by Author Helen Finnegan

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Wired4Music at the Music Learning Live Conference

Earlier this week a team of Wired4Music members attended the Music Learning Live conference at the Institute of Education in London. Described as the highlight of the two-day conference, six members gave an engaging and honest insight into youth perspectives on music education.

A recurrent theme of our day at the Music Learning Live conference was that of our honesty, so that is how we will start. Before I went, I was dubious of this conference. As one of the ‘youth’ that music educators are trying to create the best opportunities for, I felt that it might be a little removed from the realities of how young people perceive their educators and their learning. Nothing could be further from my own misconceptions. The first session I attended that day was teaching people about the best music apps to be used in the classroom. Now you can teach children how to create music from seemingly complicated looking pieces of software on nothing but an iPod. Suddenly I felt very outdated. The conference was full of innovative ideas to improve the way in which everyone, not just children in schools, can gain a music education.

The Wired4Music team had several roles to play during the conference. Starting early was the media team consisting of me, Emma-Louise Amanshia, Aysha Atkins and Thomas Drake, who spent the day filming events and interviewing people at the conference. As the official film crew of the day, the team took it upon themselves to try and find out why it is that people attended conferences like this and what they wanted to achieve from the day. As expected there were mixed responses but the most interesting point to be taken from the interviews was the variety of ways people want music to be taught.

The wealth of projects on offer was impressive, mostly for the interactive nature of the day, with performances from the Sir John Cass Secondary School Steel Orchestra, Tomorrow’s Warriors Jazz Ensemble and not forgetting the Utterly Butterly Ukulele band. The men running this scheme of bringing music to schools and community centres across the country taught people to make fully tuned and playable ukuleles out of a plank of wood, some fishing line and an empty tub of utterly butterly spread. The soundtrack to the day was that of surprisingly in-tune ukuleles occasionally accompanied by a fully functional double bass made from a plastic box.

We then come to the main event of our day, which was the live panel debate in the Logan Hall. Sat behind a very official looking table with microphones and glasses of water was Dean Atta who chaired the discussion, Alika Agidi-Jeffs, me, Anabelle Iratni, Mirasol Boyce and Amelia Braz. The debate focused on music’s place in the curriculum and the youth perspectives on music education. We asked and answered questions about how music is perceived within the curriculum, both by students and educators. We wanted to focus on whether or not it is considered to be a lesser subject than others and what we would change about how the subject is taught. Our findings from the debate showed us that there is a huge inequality with personal tuition and a massively varying way in which the subject is delivered across London.

A key question we were asked by the audience was why we thought children were not taking the subject up further. We spoke from personal experience about how some teachers and students put people down about their technical ability on an instrument, completely bypassing the fact that they may be good at another aspect of music. This we established was a contributing factor to the smaller intake of students for music. We also felt that the syllabus has become outdated and isn’t meeting the requirements of children nowadays living in the ‘digital age’. In school, the fact that the whole spectrum of opportunities and career choices in and around the music industry is not fully explained at an earlier age means that students often have no idea what they could do with an education in music and so do not wish to investigate further.

The main message of our debate was that change to the curriculum is necessary. As the young people that music educators are trying to help we feel we came up with some valid and honest ways for change. We consider music to be fundamental to learning and living and that everyone should have as much access to the subject as possible.

At the end of a long but productive day, we had audience members compliment the Wired4Music team on their honesty, passion and engaging delivery of youth perspectives on music education. There was a lot of inspiration to be taken from the day and I think that everyone who took part feels like they effectively put across their ideas and networked so that they can further their experiences and opportunities. That is after all the point of Wired4Music, and we hope to use the success of our day at Music Learning Live to get more young people from London involved in the W4M family.  

The discussion was filmed and a video will be available shortly at