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Music for everyone? A model for musical inclusion

The Music Teachers Association's second collective blogging project begins with responses from teachers reflecting on the article by Laura Crichton – ‘Music for Everyone?’ (2008)

About this series

Dr Steven Berryman, Curriculum Lead for the Music Teachers Association (MTA), has launched a collective blogging project working with the editors of the British Journal of Music Education (BJME), Martin Fautley and Ally Daubney.

Martin, Ally and Steven have curated a selection of articles from the Journal highlighting some of the key debates in Music Education in the classroom.

Teachers have an article to read each week, and can submit a response by the end of the week. Responses are gathered together to form one blog post shared on MUSIC:ED.

Music for everyone?

The MTA’s second collective blogging project begins with responses from teachers reflecting on the article by Laura Crichton – ‘Music for Everyone?’ (2008).

The article below has been contributed by Jimmy Rotherham (@MusicEdu4all).


This paper addresses the musical needs of people with disabilities, taking two specific issues – entitlement and access to music experience. While there are increasing examples of good practice, for various reasons the needs of many individuals and groups with special needs are not being adequately met. The argument that all people, regardless of ‘ability’, should enjoy equal access to music is fundamental to the discussion.

Whilst the roles of music providers may differ in various contexts, if disabled people are to enjoy the right to music at all levels, access from primary age through to adulthood has to be ensured. The implication for training to fulfil this need cannot be ignored.

Music for Everyone – musings on a model for more musical inclusion

i) Valuing ‘Music for Everyone’ as a School Community

At my school, Feversham Primary Academy, we have developed what I call a ‘whole school/whole child’ inclusive approach to music education.

I believe that it takes a village to raise a (musical) child and if the whole school is involved in supporting this with high expectations (and vitally, staff are trained to do so), not only music will thrive as a subject but children will thrive as human beings, academically, socially, culturally and spiritually.

Our philosophy is based on a fusion of the principles of Kodály and Dalcroze (and to a large degree, the philosophy, if not the methodology of Suzuki and Orff. Particularly the following principles:

  • ‘Let us take our children seriously! Everything else follows from this…only the best is good enough for a child.’ (Kodály)
  • ‘All musical truth resides in the body’
  • ‘Since the beginning of time, children have not liked to study. They would much rather play, and if you have their interests at heart, you will let them learn while they play; they will find that what they have mastered is child’s play‘ (Orff)
  • ‘Teach music and singing at school in such a way that it is not a torture but a joy for the pupil; instill a thirst for finer music in him, a thirst which will last for a lifetime.’ (Kodály)
  • ‘Music acts on the whole of the organism like a magic force which suppresses the understanding and irresistibly takes possession of the entire being.’ (Dalcroze)
  • ‘I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.’ (Suzuki)

Inclusive practice involves making music regularly available to children and a core part of school life. In the past I have worked as a music provider for a whole school when I was only given half an hour a week with each class. Compared to now, where children are getting a structured music curriculum and I am a key part of school leadership responsible for music across the school, the difference in the quality of inclusion is profound,

In primary schools, we need the support of class teachers, as a bit of simple, structured practice (a few five-minute sessions throughout the week, ideally on a daily basis, make a huge difference to the rapid development and consolidation of children’s music skills, especially those children who may not find music as easy as others at first. We wouldn’t send a child for piano lessons and not give them any opportunities to practice and develop in between, and music education in schools is no different. We return to Kodály’s argument above that if we take music education seriously for all children, everything else will follow.

John Finney often talks of ‘enculturation’ – the deep embedding of music into school life. If we value this it will happen – not just  in the music room but also in the playground, in corridors, in assemblies, in maths lessons. If music is valued, arguments about not having time, subject knowledge or resources to teach the subject well simply blow away in the wind, as they would do if schools were delivering maths poorly or (not at all), which would simply not be tolerated.

In my work with the Varkey Foundation I have discovered non-specialist teachers all over the world delivering both maths and music lessons highly effectively without even a classroom, let alone instruments. There really is no excuse for not delivering music well in some form or another – indeed there is a duty. If we want musical opportunities for all children, we must recognise that many children will not get this anywhere else other than in school. Private instrumental lessons are a luxury many families cannot afford, so if we do not provide these opportunities in school, for many children they will not happen at all (I have written about this here.

ii) Inclusive pedagogy

As part of this, inclusive pedagogy means that Every Good Boy Deserves Football and multiple rhythms presented on a board is not our starting point. Instead, we lay the foundations of musicianship through movement and singing with songs, games, chants and body percussion. Only when children are singing in tune and keeping/finding a pulse together and independently do we start to prepare concepts such as pitch and rhythm through embedded, concrete experience. These will then be given names (e.g. ‘so’ or ‘titi’) and once fluent in naming the notes and rhythms of a song do we start to introduce symbols.

There is much talk of ‘cognitive overload’ in education at the moment, and below are a couple of examples of how to create this in a lot of children. blankImagine being 5 years old and being presented with something like this, as is still the case for many – if you doubt this, go on to google images and type ‘how to read music’ and you’ll find plenty of this sort of thing as a starting point for reading music.

A curious child may well ask. What’s the squiggly thing? Why are there 5 lines? Is the big black C on the middle line the same as the little red C on the (hang on, let me count them…) third space up. You can indeed ‘learn your treble clef’ this way, but given that it is completely visual/conceptual, has no concrete reference to any pitch. Would a dyslexic child find this concept easy (answer, probably not). A child with moderate learning difficulties?

How does any of this relate to anything to do with music for the beginner who understands music in a primal, visceral way but not in abstraction? Let’s compare to the sort of thing I would give my year 1s in terms of  reading pitch notation (after at least a year of preparation). The top line is ‘so’ and the bottom line is ‘mi’. And this is after a very long (nearly 2 years for some children) preparation stage, in which we will sing countless songs with this melodic turn. We have done it as a class with parachutes, we’ve shown it with our bodies, we’ve jumped it on a floor stave, shown it with counters. Every child can sing this interval at the same pitch thanks to a lot or preparatory vocal work. For my year 1s, reading something like this is Orff’s ‘child’s play’ – note the lack of extraneous information.Fig 2

Let’s now look at the first experiences of rhythm. Often this sort of thing is the starting point (again try googling ‘how to learn rhythm’).


Fig 3‘Hang on’, I hear the class children cry, ‘We’re only 5, don’t forget. We’re not anywhere near ready for fractions yet! There is too much simultaneous presentation of abstract concepts which have not been sufficiently scaffolded and prepared – nor is it possible to store all this information in our long term memory. Slow down! The English naming system is of even less use –  the words crotchet and quaver are absolutely meaningless to me and will not help me with understanding their properties.’ Except they probably wouldn’t express that. They would likely disengage, or understand a random component, or remember a random word or song from the session, as the tale goes of the musician called Jonathan who tried to teach children about the trumpet he had brought into them. After the session, the children thought that the trumpet was called ‘a Jonathan’.

Again, the symbols are meaningless without understanding how they sound. And so much to get our heads around – how the different symbols look, their comparative value. If I’m trying to read music and thinking, “so that’s worth half of one of them and two of one of those” we can completely forget about reading with any fluency.

Again, compare the sort of Kodály stick notation my year 1s would all be able to read at sight:

Fig 4

Not only would they be able to read it, but they would be able to apply it to musical contexts, recognising it as the rhythm of ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ or ‘Engine Engine’. Again, stripped of all extraneous information – the dots usually found at the bottom of this give us pitch information, and therefore serve no purpose when we are focusing on rhythm.

This is the result of a couple of years of preparation – first encouraging and developing movement, then coordinating it to a pulse with gross motor movements, refining these into smaller movements and a strong, internalised sense of pulse. Only then can we start to consciously differentiate between pulse and rhythm, and then we will be ready to start learning about basic rhythms. The tas and titis are again experienced unconsciously in a a range of songs and rhymes, they are experienced through ‘walk’ and ‘jogging”’ Next come the rhythm names ta and titi and the rhythm syllables are applied to the songs they have deeply learned by rote. After presenting the symbols they are able to show ta and titi with hand signs, body percussion, physical formations and movement.

By year 2, they might be ready for something like this:

Fig 5

By year 5/6, all children are reading simple pentatonic melodies from standard treble clef notation:

Fig 6

In such a way, with development planned for all children over time and supported by the whole school, nearly every child (and teacher – music is for everyone) will be given the opportunity to develop their musicianship in lots of different ways.

Whilst the approach of ‘learning styles’ has largely been discredited (the idea that we each have a prime way of learning and that children can be easily categorised into ‘visual learners’, ‘kinaesthetic learners’ etc, it does not logically follow that we should only present information in one way.  A handful of children will understand music best through visual representation, some will understand music better through practical application; others through movement – we are giving every opportunity for a concept to be understood in myriad applications and contexts – you see the learning ‘sticking’ with more children as the different applications are practised. In addition, learning is reinforced in all children with each distinct practical application. Such a ‘multisensory’ approach  is the key to unlocking musical literacy (and general  literacy) in a greater number of children, (especially effective if it is applied in  Early Years settings). It works for nearly every child.

Yes, unfortunately, I did say ‘nearly’ every child. For me, the above approaches and philosophies are highly effective –  especially when fusing elements and modernising elements such as repertoire choice to be more inclusive of subcultures and to give more learner voice.  They develop the foundations of musical literacy in around 99% of the children I have taught.

iv) The 1% (ish)

So – if it only works for the 99%, what do we do about the 1%? This might include

  • a hearing-impaired child who cannot hear anything you are doing
  • a sight-impaired child who can’t see your hand signs
  • a child with mobility issues which means they cannot fully access learning through movement
  • an elective mute child who will not sing
  • an autistic child who struggles with group activities and social cues, or feels panicked by too much noise
  • a child with mental health or other issues affecting their behaviour so profoundly that they cannot engage in group situation
  • a dyslexic child either struggling with rhythmic elements or unable to read the fonts on a powerpoint slide
  • a child who is EAL and cannot access the spoken elements of your instruction

Again, this is where cooperation between the music leader, teachers and professionals from other disciplines is essential, and where ‘reasonable adaptations’ need to be made. A leader in school should ultimately be responsible for making this sort of thing happen – a peripatetic teacher on limited teaching hours can not provide for such children effectively without a great deal of support from schools. In some cases, such children are missing out on music lessons (often not at the behest of the music teacher!).

This may be controversial but generally I don’t pay much attention to the details of the large number of children on the SEN register, as I don’t like to define children by their limitations and certainly don’t like to group them accordingly. In music lessons the ‘orange table’ children (who tend to know they are also considered the ‘least able’ by staff in some settings) will be mingling and working alongside the ‘green’ table of ‘gifted and talented’ children. And there won’t be any tables for them to sit at either, in my classroom, unless it’s to play a musical instrument or use chairs for a rhythm game. Children with dyslexia are reading brilliantly (and improving their general literacy, again thanks to a music programme designed by Katie Overy and Emma Moore at Edinburgh University). Autistic mutes are singing. Orange table kids are high achievers!

Just as we can’t be a ‘Renaissance man (or woman)’ and be an all-knowing polymath on every subject, nor can we be an expert on every disability or every culture enough to be some kind of all-knowing inclusion teaching god, nice though an aspiration like that might be. So although we can be as proactive as possible with more common barriers to inclusion (such using dyslexia friendly fonts, thinking about language use for EAL students) we can’t be an expert on a broad range of specific issues: ecomonics, sociology,  Williamson syndrome, EBD, ADHD, Sexual identity, Racial Inclusion etc.

Although good teaching practice will be inclusive of many children without having to fully understand every specific issue and condition. So inevitably, some of the alterations, adaptations, individualisations will be reactive as we deal with a small number of children who are still not able to access our lessons. Social media and particularly Twitter is a great resource for seeking advice from experts with specialist knowledge of conditions (if you can do it without annoying them too much by flooding them with questions – my advice is to seek counsel wisely and share your own learning generously).

If the needs of the child are the starting point, and there is time, space and encouragement in the school, extra provision can happen and will be effective, but given how little value is placed on music lessons in some schools, it is unlikely to be even considered in many settings.

v) Extra Provision – case studies

One such 5 year old was ‘Adnan’,* an autistic boy at first undiagnosed but with many of the tell-tale signs. We would play little bunnies sleeping and whilst all the bunnies in the class slept, Adnan would stand in the middle of the room, staring around. He had never spoken and rarely made eye contact. He would not play with other children. He was noise sensitive, and if he didn’t get his own way on a number of issues he would go into ‘meltdown’ and begin screaming and tearing his hair out.

It was clear that a different approach was needed for Adnan. He was unable to naturally do what other children found easy – speaking, listening, turn taking, interaction. Working on this would mean looking at my skill sets and developing a nexus of communication between autism experts ( or at least their work), Early Years teachers in school, Adnan’s 1-1 worker, myself and the epicentre of this network – Adnan’s mum.

Parents should be the primary resource for getting to know a child like this. Working closely with Adnan’s mum and 1-1 support worker, we were able to develop a programme specifically for Adnan and people like him; this meant that as a school we were going to have to step up our offer if he was to access a music education. We decided to take an even more therapeutic approach drawing more on the practice of music therapists and Nordoff Robbins than the great pedagogues mentioned above.

If we did not value access to music education as the core right of every child, we would not have taken these steps and I would not have been able to even timetable sessions

When sessions began Adnan was given free rein of the music room and was unleashed. He could shout, run around, play with whatever he wanted. In doing so we focused on what Adnan COULD do rather than asking him to do something he couldn’t. The goals of the session were not for Adnan to progress as a musician (although he certainly did) instead, the main aim was to build communication through intensive, musical based interaction.

Treading carefully and using the simple but effective technique of OWLing (Observe, Wait, Listen, before interacting) we were able to pick up on his cues. We would play, led by him, and here we would start to see eye contact and non-verbal communication and trust start to build. His vocalisations became ostinatos in my songs and eye contact became part of games or triggers for a song to start.. His movements and gestures became dances.

He became more responsive and interactive. He began to respond to musical signals (slowing down, speeding up etc) and interact intensely. As he was responding so well to music, I spoke to mum. Adnan is very lucky to have an incredibly supportive, kind and patient mum who loves Adnan for the wonderful boy he is, never thinking about who he could be if he were not autistic. Mum had already been singing nursery rhymes to him and now sang him all the Kodály songs at home and played all the games with him. Kodály songs tend to be short and simple and highly effective in developing basic speech and language in children. Nursery rhymes are linguistically wonderful but often too complex musically for children to sing, so simple songs are better for encouraging musical responses and understanding

Then something marvellous happened. Adnan started singing too. And not just one song. It was clear that another thing Adnan had been doing well throughout his time at school was listening and remembering. He sang all the songs we had ever sung to him, as a toddler would at first, getting the odd syllable wrong here and there – ‘Slowly, Slowly, very slowly goes the garden snail’ became ‘Slowerly, Slowerly, vely slowerly go da ga ba nail’. But within weeks, thanks to mum singing with him, his 1-1 support worker singing with him, his class teacher singing with him, he was singing with clear diction, confidence and precision. Here he is singing a tidying up song.

It was a short step from here to speaking – two-part and call and response songs brought out linguistic interaction and before long, much as he had done at the singing stage, started talking and showing everyone that all the time he had seemed to be in a world of his own, he was very present, and learning and processing.

Now Adnan is in Year 4  and thriving in mainstream education. Like many autistic children, he has obsessions and his were American TV and Youtube videos. As this was now his main source of language development (rather than interacting with his peers) Adnan now speaks very fluently and confidently with an American accent, to everyone, with a smile, eye-contact and interaction. Music helped something ‘click’ in him and opened up his world through developing speech, language and communication.

Today, Adnan still sometimes finds things difficult in terms of social interaction. Waiting for his turn, for example. When we played circle games he would quickly calculate where the song was going to end and move to that part of the circle. When it wasn’t his turn every time we would sometimes see a tantrum. But these are now very far between. Adnan is now very settled in mainstream education, and his classmates are incredible – I’m often really moved by how patiently, kindly and maturely his friends in his class deal support him, and this is also speaks volumes for the team and the philosophy at Feversham.

Dr Phil Mullen is recognised as one of the world’s leading experts on musical inclusion and community music. He asked if he could come to see how we practised inclusion in music at Feversham. Unfortunately, he wanted to do this on a day when I was booked in to speak at a conference. Whilst I would have loved to have met him and picked his brains, I had every faith that the staff at Feversham could show him in my absence. I have every faith in my TA Tracey to deliver music lessons brilliantly – she has a PGCE, a music degree and is a trained Nursery specialist. I have been training her in Kodály for 5 years, and OFSTED came to observe her when I was absent and deemed her lesson ‘outstanding’. Whilst on the one hand we are incredibly lucky to have someone with Tracey’s skill sets, on the other hand staff with similar skill sets are often unappreciated in primary schools and not necessarily given the opportunity to develop their skills and passions by schools who do not see the full  value music as a subject.

At the end of Tracey’s (mainstream, 30 children) class with Adnan, Dr Mullen was reduced to tears. He saw everything – Tracey’s inclusive practice and pedagogy, the school spirit of inclusion exemplified by Adnan’s classmates as they helped him to fit in and achieve, and how music was the driving force behind much of this. Adnan is now accessing the mainstream curriculum with gusto on all fronts.

Children with autism more profound than Adnan have come to Feversham since and we have done everything we can to help them succeed in mainstream education. We have not always been successful in this ultimate aim.  Sometimes children’s needs such that an SEND school is ultimately a better option, but even then, we can give them a huge boost with our music offer in developing their speech, language and communication while they are here.

David* was one such child. The first video shows the session after his 1-1 worker discovered he was responding enthusiastically to ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ and was starting to mouth the lyrics. In our intense interaction sessions, the first video shows me singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ to him with a guitar, but I will only start to sing when he strums the guitar, so that his prompts are triggering the music. Notice how musical his ending is!!

The second video is after many weeks of playing improvised interaction and trust-building  games and child-led work which involved singing Twinkle Twinkle at least 400 times in different ways. (and probably several hundred more times with the one to one worker – you need a very high tolerance for repetitive children’s songs). We see David, who is still not talking to people, now singing with gusto, starting to form words in his singing and showing an understanding of the meaning of the words with his gestures. A beautiful moment from a boy who is usually silent.

vi) Understand the power of music for every child

This is the power of music. One of things that motivates me to do things like write this blog on my day off, is the heartbreaking thought of where these children would be without music – would Adnan be speaking? Would he be in mainstream education? David certainly wouldn’t be singing like that and begin to develop speech without speaking. But this takes going above and beyond the curriculum and the music classroom. It takes the support of SLT, both financially and philosophically. It takes training. It takes a commitment to the musical development of every child. It requires valuing the subject. It requires collaboration and exchange of skills and knowledge.

As Kodály said, let’s take this seriously for every child – everything else will follow from there – including funding, training, the time and space to develop for children and staff. We will also be committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure all children are able to access music lessons, with no child left behind because of their needs.

*Some of the names in this article have been changed