The Boy With His Head In A Drum


Curiosity and experimentation are at the heart of creative music making. We wouldn’t have the rich musical heritage that we enjoy in 2013 were it not for all the composers, instrument makers and performers who, over the preceeding millenia have repeatedly asked the question; “I wonder what it would sound like if… ?”

I’m currently visiting all the DM Education Sounds of Intent projects being delivered around the country, thanks to our Early Years funding from Youth Music. There are many similarities and differences between the projects, but one similarity stands out for me as being emblematic of the project over-all. At both Cherry Garden school in London, and at Villa Real School in Consett near Durham, there are young autisitc boys who enjoy putting their heads inside drums, and then vocalising.

If you’ve never tried this yourself, you really should – it sounds great! But for many teachers, especially those who aren’t music specialists, this kind of response by a child to a musical instrument can present problems. It’s not just that children are ‘supposed’ to play drums by beating them rather than by putting their head inside them. It’s also to do with an anxiety about what other grown-ups might think (the Head Teacher, Parents, OFSTED!!?) about that particular teacher’s competence to lead a music session, if they walked in and saw a child with their head in a drum, making strange, wailing / hooting noises. Also, how do you asses this kind of activity and, is it actually music?

Our DM Education project demonstrates that the Sounds of Intent framework is now setting teachers of SEN/Disabled children free from these kinds of worries about ‘right and wrong’ in music, and from a reliance on P-Levels which, in my opinion are impotent in assessing meaningful musical activity in SEN schools. Sounds of Intent now enables teachers at schools like Cherry Garden and Villa Real to have confidence in starting from the child, delivering musical activites that feel instinctive and appropriate, however unconventional they may be. Then, once the activity is finished, the SOI framework can be used to interpret and understand just what on earth was going on, as well as suggesting strategies to develop the activity further so that children can progress. Oh, and SOI is now being endorsed by OFSTED, so there should be no worries in that department.


SOI framework-600x600The picture above shows the SOI framework, which you can explore for real in all it’s interactive gloryhere. The boy with his head in a drum is likely to be somewhere near the middle of the circle, but not right in the middle, because if you’ve put a drum on your head and are experimenting with what your voice sounds like, you’re not doing it ‘unwittingly’ or ‘unknowingly’. You’re definitely ‘making or controlling sounds intentionally’ and ‘showing an emerging awareness of sound’, possibly more-so than if your teacher were to hold your hand and encourage you to hit the drum in the ‘correct’ way.

The school staff I met at Villa Real school today were extremely enthusiastic about Sounds of Intent:

“Sounds of Intent has made me look at music differently”.

“We were completely stuck with music. I’m not a music specialist – I could do ‘start and stop’ and all the usual stuff, but we were stuck. Sounds of Intent has helped us to develop our understanding and confidence in running music sessions because it gives us a framework and it gives us the language to describe and discuss.”

“My confidence has soared. When we first started all my anxieties were around singing and leading music activities but now it’s second nature. Sounds of Intent has helped massively. We’re seeing things in class and relating it to the framework straight away. We’ve become good at spotting those tiny things that make a massive difference”.

Thanks to our delivery partners at Villa Real school – The Sage Gateshead and Durham Music hub