Coldspots and Confidence

In light of Youth Music's refreshed definition for Coldspots projects, I delved into the evaluation data we've received from Coldspots projects since 2014. I wanted to see what they could tell us about improvements in the confidence of participants of our funded projects, and noticed that there were many more instances reported of girls and young women showing improvements in confidence than boys and young men. I picked out some key points that emerged from my research to explore this further.

Refreshed Coldspots definition

Youth Music has refreshed the definition for Coldspots projects, which we feel better encapsulates the variety of projects that fit under the Coldspots category. We hope it will make it easier for applicants to categorise their projects appropriately and for us to gather relevant data and learning.

New Coldspots definition:
Projects for children and young people who face barriers to accessing music-making opportunities as a direct result of where or who they are. This may be due to:

  • living in an area of high deprivation, and/or a geographically isolated area
  • low cultural activity, engagement, investment or infrastructure in their area
  • demographic factors, such as gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, cultural practice or age
  • lack of opportunities in their preferred genre or musical practice, and lack of progression opportunities
  • physical or mental ill health resulting in temporary or long-term contact with a hospital or other healthcare setting.

With this in mind, I wanted to look at some of the data we have received from Youth Music-funded projects categorised as Coldspots. It should be noted, at this stage, that Youth Music introduced Priority Areas in 2015, so some data from projects funded before this time have been retrospectively categorised under the most appropriate priority area(s) by our Grants & Learning Team. Looking into the many evaluation reports we’ve received that have been categorised as Coldspots, I was interested to take a closer look at the data our grantholders have collected on improved confidence in project participants.

Confidence

Lots of our Coldspots evaluations mention ‘confidence’ and it’s easy to see why. Projects categorised under the Coldspots priority area are typically providing music-making activities to young people and/or areas that don’t have many arts and culture opportunities on offer to them. This lack of opportunity often comes hand-in-hand with low confidence when it comes to musical skills, as you would imagine, but also low confidence in general. The great thing about the projects we fund is that with increased confidence in musical skills, a general increase in confidence for the young people will often follow.

Interrogating the data further, I found more references to increases in confidence seen in female participants than male participants. I searched our qualitative evaluation database for Coldspots reports which featured the word, or stemmed versions of the word, 'confidence'. This brought up 70 documents, mostly final evaluation reports, with some case studies too. Within these, there were 51 references to girls and young women’s improved confidence, and 31 references to boys and young men’s in the Coldspots evaluation data submitted between 2014 and 2016. This is significant, given that in our latest impact report, for 2014-15, we found that 55% of participants in Youth Music-funded projects were male and 45% were female.  Very low numbers of declared gender non-conforming young people have taken part in our funded projects, so due to a lack of data I’m unable to include evidence on this group of young people’s levels of confidence. We’ve funded 2 projects working with gender non-conforming young people in the last year. Once these projects have come to a close, I hope to write a blog on the data we have received from their evaluation reports.

Lack of confidence can be a big issue for girls and young women, and I see this as a huge stumbling block for many of them when it comes to music. You can read more about confidence in my previous blog on International Women’s Day and its relevance to music education. More and more projects aimed specifically at girls are popping up across England, with lots focussing on instruments and genres stereotypically associated with men, like electronic music, DJing, electric guitar and drums. In my opinion, projects like these are immensely important if we want to achieve gender equality in music education and the music industry. I thought I would delve further into the data on confidence, to try to give an overview of some key themes.

Lack of confidence amongst female participants

A poignant quote from a music leader explained that one girl had previously had her compositions criticised at school and “didn’t think she was any good”, despite creating music of a really high standard. The music leader was doing their best to encourage her and build up her confidence.

One project decided to create a girls-only element of the project on noticing the lack of confidence in the girls who were attending:

“Numbers of young women taking part in project sessions has been good from the outset but numbers following through to completing compositions and making performances were disproportionately low. In response we created additional opportunities for young women to have a separate session for a period of time during which we could work with them to improve their self-esteem, self-awareness and musical knowledge and skills.”

Reflection and the willingness to adapt your programme to needs that might become apparent over the course of the project are key to ensuring participants’ needs, both obvious and more subtle, are catered for.

Performing

10 boys were reported to have performed in front of an audience, despite having low self-confidence at the beginning of the project. 16 girls were reported to have done the same.

One boy said: “I can’t believe I’ve sung on stage and played bass, it’s mad.”

A youth worker on a project said of one young man in particular: he “used to be so anxious and shy, even when you guys first started with him he was quiet as a mouse, and here he is freestyle rapping, singing, playing bass, I literally can’t believe it. I’ve worked with him for years and I’ve never seen anything like it! Amazing.”

One girl, who had an acute anxiety disorder and often struggled leaving her house unaccompanied, gained the confidence after taking part in a Youth Music-funded project to perform in front of large audiences and achieved a Bronze Arts Award.

There are so many wonderful examples of participants overcoming massive fears to perform in front of peers, families and friends for the first time. The quotes from music leaders, parents and participants show how transformative these music projects have been for many, as the common reaction tends to be one of sheer surprise and awe at how the young people’s confidence has grown.

Singing

Singing seems to be very relevant to the discussion of confidence and gender, as one boy, on hearing a recording of himself, commented “I sound good – I never knew I could sing!”. Another said “I only sang in my room, never to anyone else. I didn’t want to make a profession out of it but after coming here I’m thinking twice about my career.”

One girl said she “wasn’t used to singing in front of other people” but that the music leader had “made it nice singing in front of other people – I was quite comfortable doing it.”

One report commented that young men became very reluctant to sing after their voices had broken: “they don’t feel confident in their voices” and worry about “looking like a fool if they tried”. They also reported being worried about “looking cool in front of girls” and their male friends.

The musically inclusive approach that Youth Music projects use means that these anxieties can be easily overcome by ensuring participants have access to the musical genre and instrument that they want to play. I’m sure this is a major contributing factor when it comes to the success our funded projects have with improving confidence.

Confidence to lead

There were 5 instances reported of boys gaining the confidence to lead a group, and 8 instances of girls doing the same.

One young woman who suffered from panic attacks and anxiety, and struggled in groups, developed a quiet but confident leadership role in her music group.

One boy was so shy when he first attended, but after attending music-making sessions he “developed into a caring leader of many other smaller children”.

This is so brilliant to see. It was clear from the reports that these young people wouldn’t have ever considered leading a group before taking part in their music project, and that this was possible due to the supportive and positive nature of their music-making sessions.

Positions of responsibility and employment

There were 2 instances of female participants gaining jobs or positions of responsibility after improving their confidence during a music project. There were 2 instances mentioned of male participants doing the same, with one becoming a Young Leader as part of the project, and the other a trainee music leader.

One young woman, who began the project with low confidence, had initially declared that she didn’t want to write, record or perform any music. She finished the project by taking part in a group performance and 6 months later had the confidence to get a part-time job.

One project gave an example of a young man who was initially more comfortable staring at his feet than engaging in the music sessions, but settled in to the group and increased hugely in confidence. He signed up to a residential that was offered to participants and continued to improve both personally and musically. At the time of writing the report, the grantholder explained that this young man had developed so much that he had found the confidence to lead a group of his peers in music-making.

I thought it was of note that more young men achieved positions of responsibility within music education than young women after improving their confidence. Of course, I’m sure these young men were fantastic, ambitious and talented, but I wonder if the lack of confidence experienced by many young women might have been a contributing factor to the lack of examples of young women progressing on to leadership roles in music?

Confidence evident to families

There were 11 instances of parents/carers discussing their daughters’ improvement in confidence, whereas there were only 4 instances of parents/carers discussing their sons’ improved confidence.

One parent commented that her daughter “was a different child completely” after taking part in a Youth Music-funded project, and that she now had self-confidence, and was “desperate for the workshops to continue ASAP”.

I wonder what this disparity between the genders could point towards. Could it be indicative of boys being less keen to talk about their musical achievements with their families than girls are? Or of girls and young women being more confident within their families than within the music groups, and therefore the improvement being more noticeable at home?

Self-reflection

One report commented that “all of the girls in the group, but less than half of the boys, felt that their ability to express their feelings” through their music-making had increased substantially. The Coldspots reports contained 4 quotes from boys and young men directly acknowledging their increased confidence. In contrast, there were 12 quotes from girls and young women talking about their improved confidence.

One female participant said “I feel more confident controlling a group even though I mainly worked with another helper in groups though because of that I was able to build up that confidence and not feel pressured.”

Another girl said that after performing she “felt a lot more confident” in herself. She said “I’ve met new people and I’m not so nervous”.

One young man said “I’ve got so much more confidence, it’s taught me to be myself and know that I can do what I want to.”

The lack of quotes from boys expressing their feelings is, I’m sure, tied up in the gender stereotype which says men should be ‘macho’, ‘unemotional’, and shouldn’t talk about their feelings. This pressures many boys and young men to conform to the stereotype, and contributes to the wider social context of mental health. Many men struggle with mental ill health in silence for fear of seeming less ‘manly’. The fact that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 highlights what an enormous problem this stigma is, and how important it is to encourage boys and young men to talk about their feelings. It’s also really important, for all participants, to ensure that music-making sessions give young people the opportunity to affirm as well as cross over these assumed gender divides as much as they'd like to.

Summary

It’s been fascinating taking a closer look at the data on personal outcomes for participants across Youth Music-funded Coldspots projects. The quotes I’ve included in this blog are just a small selection of a wealth of evidence that grantholders have submitted to us – so, a big thank you to them! The data indicates a strong tendency for more girls and young women to suffer with low confidence levels than boys and young men. However, there are so many other factors that come in to play around the topic of confidence, such as the anxiety that many young men feel toward singing and many young people’s behaviour changing when in different environments and groups of people. I hope the above begins to tease some of these contributing factors out.

I’d love to hear what you think and about your experiences around this subject. Have you noticed a difference in the confidence levels of female, male and gender non-conforming participants of your projects? Have you introduced any new approaches within your delivery to deal with this which have been particularly successful? 

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Comments

Please remember that it is low numbers of "declared" gender non-conforming young people.  Last summer, I was facilitating a group to apply for local council funding at SoundSpace Studios in Gloucestershire (run by The Music Works). We had an in depth honest and powerful discussion about why they did not want to categorise themselves or others on the forms they were being asked to complete and did not think it was right or relevant for us as a music organisation to be asking questions about things like gender identity.  I explained in some detail that history of equality opportunities practice and the reasons why monitoring is important but their view was that did not overide their desire for privacy for themselves and for other participants. I passed on their view to the funder who agreed to accept (and later funded) the application without that data. 

Flora Ward's picture

Hi Mark,

Thanks for your comment. It's a really helpful insight, and I'll make that amendment to the wording now. As you've said, Youth Music asks for these stats to enable us to understand the impact of our work more clearly, and to inform our learning and awareness of the needs of different groups of children and young people across England. We do recognise, however, that some young people might prefer not to disclose their gender identity. We'll look to address this in the statistics we request as soon as we can.

Best wishes
Flora