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Jodie’s Blog: Creating Musical Detectives

My Journey

My name is Jodie, I am a community musician based in York and working around Yorkshire. I want to use this blog to share my experience of developing and running my music project Musical Detectives, a project I designed for SEN/D children using project grant money from AMP: Plugged In programme. I’ll tell you how I gained experience to get to this stage, share a bit more about the process and the project, and then pass on my top tips for anyone beginning their career as a music practitioner.

I started my journey into the community music scene studying music at Sheffield University and gaining experience of music in community and education settings through volunteering and university groups.

I went on to do my MA in Community Music at the University of York, developing experience which led to specialised work in SEN/D settings. This included volunteering for local charity Accessible Arts and Media (AAM). From volunteering, I have since gained an employed position with AAM as their ‘Project Assistant’.

Working with AMP

A big opportunity that has helped me develop was signing up for Plugged In Producers (formerly Rural Fest)  with AMP as their ‘Activities Co-ordinator’ while I was studying. This gave me the opportunity to run some of my first independent outreach workshops.

Image taken from Harrogate Walled Garden with QR leading audience to sounds recorded by groups in primary school.

I designed and ran creative sound recording and music technology composition workshops for primary schools in rural areas with less access to music resources and experiences.

I was supported in running these first workshops by the AMP Team, with planning, shadowing my delivery, evaluation meetings and support with logistics such as contacting the schools. I really enjoyed the in-person work and the creative responses I received from the schools which were showcased at Rural Fest 2021.

More examples of graphic scores made by the group here.

Last year AMP then provided an opportunity through their AMP: Plugged In programme, providing a grant to develop my own creative project and take that next step further in my career as a freelancer. I was nervous about the prospect of a bigger independent project, including the bigger challenges that this comes with however was overall excited to be offered this work for the first time and be able to start developing my own ideas.

AMP were very supportive, setting up meetings and working with me while I learnt how to write a formal proposal of my initial idea, working to a funding brief and setting out my rates for independent work which were all completely new concepts to me.

Mentoring

Through the AMP: Plugged In Programme, AMP also linked me up with a mentor for the project who supported the development and reflection on my project as well as my own professional development. Will Fletcher, an active musician who works with Live Music Now and runs many independent projects was a fantastic mentor to provide insight into the school, having worked there before and having done lots of similar music projects.

When sharing on my initial plans and ideas, he provided fantastic constructive feedback, including how to balance 1:1 work with group leading. Having someone with experience, especially in this area working with young people with SEN/D meant I could ask specific questions about the field and gain better insight before running the project.

Will also shared lots of fantastic resources and ideas such as songs or warm-ups that would be suitable for my project. This not only helped develop this project but also add to my skills and personal inventory of recourses to continue to use in different settings and work.

The Project

 Designing the Project

When designing Musical Detectives, I drew on two aspects of my previous work and experience that are really exciting to me…

  • New experiences within music.
  • Creative composition.

I have always enjoyed providing new musical experiences to create fun and enjoyment. I have also seen the value they have for learning and developing personal skills. These include confidence building and interpersonal skills such as communication and working with others.

I feel creative composition is an accessible and inspiring way to realise an individual’s potential as it allows individuals to take control of their own ideas and express themselves in new ways.

Musical detectives was delivered in an SEN/D setting where opportunities to these experiences and to develop these skills are particularly valuable, therefore a lot of the project was developed and adapted with accessible and inclusive music making in mind. However, these benefits can extend across all education and community settings and the project is designed to be tailored to multiple settings and groups when working in a person-centred way.

Musical Detectives proposed an imaginary detective role where we develop musical detective skills such as listening and communication, pattern recognition and singing and creating melodies explored through musical games or songs. We used these to discover a whole new genre of music and present the musical elements such as instruments, songs and melodies or rhythms. For this first run, we were musical detectives in Africa! We discovered African instruments, sounds, locations, songs, and music. We used all of these to create our own music from what we learnt on our journey.

Who I worked with

I ran this project in Welburn Hall School, a special school, working with pupils aged 8 to 19 years with a wide range of physical disabilities or learning difficulties. The school aims to ‘ensure all pupils have the opportunities they need to reach their full potential for academic achievement, independence and personal development’ (Welburn Hall School, https://www.welburn-hall.n-yorks.sch.uk/index.html).

When designing the project, I felt Musical Detectives worked alongside these aims and understand how music can support individual independence and personal development in an accessible way.

I worked with two very different groups within Welburn Hall school, categorised by the school as ‘Formal learning’ and ‘Pre-formal learning’, meaning their needs, communication and engagement would vary. The ‘Formal learning’ group were more formal in terms of class structure and communication therefore the group focused more on confidence and skill building. The ‘Pre-formal learning’ group consisted of more non-verbal pupils who benefit from more sensory work. This challenged me as a practitioner and gave me the opportunity to develop two different styles of project with each group. I most enjoyed working with the groups, getting to know them and working to cater the project to their different strengths, style and enjoyment.

What we did

I had planned three sessions with each group across three weeks, divided into…

Session 1

‘Who?’ – Who are you as a musical detective? Discovering what our musical detective skills are including listening, communication, watching and playing, all discovered through games, songs and instrument playing.

Session 2

‘Where?’ – Where is our Mystery taking place? In Africa! We played along to some African soundscapes using pictures, African instruments and songs using our musical detective skills.

Session 3

‘What?’ – We finished our Mystery by creating our own musical works of art from our journey, putting all the musical elements together and using all the musical skills we had gained!

Achievements

‘Formal Learning’ Group:

Throughout this project, the successes for the ‘Formal learning’ group were so inspiring! Over the short time I worked with them, I saw a massive boost in confidence. The group started off very shy at the beginning, however by the end of the three sessions, we had more volunteers for leaders and contributions in our musical games and activities. They also showed musical confidence through creative ideas towards musical pieces such as drum patterns, structure, and instrument choice.

Their creativity, confidence and understanding of the musical elements shone out when creating a soundscape from African pictures. They matched soft, quiet sounds to the rain, sparkling tinkly sounds to stars and quick and loud sounds for ideas such as a storm. Below are the pictures and order they chose for our soundscape and a recording of them preforming it. See if you can pick out the instruments and ideas that go with each picture?

You can hear a recording of the soundscape below:

The group continued to develop these ideas in the last week by taking the elements from the pictures and applying them to their own graphic score that you can see below.

It was fantastic to see their confidence and enthusiasm in writing their piece, notating rhythmic patterns, and choosing symbols that represented their sounds. They worked together so well, listening and respecting each other’s ideas and performed together in as a group fantastically. Overall, it was amazing to see the progress and enjoyment from so few sessions.

‘Pre-formal Learning’ Group:

The ‘Pre-formal learning’ group also had many wonderful moments, for the group as a whole and each individual. They worked in a very different way, with many of this group being non-verbal and needing more direct support, they enjoyed exploring the instruments and new sound experiences were most engaging. One of the best approaches that worked well with this group was regular or consistent auditory stimulation such as a song, providing a focus for the individuals.

One of the biggest achievements for this group were the opportunities for choice and communication which enabled them to develop their musical identities and self-confidence. Through a song or playing on an instrument, I was able to create auditory cues for fast or slow, loud or quiet which they responded to well through their playing or movements. This then opened up opportunities for choice for the individuals by allowing them to take the lead through how they chose to play or move, with the rest of the group mirroring this.

By developing this group cohesion from playing together and listening, it gave opportunities for exploring instruments independently. I was able to support the sound environment by singing or playing quietly and the group following, allowing us space to listen and provide time to one individual at a time to share and explore a new sound or instrument. All of the individuals really enjoyed and engaged well within these moments of individual exploration encouraging their independent musical skills and confidence. This is where the mentoring by Will really helped to balance the 1:1 and group work, allowing for the best experience for each individual!

Personal reflection

For a snapshot of the project, I hope I have been able to portray the enjoyment of running it, working with these groups and seeing them develop. If I could run this project again there are areas for development or areas that could be extended. For me, one of the most interesting areas to develop would be the graphic score elements in the formal learning group. With more time I could dig into each musical element more to gain a fuller understanding and confidence in music playing, writing and creativity.

Top Tips

This project didn’t come without challenges, especially for the first time running an independent project. I am going to share my top tips for working in a similar setting, similar groups and running an independent project overall.

Have confidence in yourself!

One of the biggest challenges were meeting the groups for the first time and keeping up the confidence when some of the ideas didn’t go to plan. Things aren’t always going to go perfectly because there will always be unexpected elements, especially in the first session. For example, some activities I originally ran with the ‘Formal learning’ group wouldn’t have worked for the ‘Pre-formal learning’ group due to their different needs. I found trusting in my plan, my preparation and drawing on my toolbox of skills grounded my confidence.

The best way to achieve this is through gaining more experience from different settings, groups of people and activities you run. The more you learn the more of these skills and activities you will be able to bring into sessions, so whenever you are faced with a new group you can feel confident in yourself to have what you need.

Work with the people in front of you

 I feel it’s important to connect with the group and work in a person-centred way to encourage the best engagement and enjoyment. This means being open, observant and flexible to be able to adjust the sessions to work to their strengths, understand their confidence levels or preferred communication. For example, with the ‘Formal learning’ group being less confident than I expected, I had to be flexible and shift my delivery style.

I needed to be observant to pick up what the different groups engaged better with to help me connect with them, find activities that were most suitable and start making progress, building confidence for them and myself. This is tricky to balance leading with being observant but by practicing being open, flexible and responsive to the groups is the best way to get the most out of the project for yourself and them.

Take time to reflect

I feel taking time to look back on each session is really important, helping me reinforce what I thought went well and what I would like to do better in each session. When reflecting on the project with Will, it was helpful to talk to someone with more experience who understands when things don’t always go to plan and reassured me how to overcome challenges in the future and highlight what strategies worked in this project.

Reflection on the project helped towards preparation and strengthened the project overall, by identifying successes and correcting my mistakes I was able to create consistency and improvement for the groups.

Will also encouraged me to reflect more inwardly at my skill set and identity as a practitioner, how I present myself when leading and how this effects the sessions. This is a process I wouldn’t have done without being prompted and was useful to be reminded of this to support my personal development. Therefore, as a top-tip, being self-critical supports continued development and improvement of your skills and confidence as a practitioner.

Connect with the network around you

I am grateful to have been supported by AMP through the process of developing and delivering the project, through connecting me with Welburn school and supporting me during the new logistical challenges of running a project such as budgeting and always being open to any questions I had, allowing my first project to run as smoothly as it could.

Having a mentor like Will was helpful to ask questions about developing this work into more of a career, for example pointing me in the direction of other organisations and suggesting ways to use my skill set in other areas to develop my career.

Having a network to support you and connect with is so valuable and I would always recommend reaching out to other professionals and organisations, volunteer in different areas to gain experience and never be afraid to ask questions, the community are enthusiastic to help young professionals.

Written by Jodie Jordan, January 2024
If you would like to get involved in a similar project, head over to our AMP: Plugged In page to find out more…