Creating musical structures and sound objects/instruments

The module serves to:

  • Introduce students to the idea of structure within music: its purpose and uses within group music-making which will facilitate psycho-social aims such as interaction with moments of individual expression;
  • Critically analyse two different uses of musical structures specifically within every day group music-making – discuss their potential and consider the limitations/challenges of these to deepening our awareness of the possibilities in implementing musical structures within our own group music-making;
  • Consider the affordances/opportunities of creating a sound object or musical instrument from everyday materials and what this can potential offer as a shared experience within psycho-social practice.

Introduction to the module

watch introduction webinar by Alison Hornblower

    Towards critical engagement: questioning dialogues and monologue

     The Oxford English Dictionary defines structure as:

    • The arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex. i.e. ‘the two sentences have equivalent structures’; ‘the company's weakness is the inflexibility of its management structure’
    • The quality of being organized i.e. ‘we shall use three headings to give some structure to the discussion’
    • building or other object constructed from several parts i.e ‘the station is a magnificent structure and should not be demolished’

    Oxford English Dictionary, "structure"

    1) All music-making can be thought of as ‘active construction’ – as musicians working with people we build structures which enable them to participate and experience their active participation. This includes:

    • Constructing and co-constructing musical events and occasions where music making is made possible;
    • Constructing and co-constructing music-making of various kinds, including improvisation (e.g. using certain kinds of musical elements within certain kinds of musical structure) which offers people certain kinds of experiences;
    • Constructing and co-constructing the means of making music - e.g. instruments.

    These all fall within Christopher Small's idea of ‘musicing’. What is important here is collaboration – which literally means "working together": the way in which we ‘construct’ together will determine our experience of ourselves, and of ourselves in relation to others. It is important to think about what each person brings to this: e.g. in an improvisation, a "non-musician" will probably be able to offer musical ideas, but it may require musical awareness and skill to structure these into an enjoyable, aesthetically pleasing improvisation. Herein lines our responsibility as facilitating musicians.

    To begin, we need to think about what is structure in music? What potential does using ‘musical structure’ hold for a musical experience? We will also explore what it means to create instruments, be this through using your body, voice as a musical sound object or from ‘everyday materials’. What is the symbolic action of building something together


    We invite all students to read and analyse the following article, as well as choosing another from the bibliography. Students can access this article by Simon Procter in the book Assessing Social Capital book (2006) -  Chapter 9 ‘Who are we Playing at? Social Capital and Music Therapy
    This is freely available and will give you plenty to think about and reflect on. You are then free to choose ONE more article from the list below, making links to your own musical experiences and asking questions such as: does all music have a ‘structure’ of sorts?, and: Is structure necessary/not necessary in music from both an aesthetic and psychosocial view?, moving to a more complex analysis.


    2) If possible, you should try to develop your thinking into an active experience. We suggest just 2 possible models, but there are many more! Consider the use of two specific musical ‘constructs’ or structures which exist within music commonly referred to as ‘the Blues’ and ‘Drum Circles’. In what has become known as the ’12 bar blues’, we have a 12 bar structure that has a predictable and repeated harmony. Despite this being associated with improvisation, it is not free. What are the possibilities/limitations of using this idea within group music-making? How can we make this accessible? Essentially, what does the Blues afford? Likewise, what can a drum circle offer? Drum circles can be many different things but often are associated with ‘free’ play and exploration. Does someone have to begin/facilitate etc? What are the cultural/psychological perspectives of this musical construct.

    3) Based on these ideas, choose between implementing the idea of a simple 12 bar Blues OR setting up a drum circle. You can do this:

    1. within a work or training placement (providing necessary consent is in place);
    2. with friends or peers or any ‘group’ available to you.

    Musical structures in groups

    watch video webinar by Davide Woods


    Music and Social Capital

    watch video webinar by Simon Procter

    We invite you to consider the materials presented here and to undertake a practical and written assignment.

    Film your practical work, and 'frame' it with a written introduction.

    Then write a critical analysis of how you have implemented the ideas discussed and your own reflections.

    It is important to note that you can also choose material which you may consider to be a negative example. It does not matter if the actual content of the video documentation does not represent what you hoped to obtain. What is interesting and important is your capacity to reflect upon the process and on what you would do differently on a subsequent occasion.



    Music videos

    An example of harmony staying static and improvisations that become quite elaborate  - also nice example of how a group of musicians function together. Notice when soloist 3 improvises, the band ‘drop back’.


    Miles Davis – not simple and not traditional ‘blues’ harmony but an example of a simple structure (theme) that repeats and allows for different voices/instruments to have their voice – interesting also to see the rest of the group who are also the audience when the camera pans out occasionally.