Everyone in music education knows it, and every few months another report confirms it – financial barriers are often the biggest barrier to young people’s progress in music.* Children from low-income families are also much less likely to engage in musical activities outside of school.
As the report of the Social Mobility Commission Unequal Playing Field (2019) puts it: “Music…is clearly the preserve of the most affluent family households”. Their data shows that children from the most affluent families are three times more likely to participate in these activities than their peers from less affluent backgrounds.
Yes, learning a musical instrument is expensive and it’s not just tuition. It’s about getting that instrument in the first place, going to classes or rehearsals, buying accessories, accessing technology, taking exams, auditioning for higher education . The list goes on, and if you come from a low-income family, the expense is often too high, especially in today’s cost of living crisis.
So what to do with those children who have never had the chance to acquire an instrument because it costs too much? What about their talent and potential? The musical talent is everywhere, but not the opportunities. Young people should not be denied the opportunity to explore and realize their potential because they come from low-income families.
A diverse music industry is essential for a thriving sector
While children from more affluent families can take private instrument lessons, less affluent children are limited to their school’s musical offerings, largely on a short-term basis, from group lessons to primary school.
It is therefore even more imperative that, when these opportunities are offered, their teachers – whether class teachers or visiting instrumental teachers – have useful tools to identify and support musical potential. Without them, the musical talent of young people from low-income backgrounds is much less likely to be identified, hindering talent diversification and, in the longer term, a more diverse music industry, which is essential for a sector. rich and flourishing culture.
The Young Musicians Awards (AYM) exist to help. Our Musical Talent and Potential (ITP) Identification Program is designed to address exactly this problem. ITP was formed after AYM launched an action-research program, funded by Youth Music, which sought to identify the musical potential of a group of young people.
As lead musician Hugh Nankivell says, “We wanted to know how to identify potential early in a child’s musical journey before they’ve had significant exposure to musical creation or skill development. We wanted to study how the potential could be identified across musical styles without favoring one in particular. We were also interested in how you could identify the potential for group activity across a variety of ages and backgrounds.
We asked music leaders and others in music education to analyze film footage of Hugh leading music activities with young people and look for musical potential. These were then distilled into eight key facets of musical potential, around which the ITP program was built.
These facets are not about the technical mastery of an instrument – they are more fundamental like “absorption” and “the urge to explore”. They apply equally to disabled and non-disabled children. Colleagues in all the arts will recognize these facets as they are just as likely to be spotted in dance or theatre.
Take a proactive role
ITP has two components: face-to-face or online training and a series of film resources highlighting facets of musical potential. A team of facilitators use creative musical activities to help teachers identify the potential of young people, in a wide range of settings, from schools to young carers groups.
As Hugh explains, “During the training, teachers engage in music-making activities that they can then carry out with their classes. These are also seen “in action” through our films. This reinforces for teachers the effectiveness of music creation of the type we use to spot potential in groups. We encourage teachers to film themselves with their groups and analyze the footage, so they can see from the perspective how the musical potential is exhibited by their group.
The ITP helps teachers at AYM partner hubs identify children with musical potential from low-income families for our England-wide talent promotion scheme. program or their own subsidized or free musical progression initiatives.
And our expanded training came at the right time. The updated National Plan for Music Education states: “We would like to see more primary school teachers take a proactive role in identifying children who could benefit from individual or small group instrumental or vocal lessons, in addition of their classroom experience. ITP is here to do just that.
To date we have worked with over 1,500 music teachers and 18 Music Hubs across England. And thanks to a strategic grant from Arts Council England’s Hub Support Scheme, we are currently offering free training to 45 other music hubs, both for instrumental teachers and classroom teachers. So if you are an interested Hub, contact us.
Hester Cockcroft is Managing Director of the Young Musicians Awards.
*BRSM Making Music Report 2021