A community music band project.

How does it fit into the ethos of the school/setting?

Switch is an inclusive music ensemble that grew out of mac makes music's aims to develop music making opportunities for disabled young people. The project was devised in response to a need expressed by disabled young people for more high quality cultural activities out-of-school. The key goals were (a) to develop and nurture an inclusive band or music ensemble and (b) for this group to reside at mac where young people have access to mac facilities. mac makes music worked in partnership with All Saints Youth Project, a community project based in South Birmingham, as a means to identify interest and recruit members for the ensemble. The ethos of the All Saints Youth Project is to offer an inclusive youth provision that is open to all young people, regardless of ability or background.

IMG_0420 from mac makes music on Vimeo.

How does it fit into the learning strategy of the school/setting?

mac makes music is part of mac birmingham's strategy to offer high quality arts experiences for everyone and in particular to address barriers to music education for children and young people in challenging circumstances. Switch is part of mac makes music's strategy to influence and develop new music making opportunities and progression routes for disabled young people, to nurture talent and raise aspirations.

The All Saints Youth Project operates out-of-school hours and is free for young people to attend. The project offers recreational and informal educational opportunities for young people. The Youth Project does not have a set learning strategy as such, the project has a strong commitment to developing and supporting young people's transition from adolescence to adulthood by offering a range of activities.

How does it fit into the curriculum of the school/setting?

mac makes music develops music making programmes which sit predominantly outside of the school curriculum. The programme seeks to develop new musical pathways and approaches to learning, for those who are disengaged with conventional music education or for those who have limited opportunities in music progression.

What outcomes are being explicitly targeted?

Key outcomes are to nurture individual and collective

  • musical skills;
  • personal development; and
  • social and communication development.

Musical Outcomes

The young people individually identify and discuss what they would like to gain musically from the project. Individually, they have an opportunity to specify what they would like to learn and the skills they would like to develop. These musical objectives are regularly revisited throughout the project.

Areas of music making that the young people have identified as foci are:

  • Instrumental – developing skills on specific chosen instruments;
  • singing/vocal;
  • composition;
  • improvisation;
  • music technology; and
  • performance skills

SWITCH 'Soil' from mac makes music on Vimeo.

As well as supporting the young people to develop musical skills, mac makes music also endeavours to increase the young people's knowledge and experience of musical worlds. This is realised through the young people participating in interactive music sessions at arts/music venues and recording studios. The young people also work with a range of professional musicians throughout the project who each have different areas of musical expertise.

Personal outcomes for the young people

  • to enjoy and express themselves through music, and
  • to raise confidence and self-esteem.

Social outcomes for the young people

  • To increase their ability to collaborate and make music with others by communicating/sharing their ideas and listening to other people's ideas;
  • To share their work with families, friends and the wider public; and
  • To encourage/support each other to be part of the music making process.

What is the context of the work?


When the music project began, the sessions took place at the All Saint's Centre where the Youth project is based. As the project developed, the sessions took place alternately at the centre and at mac birmingham. The sessions now take place, every week at mac birmingham.

Switch meets JAWS from mac makes music on Vimeo.

Age of students?

14-25 years

No of students?

8 regular attendees

Does the example fit into longer term plan or is it ‘stand-alone'?

Switch is part of mac makes music's strategy to provide, develop and influence progression routes and ensemble opportunities for disabled young people. We are working with five Music Education Hubs to look at ways to develop and sustain this model.

Who is leading the work?

The project is managed by mac makes music producer Sandra Taylor. The music sessions are led by freelance professional music leaders associated with mac makes music. The project is predominantly led by singer songwriter Dan Whitehouse. Other music leaders are employed intermittently to diversify and expand the young people's musical experiences and learning.

Any other relevant information

Switch write, rehearse and perform their own material. Since their formation in 2014, they have developed a repertoire of eighteen songs, provided ten performances and produced one music video. Prior to the project, the young people involved were a group of individuals with an interest in music. They are now a band who write, record and perform their own original music. Six of the band members have achieved a Bronze Arts Award and five are now working towards their Silver Arts Award.

What is the content of the work?

In their weekly sessions at mac, Switch create original music, which is diverse in style. They create both instrumental pieces of music and songs with original lyrics. The band plays both acoustic and electronic instruments, and use computer-based production equipment to record their music. The band draw upon their listening skills to create their music and very much co-operate with one another to develop their pieces. The young people share their individual ideas with one another aurally, which not only supports the development of their aural perception but also supports their interpersonal skills with one another. The sense of teamwork within the band is strong; the young people are seen to respect one another and are sensitive to one another's needs.

The band have memorised their entire repertoire and rely upon memory as opposed to visual notation during their performances. This skill allows the members of the band to have strong sense of communication with their audiences during their performances, which is enjoyable for all concerned.

SWITCH ON YOUR HAPPY SIDE-HD from mac makes music on Vimeo.

Music activities throughout the project have included:

  • Using computer based equipment to record music;
  • Composing instrumental music;
  • Song writing;
  • Setting up sound equipment for live performances;
  • Rehearsing;
  • Performing;
  • Vocal coaching; and
  • Drumming workshops.

Equipment/instruments that Switch regularly use are:

  • iPads;
  • Bass guitar;
  • Keyboards;
  • Drum machine;
  • Lead guitar;
  • Logic Software;
  • A range of drums;
  • General untuned percussion;
  • Microphones; and
  • Piano.

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

From the beginning of the project, the music leader made it clear to the young people that he is not a teacher; he is a musician who intends to work creatively with the group in order to enable them to make music. There is no sense of hierarchy and all people involved are encouraged to see themselves as equal; the music leader set this tone at the outset. This approach has created a safe environment where all people involved have mutual respect for one another. The music leader and the young people are very much co-learners; the music leader is learning about the young people's interests and skills, and the young people are developing their musical skills and awareness both individually and as a collective.

The music leader encourages an exploration of musical ideas and facilitates the music making, both in conversational and practical approaches. The conscious adoption of an informal learning style allows the young people to approach music making creatively without any pressure from the music leader to meet externally imposed expectations. This approach is seen to create a conducive learning environment where the young people are able to flourish and grow.

How is the work being reviewed?

Please describe how success is measured in the work – for both students and leaders, and what processes of evaluation and future development are being applied.

An external evaluator has been employed to track progress and measure the impact of the mac makes music programme. The outcomes and success of the project are measured via a triangulation approach – data are collected from the music leaders, the young people and the young people's parents/carers.

There is reflection time at the end of every session, which is facilitated by the music leader. Feedback between the young people is encouraged, as well as reciprocal feedback between the music leader and the young people. This collaborative process enables all involved to be aware of progress and plan next steps for individual young people and the group as a whole. This process ensures that achievement is acknowledged and that the young people take a lead in their individual learning.

The music leader carefully tracks the progress of the individual young people and provides a written diary after every session. The diaries are shared with the mac makes music producer and the external evaluator. This enables progress to be monitored throughout the project. The external evaluator also gathers data via visiting project sessions to observe and to talk to the music leader, young people and the young people's parent/carers.

What are the positive outcomes for children/young people – are they some or all of musical, social, personal, educational - how and when can they be identified?

The positive outcomes encompass musical, social and personal developments and are identified throughout the project by the music leaders, the young people, the parents/carers, the mac makes music producer and the external evaluator.

The outcomes are identifiable through observing sessions and reflecting on documentation. The music leaders' reflective diaries provide a clear log of activities that have taken place and the progress that young people have made. Video footage of the bands performances and audio recordings provide a source of evidence of the young people's musical and personal progress.

Musical Outcomes - skills that have developed are:

  • Vocal – in particular increasing the vocal range and ability to sing in-tune;
  • The ability to keep in time;
  • Guitar playing;
  • Bass playing;
  • Keyboard playing;
  • An ability to write lyrics;
  • Ability collaboratively to write songs and make musical decisions;
  • Perform live to an audience as a group;
  • Learning how to sample sounds and loop using music software;
  • Record a vocal performance;
  • Record a live instrument;
  • Rhythmic skills and understanding of percussion instruments; and
  • Instrumental skills – playing an instrument, such as with dynamic awareness ranging from quiet to loud and also fast to slow.

Musical Worlds

In order to broaden the band members' musical experiences, knowledge and understanding, mac makes music has enabled Switch to work with six music leaders, including, songwriters, music producers and technologists, percussionist and vocalists. They also have access to the wider music programme at mac. For example, they have taken part in a workshop with SOIL, a South African acapella ensemble. As a result, they wrote a song about their experiences with the group. They have also explored the medium of creating sound tracks for film, creating a prologue for the film Jaws, performed live at mac.

Personal and Social Outcomes

One particular young person is very shy outside of the group, but within the sessions has led vocally and also now encourages audience participation at performances. Another notable personal journey is the confidence and independence of one young person who was accompanied by his father at the start of the project. This is no longer the case, which has been a big step forward in his personal development. Since September 2014, there has been a big improvement all round from the participants working together as a band. Their ability to communicate with each other and an audience has increased, as well as their ability to work together and co-operate. The band can now perform entire songs without the support of the professional musicians involved – this is a significant step up and demonstrates the journey that the young people have taken.

What are the key features of teacher/leader behaviour that are enabling those positive outcomes?

The core music leader is a co-learner and sees himself on an equal footing to the young people – there is no hierarchy. The music leader is well prepared to meet requirements and aspirations of the young people and listens and responds to individuals and the group as a whole. He works with the group at an appropriate pace and has a positive and professional ethos, which generates enthusiasm and energy from the young people in the group. The rapport that the group has with the music leader is extremely positive and this enables individuals to know that they can make a valued contribution, to be spontaneous and to share ideas. The music leaders are understanding of individual needs and can support the young people to work on key areas, both musically and personally. This enables the young people to feel safe to try new things, explore creative ideas and this builds confidence.

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

There are no barriers to participation in the project for the young people; all young people are valued and invited to participate, regardless of background or ability. There is a range of instruments and equipment available to suit the needs of participants, which allows all of the young people to contribute to the music making. The musical activities are seen as relevant, fluent and interesting.. All of the young people take opportunities to give and receive feedback and contribute to the review and development of activities, which is seen as a key feature to the success of the project. The project now takes place at mac birmingham which offers a professional environment. This environment has had a positive impact on the young people and has supported their motivation to engage and learn.

What other factors in this case are contributing to those positive outcomes?

The young people involved in the project are extremely supportive of one another and this is a key factor in the success of the project. They have a positive response towards participating and work well individually, in small groups and as a whole. Progress is recognised and acknowledged by the music leader and the young people, both of themselves and one another.

How replicable or adaptable is it?

The project is replicable and mac makes music hopes to replicate similar models in other settings across the West Midlands. The attitude and behaviour of the music leader is crucial to the success of the project and the positive outcomes.


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