Home Email Scroll top Community

Music for everyone?

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).


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.


Zoe Ansley-Green

  • Teacher of Music, Kew House School. Studying for Masters in composition pedagogy with Martin Fautley at BCU in partnership with Listen Imagine Compose – @mrszdag

This article is nearly 30 years old but in some ways it could have been written today. We are still asking how we can cater for a vast array of needs within a classroom with limited resources, space and time. This article offers lots of ‘shoulds’ about music education and on these points I agree whole-heartedly. The stand-out phrase is that music education should ‘help disabled people to achieve musical experiences through their abilities’, although I would add to this that our job is expanding the abilities through which young people can experience music.

Inclusion is not just a discussion of SEND students/settings, but all music education. This word ‘ability’ can also be discussed further. All people have some kind of musical ability or abilities but this can mean a universe of different things, including prior experience and cultural capital. When we talk about inclusion, this should not be limited to children (or adults) with SEND, but to every factor which means teaching needs to be adapted to support the learning of the children in front of us. There are many types of abilities, as well as disabilities, all of which need catering for.

Crichton sets out 3 barriers to people with disabilities accessing music education: attitudes, training and economics. I would add that between training and economics comes practicality: classroom music teachers are stretched when providing music education to 30 children with a huge range of backgrounds and needs. We aim to provide the best music education we can to all students but sometimes that sadly reverts to just ‘as many children as we can’, and in that light it can be seen why those on the outskirts of the generally bell curve of abilities in the class can be neglected. Perhaps the solution to this is both: money so that we can decrease class teachers or increase support within the class (such as bringing in instrumentalists to act as teaching assistants) and training, so that teaching is as effective as possible.

All the examples of good practice which Crichton gives are programmes outside of schools: music services, charities, orchestras etc, which makes me wonder what was happening in terms of inclusion of needs in music classrooms in 1992… Thinking back to Crichton’s analogy about taking a horse to water, surely good quality and truly inclusive music education should start in schools where we have all the children and can give them the opportunity to drink. If they want to drink more or drink something different, the external providers step in here, but it should start with us, shouldn’t it?

Nikki Booth & Helen Booth

  • Nikki Booth: Head of assessment and teacher of music and Spanish at Wolgarston High School, Staffordshire. Also Visiting Lecturer and PhD researcher at Birmingham City University. @nbooth2506
  • Helen Booth: Assistant Headteacher and SENCO at a primary School in Staffordshire

Following Laura Crichton’s (1992) article, music is indeed for everyone and advances in technology over the years have helped us achieve this even more. What follows is a personal account reflecting on how technology has been used to help a family member, Sam (pseudonym), engage more autonomously with musical experiences.

Sam has a lot of complex needs, many of which are due to his Cerebral Palsy. As a result, he has limited movement and co-ordination, needs 24-hour care, and is non-verbal. Due to these complex needs, his education was completed in specialist settings where his needs could be met. From a young age, music played an important part of his life both in-school and at home.

Whilst growing up, he accessed musical activities within school and at home and always seemed engaged by listening to music – an engagement which wasn’t apparent with other activities, such as watching a film. He had clearly made a choice as to what interested him. What was particularly challenging was allowing Sam the opportunity to choose what type of music he wanted to listen to. Advancements in technology made this possible.

Through the use of Eye-Gaze Control Technology Sam was able to learn how to choose from options as to which music video he would like to listen to. Enabling him to use this technology effectively required him to be taught new skills which were developed over time. The impact of this is that he now has autonomy over his own musical experiences which otherwise would probably have been the musical preferences of another person. In this instance, the use of technology has allowed equal rights to access music regardless of an individual’s needs. In other words, music *is* for everyone.

Elizabeth Bathurst

I do not think that many will argue with the premise of this article. As music teachers, we are proud of the inclusivity offered by our subject as a form of creative expression and one that can be accessed by all provided the right tools and circumstances are there. However, this article was written nearly 30 years ago and draws attention to key issues that can form barriers to providing musical education and opportunity to all, particularly disabled children and adults. It seems to me that little has changed, which is a great shame.

The issue that primarily draws my attention is the training of ITTs. In my own experience, both as trainee and as a mentor, it is still the case that very little time is given to specific training for disability support for music teaching. While music teachers are left with an awareness for general SEN support within their lessons and classroom from their training courses, we are often left to our own experiments and reflections as to how to make music classwork (notation, practical composition and performance) accessible. A quick search of the Oxford Bodleian library for studies of SEN research within Music Education reveals that there is a rich catalogue of research in this field. Trainee teachers would benefit from dedicated time in their course to read key parts of this literature and see how it affects their practice by putting informed ideas into practice and subsequently reflecting on them and having time to discuss them with mentors.

This takes time and perhaps would require looking at the structure of the ITT course. However, an ITT is required to read relevant literature throughout their course. As well as a generic reading list for all trainee teachers, surely there should be a subject specific reading list required of all courses? Once a reading list has been compiled it would be easy to share and distribute this to ITTs, training courses and mentors. The reading and reflection could contribute towards the assignment study, which is also another requirement for ITTs.

Speaking in general terms, the acquisition of knowledge and training often comes with the broadening of attitudes and understanding. This also usually comes with experience. Therefore, if we provide our up-and-coming music teachers with more specific research and advice that will enable them to cater for all of their students, it is more likely they will be empowered to put their ideas into action, and thus open up musical pathways for everyone.

Liz Gleed

  • Subject leader for Music – Bristol Cathedral Choir School – @mrsgleedmusic

Music for everyone. The perfect concept to reflect on at the moment, something I have come back to time and time again with the question ‘how can I ensure everyone is accessing music in a meaningful way while not in a specialist music classroom?’

I love curriculum design, the thought of planning and crafting musical learning and facilitating experiences excites me. Something I have to always hold close to my planning is: ‘who am I planning this curriculum for’. The music classroom in a secondary school is a diverse place in terms of prior ability and access to resources. Our students come from a range of backgrounds with a number of academic, physical and emotional needs. One size cannot and should not meet all. The article states the main barriers as being attitudes, training and economics and I think this a strong summary.

For students with disabilities this access to music is an entitlement, not a privilege. All music teachers would agree that a fair access to a quality and relevant music education is paramount. The key starting point is always going to be listening to the students and not assume what is best for them. As teachers we can be consumed with expected outcomes, progress and evidence, however I do believe that this can be secondary to listening and differentiating for the individual. Being reflective and flexible is more important than steering outcomes towards an expected answer. All those who work in music education whether taught in the classroom or in the community have a responsibility to do this and to work together meaningfully to support this.

James Leveridge

  • Teacher of Music in Newham, London – @jlevered

Crichton makes the key points that as educators, we should be helping people ‘achieve music experiences through their abilities’ and the importance of adapting our approach ‘to the person’. These points reflect the importance of considering our attitudes and approach to teaching music and the need to develop musical environments which celebrate what our students can do as individuals, rather than reinforcing what they perceive they cannot.

Addressing negative attitudes seems highly important to promoting inclusivity in Music Education and ensuring that all parties involved recognise, as highlighted by Crichton, that ‘there are different ways of expressing music’ and that this is okay! Music is incredibly personal, and as highlighted in the article, it is not for us as educators to let anyone’s (including our own) preconceptions hinder musical participation and/or learning. Musical participation may take place in a wide range of environments, therefore, improving accessibility of musical experience will be essential to address as the restrictions of lockdown are removed as for many, opportunities have never been further away than now.

Vaughan Fleischfresser

Music for everyone? Absolutely. Yet, as this article addresses, achieving this is more problematic than it should be. Overcoming these challenges should strengthen our resolve, rather than diluting it. Every child, no matter their background or circumstance, should have barrier-free access to a full and meaningful Music Education. For me, the starting point to achieving this is beginning with the end in mind. What does a full and meaningful Music Education look like for every child? The answer is simple – it looks very different.

As we continually attempt to herd every child towards the same structural end point, many will invariably be lost along the way. I often believe the solution for Music Education is in a suite of end points – not just A Level in England, or Higher in Scotland, for example. I have taught many a child who through no fault of their own, has been closed off to music due to the path(s) set out in front of them. Just as there are numerous acceptable paths to music-making and coming to know music, so too should there be numerous and acceptable end points for someone learning music at school. One size does not fit all, and this is plain to see in the number of pupils choosing, or not choosing, to study music in the later years of school.

So, as the article asks – what is our business? My belief is that if we are to ensure every child receives music as part of a broad and balanced curriculum, which is their entitlement, then we need to improve access. And to hark back to my original point, my belief is that to broaden and develop the attitudes, training, and economics that currently influence Music Education, then we need to drastically rethink our end point. Music is for everyone and it is part of a broad and balanced curriculum. Therefore, we must ensure that the ways our young people can come to know it, enjoy it and learn from it, are just as broad and balanced. Only then, will music in schools truly be for everyone.

Lewis Edney

Reading Laura’s paper made me think of a musical charity called Live Music Now, and I ashamedly had to look them up to see whether they still existed. Thankfully they do and are still offering the same opportunities as I was lucky enough to have nearly 20 year ago. Young ensembles audition to be ‘on the books’ and if successful, are then booked for various dates during the year. I remember thinking the most prestigious were the recitals for music societies but I realised very quickly the most rewarding engagements were the workshops in disability-focused centres. If you were ever unsure of the raw pleasure that music can bring, these centres are the place to go. I now see that there is a gap that can be filled with music from schools, I am currently preparing virtual concerts to share with residential care homes and disability centres in my area but I fully intend to continue this when we are able to go ‘live’ again.

It isn’t going to solve the whole issue addressed here and there needs to be a top to bottom education for us all to remove the attitude (and possible ignorance as Laura states). But as music educators we all know the importance of music for everyone so we should be the first to realise that we can help can perception and create opportunity.

David House

It should be a given that music is for everyone. The BJME article had a focus on students with disabilities and this is quite right, we need to be able to welcome all into our classrooms. I recall a seriously hearing-impaired student some years ago being told initially, ‘perhaps during Music lessons you could catch up on English or Maths’, however shortly afterwards she was fitted with an enhanced hearing aid and she has allocated a dedicated classroom assistant throughout the school day.

I will not forget her delight at being able to participate fully in our lessons and gaining increased understanding music and musical concepts. She went on to study GCSE and thoroughly enjoyed every moment. We had to campaign in those days with the exam board for additional time and a situation whereby she could sit the exam in a separate room. There was certainly a sense of challenge to us in the department, she played the flute and our VMT Flute teacher was excellent in supporting her musical development, and we would all say it was worth every minute of the additional work.

After all, if just one student benefits from your efforts then your day’s work has been worthwhile.It should be a given that music is for everyone.

Emily Boxer

Of course everyone’s first response to this question is yes! We all want music for everyone! That is why we’re here! We believe in music for everyone and we commit to it and yet in practice… it’s so difficult.

After my initial enthusiasm I think of Luke. He is in Year 8, has autism and I noticed him for his lack of participation in the music lessons I observed last year. He refused to perform in the singing concert with the rest of his year group. He didn’t learn the guitar when everyone else did. When others clapped and sang, he turned away.

When I started to teach him this year it remained the same. As Crichton says is so often the case, my attitude got in the way; I had made assumptions about him that he just ‘did not do music’ and so of course this continued. When he held his hands over his ears during a class workshop, I asked what the problem was. He told me, ‘this is why I don’t like music. It doesn’t sound right!’.

While it may have been true that the music we were making didn’t sound ‘right’, the rest of the students were nonetheless able to embrace the process: to play, to rehearse, to enjoy making music together.  While I wanted to believe otherwise, the truth was that they were on the inside and able to make music in my classroom, while Luke wasn’t.

Then I think of Lucy. She had cerebral palsy, use of only one hand, processing and memory limitations and perfect pitch. Her biological family were Romanian folk musicians and she had been fostered by a Michael Jackson and blues enthusiast since she was four. She grew up embraced by music and nurtured through musical opportunities appropriate for her. She played Michael Jackson classics on the piano with her one functioning hand, came alive with excitement when jamming with other jazz enthusiasts and signed up for every school performance there was. The people around her shared their love of music with her, drawing her in in ways that she could access and she flourished as a result.

Back to Luke and after the hands over the ears incident, I sought advice. I tried raising my expectations, holding him to account like everyone else: he left the room. I tried giving him two options to choose from during lessons and he told me straight, ‘you’re making things worse’. Eventually I cracked it. Whiteboard and pen in hand, we had a meeting during lunch time. We wrote out the plan for the lesson, mapped where he would sit and clarified what he and others would do in each part of the lesson. He arrived first, sat in his chosen seat, listened to others, practiced, asked for feedback and performed a perfectly accurate rendition of the the melody from the first 16 bars of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. The class and I listened in stunned silence.

Reflecting on it on my way home with the SENCo, I expressed my shock and surprise about what he had achieved. She just smiled and said ‘of course’. Now that I had entered his world, music was for him too.

Amy Burrows

  • Avonbourne Academies / Head of Music and Head of Character Education – @AVBMusicDept

Music is for everyone. That is my answer to the question that titles this article. I have very limited knowledge of music experience and disability, however, the overall message that music should be accessed by ALL is something that is an incredibly important topic of conversation at this present time.

Usually I would be inviting all of our year 7s to learn an orchestral musical instrument. We organise showcases by professional musicians who become their teachers for the year and we give students a chance to find their talent in music. Students apply for this opportunity and we charge a small fee for hiring the instrument for the year. At this moment in time this simply isn’t possible. Music cannot be experienced in concert halls or theatres. The arts as we know it are dwindling away from society as communities and groups are unable to come together. People are trying so incredibly hard to keep it alive in such creative and unique ways and I am sure that our sectors will prevail when this is all over but there will be areas that can’t continue in the same way as they did.

Music is still a subject that is only fully accessed if you have been given the privilege of being influenced by someone who believes in its importance or something you’ve heard. In education this relies on someone in schools to be championing musical skill and understanding. There are thousands of excellent music teachers, musicians and appreciators out there, inspiring children and young adults everyday and giving them the ability to express themselves musically. However, there are also many providers that don’t. Is this because they are ignorant of the importance, because they feel that music isn’t ‘academic’ enough, or is it because they didn’t have the chance to access music so don’t understand the impact it can have? It could be all of these reasons or none of them. We do know that these inconsistencies in the appreciation of music as an entity mean that it is not made accessible to all and not always a staple of a child’s education, especially when musical exposure is so limited due to all the current restrictions.

I hope that within my teaching career the attitude, training and economic issues are addressed and the importance of musical access is highlighted on a national level. Although this article is primarily focussed on access to music for disabled people, many of its arguments and observations are true of all education. Access from primary age through to adulthood has to be ensured so that all people enjoy the right to music and as musical educators we should be actively seeking out ways to make up for any lost time where we can.