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Making Music with SEND Pupils

Musician Dyzelle shares her top tips for educators

Musician Dyzelle sits with a ukulele, smiling. She has short dark curly hair and is wearing a black t shirt

We know that making music with pupils who have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) can be a bit daunting at first, so we have asked one of our musicians, Dyzelle to share her top tips. If you would like to know more, darts run free training sessions over Zoom called the All Aboard Music Network – a friendly, relaxed place for musicians and educators to gain confidence and knowledge about making music with Disabled young people. For more information, click here. 

The All Aboard Music Network events are free to attend, due to generous support by Youth Music.   


1.  Think about the barriers  

 Our society is set up for able bodied, neurotypical people experiencing good mental health.  For pupils who don’t fit that description, there may be lots of barriers to access that we need to think about (and likely a whole lot that you haven’t thought about before)!  Think about all aspects of your session and the things that might prevent young people from accessing the activities – is the room too noisy?  Does the music need to be printed bigger or printed on coloured paper?  Would a visual timetable of the activities you have planned help?   

2. Simply ask!   

This might seem a little scary, but if you aren’t sure about the best way to adapt activities, support a student or to make lessons more accessible, just ask – I always ask the pupil, so I can open up the dialogue about the barriers that are in their way and what I can do to remove those. Teachers and support staff are also great people to talk to – the pupil may already have systems or strategies in place that would work in your music lesson.

A woman helps a girl to play a percussion instrument as part of a workshop with darts at Heatherwood School

3. Rules are meant to be broken (or worked around)  

Music has lots of rules about how instruments should be played, and these can be a barrier for our SEND pupils. For me, the most important thing is that the pupil gets to make music and if that means they need to adapt how to hold or manipulate an instrument then I’m ok with that. There are all sorts of simple ways to adapt instruments and musical equipment, so get creative – it could be as simple as re-tuning a guitar or ukulele so that the pupil only has to worry about strumming the strings, or it could be placing an instrument on a chair or table, so it is at the right height or on the side of the body that the pupil finds easiest to play it on.  You don’t need any special equipment – a lot of the adaptations I make during music workshops are simple changes that can make a big difference.  Don’t forget to ask the pupil how THEY can play the instrument.   

4. Make music relevant 

Try and find out about the types of music your pupils like and find a way to include those – even if only in small ways.  Including songs or music from other countries is also great (just do your research to make sure you are approaching this sensitively).    

5. Be flexible 

Remember that Disability can be changeable – personal circumstances and illness may change over time and solutions that worked in the past may need rethinking.  Encourage pupils to let you know if and when you need to make changes or review the support that is needed.     

disability   music   schools   special schools   young people

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