by Author MAC Makes Music

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Music Leader Exchange 5: Beats, Rhymes and Lyrics

This Music Leader Exchange session was led by Nicole Inniss (aka Justice), and was a group discussion about engaging young people who have been excluded or are at risk of exclusion from mainstream education. Nicole spoke from her experience of working with young people in secondary PRUs across the West Midlands.  

Your Approach to Sessions 

  • Be guided by their voices. Ask the young people and staff at the centre what would work for them and get feedback throughout the project. Don’t go in with an idea of the finished product. 
  • Gain their trust. Find out what music these young people are listening to and get to know it yourself. 
  • Discuss the ground rules. Show the young people that they will be supported if others are disrespectful to them. 
  • Establish mutual respect. Treat them as your equal and let them know that their thoughts and opinions are hugely important. 
  • Develop relationships gradually. Start with 1:1, then pairs, then small groups etc. 


During the Session 

  • Use simple equipment as a starting point e.g. drum machine and encourage young people to have a go, touch, play and make sounds straight away. 
  • Room setup – consider changing the space if you’re in a more regimented setting, risk assessing r.e. COVID-19. 
  • Show your vulnerabilities. 
  • Be honest that the music leader can make mistakes. 
  • Learn in real time with the young people. You don’t need to learn the chords to all their favourite songs beforehand. 
  • Have fun! Invite young people to make music with you, jamming and vibing together. 

Things to Remember 

  • Showing too much authority can lead to fight or flight situations. 
  • Attention span – many young people use Instagram or TikTok, so shorter activities are often more successful. 
  • Don’t instantly play song suggestions if you’re not sure about lyrical content, use instrumental tracks instead. 


Please remember that these were the combined ideas discussed during the session and if you’d like more information about engaging young people with social, emotional or mental health difficulties, you can visit our website for a series of free training videos.