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Although far from exhaustive, this glossary is intended to familiarize new visitors to the lab with some of the fundamental concepts that support our work.



Adjacent Possible – a term coined by theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher Stuart Kauffman. In the words of author Steven Johnson, “The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself. Yet it is not an infinite space, or a totally open playing field. The number of potential first-order reactions is vast, but it is a finite number, and it excludes most of the forms that now populate the biosphere. What the adjacent possible tells us is that at any moment the world is capable of extraordinary change, but only certain changes can happen. …The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore those boundaries. Each new combination ushers new combinations into the adjacent possible. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open.”

Complex Adaptive System - a system in which a perfect understanding of the individual parts does not automatically convey a perfect understanding of the whole system's behavior. Such systems are complex in that they are dynamic networks of interactions, and their relationships are not aggregations of the individual static entities, i.e., the behavior of the ensemble is not predicted by the behavior of the components. They are adaptive in that the individual and collective behavior mutate and self-organize corresponding to the change-initiating micro-event or collection of events. According to physicist and systems scientist Yaneer Bar-Yam,  "Complex Systems is the new approach to science studying how relationships between parts give rise to the collective behaviors of a system, and how the system interacts and forms relationships with its environment. Social systems formed (in part) out of relationships between people, the brain formed out of neurons, molecules formed out of atoms, the weather formed out of air flows are all examples of complex systems. Studying complex systems cuts across all of science, as well as engineering, management, and medicine. It is also relevant to art, history, literature and other humanities. It focuses on certain questions about relationships and how they make parts into wholes. These questions are relevant to all systems that we care about.”   

(see General Features of Complex Systems)

Convergent Thinking – psychologist and UNL alumnus J.P. Guilford is usually given credit for distinguishing between convergent and divergent thinking. Convergent thinking is the type of thinking that focuses on coming up with the single, well-established or most often correct answer to a problem. It emphasizes speed, accuracy, and logic and focuses on recognizing the familiar, reapplying techniques, and accumulating stored information. It involves the manipulation of existing knowledge by means of standard procedures.

Creativity – the development of original ideas that are useful or influential. According to leading creativity researcher Mark Runco, creativity is “an independent cognitive capacity involving a complex of attributes that, when exercised deliberately, results in the production of something original and worthwhile. Thus, it is a form of human capital.” Additional definitions from prominent researchers include: effective surprise (Jerome Bruner), most advanced yet acceptable (Raymond Loewy), novelty that works (Theresa Amabile), and connecting two hitherto separate ideas to generate new meaning (John Cleese). A person may be described as expertly creative when they cultivate an intensely curious point of view, they are able to soften their focus at will, they can instigate fruitful cognitive collisions among disparate, seemingly unrelated ideas, they can select the most promising among them, and they can apply their technique to developing and refining unique and valuable contributions to their community and environment.

Creative Process – a multi-step process, the scaffold of which was first proposed by social psychologist Graham Wallace in 1926. Scholars have since expanded the original structure to include seven stages: orientation, preparation, incubation, intimation, illumination, communication, and verification. Based on her research, Dr. Barber has developed this description: the creative process is the application of simultaneously contradictory cognitive techniques (convergent and divergent) to raw materials gathered through the exercise of craft resulting in flashes of insight that are subsequently developed into new and valuable perspectives, interpretations, and solutions. A creative practitioner seeks any one or more of a spectrum of possible solutions to a given problem and measures success not merely as something new and valuable, but something unique and non-replicable.

Divergent Thinking - psychologist and UNL alumnus J.P. Guilford is usually given credit for distinguishing between convergent and divergent thinking. Divergent thinking explores many possible solutions to a problem and typically results in unexpected connections. It typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, non-linear manner, such that many ideas are generated in an emergent cognitive fashion. Divergent thinking tests are the most commonly used estimates of the potential for creative thought.

Emergence – is a fundamental quality of ensembles. It occurs when an entity is observed to have properties its parts do not have on their own. These properties or behaviors emerge only when the parts interact in a wider whole. For example, smooth forward motion emerges when a bicycle and its rider interoperate, but neither part can produce the behavior on their own.

Ensembleship – a  term coined by CB to describe the skills and dispositions that enable groups of musicians to function in a deliberately creative and collaborative manner analogous to the flocking (aka murmuration) of starlings. The fundamental components of ensembleship include: 

  • Establishment and nurturing of an imaginative, fluid creative network encompassing all members of the ensemble and involving:

         Individual preparation and connection through convergent thinking, and       

         development of improvisational skill and individual point of view through

         divergent thinking.

         Exploration and understanding of the myriad roles each musician plays in

         the ensemble, cultivating the ability to switch roles rapidly and effectively,

         engendering the intuition to recognize when a switch is called for, and

          providing options for the strategic embodiment of a broad spectrum of roles.

          Development of the ability to influence and be influenced by teammates

          deliberately using rhetorical (in a musical sense) and physical (gestural)



  • Establishment of the rehearsal environment as a new open platform from which musicians are able to extend and explore freely the adjacent possible. Support of this goal includes: 

            Recognition of the praxis of Western classical music performance and

            education as a closed, self-reinforcing cycle analogous to a feedback loop.

            Understanding that the value of an ensemble lies in its nature as a

            complex adaptive system the performance of which is inherently


            Exploration of ways to link to the platforms supporting the Western Canon

            without being confined by them (i.e. using what we already know to go

            beyond what we already think).

Exaptation – a term coined by evolutionary biologists Stephen Jay Gould and Elisabeth Vrba to describe the process through which an organism develops a trait optimized for a specific use, but then the trait gets hijacked for a completely different function. For example: bird feathers were originally an evolutionary adaptation for warmth, but over time were exapted for flight. Exaptation in the short term (e.g. the deliberate or accidental use of something for a purpose it was not intended to serve) might be viewed as a creative tactic that enables the exploration of newly discovered “rooms” in the adjacent possible.

Feedback Loop – The modification, adjustment, or control of a process or system by a result or effect of the process or system, esp. by a difference between a desired and an actual result. Positive feedback loops enhance or amplify changes; this tends to move a system away from its equilibrium state and make it more unstable. An example of a positive feedback loop might be found in elephants that are hunted for their tusks. The closer to extinction they become, the more valuable the tusks become, thereby increasing the motivation to hunt them and speeding their extinction. Negative feedback loops tend to dampen or buffer changes; this tends to hold a system to some equilibrium state making it more stable. The function of negative feedback loops is often to reduce undesirable effects. The classic example of a negative feedback loop in action is a thermostat regulating the temperature in a room. 

Flocking - the collective motion of a large number of self-propelled entities and is a collective animal behavior exhibited by many living beings such as birds, fish, bacteria, and insects. It is considered an emergent behavior arising from simple rules that are followed by individuals and does not involve any central coordination. Basic models of flocking behavior are controlled by three simple rules:


Separation - avoid crowding neighbors (short range repulsion)

Alignment - steer towards average heading of neighbors

Cohesion - steer towards average position of neighbors (long range attraction).


In 2013, George Young et al. discovered that "when uncertainty in sensing is present, interacting with six or seven neighbors optimizes the balance between group cohesiveness and individual effort."

Flow – a term coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi to refer to “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” He describes eight characteristics of flow: complete concentration on the task; clarity of goals and reward in mind with immediate feedback; transformation of time; intrinsic motivation; effortlessness and ease; balance between challenge and skills; actions and awareness are merged, losing self-consciousness; feeling of control.

Fluid Network – an environment in which novel combinations can occur serendipitously, and where partial ideas can connect freely, fueling elaboration, abstraction, transformation, experimentation, exaptation and other creative processes. Such networks rely on an organizational culture in which authority is broadly distributed and exploration of the adjacent possible is a primary goal. The scaffold that supports ensembleship will tend to be a densely populated fluid network of musical thought and action.

Formative Assessment - refers to a wide variety of methods to conduct in-process evaluations of student comprehension, learning needs, and academic progress during a lesson, unit, or course. The general goal of formative assessment is to collect detailed information that can be used to improve instruction and student learning while it is happening.

Gaming (in an ensemble setting) – the purpose of ensemble games is to enhance ensembleship. Although they may be used early in a rehearsal, they are not intended to be warm ups. They are portable in the sense that they are not tied to any specific repertoire, and they must be achievable without the use of notation. Ensemble games are related directly to the broader qualities of musicianship rather than to narrower tasks such as decoding notation or learning to count. They involve the entire ensemble and must be easily translatable to all methods of sound production. Ensemble games rely on the spirit of play, experimentation, and improvisation rather than on a dictatorial, pedagogical “top down” approach. Ideally, the conductor should be able to play too, and on an equal footing with members of the ensemble. Although score keeping is not appropriate, a friendly sense of competition is. To that end, clearly enumerated goals/targets are essential. The players must have the ability to adjudicate and communicate degrees of success. The most effective ensemble games are progressive (e.g. begin with a single person or pair, and grow to include all; or begin with a single task and grow by adding tasks).

Intention (artistic) – the determination to act in a specific way. If your posture and movement patterns do not allow your whole body to be available to your intention, they limit your performance. According to Jerald Schweibert, “the fundamental for healthy and efficient movement is that the whole body moves as one in support of your intention.” Intention tends to be limited by both fear of failure and the desire to do well. Both are unactable. Intention is what you are doing while you are doing it. It is the nucleus of the flow state and the engine of improvisation. The question fundamental to determining intention is: what am I doing? 

Intermediate Impossibles – a term coined by Edward de Bono to refer to deliberately absurd connections used to generate new ideas. For example, interjecting Dean Martin into a discussion of Hindemith’s Symphony in B-flat could inspire fresh options for the inflection of phrases. According to John Cleese, “the use of an intermediate impossible is completely contrary to ordinary logical thinking in which you have to be right at each stage. It doesn't matter if the intermediate impossible is right or absurd, it can nevertheless be used as a stepping stone to another idea that is right.” Intermediate impossibles are a tool to rearrange information to create new patterns and perhaps challenge old ones.

Intrinsic Motivation – a state of mind in which autonomy (the desire to direct our own lives) is blended with mastery (the urge to get better or develop skills) and purpose (the need to do what we do for reasons bigger than ourselves).  Some definitions  add relatedness (the desire to interact with and be connected to others, part of a community) in lieu of purpose. Intrinsic motivation is an essential aspect of creative working.

Metacognitive Thinking – a term coined by John Flavell to refer to thinking about one’s thinking.  It is a general term encompassing the study of memory-monitoring and self-regulation, meta-reasoning, consciousness,  and self-awareness. In practice these capacities are used to regulate one's own cognition, to maximize one's potential to think, learn and to the evaluation of ethical and moral rules. 

Mindfulness – according to social psychologist Ellen Langer, mindfulness is “the very simple process of actively noticing new things. When you actively notice new things, that puts you in the present, makes you sensitive to context. As you’re noticing new things, it’s engaging, and it turns out, after a lot of research, that we find that it’s literally, not just figuratively, enlivening.” Key qualities of mindfulness include: an ability to reframe and/or changing contexts, the creation of new categories, openness to new information, awareness of more than one perspective, orientation that favors process rather than outcome, and confidence within uncertainty. Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, describes mindful contemplation in this way, “It’s like putting on a different head, where you let the moment, the event, the person, the new idea come toward you as it is, without labeling it, analyzing it up or down, in or out, for me or against me. It just is what it is what it is what it is, without my label.”

Musicianship – commonly defined as an individual’s knowledge, skill, and artistic sensitivity in performing music, musicianship is what each member of the ensemble brings into the room with them when they come to class each day.  It is cultivated outside of class through the discipline of consistent, thoughtful practice and study, including deliberate transfer among the following elements:  

  • Aural skills, including the ability to hear and adjust pitch, tone, and the complete sound envelope as needed (articulation, releases, dynamics, density, etc.).

  • Imagination for sound and the ability to describe one’s thoughts and emotions clearly and reliably through an instrument.

  • The ability to connect all musical training to and through performance (history, theory, etc.), continually building a comprehensive mental anthology of styles and concepts. 

  • Analytical skill to support audiation, improvisation, and teamwork, including a reliable sense of harmonic function and elemental role (melody, bass, background texture, etc.).

Platform – according to Sangeet Paul Choudary, “a  platform is a plug-and-play business model that allows multiple participants (producers and consumers) to connect to it, interact with each other and create and exchange value. …The interaction is the fundamental unit of analysis on a platform. Some platforms may have multiple parties connecting to it and many different types of interactions. But all platforms will have a core interaction.” Platforms comprise three basic layers in a stack: network/marketplace/community, technology infrastructure, and data.

Physical Tactics (gestural) – motion that corresponds to musical thought, particularly as it relates to momentum. Eye contact, laughter, relaxed and efficient posture, lack of tension in tone production (instrumental and verbal), and shared focus (a common physical, musical, emotional and intellectual energy) are the foundation from which effective tactics spring. Random, habitual gestures or ticks unrelated to intention constitute “noise” and are to be avoided. Similarly, exaggerated controlling or insisting gestures (cheerleading or bullying) are to be avoided. Healthy physical tactics are specific, intentional, musically relevant, and tend to be based in second circle (see below).

Point of View – related closely to intention. A musician’s point of view is the sum of the decisions that organize how they have chosen to inflect the musical material supplied by the composer. It is conveyed using physical and rhetorical tactics (see above and below) and reflects their understanding of the role they play within a specific musical structure (form, phrase, harmony, etc.).

Praxis – the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realized. "Praxis" may also refer to the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas. Praxis may be described as a form of critical thinking and comprises the combination of reflection and action. Praxis can be viewed as a progression of cognitive and physical actions beginning with taking the action, then considering the impacts of the action, then analysing the results of the action by reflecting upon it, then altering and revising conceptions and planning following reflection, and finally implementing these plans in further actions.

Problem Finding – also problem identification, problem definition. According to Mark Runco, “If a problem is defined in terms of an obstacle between one’s self and a goal, then much of activity of artists could be called problem solving. …This latter case is often described as problem finding. Problems are all that way; they are all personal interpretations. They are not givens, not objective entities. … In the arts, problem finding may be viewed as problem expression. Here the problem is not extrinsic, but more a matter of finding a way to capture a feeling or need.” In Chand and Runco’s (1992) two-tier model, problem finding is a discreet skill set that precedes ideation and evaluation.

Question Formulation Technique – a step-by-step procedure created by the Right Question Institute to help people formulate, work with, and use their own questions. It combines three thinking abilities in one process: divergent thinking, convergent thinking, and metacognitive thinking. The process is outlined and demonstrated here:

Rhetorical Tactics (in a musical sense) – the audible equivalent of physical tactics (see above): sound as it relates specifically to the player’s musical thought. The foundation from which rhetorical tactics spring is healthy, flexible instrumental technique. Rhetorical tactics are the tools that enable a musician’s point of view to be expressed. Effective tactics are specific, intentional, and appropriate to the musical context.

Second Circle – a term coined by Patsy Rodenburg to refer to interpersonal energy that “moves out toward the object of your attention, touches it, and then receives energy back from it. You are living in a two-way street – you give to and are responsive with that energy, reacting and communicating freely. …In Second Circle, you touch and influence another person rather than impress or impose your will on them. You influence them by allowing them to to influence you.” 

Transfer - the use of previously acquired knowledge and skills in new learning or problem-solving situations. Transfer is distinguished from retention in that retention is assessed by examining the same task during training and testing, whereas to assess transfer the training and testing tasks differ.

Translogical Thinking – a term coined by Albert Rothenberg to refer to the thought processes of creative individuals engaged in the process of creation, transcending ordinary logical thought. He identified two categories of translogical thinking. Janusian thinking is the conscious process of combining paradoxical or antagonistic objects into a single entity. In homospatial thinking, two images are brought together or superimposed into one creative product. Janusian processes tend to occur in the early idea generation phases, whereas homospatial thinking tends to be involved later in the development of ideas.

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