews with 110 musicians, music educators, and other music personnel. The interviews lasted on average two hours each and, once transcribed, came to a total of 1,028,847 words, or approximately 3430 pages. Data was collected beyond the point of saturation, ensuring the validity and comprehensiveness of the findings. The interview transcriptions serve as the primary data set for the main results of the project. The ethnographic data serve to frame and contextualize the interview data, allowing for a more accurate and culturally sensitive interpretation. The data was analyzed using sociological qualitative techniques such as thematic coding and grounded theory, employing the assistance of MaxQDA qualitative data analysis software to facilitate a more systematic and thorough analysis of such a large data set. Since the researcher, Dr. Juniper Hill, is trained in the discipline of ethnomusicology, additional professional training in sociological methods was necessary. The findings also necessitated further researcher training in the disciplines of music education, music psychology, and social psychology, which was achieved through mentoring, literature review, and participation in conferences and symposia.


The primary results and conclusions may be grouped into five categories: (1) a model of what musical creativity entails; (2) identification of inner resources that facilitate musical creativity; (3) identification of socio-cultural factors that promote or inhibit creativity; (4) an explanation of the mechanisms through which sociocultural factors influence individuals’ capacity for creativity; and (5) recommendations for strategies for surmounting inhibitions and promoting increased creativity.

1) The researcher analyzed the perceptions and experiences of musicians to develop an experiential model of creativity as comprising six components: individual agency, nonconformity, generativity, interaction, recycling, and flow.
2) While not a prerequisite for creativity, developing certain inner resources facilitates engagement in creative activities at more advanced levels. These inner resources include six key knowledge and skill sets: aural skills; memory facility (for the mental and kinesthetic storage and access of a vocabulary of musical patterns); decision-making skills; self-assessment skills; instrumental/vocal technique; and practical music theory/syntax skills (as relevant to particular idioms). Creativity-enabling inner resources also include the psychological traits and states of courage, self-esteem, self-confidence, sense of potential, and willingness to take risks.
3) Major socio-cultural enablers and inhibitors of creativity include: (a) cultural belief systems regarding who has the talent, potential, and authority to be or become creative; (b) pre-established socio-musical norms and aesthetics and the social pressure to conform to them, which is applied through formal judgment systems such as auditions, exams, degree requirements, and competitions as well as through informal feedback from music teachers, peers, audiences, and critics; and (c) socioeconomic privileges and inequalities, especially access to learning opportunities, presence or lack of creative role models from diverse social groups, and the freedoms and constraints that accompany different types of financial support.
4) The primary mechanisms through which these sociocultural factors influence individual creativity are developmental and sociopsychological. Availability of learning opportunities as well as pedagogical approach impact the degree to which individuals are able to develop key skill and knowledge sets. Both teacher and learner must believe in the potential of the learner in order to be motivated to devote the time, energy, and resources to skill acquisition. Cultural beliefs about talent, role models with whom the learner can personally identify, and internalized prejudices and social barriers all influence sense of potential and hence motivation to develop skill sets and to engage in creative activities. Motivation is also required for creative risk-taking, which is adversely impacted by the significant social pressures to conform. Psychologically, these social pressures are manifested as performance anxiety, fear of negative feedback, fear of failure, and overly zealous self-criticism, which often lead to self-censorship of creative ideas and inhibited creative risk-taking.
5) Strategies for overcoming these inhibitions and promoting creativity may be employed at the individual, educational, and policy levels. At the educational level, effective creativity-enabling pedagogies and programs simultaneously promote: the acquisition of key skill sets; the development of psychological traits such as courage, self-esteem, and sense of potential; and the establishment of a supportive social network in which mistakes are acceptable and aesthetic norms may be challenged. At the individual level, enabling activities increase the awareness of alternative creative pathways; these include switching musical idioms, switching teachers, switching instruments, and going abroad. At the policy level, important strategies for enhancing creativity include: promoting public awareness of creative artists from diverse social groups; outreach activities that connect leading creative artists with learners; making both elementary and advanced musical training more widely accessible to learners from different musical, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds; and ensuring that institutional and financial support does not confine musicians to the narrow norms and aesthetics of specific genres and idioms, but rather allows and promotes creative expression across and beyond established styles.


The results of this project not only increase our theoretical understanding of the nature of creativity, but also present real practical applications for how practitioners, educators, and policymakers may increase their awareness of creativity-inhibiting practices and promote both a broader public engagement in creative activities and greater degrees of creative risk-taking (and hence innovation) in advanced creative work. While this study focused on the domain of music, the understandings of human creativity and its sociocultural inhibitors and enablers as revealed in this project are relevant across many domains. Furthermore, once acquired, the motivation for engaging in creative activities and creative risk-taking is transferable across domains.


Dr. Juniper Hill, School of Music and Theater, University College Cork,
Music Building, Sunday's Well Road, Cork, Ireland.
Prof. Nicholas Cook, Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge,
11 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DP, UK.

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