"You Don't Have to be Down with the Kids!" : Music and Exclusion, Peer Sharing

Mon 15 March 2021

MAC Makes Music recently held an online sharing session for Music Leaders / Teachers working with those excluded from school or at risk of exclusion. Some of the thoughts and themes from the session are below, we hope they'll provoke and inspire further thinking. 

Attendees each brought along;

  • Things that are / have worked well and why
  • Things that have been difficult but they’ve overcome and how
  • Things that are still a challenge
  • A snippet of music, lyric, quote from a young person

Successes the group shared included;

Music Leading

  • Reflective practice helps to capture your development and the young person’s development.
  • Showing your vulnerability puts you on same level as the young person and helps gain trust. For example, demonstrating that you’re not an expert at everything and learning something new together. Remind the young person we’re all musicians together.
  • Learn about the young people’s music and ask them their views / contributions throughout.
  • Letting young people know they’re allowed to make noise is really important in gaining trust.

Session Content

  • Emphasis on doing, playing, responding to each other – straight in with the music at start of a session (avoiding written work).
  • “engineering” the session to engage those who didn’t initially want to create music, for example having options to be a producer or conductor.
  • Giving the young people time to “do nothing”, or explore themselves, they can then discover what they like about music on their own terms.
  • Encouraging peer support / mentoring among the young people e.g. setting up opportunities for the young people to work across year groups.


  • Where possible working with more than one music leader in the space for many reasons including;
    • having the option to be flexible with group sizes and be able to offer individual support when needed
    • having a colleague to share ideas / bounce off
    • having someone else who can keep a close eye on group dynamics and less obvious signifiers of development / losing engagement
  • Including setting staff in the session so they are engaged and fully understand the work (leading to internal advocates).
  • Invite guest musicians to mix up the sessions and bring in a fresh opportunity.

Other Considerations

  • Recording the young person (with their permission) and playing it back to them to support confidence.
  • Making music visual by drawing and/or using graphic scores.
  • Having physical opportunities for those who are struggling to engage with instruments e.g. using putty to introduce the physicality of music.

The group discussed difficulties and how these were overcome;


  • If producing tracks with the young people, keeping them short e.g. 1 minute in length, to help with focus.
  • Keep referring back to the young person and their music
  • Perceived acts of defiance – bring this in the music where appropriate as this can engage someone having a difficult time e.g. incorporating rhythm of someone banging a table.


  • “You don’t need to be ‘down with the kids’ but you can still ask them about stuff they are into”.
  • If you’re not sure what some of the slang words mean, develop relationships with teachers / staff who can help (or jot down and research in your own time).
  • Asking young people to make a “radio edit” version so that they are encouraged to avoid swearing or inappropriate content.
  • Knowing where to start with lyrics, some ideas;
    • asking the young people to create a story board of something that’s happened to them, and using this as stimulus.
    • Have a chat about interests / just get talking and jot down a few things they’ve said

Remaining challenges;

  • Other professionals using music as a reward, or removing as a punishment
  • Attendance and inconsistencies of groups due to nature of the settings
  • Confidence around singing
  • Young people’s anxieties around the effects of the pandemic

Words to describe this work to someone new in the field;

  • Creative
  • Rewarding
  • Patience
  • Important
  • Inspirational
  • Challenging
  • Spontaneous
  • Respect

Moving forward the group suggested;

  • Be brave
  • Get political (advocate for inclusive, person centred music making)
  • Be gentle
  • Stay compassionate and positive
  • Be flexible and open minded
  • Share more