Collaborative Composition. An essay on collaborating in music and education settings. Written for University.

On the 24th of June electronic musician/composer and performer Squarepusher aka Tom Jenkinson posted this message on his website. If you don’t want to reads the entire message it’s a call for musicians of all types to collaborate with him as a response to the European Referendum. Jenkinson wanted to make a piece a music with collaborators regardless of age or ethnicity as a compliment to the result. He wanted to use music to reaffirm a connection amidst a “disturbing situation”.

This type of collaboration gives a voice and a platform for the countless bedroom musicians, producers and performers. Many of whom possibly self-taught and discovered music through self-directed learning. Learning, sharing and educating in this way is what Paulo Freire refers to as Liberating Education.[1] The collaborative compositional project made the participants, teachers and students, simultaneously.”[2]

A project like the one mentioned above is in no way unique, it’s easy to find many websites and forums online with similar projects. Many professional and amateur musicians are sharing their skills, entering dialogue and thus moving away from what Freire calls “bank education”.  The professional musician, in this case Jenkinson, is no longer seen as the teacher. He is one who is taught through dialogue.[3] He teaches whilst being taught[4]. The collaborators become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow.[5]

Online, the most popular forms of collaborative composition are pop, rock and electronic. Many teenagers and other age groups regularly sign up to forums to share ideas and write music together. The aforementioned styles are heavily reliant on collaboration. Although some Western Classical musicians have collaborated with others, the popular genres are what spring to mind when you think of collaborations. In the paper: Music education in the Twenty-First Century: A Psychological Perspective. David J. Hargreaves et al, speak of a third level learning environment, i.e. not at home or school. This third level environment could be the street, a garage, a bedroom or a youth club. [6] Musical activities in the “third environment” are, self-directed and highly motivational.[7] Skills are learnt by imitating, talking and watching other musicians and each other. John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s ground-breaking compositional work took place in just such an environment, and had very little to do with school music education.[8]

 Third tier learning is done away from the classroom without the interference of teachers[9]. For “popular” music to remain important to many teenagers and inspire future composers and collaborators in the genre, “it’s important for the music teachers who are mostly the product of a classical western music education to provide a scaffolding structure and resources to integrate into the third level learning environment.”[10]


Music is so often used as a badge of identity for teenagers and adults alike. Collaborative compositions allow for different styles to combine, to form new musical compounds, break social conventions and unite not only musical genres but social groups as well.

With music becoming so ubiquitous the dynamics between composer, performer and listener are ever-changing. I once seen a band who claim to have no songs, no albums, no set lists and never do the same performance twice. The Bays were a band made up of session musicians who played with everyone from The Spice Girls to numerous top ten acts. “The Bays enter into a creative agreement with their audience and the dance floor and what they receive from the audience they reinterpret that response into music.”[11]  In this case the audience was part of the collaborative composition. The audience and their response to sounds/tempos and beats helped write the music. It was a great experience to be a part of a compositional process as the lines of performer/composer/audience and listener evaporated.

With the advancement of technology, everyone can now take part in the compositional process and through websites like you can collaborate with many musicians at any level. Technology and third tier learning is shifting the musical paradigm away from classical and popular instruments and dragging music into the digital age. Anyone with a computer or tablet can create, compose and collaborate. More people than ever can now call themselves musicians.

Some examples:

Charles Hazelwood and Sqaurepusher:[12]  Classical meets Drum ‘N’ Bass. I was in the audience for this quite an eclectic mix of people.

Aphex twin and Alarm Will sound Orchestra:[13] Arrangement by Stefan Freund. Orchestral collaborative arrangement of an idiosyncratic electronic music piece.

Rock Musician Frank Zappa and Ensemble Modern:[14] G-spot Tornado. With Dancers.



Freire, P. (1996). Pedagogy of the oprresed. London: Penguin.

Hargreaves, D. J. (2003). Music education in the 21st century: A psychological prespective. British Journal of Music Education, 147-163.

Jenkinson, T. (2016, July 15). Retrieved from

Kompoz. (2016, July 15). Retrieved from


[1] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of The Oppressed. (London 1993, Penguin Books) pg 60

[2] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of The Oppressed. (London 1993, Penguin Books) pg 53

[3] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of The Oppressed. (London 1993, Penguin Books) pg 61

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] David J. Hargreaves, Nigel A. Marshall and Adrian C. North (2003). Music education in the twenty­ first century: a psychological perspective. British Journal of Music Education, 20, pp 156-157

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid.

[11] The Bays., accessed 17/07/16

[12] Charles Hazelwood and Squarepusher, Ufabulum. accessed 15/07/2016

[13] Aphex Twin and the Alarm Will Sound Chamber Orchestra. accessed 15/07/16

[14] Frank Zappa and the Ensemble Modern. accessed 15/07/16