My Last Waltz at Belvue (Part 1 of 2)

This is part 1 of this blog series, looking at the challenges and highlights of my time working on the ‘ Exchanging Notes’ project at Belvue School. 

This is my final blog which sees the end of year 3 of this four year Youth Music funded project entitled ‘Exchanging Notes’, now being led by Charles Matthews.

The main purpose of this blog is to give a general overview of my thoughts and experiences from years 1-3, sharing some challenges and highlights that people may find useful.

There are currently more opportunities for non-disabled children and young people to access music lessons in ‘mainstream’ education.

I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work on this project from the beginning with the goal of ‘re-modelling’ traditional Peri-style music lessons in a Special school.

Looking back on video recordings from year 1 to the present, it’s evident to me that each young musician has progressed and developed musically in different ways.

I am thankful for having the Sounds of Intent framework as a support tool, which I found especially helpful in year 1 to make baseline assessments, and also for checking-in each term with what was happening.

I’ve listed a few significant details below that have stood out to me over years 1-3 of delivering these Peri style lessons, some of which may seem obvious and typical to those who work in ‘the field’, but nonetheless significant.

Time (communication and patience)

Give time for everyone (and yourself!) to settle into their music lessons and the time to develop individual and effective communicative musical relationships.

Some of the young musicians may settle into their lesson straight away, some may take weeks longer, which is OK, so please don’t assume from the outset that someone is not ‘musical’ or not interested.

Preferences can change (observations, choices, reflecting, responding)

It’s important to listen carefully to musical preferences and respond appropriately.

One example I can share is of a young musician who I thought preferred to play keyboard during our weekly lessons, as it was the instrument she initially showed preference for.

For a long period of time I was trying to find different ways in which to engage and support her in playing keyboard, then after talking about it with colleagues (it’s good to talk to colleagues!), I realised that she had actually been showing a strong preference for singing, not keyboard.

This drastically changed the shape of the music session and she seemed happier and more engaged to be singing in the microphone each week, rather than playing keyboard, although she may well come back to the keyboard again at later stage.

[I will share a video clip of the early stages of this example in part 2 of the blog so look out for that.]

Another example is of a young musician who, after spending many weeks at the beginning of the project exploring different instruments, settled on drum kit as his instrument of choice.

However, at the beginning of year 3 he began to show his preference for keyboards, and whilst I found it a bit unfortunate that he no longer had preference for drums (as I felt he was making great progress), it was my responsibility in my role to support and facilitate his request and suggested he did both keyboard and drums. However this young musician was very sure it was keyboards he wanted to play!

Over the next 1 or 2 lessons he demonstrated his excellent aural skills, his ‘ear for music’ working out melodies and self-correcting notes.

He also demonstrated how he could transfer rhythmic patterns from drum kit to the keyboard. Again, this young musician now seemed to be more engaged and happy in playing a new instrument.

Instruments are Instrumental to progress!

Most importantly, young musicians should have access to play and practice their instrument.

Most of the young musicians received their instruments from Ealing Music Service in year two to bring home with them (2 young musicians had instruments at home).

It was a great experience to witness the impact this had in how people’s individual musical skills were being developed, purely by having an instrument and time to play!

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Please find previous ‘Exchanging Notes’ blogs here:

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