CNMN > Projects > Creative Music Making from Source Material

Nikola Tosic

  • Ouvert (définition : partitions pour une instrumentation non spécifiée)
  • Instruments acoustiques
  • Instruments rock
  • 13 à 18 ans
  • Adultes
  • Ainés
  • Éducation

Creative Music Making from Source Material


Here is an approach to col­la­bo­ra­tive music making based on using exis­ting reper­toire, where a group samples and repur­poses mate­rial and ideas for use as a Star­ting Point.

A. PREPARATION – Choose the Feature

Pre­pare by choo­sing one or more fea­tures direct­ly rela­ted to the reper­toire com­po­si­tion and inten­ded to use as a Star­ting Point.  You can also do this with the class, depen­ding on the “depth of engagement”.


Examples :

Musi­cal Buil­ding Blocks

  • Meters (odd meters of various tra­di­tio­nal music)

  • Rhyth­mic pat­terns (focus on syn­co­pa­tion, genre-spe­ci­fic beats)

  • Cadences (tra­di­tio­nal and as a broa­der concept)


  • Cross-dis­ci­pli­na­ry (Debussy’s La Mer ins­pi­red by Hokusai)

  • Ins­pi­ra­tion from nature (Bee­tho­ven Sym­pho­ny No 6)

  • Contem­po­ra­ry sam­pling techniques

Socio-his­to­ri­cal context and other knowledges

  • Indi­ge­nous knowledge

  • Ori­gins of Afri­can (per­cus­sion) ins­tru­ments in the Ame­ri­cas (various contem­po­ra­ry jazz and latinx composers)

  • Inter­in­fluence of Asian and Euro­pean music tra­di­tions (mul­tiple composers/pieces)

B. The Workshop(s)

1. Warm-up

Warm-ups are inten­ded to bring a group into an opti­mal psy­cho-emo­tio­nal state for crea­ting music toge­ther. I like to run com­ple­te­ly unfa­mi­liar acti­vi­ties which “reset” the stu­dents’ usual band room mind­set. When desi­gning the warm-up, keep in mind the cho­sen Feature.

Examples :

  • For com­plex rhyth­mic pat­terns, warm-up by run­ning some simple clap­ping riffs with pha­sing effect (3/4 4/4 5/4 star­ting together)

  • Fun phy­si­cal ice-brea­ker acti­vi­ty with some space for impro­vi­sa­tion, gui­ded towards the Feature

2. Engage with the Feature

The Faci­li­ta­tor can be crea­tive with the man­ner of pre­sen­ting the Fea­ture. For the stu­dents, this expe­rience should be slight­ly chal­len­ging, a stretch into the “less known”.


Examples :

  • Ver­ba­li­za­tion of an odd meter (do-you wa-nna ba-na-na = 7/8)

  • Gra­phic nota­tion of com­plex rhythms

  • Learn melody/riff/motif (late­ral rote, decons­truc­tion of buil­ding blocks, etc)

  • Fast visual brains­torm of concepts on whi­te­board and identify/discuss connections


3. Gene­rate Mate­rial in Break-out Groups 

Assi­gn smal­ler groups and give them a task for explo­ra­tion and expe­ri­men­ta­tion, based on the Fea­ture (and its parts).


Sug­ges­tions :

  • Define clear deli­ve­rables and keep a tight dead­line (<20 min)

  • Walk around and offer artis­tic assis­tance (lis­te­ning, curio­si­ty, appreciation)

  • Sug­gest ways a stuck group could move forward

  • Pro­vide some socio-emo­tio­nal gui­dance for resol­ving conflicts, assu­ring stu­dents that unu­sed ideas are valuable and can be used in ano­ther context, etc


4. Share – Dis­cuss – Combine 

The brea­kout groups share the musi­cal mate­rial they came up with. After some dis­cus­sion, the idea is to try put­ting things together.


Sug­ges­tions :

  • Lis­te­ning groups pay atten­tion to details and make connec­tions with their own music material

  • The Faci­li­ta­tor can get the ball rol­ling by direc­ting the mix/match process

  • The Faci­li­ta­tor can suggest/direct varia­tions in tem­po, dyna­mics, octaves, extending/shortening bits

  • Rather than ver­bal­ly dis­cus­sing what parts may or may not fit toge­ther, have the groups try out their ideas and lis­ten to how they respond


*For more musi­cal mate­rial, repeat steps 3 and 4


5. Rehearse – Perform/Record

You know what to do !


Sug­ges­tions :

  • Stu­dents’ self-esteem from crea­ting an ori­gi­nal com­po­si­tion results in dee­per focus – praise them for it !

  • Ask stu­dents which sec­tions need fixing

  • Assi­gn conduc­tors for spe­ci­fic sec­tions and transitions

  • Limit the num­ber of run-throughs before per­for­mance. Avoid ear/mind/soul fatigue !


6. Debrief – Appre­ciate – Celebrate

  • Stu­dents can share some­thing posi­tive they’ve obser­ved about one or more of their col­la­bo­ra­tors. Ask them to be specific !

  • If you have time, run some fun cele­bra­to­ry games !



  • Be ALERT and FLEXIBLE : stu­dents will unex­pec­ted­ly come up with new ideas, which often redi­rect the work­shop. Let go of your ini­tial plan and fol­low the music !

  • Consi­der adjus­ting the “depth” of enga­ge­ment to your stu­dents’ experience/skillset (also in real-time, during the workshops!)

  • Think about making this an aural expe­rience. If nota­tion is neces­sa­ry, you can get stu­dents to create gra­phic nota­tion or other alter­na­tive (student-crea­ted sculptures).

  • Arrange the chairs into a large circle

  • Please consi­der the ideas in this docu­ment as just a few from an infi­nite num­ber of pos­si­bi­li­ties. In the spi­rit of this approach, this docu­ment can be chop­ped up and rear­ran­ged. Please feel free to be as crea­tive as you like with these ideas !

Case Stu­dy :

Edu­ca­tio­nal outreach for Saa­ria­ho Fes­ti­val, orga­ni­zed my New Euro­pean Ensemble

  • the pro­ject invol­ved music classes from three dif­ferent schools (Inter­na­tio­nal School in The Hague, Deutsche Inter­na­tio­nale Schule Den Haag, Haags Mon­tes­so­ri Lyceum)

  • each class had a dif­ferent lead faci­li­ta­tor and dif­ferent approach

  • the Star­ting Point was Kai­ja Saariaho’s com­po­si­tion Licht­bo­gen (Nor­thern Lights)

  • the Deutsche Schule class focu­sed on resear­ching and dis­cus­sing the natu­ral phe­no­me­non, and then crea­ted sound­scapes based on timbre expe­ri­men­ta­tion with their ins­tru­ments. They then dis­co­ve­red notes/scales/patterns which they super­im­po­sed on the soundscapes.

  • the final com­po­si­tions were pre­sen­ted as a pre-show per­for­mance during the main Festival

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