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Music with young people in challenging circumstances

Stories/case studies written by Anita Holford and featuring music work with young people in challenging circumstances, supported through Youth Music’sMusical Inclusion programme. If you’re involved in working with young people through music and/or reaching young people who may be disengaged from learning and from life, then these stories will be of interest.

It’s been fascinating, and a privilege, to talk to these music leaders about their work and hear the stories of the young people they work with and the difference that music has started to make to their lives and futures. Thanks to everyone who I spoke to and all who have been involved.

Wiltshire Music Centre – Learning disabled young people: A place for us and for our creativity
Wiltshire Youth Arts Partnership – Music Matters: Re-engaging vulnerable young people in learning and in life
Roses Theatre Tewkesbury & Gloucestershire Music Makers – Investing in a young music leader: small cost, for a long-term impact

Gloucestershire Music Makers – Michael’s story: from Hospital Education to performing live
Gloucestershire Music Makers – Charlie’s story: getting back into learning through music work in PRU setting
Gloucestershire Music Makers – Home-schooled pupil finds confidence and concentration through music

NB: The final three case studies were written earlier (a year or so ago) to advocate the work of Gloucestershire Music Makers (now called The Music Works) and the Make Music Gloucestershire music education hub.  For more about inclusion work in Gloucestershire, see the Music Changes Lives section of the Make Music Gloucestershire website.

To read more about musical inclusion work …

There’s a great book published by Music Mark and edited by Phil Mullen and Chris Harrison, called Reaching Out: music education with ‘hard to reach’ children and young people. Music Mark members can get it from their website at a reduced price. An important buy for anyone working with children and young people through music, particularly those involved in music education hubs.

More about Youth Music and Musical Inclusion

The National Foundation for Youth Music (Youth Music) is the leading UK children’s charity using music to transform the lives of disadvantaged young people. It develops, funds and supports exemplary music provision at every stage of a young person’s development. The Musical Inclusion programme is funding music work with children and young people in challenging circumstances across England – addressing gaps in provision, increasing opportunities, and improving effective practice and outcomes.

With thanks to Malcolm Pollock for the largest of the photos above; and to the projects for all other photos.

Active participation in music can rewire young people’s brains

In Harmony students

Photo of In Harmony students – with permission of Dr Nina Kraus

Dr Nina Kraus’s longitudinal study into the effects of music training on disadvantaged young people in Los Angeles , has been looking at the importance of active participation in music.

The research concludes that the level of participation – attendance at classes, practice – affects the changes that result in the brain and the related reading scores.


Time Magazine: http://time.com/3634995/study-kids-engaged-music-class-for-benefits-northwestern/#

Music could help close achievement gap between poor and affluent students

Dr Nina Kraus1

Photo of In Harmony student and researcher – with permission of Dr Nina Kraus

A study by Northwestern University researchers led by Dr Nina Kraus has looked at the impact of music education on at-risk children’s nervous systems and found that music lessons could help them develop language and reading skills.

The researchers spent two summers with children from poor neighbourhoods in Los Angeles who were receiving music lessons through the Harmony Project, a non-profit organisation providing free music education to low income students.

Music method used

First 6 months – group introductory musicianship classes (1 hour x 2 sessions per week) – identifying pitch and rhythm, performing, notation, basic recorder playing.

Following this – four hours a week of group instruction in strings, woodwind, brass (depending on availability of instruments, provided at no cost to participants).

Two years better than one

Students were divided into two groups. The first received two years of music education by the end of the study, the second received one year of lessons. Researchers discovered that children’s brains responded to the music education after two years of lessons. One year was not enough to have a definitive impact.

“Making music can have a profound and lifelong impact on listening and learning.” Dr Nina Krauss. “It is an effective strategy for helping to close the achievement gap … What seems to be happening is that this experience of making music is helping to create a more efficient brain, a brain that is going to be able to help a person learn and communicate, especially through sound.”

The origins of the study

Prior to the study, leaders at Harmony Project had noticed that students participating in their free music lessons were performing much better than other students in the area. More than 90 per cent of high school seniors who participated going on to college, in an area with high school dropout rates of up to 50 per cent.


Dr Nina Kraus’s website: http://www.brainvolts.northwestern.edu/ 

Huffington Post: Harmony project music study

Pacific Standard: Music lessons enhance brain function of disadvantaged kids

BBC: Music training can improve language and reading

The original research report:

The Journal of Neuroscience: Music Enrichment Programs Improve the Neural Encoding of Speech in At-Risk Children


DATE: 2014
PLACE: United States