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How we work

Music Leadership Training

We developed our methodology for music leadership through 20 years of experience making music with people affected by conflict. It is an adaptive methodology, responding to needs and culture.

The approach has been used in our programs in Palestine, Rwanda, El Salvador, Jordan, Tanzania, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Northern Ireland, and with refugees across Europe.

We have a full training curriculum to share our approach in programs and in courses with musicians, activists, and community leaders.

Our music leadership methodology describes approaches used in our programs in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Palestine, Jordan, El Salvador and across Europe.

Music leaders apply their skills to lead activities like singing, songwriting, movement and dance, rhythm, and games to engage with communities affected by violence and conflict. Whether making music with one person or with a group of a thousand, the methodology centers on providing the following:

  • Safe spaces for participants,
  • Experiences of inclusion,
  • Opportunities for creativity,
  • Equal treatment for all group members,
  • High quality music-making.

The music leadership methodology invites creativity and participation in places where children and communities live in fear, distrust, and isolation. Music leaders work with care and skill, to offer relief, connection, and provide a much-needed safe space.

Musicians Without Borders has been working with people and communities affected by war, conflict and displacement for over 20 years. We’ve seen firsthand the effects of the music leadership methodology:

  • In El Salvador, to combat gang culture and violence, we trained teachers in music leadership. The teachers used the methodology to incorporate musical and nonviolent approaches into their classrooms. Music becomes a model for peaceful coexistence.
  • In Rwanda, children who face the stigma of living with HIV experience inclusion in music. Simple experiences of hearing their names sung, their rhythms echoed, and being welcomed by music leaders into bands create real change.
  • Against the backdrop of violence and separation that characterize Europe’s refugee camps, moments of music-making initiated by trained leaders allow young people to reconnect and feel like themselves again.

Our experience shows the benefit of an adaptive methodology, responding to needs and culture. We work with partners in all our programs to understand how music can help to support the local community. Together, we develop localized approaches, built upon three pillars.

Working principles

Five principles guide our music leadership methodology:

  • Safety,
  • Inclusion,
  • Equality,
  • Creativity,
  • Quality.

Principles of nonviolence

Music has the power to connect, but in the wrong hands, can also be used to connect one group against another. This makes a nonviolent approach to our work essential. A clear set of values behind our practical work serves as a guide for our music leaders. 

The effect of music on our bodies

Our methodology is informed by an understanding of the ways that music can influence us biologically, socially and psychologically. We connect music to the nervous system, and the ways in which it can counter feelings of dysregulation caused by trauma, disconnection and extreme experiences.

Darren Abrahams

Fabienne van Eck

Rukengeza Espoir

Jose Pepe Garcia

Juan David Garzon

Marion Haak-Schulenburg

Otto de Jong

Manu van Kersbergen

Sherwin Kirindongo

Amanda Koser-Gillespie

Kana Yves Nzeyimana

Jim Pinchen

Ryuko Reid

Gregor Schulenburg

Marijke Smedema

Emma Smith

Guus van der Steen

Christa Tinari

Hanno Tomassen

Zaynab Wilson

Since 2015, we offer open training courses in music leadership. Our training courses share the knowledge and skills of Musicians Without Borders’ trainers with individuals from a variety of musical backgrounds.

While we design each training to specifically respond to the needs of our trainees, we always cover the main subjects of the methodology:

  • Our five working principles – safety, inclusion, equality, creativity, quality – and how to apply them to group work,
  • Leading musical activities in different cultural contexts,
  • The ways that music influences us biologically, socially and psychologically, and how we can use music to improve personal and community wellbeing,
  • How the principles of nonviolence can direct music activities towards social change.

To date, we have trained over 700 trainees from more than 55 countries. Past participants have gone on to apply our methodology in settings such as refugee camps and asylum centers, peace education workshops, local communities facing complex issues, juvenile detention centers, and community choirs.

Find all of our upcoming courses in our current course listing.

In addition to our regular courses, we also offer tailored training and workshops for organizations, businesses, conferences and universities. Training can be delivered online, in-person or in a hybrid format. For more information, please contact [email protected].

6 April, 2024

London, UK

Music leadership training with Living Song

11 May, 2024

Manchester, UK

Music leadership training with Music Masters

A training for students and alumni of Music Masters, with a focus on music-making with refugee populations.

13-17 May, 2024

Heek, Germany

Community Music Training at Landesmusikakademie NRW (German only)

A training for musicians and music teachers who wish to develop their skills to contribute to social inclusion. This training week is organized jointly by Musicians Without Borders and the IN.DI.E Music project of the Landesmusikakademie NRW.

9-13 September, 2024

Leeds, UK

Music leadership training with Leeds Beckett University

Musicians Without Borders in collaboration with Leeds School of Arts are bringing a new 5-day “Welcome Notes” training programme to Leeds. We are looking for facilitators and co-creators working across music and performing arts to participate in this unique training opportunity. The training course in Music Leadership will share the knowledge and skills of Musicians Without Borders’ trainers with individuals from a variety of music and arts-based practices.


Announcing the Music Leadership Summit 2021

An astonishing 80 million people in our world suffer from forced displacement due to war,…
June 22, 2021

Interview with Amanda Koser-Gillespie, trainer

Amanda Koser-Gillespie is a trainer for Musicians Without Borders and the program manager for the…
April 26, 2018

Experiences from a Palestinian workshop leader

Edmon Baseel, a workshop leader for Palestine Community Music, traveled to The Netherlands to participate…
November 24, 2016