Dr. Bill Bruford

Unaffiliated scholar

Qualifications: PhD

Contact: academic@billbruford.com


Bill Bruford is an unaffiliated early-career scholar, having acquired his doctorate from the University of Surrey (2016). He enjoyed a long and fruitful career as a musician and teacher before stepping back out of practice to investigate, currently, aspects of creativity and performance psychology. He has given lectures and seminars at multiple European and North American institutions.  His academic writing includes a book, Uncharted: Creativity and the Expert Drummer (2018); a book chapter, Learning experiences of Expert Western Drummers: A cultural psychology perspective (2019); and a journal article in preparation. Dr. Bruford was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the group ‘Yes’ in 2017.



  • Bruford, B. (1988) When in doubt, roll! London: Foruli Publications
  • Bruford, B. (2009) Bill Bruford: The Autobiography: Yes, King Crimson, Earthworks, and more. London: Jawbone Press.
  • Bruford, B. (2018) Uncharted: creativity and the expert drummer. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Book chapters

  • Bruford, B. (2019) ‘Learning experiences of Expert Western Drummers: A cultural psychology perspective’ in Z. Moir, B. Powell, G. D. Smith (eds.) Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music Education: Perspectives and Practices. Bloomsbury: London. Bloomsbury Handbook of PME for web
  • Bruford, B. ‘Leadership – the view from behind the kit’ in Brennan, M., Pignato, J. M., & Stadnicki, D. A. (Eds.). (2021). The Cambridge Companion to the Drum Kit. Cambridge University Press. Leadership: The view from behind the kit
This chapter starts from the premise that the experience of music learning undergone by individuals who later develop as internationally recognised expert performers might warrant examination by virtue of the proven success of outcomes. The bulk of music studies that focus on learning have done so within the context of Western classical music (Barrett 2011a:265) and within the context of student or early-career practitioners on pitched instruments. The learning of high-level, peak-career experts on unpitched instruments in other-than-classical traditions has been much less examined and it is their perceptions that provide the context and setting for this analysis of learning experience.

I use elements of action theory to situate learning in the context of the drummer’s community of practice, itself embedded in a cultural system defined in part by the unpitched nature of the instrument. The community both shapes practitioners’ engagement and colours perceptions of action-choices. Cultural differences in attitudes to formal and informal learning emerge on the one hand along lines of geography in a North American / European split; and on the other along lines of tradition in classical music / popular music distinctions. Suffusing both are the perceived insufficiencies of unpitched instruments framed within a pitched instrument prejudice.

A cultural psychology view suggests that the drummer’s community of practice is embedded in a cultural system defined in part by the unpitched nature of the instrument which both shapes practitioners’ engagement and governs action-choices. Evidence presented supports consideration of the reasons why: a) informal learning may be more productive in some areas than formal learning; b) calls for the refocusing of the notion of practice to accommodate something more than solitary confinement with the instrument should not go unheeded; c) the somewhat unsung value of informal learning and non-deliberate practice demands equivalency with the acknowledged value of formal learning and deliberate practice; d) parental involvement in learning may have negative as well as positive ramifications.

The research project upon which the chapter draws generated interview data in respect of drummers’ perceptions and experiences of creativity, some of which described earliest memories of engagement with music at a point where learning and creativity are closely allied (Custodero 2012). These activities were explored through thematic analysis of the participants’ testimony with the aim of building a rich picture of the variety of experiences undergone. Extant research emphasising the development of music expertise as residing in benign environmental conditions and appropriate education ‘critiqued and monitored by an expert other’ (Barrett 2011b:13) needs some expansion. While undoubtedly that may hold good in some cases, evidence here suggests that expertise is also achievable within a less stable learning scenario characterised by struggle and engaging with the haphazard, the stochastic, the muddled and the interrupted in an ever-present overcoming of obstacles to progress.


  • Barrett, M. S. (2011a) ‘On being and becoming a cathedral chorister: a cultural psychology account of the acquisition of early musical expertise’. In  M.S. Barrett (ed.) A cultural psychology of music education. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Ch. 11.
  • ————— (2011b) ‘Towards a cultural psychology of music education’. In M.S. Barrett (ed.) A cultural psychology of music education. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Ch. 1.
  • Custodero, L. (2012) ‘The call to create: Flow experience in music learning and teaching’. In D. Hargreaves, D. Miell, R. MacDonald (eds.) Musical Imaginations: Multidisciplinary perspectives on creativity, performance and perception. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Ch. 23.

Journal articles

Conference papers

  • 24-28.06.2013. 17th IASPAM Biennial Conference. “Creativity at the margins: A case study exploration of one drummer’s contribution to popular music”. University of Oviedo, Spain

The work of western kit drummers has hitherto been somewhat marginalised in scholarly enquiry, with there being only a handful of extant publications. Musicological analysis in popular music studies has tended, with very few exceptions, to focus on lyrical content, harmonic progression and overall rhythmic movement, rather than on the contribution of drummers. Through the lens of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s systems model of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988), this paper will step towards an understanding of creativity in drumming through the study of one practitioner, Max Roach. The presenter, himself a kit drummer, will argue that Roach is an exceptional case, and that drumming cannot in most instances be understood in the terms set forth by Csikszentmihalyi. An argument is put forward for an adapted, expanded model of creativity that accounts for the particular practices within the context of ‘communities of practice’ (Wenger 1998) that exist in popular music performance.


  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1988) ‘Society, culture and person: a systems view of creativity’. In R. Sternberg (ed.) The Nature of Creativity: Contemporary Psychological Perspectives. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 325–39.
  • Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • 10-12.12.2014. AcadProg: 1st International Conference. “Le Rock Progressif: Rencontre avec Bill Bruford”. University of Burgundy, France
  • 8-10.9.2016 IASPAM UK & Ireland Conference: “A breed apart and a breed below: Towards an action-theoretical model of creativity and the circulation of meaning in Western kit drummer performance”. Brighton Institute of Modern Music, UK

The notion of performance creativity within popular music has attracted little academic attention outside that afforded the singer / songwriter / producer.  Drummers, for example, are not typically associated with creativity, a presumption that appears to diverge from the perceptions of expert practitioners. Recent research within that community by the presenter, himself an expert drummer, indicates that the capacity for creative action is the rule rather than the exception, and that the achieving and making meaning of creativity in performance is central to self-perception.

Drawing together the three elements of culture, individual and action, all seen as inseparable and mutually constitutive, this paper attempts to illuminate issues of creativity and meaning in the performance of the Western kit drummer. Performance creativity is viewed as a socio-cultural, intersubjective and interactive construct; an action in between actors and their environment rather than ‘inside’ individuals as a psychological phenomenon entirely located within the individual mind. In this view, culture and cultural psychology become crucial determinants in the meaning-making processes of performers on ‘unpitched’ instruments. An action-theoretical  model is introduced to depict  the way in which drummer action is informed by and informs Self and Others in a fluid circulation of individual and domain meanings.

The paper concludes by proposing that drummers derive meaning from a sense of shared community, and that their making meaning of lived experience, and particularly lived creative experience, affects the way they carry out that experience in their actions as musicians. While no claim to originality is made in interpreting and drawing upon the works of others, the nuanced action-theoretical model of significant, mediated action-in-context presented here should have future value in helping to understand how instrumental practitioners construct notions of creativity in music performance.

  • 24.02.2018. Creative Music Pedagogy Symposium: “Give the drummer some: distributed creativity in popular music performance”. Bath Spa University, UK.

The maximisation of creativity in popular music performance can only be facilitated in tandem with the clearest possible understanding of what creativity means, where it might lie, how and to whom it is attributed, and how it might be enhanced. Creativity models that focus on the domain-changing capabilities of an individual necessarily have less to say about the sort of distributed everyday creativity embedded in the collaborative, interactional performances of many popular musicians.

This paper focuses on the creative action in a single instance of music performance through the lens of Glăveanu’s (2014) Five A’s model of distributed creativity. In this formulation, creativity is distributed between (rather than resides within) the Action of an Actor and the resultant music Artefact. Exploiting the existing socio-cultural Affordances this distribution exists in relation to an Audience and results in an artefact that is considered to be new, useful and significant by and to the audience. Creativity is deemed to lie in the relational interaction in and between these five elements, transforming the trivially new or different into the significantly new or different. Seen in this way as a quality of the relationship between the performer and the situation, creativity has both a powerful evaluative function and also implications for performer wellness. Greater appreciation of what it means and feels like to collaborate creatively might usefully be inculcated within HPME courses orientated to the acquisition of creativity skills.

  • 15.08.2018 “Life Beyond the PhD: Views from the recent past”. Cumberland Lodge symposium.

Other publications


Book reviews

Research Interests

Action theory, creativity, music performance.

The psychology of drummers and drum performance.


International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM)