Playing a musical instrument can unlock a host of benefits. It can build confidence. It can improve concentration. It can reduce stress, and it can boost creativity.
Early experiences with music are powerful. Those of us who have played a musical instrument in school know this. Those who have seen the positive effects on young learners in the classroom can also testify to this. But those experiences are not accessible to everyone.
This is backed up by research from the Musician’s Union. Children from low-income households are half as likely to learn an instrument, compared to those from more affluent backgrounds. This excludes some children from all the good that playing an instrument can bring.
Music lessons in school are vital. They can reach across the divide and give a whole class essential exposure to music.
But here there are challenges too. Resources are stretched. Instruments can be expensive. Peripatetic music teachers are in high demand. Primary classroom teachers can lack the tools, the training and the confidence.
This was the situation faced in Wales after the coronavirus pandemic. Many children were unable to access music education when they needed it most. Read on to discover how the Welsh government and a host of partners, including Warwick Music, took on these issues. And how together we ensured that every child in year three had access to a musical instrument.
pMusic Cymru and the National Plan
The Welsh government decided to tackle issues around access to music in schools. The National Plan for Music Education. The plan would establish a National Music Service for Wales, aiming to allow children across Wales to play an instrument. Their ‘First experiences’ programme would ensure equal opportunities for children aged between 3-11. Older children would follow the ‘Music pathways’. This route would improve secondary school pupils' well-being and career prospects.
A key part of this plan was sourcing instruments for the ‘First experiences’ programme. A collection of partners established a consortium, pMusic Cymru. The consortium included Warwick Music and two social enterprises based in Wales. They were ELITE and Merthyr Tydfil Institute for the Blind.
Warwick Music has years of experience in designing, developing, and manufacturing premium instruments. You can find our musical instruments in classrooms around the world. This made us the ideal partner for a momentous assignment: a musical instrument for every child in year three in Wales. pBuzz - our starter instrument that introduces brass techniques in a fun, intuitive way - would fulfil part of the order. We also designed and developed the world’s first carbon-neutral recorder, the pCorder. 53,000 instruments would be manufactured and delivered in total: the number of year three pupils in Wales.
ELITE and Merthyr Tydfil Institute for the Blind would assist with the manufacturing of these instruments. They would create instruments in Wales, for Welsh children. This approach allowed local people to develop new skills and training.
ELITE Supported Employment works with adults with learning disabilities or those at a disadvantage to access paid employment opportunities. “I think this is a great example of what social enterprise can achieve in manufacturing,” says Andrea Wayman, CEO of ELITE Supported Employment. “The fact that this opportunity brought together two social enterprises and a private sector company really demonstrates how collaboration can work.”
MTIB provide sustained employment opportunities for people with disabilities. “It’s new to us and our staff are really enthusiastic about it because it’s something new,” says Richard Welfoot from MTIB, “it’s something they want to get involved in and it’s something different that they haven’t seen before - and it’s going to be delivered out to all the schools within Wales!”
Manufacturing instruments and hearing them played in the local area brought environmental benefits. There was a reduction in transportation costs compared to products sourced from overseas. And plastic-free packaging and cardboard recycling from deliveries further reduced the carbon footprint. Plastic instruments need far less energy to manufacture than their traditional brass counterparts. Their reduced weight cuts down on emissions from delivery and they are also made from tough, recyclable ABS plastic.
Providing 53,000 instruments for children in year three across Wales in under a year was an enormous achievement. But this was only part of the journey for the National Plan for Music in Wales and pMusic Cymru. The plan required the support of music services and primary classroom teachers. They would deliver music lessons across the country and create a legacy for music in Wales.
Warwick Music delivered training sessions across the country. Teachers without any prior experience in playing music or delivering classes gained the resources, the tools, and the confidence to teach pBuzz in the classroom. Music services, such as Swansea Music Service, were an important conduit between the schools and teachers. These sessions provided support, advice and online teaching materials.
Louise Miles is the team leader of Swansea Music. "The way that we've decided to use these instruments and train up all the year three teachers in school has been really successful. We wouldn't be able to teach all the year three pupils in Swansea, it just wouldn't be possible. So the fact that we get the class teachers in, they learn and then they disseminate this across all the schools has been a really successful way of teaching.”
With a single session, primary school teachers learned the basic techniques of playing the pBuzz. They were then shown the next steps to teach children those same methods. Follow-up sessions introduced intermediate techniques and more songs. This ensures those “First experiences” would lead to more music in the future.
"Using the pBuzz has been really brilliant with the children,” says year three teacher, Laura Murray. “They can't wait to start every time we get them out, they’re really enthusiastic about it. As a teacher pBuzz has allowed me to be more confident in teaching music. I have no musical experience whatsoever, but learning the pBuzz has really made me feel much more confident to teach music in class. It’s really good - between us we’re having a great time!”
The collaborative approach between Warwick Music and music services has ensured that the instruments delivered to schools are reaching children. Music services and peripatetic teachers have continued to play an active role in delivering music across schools. And educating classroom teachers has allowed even more children to experience the benefits of music in the classroom.
Karin Jenkins is the Head of Swansea Music. “The fact that every child in year three is having a pBuzz means that their music can happen on a daily basis in school. Music can embed itself within the curriculum. The idea is that by the end of the first year of this initiative, every child in year three could go on and continue that journey in music.”
A journey in music is something that the Warwick Music team understand. Many of us have played music at a professional level. Some of us have taught music. Some have watched our families experience the joy of playing and learning a musical instrument. Music has been a constant presence. Ensuring that as many people as possible get a chance to begin that journey drives the team at Warwick Music. Our work in Wales demonstrates that a collaborative, ambitious approach can kickstart music education for tens of thousands of children. It is music delivered for all.