Transition from Tuition to Community Music Practice

Editor’s Note: This article was published on behalf of Tim Coyte, Project Co-ordinator for Exchanging Notes Hartlepool. Original piece can be found on Youth Music Network

I’m pleased to introduce Adam Bulpitt, our Lead Musician at Switch It. Adam works alongside our Targeted Youth Support Worker and Co-delivery Musicians at Switch It.

For those who are unaware, Switch It is a musical intervention for vulnerable young people from Hartlepool in the North East of England, funded by Youth Music, managed and delivered by Hartlepool Borough Council’s Youth Service. The programme supports young people’s social and emotional development through targeted musical activities. We work with young people aged 13 to 25.

Adam joined the project in September 2019 he comes from a background of private tuition and working in primary schools so Switch It is a significant change for Adam, his practice now includes working with groups of young people in youth centres and other “informal” provision, he is now adapting more of a community music approach to his work. I’d like to share Adam’s experience here:

So what are the difference between tuition in education settings and working with groups of young people in youth centres?

Adam says “Community music with young people has a different focus, it’s not just about developing musical skills, although that’s important there are broader aims like developing transferable skills; teamwork, resilience, self-confidence and self-efficiency.”

Adam feels that 1:1 tuition does provide opportunities for students to gain confidence and develop organisational skills but that this is a by-product rather than a specific focus he says;

“Community music practice and working with groups rather than individuals allows young people to have more opportunities to shape the activity and how they participate, from what instrument to what songs they play, where and when to hold a performance, how to work as a group and make decisions collectively.”

Adam tells me that how children and young people participate makes a big difference to how they engage in a workshop or lesson. Switch It is about voluntary participation – young people choose to be there, they set their own goals for musical progression and choose how they participate. When children “sign up” for tuition Adam found that parents expectations around musical development and achieving grades were often a barrier to positive engagement.

With Switch It, Adam said that young people tend to exhibit disruptive behaviour because of personal issues or changes in the group dynamic and not the content or level of ownership in sessions. Making these observations Adam says “behaviour management is important in schools and youth centres, the reasons for disruptive or challenging behaviour may be the same or different, either way you need to use behaviour management techniques like establishing ground rules or creating agreements with young people.”

What training has been useful? How has it helped?

“I’ve benefited from a lot of free training that has been tailored to my specific role. It’s all been crucial to me as I develop as a community musician; I feel more confident and capable through the knowledge I’ve gained and the skills I’ve developed.”

“I did some autism awareness training and literally the following week I was working with a young person with an autism spectrum disorder. Because of the training I was able to understand the young person’s needs and came up with solutions which enabled him to take part, this included using ear plugs to reduce noise levels in the room, adapting group activities so he could engage in a way which suited him and providing a choice of instruments in respect of tactile sensitivity and finding an instrument that felt ok to play.”

As part of Adam’s induction he shadowed sessions led by other music leaders and then gradually took on leadership of the group.

“Observing how sessions are delivered by experiencing community musicians has taught me the importance of planning and having a number of options up your sleeve. I can see that delivering with confidence and showing enthusiasm captures young people’s attention and helps to keep them engaged. Being decisive is critical, if you begin to dither and are unsure of the session’s direction, young people switch off and lose their belief in you; this can lead to disruptive behaviour.”

What skills and knowledge have been most useful when working with vulnerable young people?

“Knowing each young person’s background and needs is certainly useful, if not essential! It’s helped me understand why they might be acting in a certain way or reacting to a certain situation. It allowed for a massive breakthrough with one young person in particular, going from never interacting with the other young people and never picking up an instrument, to performing with the group week by week on a newly learned instrument and performing in front of an audience.”

At Switch It we provide the Lead Musician and Targeted YoutH Support Worker with referral forms before the young person joins the project, these forms provide details on young peoples musical interests and issues that they may have. The forms allow our staff to welcome young people to the project in a way that suits them, Adam says that although the information can be useful “being able to gauge a young person’s character and react accordingly without having a tainted view is important as well”. We both feel that it’s important to avoid having any preconceptions; we don’t want to put young people “in a box.”

Adam feels his communication skills and broad musical knowledge have also been very useful;

“My skills in working with and speaking to young people have really helped throughout this role as well. I find the young person are slowly becoming more and more relaxed around me making the sessions flow even better as time goes on. My musical knowledge is also key; I’m lucky enough to have had some great experiences growing up which has enabled me to become competent on a range of different instruments. This makes bouncing between different instruments in the session nice and easy.”

What have you learned from working alongside a Targeted Youth Support Worker?

“Our TYSW is an absolute life saver! I’ve learned so much from her over the past four months.

  • The importance of language, tone of voice and body language when diffusing a situation or encouraging participation

  • acknowledging young people’s progress by giving praise

  • getting to know young people through conversation, finding out their interests and building a relationship with them”

What advice would you give to someone who has experience of 1:1 tuition and is thinking of working in an informal setting like a youth centre?

“Do it!  It’ll be the best and most rewarding transition you’ll ever make.  I still thoroughly enjoy my 1:1 tuition but having a mixture of the two is also very nice.  Keeps things interesting.

My advice would be;

  • Accept and take on as much training as possible

  • If you get a chance to shadow or observe another music leader go for it! You get to see how a session can flow and how different music leaders have different approaches

  • If you can meet young people before your first session this can be really helpful even if it’s just a five minute conversation

  • Expect the unexpected! With 1:1 tuition you don’t have to think about how young people will interact with each other, group dynamics can create all kinds of situations and behaviour that you need to be prepared for

  • Be prepared to set ground rules and stick to them”

So there we have a brief outline of Adam’s journey from tuition to community music practice: the story so far! I hope sharing Adam’s experiences is useful, particularly for any practitioners who may be new to delivering in an informal setting. We’d be keen to hear from anyone out there who’s been on similar journey or who’d like to share thoughts around the theme.

Keep on grooving!