Young People with Special Needs Making Music using Technologies

  • Gall, Marina R Y (Principal Investigator)
  • White, Charlotte (Collaborator)
  • Newton, Steve (Collaborator)
  • Clare, Mal (Collaborator)

Project Details


In 2013/14 OpenUp Music ( established the first youth orchestras in the West country to provide SEN/Disabled young people with opportunities to play in school ensembles and to perform. Orchestra members were, and still are, introduced to a range of cutting edge assistive music technologies as well as more traditional instruments; combinations afford the young people the highest degree of agency and control. New musical instruments are even created through participatory design to enable those young musicians who would ordinarily have been excluded from this type of experience to take part, and in some cases take centre stage.

In the period 2017 – 2020, a staged release of the Open School Orchestras programme is planned which will support Music Education Hubs, arts organisations and schools across the UK to provide opportunities for young disabled people to learn a musical instrument; to make music with others; and to have the opportunity to progress to the next level of excellence. 7 Music Education Hubs are on-board to deliver their own Open School Orchestras from September 2017; the intention is a national roll out of the programme from 2018.

OpenUp Music and the Music Education Council (MEC) are in complete alignment regarding values and important foci; the latter’s Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Working Group’s 4 key strands are:
1) Building and promoting the evidence of the importance of such work;
2) Amplifying the youth voice;
3) Building relationships & partnerships;
4) Training the workforce.

The main research question is:
In what ways can the process of making a video of OpenUp Music’s Open School Orchestras’ work in one Bristol school classroom, and the product itself, contribute to these key areas?

Expected Outcomes:
i) a video of the teaching/ the young people's work process at Claremont Special School, Bristol (hopefully to include video footage of the young people discussing their music making, and parents also reflecting on this work)
ii) Marina Gall’s review of major points arising from the video/collaborative work, including the implications for future research work.

All the above will be supported by reflections by members of the Music Education Council (MEC)’s Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Working Group.

The project is important in research terms because, whilst there has been considerable research into music as a form of therapy, the use of music technologies to support the educational development of students with profound special needs/disabilities is completely new. Through the use of video, in a natural classroom setting, we aim to develop a deeper understanding of the pedagogies surrounding students’ use of technologies for ensemble music making, and of young people’s development through such activities. Since many of the young people involved in this project are unable to easily articulate their thoughts and feelings in words, video is important as a means of capture alternative responses by the young musicians.

Through this small-scale project, we hope to gain insight into the challenges of using video within this educational context; this could help to inform future research work, for example, into Open School Orchestras’ 2017-2020 roll out programme. The work is also intended to develop from and inform the Music Education Council (MEC) Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Working Group’s key strands.

Layman's description

This project brings together an educationalist (Marina Gall, GSoE) with teachers and students from a local special school (Claremont School), OpenUp Music charity, the Music Education Council and a videographer (Malcolm Clare) to explore the use of video to provide insight into the musical development of young people with special needs.

Key findings

An exhibition, which will include findings of this work will be held at the University of Bristol on October 13th 2016. More information will be made available at a later date. This will also be an opportunity to view the new music technologies that the young people in this project are using to make music.
Effective start/end date12/05/1630/09/16

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Knowledge, Culture, and Society
  • SoE Centre for Teaching Learning and Curriculum


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