Chapter 3 / Strategies and concepts 

During the course of this research I created various interdepartmental case studies in order to test and develop ideas and strategies for collaborative cross-genre creation. As mentioned in the last chapter, the main ideas are inspired on my own experiences, mainly made at the Splendor collective in Amsterdam. The attempt to bring these ideas to a conservatory setting has been my motivation for doing research. Through the insights that I got during the case studies, I gained knowledge and my strategies either evolved or changed. Partly this will be discussed in the next chapter about thoughts and conclusions. In this particular chapter I try to give an overview of the tools that I used, assuming an interdepartmental situation with a group of participants from different departments and therefore genres, playing various instruments.

Firstly, the length of the particular session is important. It can be just a short workshop of an hour, or a course over one week with daily meetings, or an elective with regular weekly lessons over the course of one or two semesters.

Secondly, the composition of the structure concerning the order of actions, instructions and used and tools is important.

Thirdly, the content of the used tools has to be defined.

Of course, these three aspects are inevitably linked to each other.




1. One-time sessions

Short encounters, where participants meet for only one workshop of about one hour to max one afternoon. Here, time is limited which force structure and content to be condensed.

2. Repeated sessions

Workshops or activities spread over a limited period of days, like a mid-week, with daily sessions of a couple of hours to the length of one afternoon. Here, the repeating character of daily sessions is influential. 

3. Long-term regular sessions

Classes or electives taking place on a regular basis, weekly or two-weekly, over the course of one semester or a whole academic year. Here, days or even weeks separate the sessions which influences the process drastically. 




Designing a structure depends on the length of the sessions, since literally time determines how much information can be given and how much time there is left to make music or listen to outcomes. If the situation is a one-time session, a series of tools will be used in a row without repeat, eventually working towards a small presentation in the end, most likely diving right into it, with little instruction and without a long introduction. Here, mainly the flow, energy and experience of the process are important. 
In the situation of repeated sessions, every session might start with a similar structure or tool in order to refresh or repeat the actions or outcomes of the previous day. Also, intermediate goals on a daily basis can be introduced, but since the last encounter is just about half a day ago, a quite immediate continuation of previous work can be realized, too. Over the course of a couple of days the tool of a goal, like a final presentation, can be used, and exercises and informative moments like little lectures or brainstorms can be inserted.

In the case of long-term situations with regular sessions, the period of time is way more stretched and therefore other aspects appear to be important. Intermediate goals per session or limited period are useful to keep the attention of the participants, but the outcomes might be brought together in a final work to the end of the course. Though in first sessions direct results and condensed experiences might be motivating and therefore help keeping the flow, longer tension bows of work could be created in the further course. Additionally, information and exercises can be repeated, developed and deepened periodically.




What kind of content is used, and in which way, is depending on the length and how its structured during the session. One tool I often tried to use is the ‘pressure-cooker’, where a group of musicians has to create something ‘meaningful’ in a short amount of time. That tool can be used in various ways concerning group size and length. In that context I experimented with instructions for working with any kind of existing content, context or theme, but also giving no instructions at all. 

The list of ‘ingredients’ below might give an overview of useful tools of all kind, which can or eventually have to be combined with each other. Definitely, most tools possibly interact with each other.


1. Pressure-cooker

In pressure cooker sessions participants create something (meaningful) in a short amount of time. I designed several options and approaches that can be adjusted and compared:

  • Splitting the group into sub-groups: If the whole group has 5 people or more, it is interesting to subdivide the group in for example duos, trios, quartets and so on. Doing this by lottery adds a playful and surprising element to the process. 
  • Short or longer sessions: A powerful element since a 5 minute making sessions will force the participants to a different process than a 30- or 45-minute session.
  • Cold water sessions: Sending the participants without any instructions to the making session, giving them a carte blanche.
  • Guided sessions: a pressure cooker session where beforehand a clear overview of musical parameters and objectives has been presented in order to help finding a direction or give helpful limitations while creating.
  • Thematic sessions: Introduce a theme or melodic element as guideline for the pressure cooker session. 


2. Existing material vs. total artistic freedom 

  • The directed use of melodic material: here, participants are asked to use short bits of melodic material from a musical piece, melody or phrase. 
    Option 1 – homework: participants are asked beforehand to bring material:
    • a simple and playable short piece or melody from your country and/or culture
    • a simple and playable short piece or melody from your musical profession / field / chosen genre
    • a melody or piece you listened to during your youth or teen-period, and that always stayed with you (that can be any genre!)

            Option 2 – on the spot: participants are asked to come up with a melody based on the information mentioned above on the spot within the time of their pressure cooker session.

  • The free use of melodic material: Different to the idea above, participants can be asked to use or create any kind of melodic material they can come up with themselves. That approach opens up more possibilities and eventually touches compositional practices, but clearly defines that melodic material should be used, no free improvisation.
  • Free approach: participants have to come up with their own thoughts for content, tools and ‘common ground' themselves within the limited time of the pressure cooker.
  • Total freedom (or free improvisation*): here, participants are supposed to explore non-melodic elements and sounds to interact, and create something out of that. For this approach several techniques of how to approach free improvisation have been created by many musicians. In my work I mainly worked with the list of musical parameters that can be used as a guide line.

3. Subdividing groups

Subdividing bigger groups generally has the effect to bundle the focus of each participant and offer possibilities to create personal connection in smaller sub-groups. Therefore, it can be a tool not only for musical creation, but also for team building and group dynamics. Depending on the group size I used a couple of ideas in my work, mostly connected to a pressure cooker idea:

  • Splitting groups by lottery: a tool that adds a playful and surprising element to the process. It might create a pleasant atmosphere for the beginning, and also will make sure that participants will not choose the most obvious partner(s).
  • Size of sub-groups: Depending of the whole size of the group subdivisions into duos, trios, quartets or even quintets can be made for any length of pressure cooker sessions. Starting with a duo subdivision will create immediate focus and personal contact between all participants and therefore is a proved starting tool.
  • The sub groups in the end of a session might be brought back together for a collective creating session, where eventually content that is created by each group can be combined to a whole. Alternatively, a pressure cooker style session with the whole group can be planned after participants experienced the pressure cooker in a smaller sub-group. 


4. Information, introduction and instructions

What kind of information is given depends on the length and structure of each session. Some concepts only need short introductions, other offer space for more instructions and background information about for example collaborative music making techniques or parameters useful for improvisations. The list below therefore can be extended or varied, and the contents can be used in any kind of combination:

  • Introduction: During a ‘This is me’ introduction round each participant not only gives brief info about him- or herself, but could eventually also play a short musical phase that is representing. Depending on the setting that can be given as a homework so even little videos could be created.
  • The most recent listening: a fast tool for opening up the group and create the feel of common ground is asking what each participant most recently listened for. 
  • Playing moments: during musical warm-ups and exercises in the beginning of a session participants are asked as a group to play with no further introduction on the spot for maybe one minute, or pass on one sound or phrase while sitting in a circle. There are multiple possibilities (see chart).
  • Brainstorm sessions: a brainstorm session can have a pressure cooker format or be part of a bigger process. It can be used in small sub-groups or with the while group, depending on the context of the situation. The longer the process gets, the more important are regular moments of brainstorms so that the participants get the chance to come with ideas and strategies themselves. Making a chart can be helpful, starting of with simple terms like ‘WHAT?’ and ‘HOW?’, to be complemented by the participants.
  • Short bits of information: in the form of short mini lectures information about tools and strategies can be given without losing the flow of the session. This can be easily combined with brainstorm moments or while doing a recapitulation, and should initially only provide tools to use instead of the solutions, think of the parameters.
  • Constructive feedback: using a technique like critical response (link) helps keeping feedback to the point, balanced and constructive. This will trigger new ideas during further brainstorms and the general way of focused and respectful listening and communicating. 


5. Curational aspects 

Any kind of theme, topic or other content can be introduced as a guideline, wild card, joker or whatsoever in order to direct a session and its outcomes, if wished for. Options are either starting with a given idea for a theme or give the assignment to choose one. 

  • Object: One approach could be to link a theme to a personal object that is meaningful in any aspect concerning life, career etc. That could alternatively also be a story, a melody or whatsoever. From there on participants can decide themselves in which way the objects have an influence on the created result.
  • Programmatic approach: participants from different departments will have backgrounds in different genres and therefore possibly could introduce a big and eclectic range of program. The curational aspect of a cross-over or cross-genre concert program could be seen as a tool or theme on itself. 


6. Atmosphere and surrounding

The right atmosphere of the rooms, where the activities take place, itself is very important. Cold lights and characterless huge spaces might be less inspiring than cozy studios with a good light. It seems self-evident but is often forgotten. Some aspects to take care and think of:

  • Seating arrangement: a circle is inviting to participate and treats everyone in it equally, a classical classroom setting invites to be passive.
  • Space size: small and cozy rooms might stimulate close contact while bigger spaces might be less personal, but might offer room for different settings and movement.
  • Lightning: Very simple but influential: same like room size also cozy lights might create a trustful working atmosphere while cold and sterile light might cause the opposite.
  • The room and its surrounding: inspiring surroundings like a well-designed room or a great view will support creative processes better than chaotic classrooms. Distraction of any kind might be problematic in any case, but a room without any objects in it will be to sterile either.  


*Free improvisation is an art form and topic on itself. During my projects I intentionally chose not to go deeper into free improvisation techniques but rather see the term in the context of a playground the participants’ creativity and imagination. 


**The ideas, tools and strategies mentioned above offer endless possibilities for developments, adaptions and variations made by participants and coaches.