Developing reflective practice and collaboration through the Youth Music Quality Framework


My work as a Drake Music associate musician is often based in schools with schools identified as having a SEN/D focus, and involves co-leading with other music leaders in combined delivery and training.  I first came across the Youth Music Quality Framework at the start of the Exchanging Notes project, in which Drake Music is collaborating with Belvue School in Ealing through both whole class co-delivery and peripatetic sessions.

In this two-part blog post, which started life as a set of notes for a #Think2020 webinar, I will share how I have used the Quality Framework to develop a reflective practice.  I will present examples of how I have implemented it on the Exchanging Notes project: in part one I will look at planning and self reflection.  Part two will show how we have used the framework to facilitate collaboration with other music leaders and teachers in schools.

Introducing the Quality Framework

The Youth Music Quality Framework on display in the classroom.

The Quality Framework consists of four main sections:

  • Y: young people centred
  • S: session content
  • E: environment
  • M: music leader practice

Each of these is broken down further into more specific criteria, which are laid out in the document with a set of concrete examples from practice.  Each of the criteria can be given an informal rating, or used as a stimulus for discussion.  The implementation of the framework has been left open to interpretation as needed; it might be used for observation, to reflect on music activities, or to communicate with other professionals.

Drake Music have adapted the framework to create a version specifically for SEN/D settings. Additional comments have been added to existing descriptions only where deemed useful, for example to add clarity or to say something specific about disabled musicians’ needs against the criteria (‘Environment’ for example is considered especially relevant for many young people with Autistic Spectrum Conditions) Many of the criteria have been left unchanged i.e. the principle expressed in a criteria was felt to be universal to any child or young person.

The document itself can be downloaded here:

Planning and self-reflection through the Quality Framework

I most frequently use the framework as a tool for finding focus in planning and evaluating my sessions.  Time and energy between classes in a busy school day is often limited, and so I find it can be all too tempting to fall into ticking boxes for achievements without considering the wider aims of the projects.

At the start of a project I typically go through all the criteria one by one, with the general intention of rating my confidence in certain areas, and flagging up potential issues. I start on this by working with a printout of the overview (see pages 5-6 of the PDF), perhaps using notes from the last term, and adding question or exclamation marks next to potential problem areas. This also provides an opportunity to acknowledge areas that I feel confident in, and to reflect upon progress from previous projects.

After establishing the relevant areas upon which to focus, I look for ways to address them in my session plans. This might take the form of a specific checklist for each session’s environment or resources, addition of particular activities, or shaping appropriate assessment criteria for pupils.  

I’d initially attempted to cover all the criteria on a regular basis, but this felt a little overwhelming and impractical. Instead, following discussion with other music leaders who had encountered similar issues, I found it easier to choose one or two items to focus upon in more depth each week.  A quick glance at the overview can be very useful nonetheless, and we keep a printed copy of the framework on the wall in the classroom.

Examining the criteria

In the first year of the Exchanging Notes project, I found that the framework helped direct me towards establishing a young people-centred approach at the heart of my activities.  My priorities initially lay in tracking “soft outcomes” to complement the school’s more formal assessment criteria.  Several areas of the framework were particularly useful to refer to in this respect: contextualising and recognising young people’s musical identities (Y1), ensuring equality of access and engagement (Y2), making sure the young musicians’ views are integral to the session (S3), supporting skills, musical and otherwise (S4), and setting out to broaden musical horizons (S7).  It soon became clear that many of these were underlying priorities for the school’s music teacher as well.

Here are a couple of examples of how I have addressed the criteria in practice, with a focus on using music technology (click here for examples of some of the technology we have used):

Young musicians experience equality of engagement: no participant is discriminated against (Y2)

Ensuring equality of engagement is integral to our work at Drake Music, and in particular the stated aim of the Exchanging Notes project is to work with young people at risk of disengaging or being excluded from music sessions.  The SEN/D school context is no exception, as although activities are typically designed to be inclusive, classes can represent hugely diverse ways of communicating and accessing music, as well as a variety of physical barriers which might be thought of as inherent to traditional music making.

Having discussed this situation with the music teacher, we put together a plan for technology with alternative and accessible interfaces to be provided in rotation – providing a focus and opportunities for experimentation and turn-taking at first, and gradually becoming options to choose within our ensembles once everyone was comfortable with them.  

We have reflected upon these options at the end of each half term – some approaches have been more successful than others, and we have gradually built up something of a repertoire that we can pick from quickly in our planning.

Ideally, the iPads, Sound Beam, and switches are offered to everyone in the session as a choice of instrument and a vital part of the musical texture, rather than being presented as a “special” or “easy” option.   Similarly, voice effects and autotune have been very effective in establishing an equal access point for everyone in singing exercises, helping to think about different ways of vocalising without necessarily focusing on tune or vocal “quality”.  Certain aspects of a performance situation in itself can be disabling, and so  we have explored opportunities to produce music in non-realtime through recording and sequencing loops.

This approach has brought its own set of challenges: we have found that experimenting with new techniques has sometimes taken longer than expected to settle (for participants and staff alike), and turn-taking activities intended for introducing new resources can be excluding for some of the young musicians or impact overall engagement of the group.  These are issues that we will continue to reflect upon and address in the coming school year.

Music-making is placed within the wider context of the young musician’s life, with recognition of the young musician’s existing musical identity (Y1)

With the above considerations in mind, I felt it was vital to ensure that different means of accessing music were celebrated, and that these were built into sessions rather than always reacting to circumstances.  We’ve attempted to reinforce this through showing YouTube examples of established musicians using iPads and a variety of other electronic instruments to compose and perform.  Many of the young musicians are surprised to see that the resources they already use in school and at home can be used to develop professional quality work, and have been inspired to move forward with their own creations.

Most of our post-16 classes have taken on more of an informal club-type format, and we typically start the term by making a playlist of everyone’s favourite music that we can refer back to in ensuing weeks.  Using iPad apps such as Garage Band can give us access to a range of existing loops and sounds that help represent the tastes of the young musicians.  This also provides the opportunity to remix the material from a session to accommodate individual preferences.

Young musicians choosing song material in an ideas session

The young musician’s views are integral to the session (S3)

In planning our sessions we have noted avenues for differentiation and often guided particular pupils towards instruments and apps, but it was equally important to respect the students’ wishes if they expressed a preference for acoustic instruments.

Our smaller peri sessions tend to start with “free time”, in which the young musicians are free choose their own material, improvise, and swap instruments, observed and occasionally guided by the music leader through playing. Inspired by the success of this approach, we often start whole class sessions with an improvisation-based warmup in which we can pass control without verbal communication; and everyone is given an opportunity to lead the group through watching and listening.  This gives an opportunity for ways of playing and expressing ideas that might fall outside the scope of the class, and can feed into the development of future sessions.

Young musicians are supported to progress their musical skills, and other skills through music (S4)

Some young musicians have enjoyed learning how to set up and take down the music technology, and this can also help establish a sense of ownership of the activities.

This year we have been trying to establish a situation in which more confident young musicians can teach others how to use applications such as Garage Band to produce and perform. Collaborating, feeding back with peers, and reflecting on this process has given fresh perspective on their own musical activities and wider learning processes, and helped develop confidence and communication.

Peer teaching with the Garage Band Live Loops screen.


Having used the Quality Framework for a couple of years now, it’s not uncommon to find myself reassessing the nature of the criteria and key statements as part of my reflection process.  It’s been particularly interesting to establish cross-references between different areas, considering how we can support the young musicians’ existing ideas and identities while challenging them to broaden their musical horizons, and creating an environment of shared learning.  In some respects, I often feel like I am creating my own set of learning objectives for a project, interwoven with those of the young musicians and collaborating staff.  

The school environment was relatively new to me at the start of my work on Exchanging Notes, coming to the project as a music leader more familiar with community music and adult education. Using the Quality Framework has been very useful in developing effective activities and strategies for interaction in the classroom, as well as my own confidence as a music leader.  Perhaps more importantly, the framework has equipped me with language and means to communicate with other music leaders and teachers, as will be explored further in the second part of this post.

Do you use the Youth Music Quality Framework in your own practice, or want to find out more? Leave a comment below!