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Building orchestral ambition in the SEND classroom

13th June 2024

A musician wearing a rubber duck on their head plays the flute to a child sat with adults. A mirror in the background shows a reflection of other children in the room.

Our Schools Lead Abi Marrison introduces Rebecca Barnett from Aurora Orchestra: 

“It is over a year since Music Mark hosted Aurora Orchestra in their first webinar Aurora and the Magical Toy Box: Creative Music-making in the Classroom. This introduces how Aurora Orchestra has developed story-telling as a way of engaging children with classical music, and how related activities can be embedded through not only the music curriculum but also woven throughout the school day. 

I have asked Rebecca to tell us more about the new Aurora classroom resources and how they support learners with SEND, and posed the question:  

How can teachers support young people with SEND to build their own orchestral ambitions?” 

What is vitally important for children’s musical development is that they don’t see orchestral instruments as reserved for a concert hall stage, but rather as wonderfully versatile and creative tools to express themselves, tell stories, and unlock a whole new world of sounds and imagination. This is the case for all children, but can be especially powerful in SEND settings where young people may face additional barriers to learning. 

Two of my favourite activities from our SEND activity library are ‘Movement with Rocket Music’ – an activity particularly well-suited to learners with high sensory needs, and ‘Music and emotion’, a composition activity.

Movement with Rocket Music

This activity combines auditory and movement senses. Starting with exposing young people to hearing the first part of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Arabian Dance’. 

Children can move a rocket to mimic the rhythm, beat, speed and motions of the music, and explore new vocabulary as they do this. 

Music and emotion (a composition activity)

This activity combines PSHE and Music, and is a non-threatening way to explore the range of emotions people feel:  

Five cartoon faces in orange, yellow, red, green, and blue show different emotions.Children are presented with images of different faces showing an emotion. Next, they are introduced to a variety of sounds created by different instruments. They can assign different sounds to different emotions. 

Children are then able to explore, experiment and improvise to compose their own short piece representing different emotions.

Guidance for differentiation for individual needs is provided, including pre-composed rhythms.

Orchestral music can be awe-inspiring for young people and we try to make the most of this magic in each of our units on the Aurora Classroom platform.  

In ‘The Magical Toy Box’, children encounter: 

  • the changing pitches of a soaring flute that control a bouncing ball 
  • a quacking duck, who floats upon a sparkly blue cloth, which is brought to life as a river by the harp and bassoon 
  • dancing shoes come to life to the famous ‘Danse des Mirlitons’ from The Nutcracker 

By separating hundreds of creative activities into strands of learning, we aim to build orchestral ambition in the classroom for all learners: from sensory activities for those with high sensory needs, to experiential activities for learners who engage well by listening and doing, and making activities for children who enjoy crafting things with their hands. Given that no child’s experience of music can be assumed to be the same as another’s, offering a variety of entry points and experiences ensures that every learner can find their way ‘into’ orchestral music. 

“It is a massive open window to the arts, and my children benefit in terms of understanding the world, improved cultural capital and subject-specific music skills.” – Teacher at SEND setting: Patxi del Amo, TreeHouse School 

A man is stood holding two large clown shoes. A bassoon player, harpist, and flautist are sat in the background smiling.I think many teaching professionals can recall a moment when a young person encountered an instrument for the first time: struck by the size and beauty of the harp, the expansive sound of a French horn, or how quickly a cellist can move their fingers and bow. We believe every young person with SEND should be provided with opportunities to ignite their senses with the range that an orchestra brings. If you are looking for resources to support you in your teaching check out Aurora Classroom.  

Aurora Classroom consists of three complementary units of work for SEND settings to ensure that orchestral music can be brought into your classroom without the financial commitment or geographical limitations of visiting musicians – explore for yourself today by starting your 14-day free trial at 

Photo credits: Stanton Media