Instruments of success

Making music provides some children with the sense of purpose,
the camaraderie and the self-esteem they need to succeed in life.
But, reports Kendra Inman, despite the efforts of various projects,
opportunities to play remain scarce in disadvantaged areas.

Twenty years ago, psychologists shook the world of education
when they announced that listening to 10 minutes of Mozart – piano
Sonata K448 to be exact – increased students’ IQ. The news
sent parents scurrying to music shops and the recordings quickly
sold out as families tried to replicate what became known as the
“Mozart effect” in their own homes.

Other studies have since challenged this finding but the belief
that music is beneficial to children and young people remains
widely held. Now an increasing amount of money is flowing towards
projects to bring music-making to children from disadvantaged

In March 2003 Kids Club Network launched Come and Play, a
music-making initiative funded to the tune of £650,000 by the
charity Youth Music which promotes music opportunities for
disadvantaged young people. The first wave of the scheme ran at 11
councils and was such a success that in September, the charity
announced it would run in a further 19 areas including Cornwall,
Doncaster, Hackney, Hampshire, Liverpool Northumberland and
Rochdale. Come and Play will work with early years development and
child care partnerships and local youth agencies to reach 5,000
primary school children.

The project aims to give children who attend out-of-school clubs
and summer play schemes the chance to participate in workshops led
by experienced musicians. Children’s involvement is voluntary
– they can continue to choose to kick a ball or join in the music
session says David Sulkin, head of policy and programmes at Youth

The range of activities includes a chance to experiment with
sound rhythms, singing or music playing, create costumes and
musical instruments or take part in dance. It embraces all styles
and cultures of music and Come and Play likes the projects to
culminate in a performance for family and friends. The scheme also
supports clubs by providing percussion instruments, a resource pack
for music-making activities, newsletters and practical advice, says
Peter Garden, music programme manager for Kids Club Network.

But what makes the project special is that it facilitates
networking, fostering relationships between the music industry,
local musicians and the after school clubs. The aim is that even if
future funding proved hard to come by, the links would allow the
musical activities to continue.

Come and Play hopes to deliver music to an audience often
excluded from music services and the formal music education system.
During the 1990s instrumental tuition almost became the exclusive
preserve of the middle classes as many local authority music
services struggled to survive in the face of budget cuts.

In 2000 a survey by The Times Education Supplement found that
the proportion of primary schools offering free music lessons had
fallen from 24 per cent to 14 per cent in two years. At the end of
the 1990s the government promised funding to ensure every local
authority in the country could give children the chance to play a
musical instrument. Youth Music itself has since December 2000
invested £14m in setting up youth music action zones in areas
of social and economic need.

Although the situation has improved most agree that musical
opportunities are distributed unevenly. “If you come from a
privileged background where there is spare money to pay for
activities you get to do music along with other activities,” says
David Sulkin. “If there is no spare money or if you are from a
community where music is consumed but not made, you may not get the

Music as a pathway “out of the ghetto” is well established. What
receives less attention and analysis is the benefits of
music-making for disadvantaged children.

Garden says music-making can have a incredible effect on
children: “It builds confidence, promotes teamwork and allows them
to interact with people of other ages as well as their peers in the
informal environment of the out of school club with no

This is certainly borne out by Busy Bodies out of school club in
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, which was one of the first to take
part in Come and Play. Following discussions with the children they
opted for African-Caribbean drumming as their musical activity.

An experienced percussionist held two sessions a week, taught
drumming and told the children stories which they interpreted
through music and dance, says lead play worker Wendy Halfpenny. The
sessions culminated in a Caribbean show for parents including food,
drink and costumes. Halfpenny says Come and Play built up the
children’s confidence and, “especially helped our children
with special needs drop their barriers”.

Of course, music is also fun but why is it any more beneficial
than, say, martial arts clubs? Sulkin says music made collectively
is like any team activity. “If you learn to listen to other people
and understand their ideas, take in what they’re saying and
vocalise your own ideas then it will allow you to develop capacity
for teamwork,” he says. But it also has unique benefits. “You can
get to young children direct through music making. You don’t
sit them down and say lets talk about this subject. You say
‘lets make some music’ and as you do you can then ask
them how they are at home or how they’re doing at school. If
you are working on music-making together you can get them to
discuss things.”

But as for hard proof of benefits, Dr Alex Lamont, an expert in
the psychology of music at Keele University says the evidence in
the UK is patchy. “There is plenty of evidence from the US that
involvement in extracurricular programmes of any kind (musical or
other) helps boost school attendance and self-esteem. My own
research has shown that self-esteem is more likely to be influenced
in children and adolescents from lower socio-economic backgrounds,
whose self-esteem may be a little lower than the norm.”

For a clearer picture, Dr Lamont is working on a research
project in conjunction with Youth Music in Birmingham.

An important aspect of Come and Play is the training it provides
for play workers. Browsing through a report on a youth music early
years programme in Tyneside, Sulkin noticed that “some of the
nursery leaders say how unconfident they feel about teaching the
children to sing – of course its hard to teach singing if you feel
unconfident about your own voice. Many play leaders have very good
basic skills but not extended skills.”

This is where Come and Play steps in. Peter Garden says: “The
play workers may not have had any musical experience since they
were in school. We tailor-make training for play workers, building
their confidence or by drip-feeding them information over a

Busy Bodies welcomed the support. “As play workers we found our
‘inner child’ and it gave us great confidence to try
something innovative. Through Come and Play we’ve forged some
great links with music bodies and outside networks in our area and
are really excited about running more music programmes
independently in the future.”

For Garden “the main outcome from Come and Play is that children
have the chance to take part in musical activities that are good

“If they want to take that further we open up pathways in the
local community or through the local authority’s music
service. We can help signpost the way.”

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.