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Selected Development Project
Project Title

Music Composition Intelligence: An Empirical Study to Observe Compositional Approaches and Compositional Thinking during the Creative Process of Computer-assisted Composition in Secondary School

Principal Investigator Dr CHEN Chi Wai Jason
Area of Research Project
Creative Arts and Culture Development
Project Period
From 10/2016 To 03/2018
  1. To confirm the existence of sub-intelligence - compositional intelligence under musical intelligence of Gardner’s framework;
  2. To investigate different compositional approaches in student’s works by observing how students manage MI components – pitch, rhythm, timbre and form in both popular and classical music genres during the creative process of computer-assisted composition
  3. To evaluate how students’ compositional thinking exists at different key stages through mapping into the centre portion of Webster's (2003) model of creativity
Methods Used
To further investigate the compositional intelligence in secondary students aged from 13 (F.3) to 15 (F.4) during their computer-mediated compositional process at a band one secondary school in Hong Kong with well-developed ICT infrastructure, this empirical research is a one-year case study to capture their compositional process through collecting four data sources: (1) file analysis through cloud computing; (2) students’ reflective journals; (3) focus group interviews; and (4) compositional sketches to reveal their compositional thinking. There are 44 students involved in this study as 'convenient samples' who have chosen the 'ICT in music' lesson (60 minutes each week) as their elective in the school music curriculum and there are 30 Mac computer workstations available equipped with notation software (Sibelius) and sequencing software (Logic Pro) in this school.
Summary of Findings

This study’s findings identified three major composing pathways related to the three different cognitive thinking styles: creative-driven, formula-driven and critical-driven. The compositional thinking associated with them is summarised in the following table:

Creative-driven Formula-driven Critical-driven

Legislative thinkers like creating and formulating things. They also like planning things and making their own rules.

Compositional approaches: Students have clear and detailed plans in mind. They have a clear idea of form, lines, style, meaning and sound. They like planning things and then formulating them.

Related composing strategies: both horizontal 1a and vertical

Executive thinkers prefer to be given guidance. They like following rules and prefer problems to be given to them and structured for them.

Compositional approaches: When they face difficulties, they seek help and use those ideas. They ask people to structure problems for them.

They prefer to compose the melody first and then add the harmonic progression parts one by one.

Related composing strategies: mostly horizontal

Judicial thinkers like to evaluate and judge. When they face problems or difficulties, they will analyse and evaluate them on their own.

Compositional approaches: They do not like to stick to a plan, as lots of new ideas popped up. They judge spontaneous ideas before using them. They change plans constantly. New ideas are preferred, which clearly shows that they continue evaluating and judging ideas before they finally make a decision.

Related composing strategies: mostly vertical

This table shows that the elements of compositional thinking (cognitive thinking style, compositional approaches and composing strategies) are closely interrelated. In curriculum design, teachers should consider allowing students with different cognitive thinking styles to maximise their creativity in a computer-mediated composition environment. Furthermore, this study can assist teachers and students to better understand how to make use of their natural musical identity in music composition.


A proposed 3Es learner-thinking model in computer-mediated composition

Students start with personalised learning in computer-mediated composition to discover what kinds of musical style or instrumentation they would like to use. During the creative process, different kinds of cognitive thinking styles and composing strategies are formulated and they develop their own ways of compositional thinking. Students explore different musical ideas directly within the computer-mediated composition environment. They refine their ideas and ‘create their own sound’ in the piece, developing their musical identities. To finalise the creative product, students continue listening to and evaluating their piece until it represents their musical identity.

Selected Output

Chen, C. W. J. (2018). Compositional Thinking in Classical Music Within a Computer-Mediated Composition Environment. Evelyn Orman, Celebrating 50 Years of the ISME Research Commission (282-298). Dubai, UAE: Canadian University Dubai.

Chen, C. W. J. (2018, July). Compositional Thinking in Classical Music Within a Computer-Mediated Composition Environment. Paper presented at the International Society of Music Education (ISME) Research Commission Seminar, Dubai.

Biography of Principal Investigator

Dr Chen Chi Wai Jason is an Assistant Professor and the Chair of the Research and Development Committee in the Department of Cultural and Creative Arts at the Education University of Hong Kong. He graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music in 1995 with a Bachelor of Music Degree, majoring in composition and piano with a 4-year scholarship. He later furthered his musical studies at the Hong Kong Baptist University, receiving the Master of Arts (majoring in composition and electro-acoustic music) and a Postgraduate Diploma of Education (majoring in Music) respectively. He received his PhD in music technology and music education at RMIT University, Australia. His research interests include music technology and musical creativity, jazz music and pedagogy, artificial intelligence and music education, popular music education - formal and informal learning, music composition and improvisation, music theory and analysis, and performance (classical piano and jazz piano).

Funding Source

General Research Fund