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Section D: Learning Outcome 4 (LO 4)

Be able to create a safe and appropriate environment for musical learning

Introductory material

Supporting learners in developing safe and appropriate musical techniques, including instrumental care and hygiene

Learning and playing a musical instrument at any age involves using our bodies in specific ways. Establishing safe techniques in children and young people that will not harm them is an important aspect of our role as educators. Each instrument has its own particular challenges. For instance, a flute teacher would want to make certain that their students were not resting the flute on their left shoulder and then turning their head to the flute. Such a posture would result in severe neck strain and impair the freedom to breathe easily.                             

  • In addition, as educators we need to show children and young people how to care for their instruments safely. For instance, not sharing reeds or mouthpieces with their friends or blowing loud instruments like trumpets in the ears of another child or young person. We also need to remember to show children and young people how to use music stands safely and other equipment such as amplifiers and electric equipment.
  • Schools have policies and guidelines in place for subjects that use potentially dangerous equipment like chemistry classes or physical education. It is less usual to find such advice or guidelines in music classrooms, for example, electrical equipment needs to be PAT tested.

Learning activity 6 – relating to Learning Outcome 4 (LO 4)

For this activity, please draft a short paragraph or list of suggestions for the children and young people, their parents and school or organisation, about how to use or care for the instrument or equipment you teach or work with.

Make sure your information is age specific, e.g. if you teach very young children, you might want to prepare some pictures for them. You could also decide to write a short paragraph for their parents with a little more explanation. Or if you work with young people with learning difficulties, you would need to make it appropriate for them.

Parents and slightly older students will find it helpful to understand why it is better not to, for instance, rest a flute on their shoulder, whereas a simple instruction, along with an image or prompt to help them remember, will be sufficient for younger children. Make sure your advice is relevant for the children and young peoplein the context of your work with them.

You may decide to develop this idea and integrate the information into a sheet for parents of children and young people you teach or work with or display it on the wall of your teaching room.

Learning activity 7 – relating to Learning Outcome 4 (LO 4)

Music educators don’t always agree over whether physical contact is even necessary and, if they feel it is, how much is appropriate to teach an instrument. 

What do you think?

Read the following statements carefully and decide whether you think this is OK (appropriate) or NOT OK (inappropriate). Put a tick in the box.

1 = Highly inappropriate   2 = Inappropriate   3 = Appropriate   4 = Highly appropriate

Schools differ in their advice for music educators as the two short extracts from two safeguarding policies show:


Generally, the rule is that all forms of physical contact between teacher and pupil should be avoided. However, there will be circumstances when it is both appropriate and necessary. This can involve demonstration of technique in music, the administration of first aid or when a pupil is in distress and needs comforting. Teachers need to use their own professional judgement to decide when this is appropriate. Staff should also remember that the most innocent and well-intentioned contact can sometimes be misconstrued, particularly by pupils who are in their adolescent years. If physical contact is essential to communicate or demonstrate some physical aspect of performing, the teacher must always ask the pupils’ permission first.


The music department does not allow touching during the course of instrumental teaching. The wider school policy advises teachers against touching students and to exercise caution in one-to-one situations. For this reason, music teachers are advised to teach in full view of the door, positioning themselves so they and their students can be seen at all times. No touch should be required during instrumental lessons.

Reflect on your experience of learning as a beginner (as far as you can remember) as well as at different stages, perhaps with different teachers or on different instruments.

Take a little time with your co-learners to reflect on some of these discussion prompts: (there will be an opportunity for this if you attend a Musicians’ Union face-to-face training session)

Prompts for discussion with co-learners

  1. To what extent do you think your own experience is reflected in the way you work with children and young people nowadays?
  2. Make a note of at least five ways society has changed in the way children and young people are treated, compared to when you were young. These could be quite general things not just in relation to music.
  3. What aspects of the way you were taught still seem relevant for today’s children and young people?
  4. Are there aspects that you think are now irrelevant?

Now follow this link [insert link] to a short video of a teacher instructing a student on the saxophone. Make a note of the number of times the teacher touches the child and where on their body. Then make a note of alternative strategies the teacher could have used so that they didn’t need to touch the student.

45 minutes to one hour of facilitated discussion time is devoted to this issue in the Musicians’ Union (MU) Safeguarding session.

Learning activity 8 – relating to Learning Outcome 4 (LO 4)

Music educators are exposed to a lot of noise and this can be extremely damaging over time. Length of exposure is just as damaging to our ears as the level of noise. We need to protect our ears and the ears of our students. We have a duty to instil awareness of noise protection in our students.

Even in the most willing and supportive schools we are unlikely to be able to control all aspects of our teaching environment. In the worst case scenario, complaining about environmental problems may put a self-employed music educator in a bad light.

Here is a list of suggested ways to minimise noise during lessons – can you think of others?

  1. Scheduling of lessons – avoid back-to-back lessons without ‘rest’ periods.
  2. Content of lessons – is it possible to include some relevant tuition time where students are not required to play?
  3. Teaching levels – ask students to play at reduced level during lessons wherever possible.
  4. Avoid playing along with your students, to reduce noise levels.
  5. When teaching in groups, avoid constant ‘group’ practice.
  6. Wear hearing protection whenever necessary.

Look at the following picture and make a note of why noise is an issue here. What steps could the music educator take to reduce noise levels?

Learning activity 9 – relating to Learning Outcome 4 (LO 4)

Children and young people access most, if not all, of their music online and through technology. Music technology plays an integral part in education nowadays; recording students, searching for performances, use apps for composing, researching, offering technical support with tuning, pitch and tempo shifts etc.

Nevertheless, the following guidelines are essential for keeping music educators and the children and young people they work with, safe and free from harm.

  1. Close Facebook or other social sites to children and young people. If you wish older students to know about your professional activities, post these on separate professional sites only.
  2. Avoid communicating with children and young people by text, email, personal, home or mobile phones or other electronic means.
  3. With older students, where it may be appropriate to use email, get agreement first from the parents / carer. It may be wise to copy in parents on communications. Keep communications professional.
  4. You could have a separate email address solely for teaching.
  5. Ensure your email address is appropriate.
  6. Never use mobile devices for personal use when teaching.
  7. Never take photos of children and young people or video them.
  8. Store sensitive data, i.e. about students, on password-protected, physically secure devices. Dispose of sensitive data when that student ceases lessons with you but not records of incidents or accidents.
  9. Keep your devices secure with password protection.
  10. When working in schools or other organisations, YOU MUST COMPLY with their ‘Acceptable Use Policy’. Breaching their policy is potentially extremely serious.

Schools and colleges vary greatly in their policies and so it is essential for music educators to read and comply with them.

Under the Data Protection Act 1998, teachers may be required by schools (or police if sufficiently serious) to give their mobile and other devices for inspection if:

  • There is reasonable cause to believe the teacher has violated policy
  • Required by law in preventing or detecting a crime
  • The school conducts an investigation into the unauthorised use of ICT facilities

If you think these guidelines are onerous, then take a little time to reflect on the number of stories in the past year or two about online abuse of children and young people. There will be time for discussion on this in the face-to-face training session.

Now move on to Section E.