GOBSMACKED is a long term programme created within the Lancashire Music Hub aiming to create access to open-hearted vocalisation for PMLD students and to develop appropriate progression routes.


I realised the soundworld I was hearing was making total musical sense to me and connected with the free impro music I had been making for years

Steve Lewis

What is the goal of the work?

  • Many young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities can make a range of sounds with their voices, yet this is not often treasured, given status, nor encouraged.
  • These young people often live within a social and cultural ‘bubble’, yet—through vocalising—they have an opportunity to communicate and connect with others .
  • These young people often spend many hours in schools where there is little opportunity for their voice to be developed.
  • Gobsmacked aims to develop and implement a practical method for creating access to vocalisation and progression routes for these students.

What is the context of the work?

The project is led by independent practitioners Steve Lewis and Pete Moser working for community music charity, More Music. The examples in this case are drawn from work across Lancashire that started with projects at Beaumont College, Lancaster.

There are four elements to the programme:

  • Regular sessions with selected students, aged 12-20, in six special schools in Lancashire. Each session is around 40-50 minutes, for groups up to 5 students;
  • Musical gatherings of students and staff every term at one of the schools;
  • Performances in community venues; and
  • Workforce development for up to 30 music leaders, teachers and teaching assistants.

over 30 students since 2011

Since 2011 over 30 students have been involved; in 2016, 15 students are part of the programme.

What is the content of the work?

  • Developing notions of 'singing' by introducing extended voice techniques
  • Copying, creating ideas and remembering song repertoire sometimes with an additional microphone, loop station and echoes (digital and live)
  • Listening and improvising within a very free rhythmic, harmonic and melodic context
  • Experimenting with different performance methods usually integrated with non PMLD staff and students – film / live shows / recordings
  • Experimentation in a very safe environment
  • Increasing listening and concentration skills by including the immediate environment and group improvisation
  • Affirming students' sense of self by using their vocalisations as an integral part of a new work
  • Supporting students conscious development of the musical content and structure
  • Promoting contact and understanding between SEND students and the wider community through performance (filmed or live)
  • Creating opportunities for communication and social interaction with new people including students, staff and musicians

What are the key features of the teaching and learning approach?

  • Challenging commonly held views and assumptions about ‘voice’ and ‘singing’ and enabling unheard voices to be seen and heard.
  • Intensive interaction at the centre of the work – listening, copying, encouraging and giving value to whatever is presented by each young person (intensive interaction (Frith, Berry & Irvine 2010 and communicative musicality (Malloch & Trevarthen 2010).
  • The use of technology, including echo and loop pedals, enabling students to hear what they do and create soundscapes that include many voices.
  • Gentle perseverance and patience over a long time span measuring personal progression to understand musical and personal development.

Partnership between visiting musicians and school-based staff (teachers/teaching assistants) enabling everyone to support, understand and partner with the students.

How is the work being reviewed?

  • Every session is evaluated by the lead musician, with input from school staff. These evaluations assist week-to-week monitoring and development.
  • Recordings are made on a regular basis and films of gatherings show development over the longer term.
  • The whole programme is evaluated by the team on an annual basis using Arts Council England Quality Principles.
  • The next step is to use Sounds of Intent for all sessions to measure the various areas of development at an individual level using a published measure.

What are the positive outcomes for children/young people

The mix of musical, personal, social, and educational outcomes include

  • Developed listening and improvisation skills
  • Increased knowledge of ensemble work
  • Improved self esteem
  • Increased confidence to take risks and experiment
  • Developed understanding of others and of difference
  • Sustained relationships over time
  • Improved ability to concentrate and learn

What are the key features of teacher/leader behaviour that are enabling those positive outcomes? [References needed, eg. Community Music Handbook, Search and Reflect etc.]

It is important that the music leaders exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Understanding of people and their needs
  • Ability to experiment and try new things
  • Listening and improvisation skills
  • Knowledge of musical structure and form
  • Enthusiasm for new music and sound
  • Flexibility and willingness to go with the flow of the session
  • Good people management and understanding of groups dynamics (see Community Music Handbook (2005), Search and Reflect (1982))

What are the key features of context, content and activities that are enabling those positive outcomes?

The programme needs:

  • Long term commitment from partners with a shared understanding driving the work
  • Funding to enable quality work to be undertaken with no need for instant results
  • An easily communicated methodology supported by good advocacy and training materials (films / recordings / training sessions)
  • A committed group of people including school staff, independent practitioners, organisations, students and families.
  • In addition the fact that there has been a supportive national context in which to develop the work with
    • A focus on inclusion in the National Plan for Music Education and the latest Youth Music focus on SEND.
    • A wider musical context that encourages free improvisation and the creation of new music.

How replicable or adaptable is it?

This approach can be adapted and / or replicated through a process of play and experimentation, in a supportive professional enquiry This approach can be adapted and / or replicated through a process of play and experimentation, in a supportive professional enquiry environment. The fundamental pre-requisite is belief in the ethos and outcomes of the work.



Please click on the 'Read More' button for an overview of a training day for LYVE SEND

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