Imagine Compose

The Imagine Compose scheme was designed to encourage and nurture beginner instrumentalists to compose and improvise from the beginning of their musical lives. Birmingham City University utilised academic rigour and research to provide an evaluation of the scheme, tracking its impact on the children participating in the programme and providing recommendations for music organisations.

Imagine Compose large image


Research background

The Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) is one of the world’s foremost new music ensembles with an international reputation in performance and learning and participation provision. BCU School of Education have worked alongside BCMG to help develop their provision for young composers across a number of projects including ‘Imagine Compose’ (IC).

Imagine Compose was a partnership project with Birmingham Music Service funded by Youth Music whose aim was to encourage and nurture beginner instrumentalists to compose and improvise from the beginning of their musical lives.

This two-year research project from 2012 to 2014 was led by composer Liz Johnson and consisted of workshops and professional development sessions for teachers and emerging professional composers. BCMG worked with four Birmingham Music Service ensembles and the final project evaluation report was written by Professor Martin Fautley, Dr Victoria Kinsella and Kirsty Devaney of Birmingham City University.

Research aims

Composing has been part of the UK National Curriculum since 1987, however music hubs and music organisation often prioritise performance over composing. Imagine Compose explored how groups of beginner instrumentalists up to Grade 3, can compose within a “Wider Opportunities” class, small group or one to one instrumental lessons.

Imagine Compose worked with a number of pupils who had come to their instruments through widening participation routes of whole class instrumental and vocal ensemble work, also known as ‘first access’ or ‘wider opportunities’. Interestingly, despite an initial report by Bamford and Glinkowski (2010), we do not know a great deal about pedagogies and practices entailed in WO and elective learning nationally. The research sought to evaluate IC to produce recommendations for the inclusion of composing and creative music-making within “Wider Opportunities”.

Research methods

This report used primarily qualitative methodology to unpick the various perspectives operating during the course of the IC project. It involves the following data collection modalities:

  • Direct Observation
  • Interviews with teachers
  • Interviews with shadow composers
  • Interviews with significant actors in IC
  • An on-line survey of ensemble lead instrumental teachers
  • Case studies of pupils


The evaluation report outlined a number of positive outcomes as a result of the Imagine Compose Scheme, such as:

  • Heightened awareness of creative aspects of music-making, not solely focussing on the re-creation of extant works
  • Exploration of personal instrumental techniques
  • Thinking about music, learning things for a purpose rather than because they are in a tutor book Engagement with new forms of notation
  • Meeting positive role models (other than their instrumental service teachers) engaged with the process of creating new music
  • Taking responsibility and ownership for their own music-making
  • Performing in public works which have never been heard before, and which were created specifically for the young people in the project Explored playing in different ways from the norm

In addition, a series of recommendations for music hubs, schools, arts organisations and policymakers were given around the integration of composing and creative music-making. The evaluation report was used as a basis for online resources created by BCMG.

Reports and links

Imagine Compose Evaluation Report (2015). Professor Martin Fautley, Dr Victoria Kinsella, and Dr Kirsty Devaney. For Birmingham Contemporary Music Group