by Author Lucinda Bristow

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Adapting practice from small to large groups. How can we make the transition smoother?

I have often come across the struggle transitioning/adapting participants of small vocal/music workshops to larger ones. A child can start off having one to one attention to then having to “share” a music leader, equipment or ideas. Sometimes parents would think that they weren’t getting as much for their money too, without realising that we can gain just as much learning with others as we can on a one to one basis. I certainly experienced it when I was setting up vocal schools in different cities back in 2012 and it still comes up now.

We are currently running music workshops for children in care. As with everything the project has shifted and changed somewhat since we began and will do some more to always try and make sure we are providing the best experience that we can for these young, vulnerable people. It is all a learning curve and some changes (like change in group size) may seem small to some can impact these children quite a lot. Obviously as word spreads around carers, social workers and virtual school etc more children want to join which is really amazing BUT we must try and make these changes as smooth as possible. Working with groups can be just as beneficial for these children as one to ones. It can really help develop social skills which really can be missing for some.

I have used some of the quality framework as a use of comparison between both scenarios and will look at benefits and drawbacks of each and ideas on how to turn these drawbacks into a benefit. All added ideas are welcome!

Small groups: 3-5 children with 4 music leaders and 1 trainee.

Large groups: 16 children with 4 music leaders and 1 trainee.


  1. The ratio of young musicians to music leaders is appropriate.
  2. There are sufficient materials and equipment to support the activities.
  3. The duration of contact time and depth of engagement are sufficient and appropriate to achieve the intended outcomes.

Small groups: Benefits would be that the young musicians get one to one attention from a music leader, so great tuition and support all of the time. The young musicians also get a good go on all instruments available and use of equipment. Drawback could be that there could be times where a music leader may not be needed so to not over crowd a young musician. Another drawback can be that they may not get the chance to experience working with other young people as much which can really assist their social development. We could have all tried to stay working as a big group all together at the beginning but as the ages range from 7-mid teens, interests etc would mean that any participant would lose interest quite quickly. 

Large Groups: The ratio of 4 children to 1 adult is still very good and definitely manageable. Drawback could be that if the young musicians are not used to this they may find it hard to work as a group or to not have one to one tuition at all times. Drawback could be that the young musicians may need to share equipment, which is totally understandable and it is good to encourage sharing. It may however be quite difficult when a child who may be used to having one to one and access to all instruments whenever they like to sharing when they may come from circumstances where they have had to look after themselves may find it quite difficult. The same with contact time. We have had this scenario with the recording and with the iPads they use to create music. We have now come up with a recording schedule with allocated time slots for the session. We also encourage group work. Last session we had a little group learning ukuleles, whilst others were recording a music video! Some are still reluctant to share equipment though. It is something we will continue to work on. We just need to make sure it is fair for all and that the young musicians know about schedules/taking turns etc so no one is excluded.

Young People Centered

  1. Young musicians experience quality of engagement: no participant is discriminated against.
  2. The group and young musicians techniques and performance are monitored, and achievements are celebrated and valued in a variety of ways.
  3. Specific feedback on the groups and young musicians practice are made clear.


Small groups: The amount of engagement will be much of the same as mentioned in the small group environment section.  There would be great engagement from a music leader when working with small groups, being pretty much one to one there should not be discrimination of any kind either. The performances and techniques are monitored through one to one tuition, use of video and recording – whichever makes the young musician most comfortable. Young musicians are regularly praised thoughout sessions by music leaders, they can also take home cd’s of their recordings and do a performance of what they have achieved in the session to carers. Within the small groups, feedback on the young musicians progress is normally relatively easy to do, though some of the young musicians can feel very sensitive and sometimes can take constructive feedback the wrong way. Maybe use video so they can critique their own work.

Large groups: The amount of engagement can vary. The young musicians will not have the one to one experience as above. Though it can be worked in that some do still get some one to one time. This can be through scheduling times, or possibly having a music leader leading certain areas/instruments and if only one young musician chooses a specific area/instrument then they would get one to one tuition. If more than one young musician chooses an area/instrument, then they learn as a group. This can work well and does not discriminate, the only problem is some young musicians who had been there from the beginning and used to one to one all of the time may struggle with this concept and may just want to wander off! It is also important for a music leader to not just focus on one person who seems to be engaging and leaving out those who are not, make sure time is spread evenly. Sometimes it can work with 3 music leaders and one trainee working between small groups and the final music leader “floating”. To make sure no one is left out. The young musicians techniques and performances are monitored and achievements celebrated and valued much the same as the small group above BUT not everybody would get a chance to do a single recording each or a solo performance each time of a whole song or two as it would take up too much time and it would be awful for them to feel rushed, it would make sense for group recordings/performances to be encouraged again, unless a solo is set up as stated above. In a larger group setting feedback can be given as usual, if the young musicians feel comfortable they can feedback on eachothers work or they can film and assess their own work.

Session Content

  1. Activities are engaging and inspiring and allow young people to achieve their full potential.
  2. The young musicians views are integral to the session. They are able to appraise their work and suggest ways to improve.
  3. Sessions have an atmosphere of collective learning.


Small group: Activities are engaging and inspiring as they have whole engagement and attention and space to do what ever they like. Within the small groups a music leader would usually text carers before each session to find out if there is something in particular the young musician would like to work on. This is then covered with said young musician in session. This was used intitally to engage the new young musicians who did not feel confident stepping out of their comfort zone. They are supported and encouraged to get the best out of chosen piece or supported in creating their own. Through the preparation before hand with carers it shows that the young musicians views are integral to the session. They are also given ample opportunity to appraise their own work and and find ways with support if needed on how to improve. There is not such a sense of collective learning with other young musicians in these small groups, though there is collective learning with music leaders. We had originally tried to do group warm ups but as they all arrive at different times, they tend to charge off to whichever instrument they like straight away and get stuck in. It would appear that group warm ups could work better with larger groups as more people are up for participating in warm ups which will encourage others to join in.

Large groups: Activities are engaging and inspiring but the texting for each individual child can not work for the large group as there is not the time or the recourses for this. How can this be sorted? Possibly through reintroducing the group warm ups, make sure everybody is together and then giving some choices of material or instruments to work on and break off into smaller groups. The young musicians can take ownership of arrangements or create new music which would mean their views are integral to the sessions and there would also be sense of collective learning.

My only concern with this is that the young musicians who have been used to the small group scenario may find it difficult to go from working on exactly what they wanted to sharing ideas or songs with others. It is always great to encourage group learning and playing as you can gain so much from it! It is just that I know some of these find it hard to let others in or give up control. It may be a slow process to encourage this to happen…

So to conclude: I would say that the larger group workshops will benefit the young musicians so much on a social and interactive level though they wont get as much one to one tuition. It is also clear that the way we set up for and work with large groups has to be different to the way we set up for and work with small ones. It would seem to me that by putting the large groups plans in place whilst having a music leader “floating” to catch those who are really struggling to adjust so they can have some time to break out may be the best option. We shall see!