Jenni from Soundcastle blogs about how to capture ‘Youth Voice’ based on learning from our Musical Beacons family music project.
Soundcastle projects focus on enabling young people and their families to write their own music. Musical Beacons Charlton ran from 2015-2016 and was aimed at families with children aged 0-11, in an area of social housing. During this project, we challenged ourselves further on our commitment to youth voice, asking ourselves just how much ownership of the process can be handed over to our young musicians. We have collected thoughts, ideas and activities to bring into our practice to make sure we are hearing, listening to and amplifying the voices of your young people.
- The decision challenge
Try this (best in a supportive training environment!): Lead a creative activity with a group of people by only asking open questions.
Reflect on the process. How did it feel as the facilitator? How did it feel for the group? What was the creative outcome? How many decisions did you have to relinquish control over?
This is a valuable way to begin challenging all the decisions that we make as educators, facilitators or teachers. How many decisions are made before, during and after each workshop? How many are absolutely necessary, and how many could we hand over to the young people, who with the right support could take control?
Here are some decisions a facilitator might make – could youth voice change these directions?
– The group want to make music about a fairy, I’ll provide gentle melodic instruments.
– I’ll accompany their singing on my guitar.
– I’ll film their performance.
– I’ll provide juice and biscuits at break time.
– The song we started writing last week was great, we’ll carry on with it this week.
- Finding the theme
Most people find it easier to be creative in response to a theme or stimulus. A question as open as “what shall we do?” is often not helpful.
Here are some ideas that can help young people to initiate their own theme.
- i) Start with a place.
We’re all in a place. This could be the room/neighbourhood/city/country/world/planet. We all identify with these things in our own ways, and anything could happen in any of them!
Give young people the option of the place they want to think about – their neighbourhood, town, country or the world! Then they can think about whatever they like within this. They feel creatively secure, but their imaginations could go absolutely anywhere.
Our young musicians made this song:
The queen in London is so elegant, and so beautiful, her hair smells like perfume.
The queen in London, she has a big parade, like so many stars, like some fireworks in the sky.
- ii) Start with a story.
All it takes is one question – where does our story begin? Then the young people can let their imaginations take over. If they need guidance, we can decide what is in this place, who the characters are and then we can keep asking “what happens next?”
Our young musicians made music about a magic tree, with butterflies, fairies and monsters living in and around it.
- iii) Start with the music itself.
A series of guided questions can help young people decide what kind of music they would like to make, and from there they can consider what the music could be about and how it could express that.
Where do we hear music? (Radio, TV, films, parties, fairgrounds, shows, carnivals)
What different kinds of music can you think of? (Pop, classical, TV theme tunes, birds singing, adverts, opera, rap)
Now choose one of these that you would like to make, or two that could go together
e.g. Rap music for a party, pop music for a film,
If you chose pop music – is it a song or instrumental? What is it about?
If you chose a film – what is the film about? What kind of film is it? Which scene do you want to create?
- Enabling choice and reflection
Sometimes we need to support young people to develop the tools and knowledge that they need to be able to take control. We explored ways to give young people more insight into the creative process and its possibilities.
- i) Listening and reflecting
Each week we played recordings of the music made the previous week and supported young people to reflect and make decisions about what to do next.
- ii) Diary time
We provided dedicated project diaries, and built time in the sessions to write or draw in them. This is especially effective with families, who can take time to talk and think about what they enjoyed, and think of ideas for next time, and for things they could do together at home.
Example: A young person who doesn’t know how to play an instrument writes some lyrics and finds a melody that they can sing them to. A quick and easy next step is for a facilitator to add chords to produce an immediate and effective song. The slower, but more authentic, option would be to support the young person to choose their own chords. This could be by playing them a selection of different chords and modelling how their melody would sound over each one, so that they can make choices. The iPad app Garage Band is also a useful tool here, as young musician can select and hear the possible chords for themselves.
- Embrace all art forms
Not everyone is best at making their voice heard by speaking.
One of our young musicians told us in a session that she had no ideas what to write music about, but at the same time she was drawing a colourful scene of dragons and ninjas. . .
Drawing comes so naturally to many young people, and can be a great way into writing music.
Simply leaving paper and pens can be enough of a stimulus and children will draw straight from their imaginations. Prompt questions can also be used to encourage pictures that can be directly used in the sessions i.e. where does our story begin? Can you draw the characters?
Drawings can then also be laminated and turned into flashcards. Flashcards could represent characters in a story, when that one is held up we know to play that section of music. A flashcard could signal to a particular group of instruments (as dictated by the owner of the flashcard) to play. They can also be used as a structured improvisation tool, or a planning tool to structure the music (what order shall we put the cards in?)
As facilitators we should embrace any art form that allows our young people to express their ideas, which can be an exciting path towards making music.
Specific activities that encourage youth voice should become an integral part of the structure of a session. It may take time for young people to build their confidence and find new ways of thinking and generating ideas. If they understand exactly how and when they can contribute, the process will become safe and familiar allowing even the quietest voices to express themselves.