Reflections on 4 Aspects of Music Session Delivery

Nighaar playing the pitched bells
Nighaar playing the pitched bells

For this latest blog post I am looking back at the work I did earlier in the year at Abbots Lea at Matthew Arnold, helping to introduce the Sounds of Intent musical assessment framework. You can read some details about Abbots Lea and the SOI framework in my previous blog post, written half way through delivering the 16 sessions, here:

Having finished the sessions, I found that I’d learned a great deal – both about how to deliver engaging music sessions, and also how to best utilise the SOI framework – but also that the work had brought up many ideas for further exploration and development.

Here are 4 key concepts that I found myself reflecting upon:

Creativity comes with trust. Trust comes with time

This was something that made itself more evident with every week that passed. As the children at Abbots Lea came to know us better, and started to expect us as a regular part of their week, they became much more relaxed around us, and so were much more open to joining in, experimenting, and exploring. Partly this will have been down to them growing to like us and wanting to show off to us or impress us.

Another factor will have been the fact that to many of these children routine is very important, to the extent that when it is altered or interrupted it can feel quite distressing. So for some participants our presence needed to start to feel like an established part of their routine before they were truly able to relax and enjoy themselves.

There will have also been the realisation for them, at some point during the sessions, that to what we were asking them to try, there was no right or wrong answer. The realisation that one can’t ‘get it wrong’ is a very powerful one, and once understood reveals a wide open playing field – and it can be very interesting to observe what an individual chooses to do when they have completely free choice.

From the perspective of the SOI framework, the period when the children were more relaxed and open was very useful, as it was then that they really started to show what they could do and the ways in which they naturally responded to us, each other, and the music and sounds we were making.

Find what really excites the children

This concept is linked to the previous point, and can relate to it in two different ways, depending on the individual concerned.

In some cases it will only be when you have gained the trust of the child that they will start to explore openly and will gravitate towards the things that excite them the most.

In other cases it will be the discovery of something – be it a particular instrument or song – early on that will really click with the child and help to build that trust and excitement.

In both cases, once that has been found it is a really brilliant moment, as all sorts of ideas, games and approaches can start to be explored with the child’s full enthusiasm and participation.

A good example of this from our time at Abbots Lea is Achille. Fairly early on he showed an interest in the guitar, strumming Fil’s acoustic and trying to hold it himself (although it was far too big for him). The next week, Fil brought a child’s size electric guitar in, with a built-in speaker, with which Achille immediately fell in love. This very much became Achille’s instrument every week for the rest of our time there, and although other children would try it from time to time, it seemed to be understood that it was Achille’s speciality, to which he would always return. Because he was so inspired by this instrument – and showed a natural ability – he was able to explore all of the concepts that came up over the sessions using this guitar, which revealed to us a number of examples of his musical ability in a really clear way, making it much easier for us to follow his development. For example, when we sang our usual songs each week, Achille would strum along on the guitar (which was tuned to a chord), accurately matching the rhythms of the lines; at other times he would imitate the speed in which another child was playing their instrument by strumming his guitar very fast, revealing the way that he would listen to others and then translate this into his own playing and join with them. This can be seen on Fil’s video here:

When it came to the end of our sessions, Abbots Lea said that they were looking to buy a similar guitar so there would be one for Achille to continue playing.


Think about the spatial format of the sessions

This was something that naturally evolved over the weeks. We started by delivering sessions in which Fil and I would sit in in a circle with the children and staff, and I would lead activities with children either taking it in turns to respond and try things, or all singing and playing together. Although this worked well in some ways, and was quite a good way of the children getting used to us, we found in later weeks that after our Hello song we would naturally spread into loose pairings of children and staff. So each child would usually pair off with a staff member and a particular instrument and would work on-to-one with them (although still all in the same space), but then spontaneous collaborations or imitations between pairs would randomly occur, or we would find that the whole group would start to play or sing something together, usually without much direction.

We found that this was a really nice format for the sessions, as it allowed the children to have some individual attention, to spend some time really exploring an instrument, but also, being surrounded by other people making music and sound, able to connect and play with others very easily. It contributed to a very relaxed, creative atmosphere and meant that connections, when they did come about, were very natural and unforced.


Think about the temporal format of the sessions

This concept has a lot to do with leading and following, a subject I talk more about here:

As with the spatial element, we started the sessions in a fairly regimented way, starting with a Hello song, then introducing a number of activities, one by one – be they new songs to learn, a new instrument to explore, or investigating a particular concept, such as copying, or loud/quiet – before finishing with a Goodbye song.

As the sessions progressed, and hand-in-hand with the change to the spatial layout of the group, the sessions started to be much more child-led, with us largely following the direction that the children took us in. As certain children can be much more dominant than others, this occasionally had to be steered by us to make sure that all participants were happy and engaged, and having a chance to lead, although the pairing-off technique mentioned above – which usually naturally arose from the children – helped with this.

We still kept our Hello and Goodbye songs to start and end the sessions, as a routine to bring everyone together, and the early, more strictly planned sessions did prove useful in having introduced a number of concepts and ideas early on that the children were then able to draw upon in later sessions (along with a number of new ideas we would slip in here and there over the weeks).

Allowing this child-led session format also ties in with my second point about finding what excites the children. In letting them set the agenda, you’re ensuring that they are actively exploring that which interests them – which will lead to meaningful play – and also giving them the profound feeling of power and ownership that leading others can bring.

In the video clip, we see Cyrus leading an alphabet song. We had previously been singing the ‘classic’ alphabet song, but Cyrus began leading a different song that they had learned in class, and so we follwed his lead and allowed the full (and lyrically complex) song to unfold. The other children also knew the song and joined in, and the song also gave the opportunity for some experimentation, for example in Achille’s guitar playing and Cyrus’ footwork on the bells. He also introduced the clapping style we used in our Hello song.

Leave a Reply