The Music Lab – A Toolkit for Exploring Youth Voice within Music-Making Practices in Classical Music

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The Music Lab

A Toolkit for Exploring Youth Voice within Music-Making Practices in Classical Music Education




Contents 1

Introduction and rationale



The Music Lab



Using this toolkit


"The worst thing that an adult can do is to be ignorant to the fact that children have ideas and opinions about music.


What is Youth Voice & Participation?



Embedding Youth Voice in our practice and pedagogy


"The most important thing about this toolkit is that even though adults ran the course, the children were given the chance to experiment and try new things. This was very powerful as we had a musical space where our ideas were listened to."


Creating an environment where Youth Voice can flourish



Outcomes for young people





"Everyone is a teacher in their own right and, as important as it is for a child to learn from an adult, it is just as important for adults to learn from children.

Emmerson Sutton (15 years old) - The Music Lab Participant - October 2021


a. b. c. d. e. f. g.

Interpretation/decision making task Improvisation tasks (i. scales, ii. pieces) Composition task Self-directed projects Battle of the Bands/Chamber Music Festival Incorporating students’ own musical tastes and other styles Using Soundtrap or other digital audio workstations - recording/podcasts/composing h. Working with other professional musicians, organisations and industry experience

38 40 42 43 44 45 47 49









Appendix 1- The Music Lab project plan Appendix 2 - Battle of the Bands overview Appendix 3 - Goal setting template for students Appendix 4 - Chamber Music Project Overview

52 54 56 58




Youth Voice & Participation is in the DNA of our organisation and our work is a beacon of best practice within the creative sector. Using the principles of the UN Rights of the Child and democratic participation, we work with young people, practitioners and organisations to put young people front and centre in decision-making. Originally inspired by research produced by the Participation Works consortium back in 2008, as well as the milestone report “Building a Culture of Participation” (Kirby et al 2003), we play a key role in advocating for Youth Voice & Participation practice across the music education sector. Since 2012 we have provided support, training and guidance for hundreds of organisations from large institutions such as Arts Council England, British Council and English Heritage to Music Education Hubs with strategic remits across England, alongside local, regional and national organisations such as Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Bristol Beacon and National Youth Arts Wales.

Chapter 1: Introduction and rationale Who we are Sound Connections is a creative, values-driven, and youth-focussed charity that is ambitious about creating change and social impact at a national and international level. We have 20 years’ experience of connecting organisations and young people across the creative, cultural and youth sectors, and we specialise in evaluation, research, strategy and Youth Voice & Participation. By ‘Youth Voice & Participation’ we mean listening to young people, valuing what they say and acting upon it; empowering young people to shape, lead and produce their own activities; and enabling young people to be involved in decision making including within governance.

Through our extensive work as a sector support organisation, we have seen that Music Education Hubs and other music organisations have started to embrace the idea and practice of Youth Voice but embedding this way of working within classical music pedagogy and practice is a challenge. This is perhaps not surprising, given that the practice and model of Youth Voice does not fit naturally with many standard practices in classical music education. As Dr Anna Bull has found in her research into young people in classical music ensembles, the “pedagogy of correction” that is central to classical music education has little space for Youth Voice1. Identifying the need for more understanding about Youth Voice within classical musical practice in particular, from how ensembles and projects are conceptualised to the skills and methods music educators need to work with young people in a more democratic way, we wanted to explore this further. The Music Lab was devised as a way to interrogate this notion and build on Sound Connections’ ongoing work with Music Education Hubs in scaffolding Youth Voice into organisational structures, in order to ask how Youth Voice might be incorporated into Hubs’ music-making activities. 1See Anna Bull (2019). Class, control and classical music. Oxford University Press.

For a short online article outlining this idea, see Anna Bull (2022) ‘Getting it right: Why classical music’s “pedagogy of correction” is a barrier to equity’. Music Educators’ Journal. Available online at





The Music Lab Team Isabella Mayne Lead Author

Isabella has worked in a wide range of contexts within the music education world: from class music teacher and Head of Department, to workshop facilitator, ensemble leader, hub tutor and project manager. She was the former Education Lead and later on Deputy CEO of Newham Music, and has previously worked for Brent Music, Lewisham Music and Bromley Youth Music Trust. Isabella originally became interested in Youth Voice back in 2008, when she came across Lucy Green’s work with Musical Futures, and over the last 12 years has sought to embed this within her own practice. In addition to The Music Lab, she has also devised and delivered Youth Voice training on behalf of Sound Connections for organisations such as the National Children’s Orchestra of Great Britain and West Sussex Music Hub.

Dr Anna Bull

Dr Anna Bull is a Lecturer in Education and Social Justice at the University of York. She has previously worked as a pianist and cellist and now carries out research looking at how classical music education needs to change, focusing in particular on inequalities in instrumental music education. Her book Class, control, and classical music was published in 2019 with Oxford University Press and in 2020 was joint winner of the British Sociological Association Philip Abrams Award.

Jennifer Raven

Jennifer Raven is Deputy Director of Sound Connections where she leads the organisation’s team, strategy, programmes and consultancy service. As a consultant she is a specialist in Youth Voice, evaluation and strategy, and she has provided Youth Voice training and consultancy for organisations ranging from Music Education Hubs, to Arts Council England, English Heritage and the British Council. She is co-author of The Youth Voice & Participation Handbook and co-creator of the Essential Youth Voice training series. She is also Co-Founder and CoDirector of Fairbeats, a charity making music with young refugees, asylum seekers and newly arrived families in South London.

Agrigento is a charity that supports fresh thinking and practice in music as social action, our thanks to them for supporting The Music Lab.

Lewisham Music is a leading music charity and the Music Education Hub for the London Borough of Lewisham, supported by funding from Arts Council England. Lewisham Music deliver, support and promote a diverse and vibrant programme of music education for children and young people, both within schools and in the community. Community Music Manager, Keith Sykes, led on the recruitment, referrals, and engagement of young people onto The Music Lab.

Jacob Sakil

Jacob Sakil is a passionate advocate for youth social action and community engagement. Jacob is the founder of a social action organisation Connecting Conversations Collective, where he currently leads on coordinating the Lambeth Youth Council. With a dedication to ensuring children and young people have an accessible and transparent avenue to engage in local democracy, Jacob also co-ordinates the Lewisham Young Mayors Project at Lewisham Council.

Liz Coomb

Liz Coomb is a Programme Manager at Sound Connections where she oversees the sector support work, alongside consulting with organisations across the country on Youth Voice and Participation. Liz’s background is in working in youthfocussed cultural organisations with a regional and national remit, and to date she has developed and delivered 500+ events, projects and programmes reaching over 200,000 young people across the UK.


Chapter 2: The Music Lab Based upon organisational knowledge, experience and research Jennifer Raven, Deputy Director of Sound Connections and Dr Anna Bull of University of York conceptualised The Music Lab as an action research project to examine how Youth Voice can be embedded in music-making practices within classical music education, with a view to opening up classical music to participation from a wider range of groups in society. With support from Agrigento, Jennifer Raven and Dr Anna Bull brought The Music Lab to life with a team including nineteen 11 - 16 year old young people, Keith Sykes, Charly Richardson and the wider team at Lewisham Music Hub, Isabella Mayne as Musical Facilitator, Jacob Sakil as Youth Worker, and Liz Coomb as Project Manager. Following multiple delays due to Covid-19, The Music Lab took place in October 2021. The Music Lab team (participants and practitioners) explored classical music education through both practical activities and discussion; with participants reflecting on their own experiences of classical music education and how they thought it could be changed to be more inclusive and youth-led. For a more detailed overview of what took place over the two days, please see Appendix 1.

‘It was like this journey of different ideas and some ideas went to a dead end because it sounded horrible sometimes, and sometimes it worked really well.’ ‘We all play different instruments and some of the instruments didn't really fit in with the ensemble and we had to mix it up and make it sound better because one instrument wasn't sounding all right, and you had to do it all over again and it took a long time’. ‘It was nerve-wracking to play with different types of instruments that you don't usually play with’ - The Music Lab Participants, October 2021

This toolkit outlines ideas and activities which were drawn on in The Music Lab, as well as wider material drawing on participatory arts practice as applied to instrumental music education, through the lead author, Isabella Mayne’s, experience and practice. It aims to provide practical tools for practitioners to explore and/or enhance Youth Voice engagement within their practice, as well as to provoke reflection and discussion around the issues of embedding such an approach. It is aimed at a wide range of practitioners: from instrumental teachers, class music teachers, ensemble leaders and other musicians and teachers working in the classical music education sector, to Music Education Hub management and other organisations working in this area.

The toolkit includes what we did, what we learnt and how you can apply this to your setting, as well further information on how to embed Youth Voice within your practice. Our hope is to continue The Music Lab going forward with further research and activities, as well as the development of more resources and training opportunities. We feel there is a lot to be gained from implementing and exploring Youth Voice approaches in classical music education, and that it could have a significant impact in engaging young people across the sector.




Chapter 3: Using the toolkit The purpose of this toolkit is to provide ideas and inspiration for instrumental music education practitioners, with a particular focus on those working in the classical tradition. It aims to explore and embed opportunities for Youth Voice in their current practice. This toolkit is a resource that can enhance current practice and provide an opportunity for reflection and discussion - it should not be seen as a definitive guide, or that we are suggesting other approaches and pedagogies are incorrect. It is a companion document to “The Youth Voice and Participation Handbook” (Jennifer Raven and Lawrence Becko, October 2020), and builds upon a lot of the ideas and theories outlined in this document. If possible, we would recommend reading this toolkit in conjunction with The Youth Voice and Participation Handbook. Please see footnote for details of how to access and download this document2.

Teachers and facilitators may choose to engage with and use this resource in a range of different ways, including: •

Using the ideas and activities described as prompts for reflection and discussion.

Using the ideas, activities and templates described to experiment through a oneoff project.

Adapting the ideas, activities and templates to your own circumstances, and using them to inform your own planning and delivery.

It is important to emphasise that embedding genuine Youth Voice is not a “quick fix” or overnight transformation, but a long process that can take months or years to develop. As described later on (please see Chapter 6, Creating an environment where Youth Voice can flourish), developing relationships and a safe and supportive environment for young people to fully achieve autonomy is the key to successful Youth Voice practice, and doing the odd project or activity now and again will not genuinely achieve this. You can read more about this in The Youth Voice & Participation Handbook, where you will also find activities to help you develop and embed Youth Voice in the long-term. (See below for link).3 Practitioners trying to develop this way of working must be prepared for things to fail, or to seem much more difficult or less successful, at first than other approaches they have tried. With time, flexibility and perseverance it is an incredibly rewarding way of working for practitioners and young people alike. Ultimately, an important goal as educators and facilitators is to enable young people to fulfil their potential and for them to take the lead with their own learning process. By giving them control over their learning and a genuine voice, we equip young people with the most powerful tool to achieve this.

2 3



Chapter 4: What is Youth Voice & Participation? As described in The Youth Voice & Participation Handbook (Becko and Raven, 2020):

“Youth Voice and Participation is about young people having a say in decisions that affect their own lives from their education and wellbeing, to the creative opportunities and services they access.”

‘If you're my teacher and I tell you I want to do this because I feel more comfortable or because it's better for me, you should listen to me because I'm the one playing it’ - The Music Lab Participant, October 2021

“When we talk about organisations “doing” Youth Voice, we mean consulting young people, listening to what they have to say and acting on it together. We were all young once. Youth Voice is about remembering what it feels like to be listened to, included and empowered. Sometimes adults do not even need to be involved: from youth parliaments to climate action, young people are self-organising and speaking out to change the world. From changing politics to running their own creative projects, young people are constantly shaping the future and bringing new ideas to life.” “Youth Voice and Participation is a human right and is enshrined in the UN Articles on the Rights of the Child. Youth Voice makes our work more relevant, representative and relatable. Youth Voice is not about young people being involved in a tokenistic way (e.g. being asked to put out the chairs at a rehearsal, flyering for an event, or completing a feedback form at the end of a project). It is about genuine, two-way dialogue and collaboration between adults and young people”

To find out more about the theory and principles underpinning Sound Connections' work into Youth Voice, please refer to: “The Youth Voice & Participation Handbook” (Becko and Raven 2020).4







Note on terms and language used What do we mean by ‘classical music’? And why are we focusing on classical music over other genres? While classical music can refer to a wide range of forms of music-making, it tends to involve a particular way of teaching and learning instruments that follow widely-agreed conventions. When we discussed this question with the young people involved in The Music Lab, they had a clear sense of what classical music is. For them, it involves playing original compositions, often written by an historical figure, and crucially that there is a correct way of playing these compositions that is typically learnt from teachers and from preparing for music exams. However, we also heard some disagreement about what classical music is, or could be. These differences of opinion are important - and this toolkit aims to open up a wider space for discussion about what classical music is, or can be, particularly for young people. Part of the project of embedding Youth Voice into classical music involves asking whether, and how, the music itself can also change. Classical music is after all, a living, breathing genre that changes with each new generation of musicians. Perhaps some of the new generation of classical musicians want to take the genre in directions it has not been before!

And why focus on classical music in this toolkit? And who is this toolkit for? Many instrumental teachers have been trained in classical music5 and while they might teach repertoire from a variety of styles, their primary genre remains classical music. We think it is important to name this legacy and to make it visible - so that we can decide what, if anything, needs to change. Throughout this toolkit, the terms ‘teacher’, ‘tutor’, ‘facilitator’ and ‘practitioner’ are used interchangeably. This toolkit is primarily aimed at what we might describe as ‘classical music education practitioners’. We recognise this may cover a wide range of roles: from Music Education Hub instrumental tutors to private instrumental teachers working in schools and/or from home, music school/ centre teachers and school-based music teachers.

We also envisage that this toolkit may have some interest for Hub and school management, as well as other organisations working in the field of classical music education such as orchestras, venues, charities, arts organisations, conservatoires and universities. The ideas and resources here are not limited to use in classical music education, and we hope that practitioners in other musical fields may also find them useful. Similarly, the terms ‘young people’, ‘students’, ‘children’ and ‘pupils’ are used

interchangeably. In the majority of its Youth Voice work, Sound Connections tends to use the term ‘young people’ however, we recognise that in schools and Hub settings, the terms ‘students’ and ‘pupils’ are more commonplace, hence their inclusion here.

So what does Youth Voice look like within a classical music education setting and how do we do it? Depending on how we ourselves were taught, it can sometimes be difficult to envisage how young people can become more involved in influencing and leading their own classical music education. Here we share some examples of ways we can share power and give more autonomy and control to the young people we teach, through the activities and approaches we use in lessons, workshops, and rehearsals. It is important to note that this is by no means a definitive list: we are constantly reflecting and considering our practice and seeking to find the best outcomes for the young people we work with. The central principle is that young people are involved in a way that is non-tokenistic, and that gives them the training, mentoring and support they need to genuinely and safely take the lead. Overleaf are some ideas of how young people can have more of a say, which have been mapped against Hart’s Ladder of Participation. The ladder was initially created in 1969 by Shelly Arnstein and was later developed by Roger Hart, and is an invaluable tool in helping us to understand how the actions and activities we engage in support Youth Voice engagement. For more information, please refer to the The Youth Voice and Participation Handbook6. 5 For example, in Norton et al.’s survey of 496 instrumental teachers in the UK, the vast majority were engaged in classical activities. 93.3% or 463 were engaged in classical activities or classical and other activities, while only 6.5% (n = 32) were solely engaged in other-than-classical activities. This is not a representative survey so it can not be generalised to the wider teacher population, but it shows that many instrumental teachers are involved in this genre. Norton, N., Ginsborg, J., & Greasley, A. (2019). Instrumental and vocal teachers in the United Kingdom: Demographic characteristics, educational pathways, and beliefs about qualification requirements. Music Education Research, 21(5), 560–581.





7. Youth Led Within activities initiated by adults, young people: Sit side by side in ensemble rehearsal with less experienced players to support them.

4. Assignment ‘Assigned and informed’ involves very little active Youth Voice. It is when students are assigned an activity in a way in which they clearly understand the purpose of the activity and understand why they are being asked to complete it. There may also be some opportunity for them to make choices, e.g. they choose which group to be in for a chamber music activity.

Devise an exercise to learn a particular technique that they demonstrate to other students. Run part of, or all of, a rehearsal. Make up a warm up, which they teach/lead in session.

Young people independently set up their own bands and ensembles, and perhaps find their own performance opportunities. Adults do not get involved at all and young people are left to their own devices.

Support a concert or event - helping with promotion/backstage/ organising musicians. Act as teaching assistant in a lesson. Act as an assistant to the conductor in an ensemble. Lead a warm up, which a teacher has previously modelled. Explain to another student how to play a certain note or what a certain marking means.

3. Tokenism

6. Adult Led In collaboration with and with support from teachers/other adults, young people:

It appears that young people have been involved and consulted, but this has been done in a tokenistic way. For example: They are asked to present a performance, but are given the script with no consultation on the content. Students are asked to put on an event, but then are told what repertoire to perform and how it should be presented. The event is still marketed as a student event.

Teachers seek ideas and opinions from young people through for example: Running a focus group with students to find out how they would like rehearsals to run, what music they would like to play, how they would like to share/present music etc.

2. Decoration Young people are used to animate an event (e.g. school open evening), with no say in how the performance happens.

1. Manipulation

Adults pretend that young people have been consulted or ask for their input, but reject their ideas. For example: young people are asked for how they would like to interpret a piece, but these ideas are rejected or belittled.

6 Raven and Becko (2020), The Youth Voice and Participation handbook for Creative and Cultural Organisations, Lawrence Becko Associates and Sound Connections. (c) 2020, 10-11.

Disseminating a survey for students to complete. Asking students in lessons how they would like to interpret a piece of music (and acting on this by supporting them to play the music in that way and reflect on their interpretation). It is important that all young people have the opportunity to share their ideas and opinions in whatever way works best for them, whether that’s through creative means, writing, speaking etc.

5. Consultation

Devise and organise their own event in its entirety from programming, to logistics and fundraising, in partnership with adults. Set up an ensemble for younger children and run rehearsals/manage all aspects. Young people ask adults for support and guidance where needed, but adults do not take control. Write and record their own album. Adults might be involved, but young people have an equal voice with them.

8. Share Decicisions




Chapter 5: Embedding Youth Voice in our practice and pedagogy

What did participants in The Music Lab want to say to their instrumental teachers? ‘Listen to children’ ‘Probably just don't be in charge of what people are playing. Cos if people are playing something, it's their interpretation so it can actually say quite a lot about who they are’. ‘Usually your teachers just choose the music that you get to play and most of the time I just end up having to play pieces of music that I don't actually like’. ‘Maybe we can learn more about how to think of ideas for your own music’ ‘Just giving students the opportunity to share their ideas on a piece of music’

More and more, teachers are interested in changing their teaching to move away from the traditional ‘master-apprentice’ model towards a more pupil-centred approach. However, many teachers in the UK do not have the opportunity or support to engage in professional development7, and this can lead to teachers teaching as they themselves were taught. While instrumental teaching practices are evolving, there is evidence that some current approaches - primarily the ‘masterapprentice’ model of instrumental teaching - hinder Youth Voice & Participation8. For example, teachers may not be confident to share control of learning with pupils, and this means that pupils may not develop autonomy or responsibility for their own learning. It can also be challenging to genuinely embed Youth Voice within some of the structures of classical music teaching (for example grade exams), as the fixed parameters, and need to produce certain outcomes in a certain timeframe, restrict students’ freedom to guide the learning process. Some people are also concerned about how to effectively engage a diverse range of students in Youth Voice, so that all voices are heard equally.

7 Boyle, K. (2020). The Instrumental Music Teacher: Autonomy, Identity and the Portfolio Career in Music. Routledge.; Haddon, E. (2009). Instrumental and vocal teaching: How do music students learn to teach? British Journal of Music Education, 26(1), 57–70; Mills, J., & Smith, J. (2003). Teachers’ beliefs about effective instrumental teaching in schools and higher education. British Journal of Music Education, 20(1), 5–27; Norton, N., Ginsborg, J., & Greasley, A. (2019). Instrumental and vocal teachers in the United Kingdom: Demographic characteristics, educational pathways, and beliefs about qualification requirements. Music Education Research, 21(5), 560–581. 8 See research evidence, for example: Bull, A. (2019). Class, control and classical music. Oxford University Press; Barton, D. (2020). The autonomy of private instrumental teachers: Its effect on valid knowledge construction, curriculum design, and quality of teaching and learning [PhD, Royal College of Music].; Després, Jean-Philippe & Dubé, Francis. (2020). The Music Learner Voice: A Systematic Literature Review and Framework. Frontiers in Education, 5.




Embedding Youth Voice in our practice is not something that happens straight away nor is it something that once achieved can be put to the back of our minds. In reality, it is about developing a continuing cycle of self reflection wherein we are constantly evaluating our practice and examining where opportunities for Youth Voice can be embedded, and how we are creating an environment in which Youth Voice can flourish (which we will come onto a little later).

It is also important to remember that teachers’ identities will make a difference to whether and how young people are able to speak up. Teachers’ race, gender, class, and other aspects of identity can all shape how young people feel able to relate to them. Not only that, but also as part of developing a Youth Voice practice, teachers need to develop their understanding about how social inequalities shape pupils’ lives and musicmaking. For example, pupils’ race, gender, class and disability (among other characteristics) can all affect whether and how they feel able to speak up, and/or feel entitled to be listened to.

Another challenge - one that is specific to classical music - is that supporting young people’s voices to be heard, if done in a meaningful way, will mean that the music itself will change. While instrumental teachers are often, understandably, concerned to make sure pupils are progressing in relation to external markers of achievement such as grade exams, this focus needs to be balanced with allowing pupils to develop their own musical voices. Youth Voice in classical music means letting young people play it ‘wrong’ if they think that is what sounds best. This is perhaps one of the biggest challenges 9 in embedding Youth Voice for classically-trained instrumental teachers - so we would encourage you to experiment, let things go wrong, and see what happens! (Please also see the Resources section for insights into the myth of ‘correct’ interpretation and further information regarding this area). Here are some reflective questions which may be useful to structure your reflections and could be used when planning lessons and events, reflecting on a lesson or series of lessons, or when having a conversation with a colleague or line manager. 9 Gaunt, H. (2011). Understanding the one-to-one relationship in instrumental/vocal tuition in Higher Education: Comparing student and teacher perceptions. British Journal of Music Education, 28(2), 159–179; Rakena, T. O., Airini, & Brown, D. (2016). Success for All: Eroding the culture of power in the one-to-one teaching and learning context. International Journal of Music Education, 34(3), 285–298.



Reflective tool for self-development All the time

Are my students responsible for musical decisions such as interpretation? Do my students choose the repertoire they play? Do they have the opportunity to play music that reflects their background and preferences? Do my students have a choice over the activities, events, concerts and exams they participate in? Do my students have opportunities to create their own musical material and ideas? Do my students have input and autonomy over their learning for example setting goals and deciding next steps of their progression? Do my students have opportunities to lead and facilitate warm-ups, lessons and events? Do my students have the chance to contribute to or lead the planning and logistics of events and performances? Do my students have a choice over how their musical learning and progression is shared? Do my students have the opportunity to discuss and debate music education (for example music education policy and the national curriculum)? Do my students have the opportunity to share their ideas and opinions about music education through writing articles, speaking at meetings, presenting at events etc?

Quite often



Not at all


Using this reflective tool to develop your practice - next steps Mostly answered “Not at all” and “Occasionally” Do not worry! As discussed later in this toolkit, embedding Youth Voice is time consuming and is often at odds with the pressures we face as practitioners. Take some time to reflect on why you might not currently include such aspects in your own teaching. This might include factors such as: time constraints, external pressure to pass exams from parents/schools, unsuccessful attempts to include such strategies in the past, or never having experienced such concepts in your own music education. You can consider which of these factors are within your control to change, which would need support and buy-in from others (e.g. senior managers), and which would require bigger structural changes (e.g. changes in curriculum). As a goal, it might be worth looking at some of the activities described in the resources section and experiment using one idea with one student or group of students. This might be something as simple as letting them decide how to phrase a certain passage, set their own practice goals for the week, or bring their own piece to a lesson. Try this over the course of a few weeks and observe how it affects your students’ progress. It is also worth asking their feedback on how they have found the experience. Next, try to build on this with different students and groups, before returning to this reflective tool and seeing how your answers have changed.

Mostly answered “Sometimes” and “Quite Often” Great work! You are clearly on the way to genuinely involving your pupils in your practice and giving them opportunities to express themselves and have autonomy over their learning. Moving forward, it might be worth considering where and when your pupils do not have these opportunities and how this might be addressed. Hopefully some of the ideas in the resources section may help with this, but most importantly, talking with the young people you teach and discussing with them how they would like their learning journey to develop would be a logical next step in this scenario.

Mostly answered “All the time.” Keep doing what you are doing! You are evidently a passionate advocate for Youth Voice and are regularly empowering your students to have autonomy and control over their learning. Hopefully this toolkit will help to consolidate and articulate some of the thoughts and ideas you have had around this area, as well as provide fresh inspiration for new activities and projects. It might be worth also considering how you can share your practice and ideas with others. This might be through mentoring and supporting other colleagues, speaking to your Hub or school about hosting a practice-sharing or CPD session in this area, or linking with an organisation such as Music Mark and taking part in one of their Teach Meets. We’d also love to hear from you at Sound Connections so we can champion you as a Youth Voice Champion!




Chapter 6: Creating an environment where Youth Voice & Participation can flourish ‘Maybe [teachers] think that children don't know enough about the music they're playing and maybe the teacher just wants them to stick with what they're doing, stick with the notes on the paper.’ Music Lab Participant - October 2021

At the heart of Youth Voice, creating positive, collaborative and trusted relationships with young people is key. Here are eleven areas to think about in order to make this possible, and promote a culture of Youth Voice and environment that enables it to flourish:

1. Language Think about the language you use – are your students’ ideas valued, do they have any input into the music they are playing or the events and concerts they play at? How can you as a practitioner enable more opportunities for your students to take control of their learning? As mentioned by one of The Music Lab participants, it is vital that “children feel supported through the environment and language used by the teacher,” and “that building relationships with children and creating a community,” is the key to enabling genuine Youth Voice.

2. Time Think about utilising all the time you have with students, not just instruction/rehearsal time. Are we creating an environment where our students feel they can express their opinions or share their interests? Are we showing interest in their lives outside of music lessons? This can be challenging, particularly if you only have a few hours in each setting before rushing off to the next setting - so is it possible to create other opportunities to spend time together? This could be organising an assembly or a trip, or opening up your room at break time for practice/set up.

3. Connecting through music Do your students feel comfortable to share their favourite pieces of music/artists with you? Do you ask about their musical interests? Do you talk about their musical life outside lessons? Could you incorporate their music into warm-ups, repertoire choices, performances? Perhaps there could be regular “listening slots” in your lessons, when students bring a piece of their choice to a lesson and share it with you and other students? Could they curate playlists for each other and their teachers? As one of The Music Lab participants stated, teachers should be “intrigued about children’s musical lives outside class.”





4. Safeguarding and inclusion

8. Being open

Engaging in youth-led practice means creating a space where young people feel safe and included. As practitioners it is vital that we are facilitating this: not only by keeping up to date with Safeguarding and EDI policies in all the settings we work within, but by constantly reflecting and updating our practice to ensure these aspects are constantly at the forefront of our mind. When we create spaces in which young people feel able to speak up, we need to be ready to respond sensitively and appropriately to whatever they might raise.

Many practitioners can be reluctant to engage with musical skills and activities beyond their experience and feel vulnerable when trying out new approaches with students, as we feel the pressure to be authoritative and want to give the impression we know everything. What if we are open with our students about our own knowledge gaps, and show them we are happy to learn and make mistakes alongside them as a way to help them realise it is okay to make mistakes and not know everything? This can only add to our credibility, rather than diminish it.

5. Decision-making It is important for students to be involved in musical decision making and to contribute their ideas. This includes: goal/target setting, phrasing, articulation, dynamics, exams, performances, groupings. Consider why we are signing students up for certain concerts/ performances - is this because we are expected to by parents/schools, and can we involve students in deciding which things we include in our events calendar? Do we feel we are an unsuccessful teacher because we do not have a raft of students getting distinctions and winning competitions? Can we challenge how success is measured in instrumental learning and redefine what it looks like?

6. Stepping back Can we step back and relinquish some of our control so that students can create solutions and ideas without us jumping in and making all the decisions? This can be very difficult, as our instinct when we hear our students make what we perceive to be a mistake is to correct them. Take a pause... Can we give opportunities for our students to discover what has gone wrong and find the solution themselves? This approach will take more time, but their learning is likely to be far deeper and stay with them longer, as it develops their critical listening skills - essential for any successful musician.

7. Questioning Think about how we can use questions to encourage self and peer reflection and review. For example: “What went well that time?”, “Which bars/passages do we need to look at again?”, “What do we need to do to improve this?”, “What should we practise next?”. This allows our young people to shape and curate their learning journeys. This is not just a hallmark of Youth Voice practice, but of successful teaching and learning more generally10. By giving our students the space and time to reflect on their own learning and make improvements, we give them the tools to be self-sufficient and learn for themselves: the greatest achievement for any teacher. 10 See for example Meissner, H., & Timmers, R. (2020). Young Musicians’ Learning of Expressive Performance: The Importance of Dialogic Teaching and Modelling. Frontiers in Education, 5. feduc.2020.00011

9. Young people as equals We should always be realistic with young people about how decisions are made and why. Despite our best efforts, at times it may not always be possible to give opportunities for young people to choose repertoire/make musical decisions - for example when there are pressures from schools/venues/parents or it will affect their grade. However, the key here is to make this a discussion point instead of “teacher knows best.” The young person will feel valued as they have been treated as an equal in the process. If possible, an alternative opportunity could be sought: for example, if the child is doing a grade, in the exam they could play the more standard interpretation, but they then perform their own interpretation in a school assembly.

10. Young people as individuals One of the key points that came about in our discussions with young people was that teachers should always remember that every child is different and everyone learns in a different way. This is vital when introducing some of the Youth Voice strategies that our students are unfamiliar with, as this may be unsettling and uncomfortable for them, especially at first. As educators we must always be attuned to how our students respond to different approaches, in order to find the best way for them to reach their potential.




Opportunities Can you create opportunities for young people to be musical leaders? This could start off with young people leading or devising warm-ups, to running and conducting whole events and performances. The key here is to scaffold these activities and provide the appropriate support and feedback where needed. If you ask a student to conduct a rehearsal on the spot, and they have never done this before, this is tokenism, which can be very frightening and challenging for them, and is unlikely to result in a successful rehearsal. However, if you start off by getting them to lead a warm-up they have seen you do before, or act as your assistant, you can then gradually encourage them to lead more parts of the rehearsal. Students can give you plans beforehand which you can feed back on, and over time they will be able to run whole rehearsals and much more.

Before The Music Lab began, we asked participants for examples of a time when they had, or hadn’t had a say in their music education. Here are some of the responses: • ‘Once with a teacher, I put in my own phrase and breath marks, but my teacher told me it was incorrect and changed them all - but I didn't think it sounded good!’ • ‘[I get a voice] when I choose the grade pieces I do’. • ‘My violin teacher normally chooses the pieces and if I'm going to skip a grade. The time I had a decision was deciding to play the violin for the first time.’ • ‘For music GCSE composition, while our teacher gives suggestions, we still retain full creative control over our piece’ • ‘I wanted to add other aspects to the piece I was playing, but when I tried it out, [my teacher] listened and said it wasn’t how to play’ The Music Lab participants, October 2021

Challenges of a Youth Voice led approach 1. Time One of the biggest challenges of implementing a Youth Voice led approach is that it can be time consuming. We are often limited for time with our students, perhaps teaching in several settings in one day, with only short lessons and so much to get through, plus pressure to enter students for exams or perform at the end of term concert. It is very easy to adopt a very teacher-directed approach in order to reach an end product (e.g. a performance or exam) as quickly as possible. The thing to consider here is that whilst implementing Youth Voice practice is time consuming, particularly at first, the learning and engagement it promotes and the end results are far more meaningful for the young people involved. As the teacher and facilitator, we have to consider: is it worth rushing our students through exams and concerts with repertoire they forget soon after, or do we aim to foster a long life of love and engagement in music, and nurture the ability for our young people to be successful musicians independent of our support? It is also helpful to remember that whilst it is important to be ambitious, you can start small and build Youth Voice into your practice little by little.




2. Money Instrumental lessons are costly for many families and young people and although there are many schemes and funding opportunities available, classical music education is often the preserve of those who can afford it. This limits the variety of young people’s voices that are present in this field. The act of money changing hands can also have negative consequences when Youth Voice strategies are deployed. Parents and students may not perceive it as “good value” when the teacher asks them to find solutions to problems, or organise their own events and concerts. There may be an expectation on the teacher to “do everything” and “provide all the answers,” as they are being paid for their time.

3. Practice For many Youth Voice initiatives to be successful, students need to devote time outside of their formal lessons and rehearsals to music making activities. However access to practice space and opportunities for exploring music outside of a school setting can be difficult for many young people. Often students may not have access to a practice space/instrument at home, or cannot practise due to disturbing young children, elderly relatives, or other family members. Even asking a child to bring in a favourite song, or share a playlist may be difficult if they do not have access to wifi or appropriate devices outside of school. As their instrumental teachers this is something we need to be mindful of and consider how we might be able to support students in this (e.g. talking to the school about them practising onsite in the mornings, or borrowing a school instrument).

4. Communications To ensure the success of Youth Voice engagement it is important to have open dialogue with parents and students in order that they may effectively provide the correct resources and environment, as well as understand the rationale and thinking behind the activities you are suggesting. However, communication with parents and students between lessons and rehearsals can often be difficult. Whereas this is often a bit easier for private instrumental teachers as they often have direct contact with parents; tutors working for Music Hubs or schools may have to direct all communication through these organisations, which may end up in messages being delayed or misconstrued. Instrumental teachers may not always have the opportunity for the quick informal chats in the playground at the beginning or end of day that other teachers may have, which are often vital for developing relationships and dealing with issues.





5. Definitions and perceptions of success Traditionally success in instrumental teaching and classical ensembles has been defined by exams and competitions entered, and performance/festivals played. Parents, schools, and managers expect students to regularly take grade exams and participate in concerts and competitions. However, the parameters of such exams and events are often very narrow, and do not allow much space for Youth Voice opportunities. An approach here is to not only engage in dialogue with young people, but also with families, schools, and management about pursuing other musical platforms and ideas, as well as more traditional exams and concerts. For example, can we look at alternative means of presenting concerts, or explore alternative qualifications such as Arts Award11, which can open a whole host of opportunities for young people and also satisfy the requirements of these external pressures?

6. Young people’s perceptions Engaging in a Youth Voice approach does not mean precluding more traditional grade exams and competitions: many students relish taking part in competitions and exams, and gain a great deal of personal satisfaction and pride in being successful. Ultimately, it is our job to balance what is best for our students and a mixture of traditional teacher-led and Youth Voice led practice is often the most pragmatic and successful approach in the context within which we operate. Once again building relationships is key: the better we know our students and their needs, the more successfully we can facilitate the optimum learning environment and routines for them.

One of the barriers to successful Youth Voice engagement can be the perceptions of the young people themselves and their other educational experiences. For most of their life, many young people do not have much autonomy over their learning and many students are not asked their opinions regularly, or given the opportunity to do so. When they are given an opportunity to share, some can find this challenging and are unsure what to say for fear of censure or making a mistake. Others may not consider it “proper learning” as it is different from their usual lessons, and as a result not take it as seriously. Not only that, but young people might not be used to bringing their ‘whole self’ into their music lessons. For example, young people might not be sure whether ‘their’ music is welcome in formal education settings. They may have had experiences of the music they listen to with family and friends being judged negatively by others. There is a longstanding gap between ‘formal’ music education and young people’s musical lives outside school/ lessons, and this is something that some young people participating in The Music Lab also described. For teachers, it is important to avoid making judgements of good or bad quality music, and to show interest in young people’s musical lives outside of lessons. Over time, this will encourage young people to feel they can bring their ‘whole musical selves’ into formal lessons.

11 For more information, visit




7. Group dynamics and social skills Youth Voice work often requires a high level of social, cognitive and interpersonal skills from young people and at times this can be challenging. One prime example is students choosing their own groups: if we are giving young people full rein over their learning this is often an important factor, but as many teachers can attest, it can cause serious social issues as young people can feel left out, or a group’s dynamics change over the course of a project. During The Music Lab this issue came up: initially the students asked the facilitators to split them into groups and they were divided to ensure a spread of instruments in each group. However as we were less familiar with their ages and experiences, some groups ended up having a wide spread of age and experience. The young people reflected that this could be an advantage in that the older, more advanced group members could develop skills in supporting younger learners, and the younger learners could learn from the more advanced players. However, this could also lead to frustrations, for example poor communication and difficulties working together. Another issue highlighted by The Music Lab was that young people had different levels of skills and experience around discussing ideas and reaching consensus. When students were sharing ideas and opinions the researchers noted that they were confident in coming up with ideas. However, one area where more skills development might have been helpful was around making sure every suggestion was discussed, with input from all group members. This step would avoid some young people’s voices being lost. This is a situation that many teachers will have seen before and as the facilitators of these projects and experiences, we need to support young people to develop deliberative skills to ensure that all voices are heard and valued. This again takes time, but through our own modelling of deliberative discussion, such as talking through issues with our students and acting out role plays and scenarios, we can support our participants in this.

It is also important to understand why some students may be “getting lost” in group discussions: as one of The Music Lab participants commented, we “need to respect the quiet students, and understand why they are acting like that.” It is easy to assume that quieter students are not engaged or are shy; however often they are analysing and processing what is happening and when given the opportunity, can make a great impact on the proceedings. As the facilitator, it is our responsibility to find the way in which these students (and all those we work with), can take part in a meaningful way. Once again, this returns to the issue of relationships we build with our students, and how we are constantly evaluating and assessing the needs of the young people in our care. This is a crucial step in making sure those who are less used to being listened to - perhaps due to their gender, class, disability or racial identity - have an equal opportunity to participate.



Chapter 7: Outcomes for young people The actions and strategies we put in place as practitioners have a massive impact on the confidence of young people to share their ideas and develop their autonomy. The chart below aims to highlight how small actions and changes in our thinking, can shape our students’ engagement. This list is not meant to be prescriptive or exhaustive, but a catalyst for thoughts and reflections on this area.

Actions and strategies employed by practitioners Creating a warm, positive and non-judgemental atmosphere. This may include:

Outcomes for young people •

Young people come forward with ideas and suggestions without prompting.

Young people’s creative and interpretative suggestions are welcomed.

Teachers reflect on when, why and how they are correcting students’ mistakes.

Young people feel ideas and views are valued.

Teachers consider their language and actions and how this enables young people to share their thoughts and ideas.

Teachers are aware of their own internal biases around race, gender, class, disability or other forms of difference.

Students can express ideas and thoughts without fear of being ridiculed or “making mistakes.”

Unstructured space and time utilised for discussion of lives (musical and non-musical) outside of lessons. Teachers show interest in students’ musical lives outside of lessons. This can be from discussing favourite artists, to finding out what ensembles they play at, other times they play music (jamming with friends/family members, playing in church, school and Music Hub ensembles). Teachers aim to build links with their instrumental learning and outside lives e.g. support students auditioning for school musicals, help work out the chords for their favourite song to perform for a family member, give feedback on a song they have written in their band.

Relationships between young people and practitioners flourish. Students are keen to share their ideas and that their teachers genuinely care about their progress and learning.

Actions and strategies employed by practitioners


Outcomes for young people

Lessons and rehearsals provide the opportunity for students to develop creative responses through improvisation, composition, and interpretation.

Students feel empowered through having a creative voice in their learning.

Tasks and projects designed in response to young people's ideas, not only young people responding to projects. They are the instigators.

Students make decisions about events, repertoire, venues, and project design.

Organisational structures such as timetabling, committees, forums, and boards provide space and opportunities for young people to participate.

Young people are involved at all levels of decision making and policies, including board and strategic level. This provides genuine and authentic decision making chances for all students.

Planning allows for flexibility of ideas in response to young people’s ideas and comments, and opportunities for young people to lead and give ideas and reflection embedded in the process.

Young people are actively involved in planning and delivery of sessions.

Facilitators are aware and reflective of how young people’s voices can be incorporated and constantly striving to embed further.

Process and student engagement is ever evolving. Even when things go wrong, young people are consulted and given the chance to shape their learning journey.

Honesty and transparency about why and how decisions are made.

Young people feel listened to and treated like equals.

Students have genuine autonomy and control over their learning.

Young people are visible and engaged at all levels of the organisation's delivery.

Even if a project does not incorporate young people’s ideas, students understand rationale and are not discouraged from sharing ideas and taking a lead in the future.



Chapter 8: Resources The following resources are practical suggestions for teachers to use as they see fit. They work as standalone projects or as a sequence over time. Teachers can mix and match and adapt these as is appropriate to their students and setting.

a. Interpretation/decision-making task. •

Select a passage of a piece and ask your student(s) to come up with two or three completely different ways to perform it.

Depending on their level/experience this could be a completely open ended task or you could help scaffold by suggesting they explore the dynamics/articulation/ bowings/tempo etc.

This can be set as a task during a lesson or as homework. In an ensemble, this could be something a section works on in a sectional rehearsal.

Once your student(s) have shared their interpretations, discuss why they made the decisions they did/what worked etc.

Important things to remember

It may be interesting to expand the discussion further around questions such as “Do you think performers should do what composers want?”, or “Do you think performers should be able to change what the composer wrote if they think it sounds better played a different way?” This will serve to develop students’ critical thinking skills and foster a deeper engagement with the material.

Try not to use negative language or tell students their interpretations are “wrong” or “incorrect.” This can break down the trust developing between you and make them less likely to share ideas and thoughts with you in the future. Examine your own prejudices/musical education when reacting to their ideas: if you think something does not sound right or is incorrect - why? Is it because you yourself were taught in that way, is it a result of years of received instruction and wisdom? If you genuinely feel their interpretation would penalise them in an exam/ competition explain this to them. Give reasons for your thoughts - students will respect you for this and still feel they have a voice. If possible, could they perform their interpretation at another opportunity, if their grade exam/the concert is not the correct platform?

Musicologists Daniel Leech-Wilkinson and Anna Scott have revealed that the idea of interpretations that are ‘correct’ or ‘faithful’ to the composer’s intentions are a myth. In Leech-Wilkinson’s book ‘Challenging Performance,’ he describes how ideas of appropriate style or taste in classical music have changed over time. “What we think is proper to a composer or a score is already slightly different from what our teachers’ generation thought. And over a century, as recordings show, these differences accumulate to such an extent that musicianship becomes in some respects unrecognisable.” To give an example, pianist Anna Scott has explored what this means in Brahms’ piano music. She describes how before she began this research: Like most mainstream performers, and probably also historically informed ones too, I believed that what I was doing when I played Brahms was some combination of faithfulness – whether it was to Brahms, or his scores, or evidence about how he wanted his music played – and creativity. Her outlook was transformed when she found recordings of Brahms’ pieces performed by his close friends, colleagues, and pupils. What was surprising was that this group of performers around the living Brahms were playing in ways that contravene our own contemporary criteria for ‘good’ Brahms playing. She felt shocked to hear familiar scores rendered in unfamiliar ways by people who actually knew Brahms personally. Her idea of what it meant to be a performer also changed. As Leech-Wilkinson suggests, “The notion of a style proper to a composer and a score looks decidedly shaky when one takes this into account: it looks as if there must be many different ways in which these same scores can make convincing music.” So what does this mean for teachers and pupils today? It means that we have much more creative freedom around interpreting classical music than we thought we had – it means you can play it your way!12

12 Listen to historical recordings of Brahms and Debussy and read “Challenging Performance” free online: Leech-Wilkinson, D. (2021). Challenging Performance: Classical Music Performance Norms and How to Escape Them Material adapted from





b. Improvisation tasks i. Scales:

ii. Pieces

Teaching scales - can these be done by ear? Can you come up with some improvisation games whilst learning them? For example:

When introducing a new piece - do you have to give out music first, or could you teach it by ear? This applies in both individual/small group instrumental lessons and in ensemble settings.

Choose several notes of the scale and improvise call and response phrases between teacher and student(s). Teacher first improvises a short phrase and then student(s) copy, then student(s) improvise and the teacher copies.

Improvisation over chords - students can try out improvising whilst the teacher plays chords on piano/guitar/chordal instruments or a drone on melodic instruments. When starting out you can just use one or two notes, with more confident students the whole scale or even more than one if they know numerous scales.

Creating melodies - this can be done as a homework task or an exercise in class. Students can create their own melodies based on a scale. Great for reinforcing concepts around the degrees of the scales, accidentals, melodic minor ascending/descending etc.

Creating exercises to help learn scales. As homeworks/practice tasks, can students write an exercise to help them practise their scales. For example, if they have problems remembering to play F Sharp/G Sharp in an A major scale, could they come up with an exercise to practise this and show it to you in their next lesson?

Teach the student(s) a short section by ear and get the student(s) to repeat. Get them to analyse what key you are in, what pitches are being used.

Perform/loop a short section of the chords that accompany the section and then students play the melody over the top. In the ensemble setting you could choose some students to play the chords - either what is originally written or a simplified version. If you do not have access to a piano you could always improvise a bass line on your instrument.

Then get the students to improvise over the top. To introduce this, get them to start with one or two notes from the melody and build up. In ensembles they can all improvise together, or ask them to create short riffs using notes from the melody and layer these on top of each other.

Structure and arrangement of the students’ improvised ideas and the original melody, remembering to allow the student(s) to be the creators. This includes demonstrating sections/ideas and asking their opinions and thoughts. Decide together what order you should perform the different elements.




c. Composition task

d. Self-directed projects

This could be done as a continuation of the previous improvisation exercise, or with a different piece altogether. When you introduce the repertoire, you can choose to learn it by ear, or by presenting the student(s) with the sheet music.

As your student increases in confidence and autonomy, it may be beneficial to facilitate opportunities where they have full control over a particular event/concert. The features of such a project include:

Composition task brief Teaching scales - can these be done by ear? Can you come up with some improvisation games Take a short section of a piece you are learning and create one the following: •

A bass line that goes with the melody.

An answering phrase or continuation of the melody.

An ostinato or new melody based on the same material

A chord sequence for the melody.

This could be set as a practice/homework task for students learning in one to one/small group lessons. The next lesson could start with students sharing the work done, whilst deeping their musical understanding of repertoire and facilitating greater engagement with the material. This may also aid with creating a more structured basis for practice and greater enjoyment on the part of the student(s). In ensemble rehearsals this activity could be used in sectionals, or as a way to encourage mixing between sections. Composition/creative material could be incorporated into performances, or recorded and shared with friends and family. For example: students’ creative responses to repertoire could be recorded and played at the interval/before the performance, or as part of a YouTube playlist shared before and after the concert, or excerpts of their compositions fused with the original piece or played alongside in the performance itself. By exploring their repertoire in different ways, students gain a deeper understanding of the material and also derive greater enjoyment from performing it. They are given an authentic creative voice in the process, and are not merely recreating the notes on the page.


Young people wholly responsible for repertoire/programming decisions.

Young people have autonomy over the whole rehearsal/creative process.

Young people decide what they need in terms of support and guidance from others.

Young people emerging as leaders: supporting and coaching their peers.

Teachers and tutors as facilitators: providing guidance, feedback and support as needed.

Space and time for things to go wrong.



e. Battle of the Bands Here is an example of a Youth Voice project that I have delivered numerous times in a variety of schools, with children aged between 11 and 16. •

Students worked in groups of between 3-6 people of their own choosing.

Students decided the repertoire they wanted to learn and how they would present this (live performance/recording).

Students developed a plan of how they would learn the music and what skills were needed. This included rehearsal times and structures, who would be responsible for leading and other tasks, what support they needed from teachers/adults/peers.

• •

Tutor acted as mentor - giving regular feedback on rehearsals and providing the appropriate scaffolding so students could improve. Over the course of ten weeks, students rehearsed their pieces. Some groups decided to perform their songs live at an event they organised whilst, others chose to record it and share it online via SoundCloud and YouTube.

In a classical music setting this project could be delivered to result in a chamber music festival or concert, or as a recital series where students decide the frequency and repertoire of pieces, and whether it is delivered live or as recordings.



f. Incorporating students’ own musical tastes and other styles During The Music Lab project, one of the most popular projects took place on the second day when students were invited to bring in and share their own musical tastes. Students were invited to bring in a piece that they enjoyed/that meant something to them and then share it with their group. The students then created new compositions based on these pieces, using the techniques from the previous composition task. In instrumental lessons this might look something like this: •

Students learn a piece they like by ear as a homework task or as a warm up in a lesson.

Students could create a technical exercise using a riff from a favourite tune.

Students may take one of the pieces they are studying in your lesson and play it in the style of or fuse it with a piece they like outside of class.

In ensembles this may look like this: •

Different sectionals may share their favourite pieces and create compositions based on these. These could be put together to create a piece for the whole ensemble to perform.

Students could fuse elements of songs they enjoy outside rehearsal with the main repertoire - either as standalone pieces that could be performed in the same programme, or as part of the piece itself as an additional movement or “mashup.” For example: if the orchestra’s repertoire piece shares the same or similar tonality/chord sequence at some point, the melody from the orchestra piece could be replaced with the melody of a piece one of the orchestra members has chosen.

Please see Appendices 2-4 for the planning and other associated documents relating to the Battle of the Bands project, as well as a proposed overview for a similar project based on chamber music repertoire.

Benefits of incorporating students’ choices of repertoire in lessons (including music that is not written for their instrument): •

The relationship between student and teacher strengthened as the teacher showed interest in musical life outside lessons.

Increased engagement as students have control over repertoire.

Students are motivated to work on tasks and prepare outside lessons. Appropriate technical level found as a student learns as much or as little as possible.

Aural and creative/improvisation skills developed through such tasks.

Social and emotional development as students asked to voice opinions, listen critically and give peer support, and to make decisions collectively.





g. Using Soundtrap or other digital audio workstations (DAWs) - recording/podcasts/composing Things to consider •

Potential for tasks to overtake from other goals/repertoire – how can you ensure balance?

Time - often in lessons and ensembles time is limited: how can we fit in these activities and prepare for the concert/exam in a timely fashion? Do we need to think of our expectations as teachers/audience members? What is the role of grade exams in our students’ learning? Do we need to challenge perceptions of what a successful event/ concert/student progress looks like?

Using technology in instrumental lessons can often be daunting for some people, as many do not feel they have the necessary skills and knowledge to use it effectively. However, as discussed earlier in this toolkit, being open with your students regarding your skills and knowledge, and learning alongside/from them, is an extremely powerful tool in promoting genuine Youth Voice and engagement. Young people today are digital natives and many of them have very instinctive and intuitive ways of engaging with technology. By incorporating it into their instrumental lessons, this gives them an opportunity to utilise these skills and will help boost their confidence and desire to share ideas and opinions with you, especially if they are beginners or do not feel very confident in their instrumental skills.

Ideas for incorporating technology One of the main areas where young people described not having a voice was in choosing repertoire. This led to some participants playing the music they liked in secret, perhaps as a reward after they’d done their ‘proper’ practice. ‘I’d go online and search for tunes I like and play it just because I like it. But I didn't always feel like I could play it that well because my teacher didn't help me [with it]. But if I'm doing something like that on the side it makes me want to play the violin more because I enjoy it’. - The Music Lab participant, October 2021

Recording self practising/playing to use as an observation/reflective tool for students and teachers. For example, you could ask them to record themselves playing their piece or scales and then write notes about how it went, or listen to it at the beginning of a lesson and discuss it together.

Audio learning journals: Students could record their pieces at certain intervals (for example every two/four/six weeks). Once a term or so, these could be reviewed to track progress and share with friends and family: a great way to help students see how far they have come, and for you to measure impact and learning.

Composing: Like in the earlier task, students could record in the melody or an excerpt from a piece and then use a sequencer/DAW to write new material inspired by it. Please see below a list of online resources available.

Remixing: There are a lot of free or cheap online sequencers or DAWs that have great loops/musical ideas that students can use to remix their recordings and pieces.





h. Working with other professional musicians, organisations and industry experience Great online resources •



Chrome Music Lab:


A Capella:

Garageband – app store, comes free with all Apple devices


Ableton Live Lite:

Soundtrap Soundtrap is an online DAW that enables you to record and compose. There is no need to download anything, you just set up a free online account. There is a paid version for organisations and to upgrade the sounds, but the free version works really well and is an excellent introduction into using technology in your lessons. One really great feature is the collaboration tool: you can invite other users to collaborate on your track which means they can record/edit/add creative material to your track even if they are not in the same location. There is also a chat function so you can discuss what is happening and share ideas. As a teacher, you can give feedback and suggestions to ideas/recordings your students make in between or during classes. Students in group lessons/ensembles can also work on ideas together in between sessions, even if they can not physically meet. You could also create templates of chords/backing tracks for students to improvise/compose over based on the earlier tasks mentioned in this document. Here are some resources to help you use Soundtrap: Recording and composing in Soundtrap Intro.docx (1).pdf Top Tips for recording live instruments into GarageBand.docx (1).pdf Please note that we do not endorse Soundtrap over any other DAW/Sequencer/software available and are not paid to promote it.

Where possible, giving our young people the opportunity to work with other professional musicians and organisations, as well as gain real life industry experience is invaluable for developing their own creativity and autonomy. As many educators have often observed, students often behave differently when working with other professionals. By moving out of their usual sphere of school and immediate peer group; young people feel that their ideas and opinions are validated on a much larger stage and that adults trust them in a much wider setting. This was something cited by The Music Lab participants as a vital part of their musical journey, and a huge source of inspiration and confidence building for them. Examples of this could include: •

Q and As, masterclasses and workshops with visiting professionals.

Work experience/shadowing opportunities with professional musicians/organisations.

Tasks and projects with “real world applications,” not just in school. This may include organising gigs at a local venue, or recording in a professional studio.

Going to external concerts and events, not only experiencing live performance in their usual setting.

It is worth noting that Youth Voice often finds a more natural home in participatory music approaches, so by working with participatory arts organisations as partners, you can bring Youth Voice into the music classroom - particularly in the classical music field. When bringing in other organisations, it is worth broadening the field of who you contact: whilst it may be tempting to contact one of the major classical orchestras or venues, it might be also worth considering how musicians working in other genres and styles may inspire your students and enhance their learning.



Chapter 9: Conclusion

Chapter 10: Acknowledgements

We hope this toolkit has provided some useful ideas and resources, as well as some ideas for self-reflection and discussion. As previously mentioned, embedding genuine Youth Voice takes time and is more akin to a philosophy and mindset, than a few “off the shelf” activities that are carried out in isolation. It is not our intention to disregard other approaches or suggest that they are inferior to others: as music educators we are all professionals and ultimately know our students best, and constantly strive to find the approach that will fit their needs. As one of The Music Lab participants said, we must remember that ”all children are individuals,” and it is our responsibility to help them carve the learning journey that empowers them to realise their true potential. Our hope is that this resource will serve to consolidate and clarify thoughts and ideas that many practitioners are already exploring, as well as providing inspiration for further discussion and a space for reflection. Embedding authentic Youth Voice is a slow process, but one that can bring immeasurable benefits to the young people we work with.

Sound Connections would like to thank the following people for their input into making this resource possible: Dr Anna Bull and Jennifer Raven for initially coming up with the concept of the Music Lab, putting together the funding bid, as well as their support, guidance and directions throughout the whole process. Our funder Agrigento, particularly Geoff and Louise who have been so encouraging and supportive. Keith Sykes, Charly Richardson and all the team at Lewisham Music, for recruiting the young people and facilitating the project, and making us so welcome. Isabella Mayne for directing the musical aspects of The Music Lab and pulling together these ideas and resources based on this and her experiences working in this field. Jacob Sakil for his support, advice and facilitation throughout the process. Liz Coomb for ensuring the smooth running and logistics of this project, and editorial support.

After The Music Lab, how did participants feel about having a say in playing music?

Lawrence Becko for his input into the shaping of the original project idea. Helen Evans for editorial support.

‘Before [The Music Lab] you would feel hesitant to make any changes to the music you've played, and after I feel it doesn't really matter what you do, it sometimes may be bad, sometimes may be good’

Jasmine Padda for design.

‘I feel less scared to improvise now because [before] I felt like if I improvise and get it wrong, it'll be like, that's not right, that sounds bad, but here I can kind of naturally do it’

And most importantly, the wonderful young people of Lewisham Music without whom this project and this resource would not be possible:

‘I feel like working in a group, even if you make a mistake, others can help change it, so it still feels like you’re doing it, but others helped you make it sound better’

Anna Gower, James Gower, Katrina Damigos, and Diane Stirling for their input and observations on the final toolkit.

Amanda, Ariadnna, Cecily, Ebuka, Emmerson, Hailey, Henry, Jaydon, Jennifer, Max, Mysha, Niall, Oliver, Poppi, Sadie, Sayaka, Sofia, Wei Jie, Wei Xiang.




Chapter 11: Appendices Appendix 1 - The Music Lab Project



Afternoon session



The afternoon started with another checking in/reflection session before the group discussed their ideas for the overall structure.

2. The different ideas from the students were played through and discussed, before an overall structure was decided collectively. 3. Before breaking, the young people were asked to think about how they wanted to present their learning from the two days and even if they wanted to present it at all.

Day 1

4. The general consensus was they wanted to have some sort of sharing. However they wanted to record/video the performances, but not invite people in for a live concert.



5. After the break the ensemble rehearsed the final version of the Brahms group composition.

Morning session Part 1


6. To finish, there was a final reflection on the day and a discussion of what they had learnt/ how they felt. Some of the questions covered included:

Warmup/Icebreakers/Getting to know you exercises.

2. The participants were then introduced to the different project leaders, and given an outline of the project and plan for the next two days.

a. How have today’s activities been different to what you usually do in your instrumental lessons/groups?

3. The students were then taught the main theme of Brahms Hungarian Dance No 5 by ear. This was played through a few times and the rhythm section were taught the chords and a simple bass line to accompany the melody (also by ear).

b. Which aspects did you like/dislike? c. Do you think we are playing/making classical music? Why/why not?

4. Students were then asked to create a riff based on 2 or 3 notes from the melody. The group then created a short piece made of the riffs they had created alternating with the main melody. 5. Students then were split into groups by the facilitator based on instrumental mix (they were asked whether they wanted to choose their own groups or be organised into groups and choose to be organised by the facilitator). They then were tasked to create their own original material based on the theme they had learnt. They were given the following ideas of what they could create. a. Bass Line b. Chord sequence c. Continuation of the melody.


Day 2 Session


Morning session


d. A new version of the melody

Morning session Part 2

3. Just before lunch, everyone came back together and performed their pieces. The group then discussed how the material over the last two days would be presented. They decided they wanted to record their own music pieces privately and then share the audio with friends and family (as well as the rest of the group), and then record the overall piece together. They were against video recording or live performance.

After the break, the group engaged in a “Checking in ‘’ session where they reflected on their work so far and their own experiences of instrumental education to date.

2. The facilitator then modelled how the group could create a whole ensemble composition based on their individual groups’ compositions and the main theme that was learnt in the morning. The ensemble played this through and then discussed how different elements could be changed and improved. 3. The groups were then asked to go away and think how the overall composition could be structured and to make any refinements to their own piece. They spent the rest of the session working on this until lunch. 4. During lunch there were a series of boards dotted around the room where participants could answer questions on a Post It wall. These included: What musical decisions have you made today? How does it feel to make your own musical and creative decisions?

The group session started with a reflection on previous day’s activities, which included asking whether they wanted to remain in the same groups or change. The majority opted to stay so the decision was made to stay in the same group.

2. The young people then returned to their smaller groups to share their chosen music and to create their composition based on these. They also were asked to think further about how they wanted to share everything in the afternoon.

6. After spending some time working on this, the groups came together to share their work so far before taking a short break. 1.

As a homework task, students were asked to find a piece of music that meant something to them and bring it the next day, so they could share it with the others and talk about why it was important to them.

Afternoon session


A large part of the final session was spent in discussion groups talking through the research questions from Dr Bull, as well as reflecting on the last two days and the effect it had on their perceptions of their own musical learning, as well as changes they wished to see in their instrumental lessons going forward.

2. The groups then spent some time putting the final touches to their own pieces before these were recorded. The group came together then to perform and record the Brahms arrangement. The course ended with a final discussion and reflection.





Appendix 2 - Battle of the Bands Overview Wk

Learning Objectives



To assess current level of musical experience and set targets for this term.

Introduce this term’s topic.

To select an appropriate song to cover or arrange, or make a decision to write your own song.

Students fill in the goal setting sheet.

To organise self into a band and allocate parts.

To find the appropriate materials to perform your part.

Lesson Outlines, Suggested Activities etc.

To rehearse and perform as part of an ensemble.


Some students will choose an instrument and complete the goal setting sheet.

Battle of the bands self assessment and target setting: please see Appendix 4.

Some students will be involved in group decision making and start researching materials


Learning Objectives


To perform as part of an ensemble to an audience.

To listen and adjust performance in response to others.

To perform an instrumental part accurately and in tempo.

Some students will take a leadership role in the ensemble.


To learn the appropriate part for your instrument. To reflect and improve on your own performance.

In groups students decide on a song and allocate parts.

Differentiated Outcomes

Students rehearse in small groups on chosen songs. Teacher to support giving continuous feedback. Every two weeks, students record a video/audio of performance and teacher to give feedback, as part of a learning log.

Some students will play a simple part, mostly in time with the rest of the ensemble. Some students will perform a more complex part with accuracy and a good sense of time and awareness of the other players. Some students will perform a complicated part with great fluency and will direct others in the group.

Instruments/ amps/pa/ mics pads

To reflect on my own performance and make suggestions for improvements. To listen and evaluate peers’ performances.

Lesson Outlines, Suggested Activities etc. •

Students to perform pieces to rest of group

Teacher to record pieces and provide feedback.

Differentiated Outcomes

Some students will play a simple part, most in time with the rest of the ensemble. Some students will perform a more complex part with accuracy and a good sense of time and awareness of the other players.


Recording device Instruments/ amps/pa/ mics Pads

Some students will perform a complicated part with great fluency and will direct others in the group. •

Students listen to recordings of their own and others pieces and reflect on work and term/ year progress.

To review targets set at the beginning of term and see if they are achieved.

Teachers give feedback to students individually/as a group.

Some students will be able to listen to their recording and identify areas where they can improve. Some students will be able to reflect on their performance and set targets and next steps for development going forward. Some students will be able to identify areas for development and make suggestions to other students.

Recordings of last week’s performances. Students targets from the beginning of term (appendix 3 completed).




Appendix 3 - Idea for Chamber Music Project based on Battle of the Bands Project Wk


Learning Objectives

To assess current level of musical experience and set targets for this term. To select an appropriate piece of chamber music to perform. To organise self into an ensemble and allocate parts.

Lesson Outlines, Suggested Activities etc.

Differentiated Outcomes

Introduce this term’s topic.

Some students will choose an instrument and set self targets.

Students set self targets for chamber music projects. (Goal setting template)

Some students will be involved in group decision making and start researching materials

In groups students decide on a piece of chamber music and allocate parts.



Learning Objectives

To rehearse and perform as part of an ensemble.

To learn the appropriate part for your instrument.

Lesson Outlines, Suggested Activities etc. •

To reflect and improve on your own performance.

Students rehearse in small groups on chosen pieces. Teacher to support giving feedback. Every two weeks, students make an audio /video recording and the teacher gives feedback.

Some students will take a leadership role in the ensemble.


To find the appropriate materials to perform your part.



Differentiated Outcomes

Some students will play a simple part, mostly in time with the rest of the ensemble. Some students will perform a more complex part with accuracy and a sense of time and awareness of the other players. Some students will perform a complicated part with great fluency and will direct others in the group. Some students will choose an instrument and set self targets.

To perform as part of an ensemble to an audience.

Students perform pieces to the rest of the group.

To listen and adjust performance in response to others.

Some students will be involved in group decision making and start researching materials

To perform an instrumental part accurately and in tempo.

Teacher to record and provide feedback on performances.

To reflect on my own performance and make suggestions for improvements.

Some students will be able to listen to their recording and identify areas where they can improve.

To listen and evaluate peers’ performances.

Students listen to recordings of their own and others and reflect on work and term/year progress.

To review targets set at the beginning of term and see if they are achieved. Teachers give feedback to students individually/as a group.

Some students will take a leadership role in the ensemble.

Some students will be able to reflect on their performance and set targets and next steps for development going forward. Some students will be able to identify areas for development and make suggestions to other students.




Appendix 4 - Goal setting template for students

What help/support do you need from your teacher to achieve this?

This can be used in a variety of scenarios such as instrumental lessons and music lessons, not just the Battle of the Bands project.



What are your strengths in Music?

What areas do you need to improve?

What difficulties do you think you will have?

Write three targets for yourself for this term and how you will achieve them... Target

How will you achieve this?


Is there anything else you would like to add or you think your teacher needs to know? 2.



Everyone is a teacher in their own right and, as important as it is for a child to learn from an adult, it is just as important for adults to learn from children.

The worst thing that an adult can do is to be ignorant to the fact that children have ideas and opinions about Music.

The most important thing about this toolkit is that even though adults ran the course, the children were given the chance to experiment and try new things. This was very powerful as we had a musical space where our ideas were listened to. Emmerson Sutton (15 years old) - The Music Lab Participant - October 2021

Sound Connections Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road London, E1 6LA 020 7729 7220

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