All children should have the opportunity to learn to sing and play a musical instrument. For music education to be truly inclusive we must go beyond equality of opportunity and strive instead for equity, targeting resources and development to adapt the offer in response to those most in need.
Whole-class instrumental teaching offers equality of opportunity, and consideration must be given to the ways in which individuals from a variety of backgrounds are supported both whilst participating in such programmes and when wanting to continue their learning beyond the whole-class experience. Vocal and instrumental teachers working in schools and/or Music Services/Hubs should work with schools and partner organisations to identify and address barriers. This should involve discussing the choice of instrument for whole-class programmes, taking into account the physical requirements for playing the instrument and making any necessary adaptations to ensure that all pupils are able to participate. Where possible, consulting young people about the instrument choice is an effective way of encouraging engagement and ownership of the experience. Music Services/Hubs should also ensure that schools provide information on the learning, physical and health needs of pupils, to help teachers to differentiate their practice.
The choice of repertoire from a variety of cultures and traditions in vocal and instrumental lessons offers a powerful way to promote diversity. Creating a culture where all music is celebrated and respected encourages learners to be confident in enjoying, embracing, and sharing the music that is meaningful to them. It can be helpful when starting to teach in a new school or other organisation to find out about the cultural diversity of the groups you will be working with, so that opportunities to use this diversity to enrich the curriculum can be planned for. Teachers can sometimes lack confidence in teaching genres that lie outside of their area of specialism, but this can offer wonderful opportunities for learners to take the lead and share their own knowledge.
More important than having a thorough musical understanding of unfamiliar genres is the need to be sensitive to the cultural and historical background and original purpose of music selected. Negro spirituals, for example, should be taught with appropriate reference to their origins and context, bearing in mind that this needs to be done sensitively and in an age-appropriate manner. Before teaching songs in other languages, it is important to understand the meaning of lyrics and to ensure that learners understand the meaning of them.
In addition to promoting diversity through repertoire choices, introducing learners to performers and composers from a range of ethnic and social backgrounds, genders/gender identities and sexual orientations, and disabled musicians, can help to challenge stereotypes and provide positive role models. Representation matters, and if young learners see people they identify with being successful in music then they will believe in their own ability to succeed. As well as including a diverse range of musicians in lesson resources, such as videos of performers, having posters and images of diverse musicians on display in the teaching space helps to create a safe and welcoming environment.
A Common Approach is designed for all learners of all abilities, whatever their background and diverse needs. Activities need to be selected accordingly and differentiated so that all can participate, and lessons need to have sufficient flexibility to develop suitable activities in the light of learners’ needs and responses. As noted above, the sharing of information about learners’ needs is essential for planning differentiation, and Music Services/Hubs or other organisations working with schools should ensure that robust systems for information sharing are established.
Vocal/instrumental tuition should be appropriate to the age and development of learners, and should always be adapted to individual needs. This may mean:
- encouraging learners to have a voice in choosing learning material, and in how they learn
- recognising learners’ interest and ability, especially if they cannot always convey it
- adapting or selecting instruments for learners with severe physical disabilities,
e.g. providing special supports or using accessible digital instruments
- changing the order of the curriculum
- adapting repertoire and activities so that they are relevant and attractive to learners
- ensuring that different learning styles are catered for
- ensuring that resources are accessible, such as using large print, raised notations or assistive technology
- encouraging and building on learners’ language, social, emotional, cognitive and physical development
- providing learning/practice and progression opportunities at times/locations that are accessible to disadvantaged pupils.
For many disadvantaged learners, instrumental music lessons can offer a welcoming place in school and can become a means of inclusion. As well as supporting differentiation, regular conversations with SENCOs, school teachers and school leaders can help promote the pastoral value of instrumental music lessons in schools, especially for those experiencing social and emotional difficulties.
Instrumental lessons in schools are also a gateway into school musical communities, which can be more accessible for many learners. As well as discussing links between instrumental teaching and curriculum music activities, instrumental music and curriculum teachers should signpost and monitor progression into opportunities to play and perform in schools, as well as through Music Services/Hubs and other organisations. Rather than assuming all will join in existing activities, progression opportunities should reflect pupils’ different musical interests and instruments being taught.
Although there are fundamental differences between vocal/instrumental tuition and music therapy, there may be some areas of overlap. Indeed, some vocal/instrumental teachers may have a particular interest or training in therapy and may work with learners with severe learning difficulties (SLD) or profound multiple learning difficulties (PMLD). In these circumstances, the learning objectives and activities outlined in A Common Approach will need to be adapted.
Vocal/instrumental tuition provides a natural extension of opportunities for those who show particular musical promise. Recognising and nurturing these learners is an important responsibility. Indicators may include high levels of commitment, self-motivation, enthusiasm, interest and musical independence.
A Common Approach provides a challenging curriculum, the programmes offering sufficient flexibility to encourage able learners to progress quickly and to develop a wide range of skills, knowledge and understanding.
The Amber Trust
An online resource for teaching music to blind children, including specific support for instrumental and vocal teaching.
Awards for Young Musicians
A charity supporting young musicians from low-income families throughout the UK, tackling financial and social barriers and helping young people to realise their potential.
A programme of peer support and learning, training and consultancy for Music Services wanting to improve equality, diversity and inclusion.
An organisation specialising in the use of technology for disabled musicians.
Live Music Now
A charity bringing professional musicians to deliver music sessions to people experiencing social exclusion or disadvantage in care homes, community settings, schools, libraries and hospices across England, Northern Ireland and Wales, and in Scotland through the sister organisation Live Music Now Scotland.
MAC Makes Music
MAC Makes Music provides music making opportunities for children and young people with limited access to music provision.
Music For All
A charity that helps people of all ages and social backgrounds to make music, including administering grants and donating instruments.
Nate Holder is an advocate for decolonising music education, providing CPD and classroom resources to address bias and underrepresentation.
A charity championing the development and adaptation of musical instruments for people who are physically disabled.
Open Up Music
Open Up Music provides opportunities for disabled people to actively engage in music making, setting up accessible orchestras in special schools with its Open Orchestras programme and running the world’s first disabled-led national youth orchestra, The National Open Youth Orchestra (NOYO).
A charity that leads community music sessions and training for children and adults with disabilities.
Sounds of Intent
An inclusive framework identifying levels of musical engagement, including early years children, older people with dementia and those with profound learning difficulties.