Following on from my last blog – Two approaches to musical inclusion – here are some practical tips that I find maximise participant engagement. Additions, revisions and questions most welcome – leave a comment or join Drake Music’s Facebook group for inclusive music teachers & leaders.
1 – Visit the participants beforehand if you can, even briefly. This allows; them to meet you in a familiar and safe context, for you to explain what you will be doing together, get an idea of the vibe of the class and the level that they are working at, and perhaps to ask them what kind of music they like, and what musical activities they do already.
2 – Find out if anyone has sight or hearing impairments. We can support hearing impairments with vibratory speakers, and partial sight with large print or various technologies.
3 – Avoid asking about other medical conditions. It does little to help you prepare for your session and reinforces unhelpful labels.
4 – Avoid asking about behaviours. Each project is a fresh start for everyone.
5 – Visit the space you will be working in beforehand and ask yourself:
- How is the acoustic?
- Are there any instruments in there already that you can use?
- Tables and chairs?
- Power points?
- Room to dance?
Just before the session starts
6 – Make the space sound as harmonious as possible – this might be by putting all the instruments in the same key, choosing soft timbres (and hiding the snare drum), adjusting volumes, or just turning off the air conditioning.
7 – Check in with your other senses:
- Make sure the room is a good temperature. If it is hot and stuffy and you can’t open the windows, make sure that there is a plentiful supply of drinking water.
- Consider lighting.
- Depending on the group, you may want to minimise bright colours.
8 – If working with wheelchair users, make sure you leave room in the circle of chairs for them, and avoid wires on the floor.
During the session
9 – Engage the Learning Support Assistants and/or care workers. This is probably my number one tip. These guys often have a really strong relationship with the participants (and are also often very talented), and the participants care what they think – if they are having fun and making music, it is much easier to get participants doing the same. This in turn creates a sense of group identity.
10 – Begin the session with live music. Playing as pupils comes into the room sets the tone, minimises participant nerves by putting the focus on the music and minimises chatter.
11 – Experiment with a microphone. The experience of having your voice amplified, perhaps with effects, is Really Cool. Those who rarely vocalise find their voice, and those with a great singing voice shine.
12 – Experiment with vibrations. Invite participants to feel the bell of your clarinet, or body of your kora, vibrate. Use vibrating speakers or, if you are feeling flush, invest in a Subpac S2. If you’ve got a spare hour and a lever arch file you’re not using, you could also build a Darch Resonator.
13 – Experiment with stories. Especially useful with sensory (PMLD) pupils. Employ and enjoy all the senses, and bring a dressing up box.
14 – Every participant action/communication/behaviour – positive or negative – is an attempt to meet a need. Needs are never in conflict, but the strategies employed to try and meet them can be (e.g. your need for calm and participants’ need for adventure). If you can figure out what the need is beneath the action, you can support the participant to meet it, quickening the journey to music-making (this is the basis of Non-Violent Communication).
15 – If an activity isn’t working, change it!
16 – Use interesting scales and modes, affording participants the option of expressing dissonance. My favourite is the pelog scale, used in Indonesian Gamelan traditions. Use it over a two chord vamp: the tonic minor, and a major chord built on the 6th (e.g. if the root of the scale is C, vamp over C minor and G# major). Solo on thumbjam.
17 – Employ musical cycles. A 12-bar blues is the most familiar one in the west, but many cultures, for example the Zimbabwean mbira tradition, don’t see music as a journey from A to B, but rather a cyclical framework to improvise within. Less ‘right and wrong’, more time to experiment and interact within the music.
18 – Let others conduct. Conducting could simply mean bringing people in and out, and can be done with hands, eye movement, blinking, switches etc.
After the session
19 – Write down the names of participants and anything that particularly worked, or ideas for next time. Everyone likes to be remembered.
20 – Hear from any other staff about how they found the session and invite feedback – when we are leading there are often nuances we aren’t able to pick up on at the time.
21 – Consider using the Youth Music Quality Framework (find out more in this great blog from Charles Matthews) as a tool for reflection.
22 – Share your learning. (perhaps in the comments section below :))
Leave a comment or get in touch via twitter @bensellerz. The DM Music Education account is @weallmakemusic.
If you’re interested in leading inclusive music sessions using tech, working with young Disabled musicians or just generally making your music more interactive, then read about our one day training course Inclusion and Music Tech in Practice