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Learning and Reflections from a Music Practitioner on the My Normal Music Project, which works with LGBTQ+ and Disabled Young People

I have been working as a music practitioner for over 7 years. I have had a lot of experience working with young people who have mental health, behavioural and learning difficulties and disabilities.

I’m part of a new project called ‘My Normal Music Project’ based in Oxford working with disabled and LGBTQ+ young people. We use music to try and make a positive difference in peoples lives by helping to develop their strengths and skills in a safe environment. My Normal helps to increase visibility, challenge inequality and expand the musical aspirations of participants, who are a part of underrepresented groups in the music industry and media. Both of these groups are also more likely to experience poor mental health.

“More than four in five trans young people (84%) have self harmed. For lesbian, gay and bi young people who aren’t trans, three in five (61%) have self-harmed” Stonewall schools report 2017

Music Workshop Collaboration
Using music technology has been a great engaging and beneficial tool for running music workshops with young people who have learning disabilities & autism, (with disadvantages) and LGBTQ+ young people who as a group are far more likely to experience poor mental health. We run music workshops which are designed to engage everyone as well being fun. Importantly we run these workshops to help improve the wellbeing of young people and believe that music technology is an excellent engagement tool which allows everyone to start making music right away and very easily. Some of the music technology we use such as ‘Bloom’ helps to keep focus and to create a sense of calmness. In this particular app, colours and sounds help to create a soothing mood and atmosphere and is especially good with people with autism. Music technology allows for a vast amount of creativity and expression for young people and adults of all abilities.

Since beginning the ‘My Normal’ Project, we have been continuously upgrading our music equipment and music technology to ensure that we keep our workshops engaging and fun as well as
making sure that each session is planned accordingly with appropriate equipment for specific sessions. Using hand chimes to record in a group is one example of everyone working together at similar level.
 

Equipment & Tools:
We have used a variety of music equipment for music workshops including iPads with apps such as bloom, ikaossillator and skoog, wave drums, Kaos pads and vocal transformers. These are all easy and efficient to use without any difficulty and is a brilliant and effective way to create music right away! All you need to do is touch or press the equipment to produce a sound. The Skoog (www.skoogmusic.com) in particular has been a brilliant tool to use in workshops as it is an easy to use ‘hands on’ squashy foam cube that acts as a wireless controller which syncs up with the iPad app. Each side of the cube creates a different sound by pressing it and is a quick and easy to use musical tool for anyone who has never made music before. I first used the skoog in a music technology workshop with people with special needs which worked really well. (in collaboration with ‘Keen’ Oxford: www.keenoxford.org). As well as using other equipment such as ‘Kaos pads’ and ‘Wave drums’, where they have to be placed on a surface, the skoog can be picked up and passed around more easily than other equipment and technology.
We’ve also been using our recording studio based at The Ark T Centre (http://www.ark-t.org/) as well as running a portable recording studio where we use a laptop running Logic pro X, a 2
input interface, a condenser microphone, a small midi keyboard and a speaker. We’ll use the portable studio for when young people with learning disabilities struggle with getting to new places. A link is available down below where you can listen to a short piece of original music created in an hours workshop using this portable set up along with some chimes and percussion that some of the young people used to record with.
https://soundcloud.com/user-767892051/parasol-workshop

Some of the taster sessions that we’ve been running with Ark T have been focused on sound recording and studio based sessions using various music technology equipment as well as being able to perform and record group pieces of music using percussion and voice. These are some ways that young people can express themselves in completely their own way to release any emotional or physical stress. Bringing people together to make music in this way and to be included as part of a group experience has helped to increase focus and confidence through learning new musical skills and sharing ideas.

We have also been delivering music workshops with Oxford based charities such as ‘Yellow Submarine’ (http://www.yellowsubmarine.org.uk) who specialise in working with young people with learning difficulties & autism and ‘Parasol’ who provide inclusive activities for disabled and non disabled young people. Funding from Youth Music has allowed us to give people who rarely
have an opportunity to use music technology that we have been able to provide fun and creative workshops for.

“We find music an excellent tool for engaging young people with additional needs, it transcends disability and unifies groups.” 
“The main barrier to young people participating in playing music is the cost of practitioners and equipment: it is not possible for us to invest in expensive instruments or mixing equipment and a half day workshop can cost in excess of £100. Some of the Children and Family centres (formerly Early Intervention Hubs) are equipped with sound studios and instruments, complete with drum kits and all manner of exciting apparatus, but we are prohibited from using these unless we have a ‘professional’ present – which again, involves a cost. - Quote from Anna Cheetham Co-Director of Yellow Submarine

Musical Development
Throughout my practice there have been significant results through running music technology and recording based workshops. An increasing amount of young people have been engaging with the ‘easy to use and access’ music technology (such as the skoog) and equipment (such as the chimes) as it allows you to create music immediately without thinking about it too much about it. Soothing iPad apps such as ‘bloom’ have helped young people keep focus acting as a therapy tool. We run sessions that are designed to be an inclusive platform for everyone to experience. There are lots of opportunities within these sessions to develop new collaborative and communication skills as well as expanding musical aspirations.

Since starting the ‘My Normal’ Project, I have been through various training to develop my practice for a better understanding of working with disabled and LGBTQ+ people. My first training was about people in the LGBTQ+ community lead by Hannah Bruce at Ark T in preparation for running the music sessions. Working with LGBTQ+ has been a new experience for me as some of the young people are very vulnerable who want to be in a safe environment with people to trust. It is down to me as a music leader to ensure that they have that in place so that they can also enjoy the creative side of making music as well. Regular check ins and group agreements have helped to create a positive environment with one participant saying “This place is like the opposite of Anxiety”.

I have also attended a safeguarding course, iPad training and working with young people with autism which have all given thorough insight for making a music workshop engaging and fun.
The iPad training and working with young people with autism was lead by Russ from ‘Ryhthmix' (https://rhythmixmusic.org.uk/) and has given me more structure and thought on how to approach a workshop; the language of inclusion. One of the exercises that we did as a group during the training were ways on getting everyone included from the very start of a session. We tried an experiment with drum sticks where we got given a drum stick one at at time and were told not to talk once we were given it. The other way was for the leader to use body language and gestures to make everyone understand how to pass a drum stick on to everyone. The second way helps include everyone immediately from the start of a session. Inclusion is a vital part of the project and I continue to find out new ways on making sure that everyone is included in a music workshop.

Since starting the core workshops with LGBTQ+, the team and I have structured the sessions in a way to gain the trust of the young people. We start and finish the sessions with a check in to find out if everyone is feeling ok and up for making music in a group. We also provide refreshments and share around everyones favourite music. As a group, we have written several pieces of music using instruments and music software as part of the Bronze Arts Award. I have helped lead several of the studio sessions where everyone contributed into creating a track on Logic Pro. Some young people who have had less studio experience than others participating were able to get involved just as much as those who were more proficient in music production and recording. In one session, I went around the group and got everyone to play in or record a sound for a particular part of the track. Towards the end of the session everyone had been involved in the creating process and were able to share different compositional ideas and thoughts towards the track.
Working with people with additional needs, autism and with learning difficulties has also been a very new experience for me as I’ve had to think about the ways on how to engage with them and what kind of workshops would be the most suitable for each person or group. I have learnt a great deal more about working with young people with disabilities, autism, learning difficulties, disadvantages and with LGBTQ+ than before I joined the ‘My Normal’ project. I believe that musical inclusion is ensuring that everyone from all different backgrounds gets given an equal opportunity to get involved in the music and arts. It is about providing support for people to engage in an activity no matter what level they are at. Everyone has individual differences and is about embracing those individual needs to get the most out of their lives.
Since working with Ark T there has been a big sense of inclusion and togetherness about the workshops we run and the young people we work with. It creates safe environment where everyone is able to be themselves and share experiences with each other as well as providing good support through a safe learning environment.