The principle that everyone must have the opportunity to participate in play, culture, and leisure is set out in guidelines such as the Declaration on Leisure Activities for Everyone (2016), the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The goal of Norges Musikkorps Forbund is to make the marching band an attractive leisure activity for everyone. At the same time, we are aware that opportunities for this are not the same for everyone in practice.

NMF has challenged music therapist Guro Solbakken, who comes with extensive experience from her work at the Toneheim University College, to share her tips and experiences to help more people gain access to adapted education, allowing them to actively participate and experience achievement and belonging with others in the marching band.

Where do we start?

We want everyone in marching bands, with or without disabilities, to thrive and experience achievement. There are a major differences in support needs based on the individual disabilities of different youths, which makes it important to get to know each individual person and understand their needs.

“A drummer in a wheelchair may need physical adaptations, access and accessibility for rooms, as well as help carrying equipment. A brass player with complex learning difficulties will require extra support in note and instrument training, and may need to develop an alternative presentation of notation. A musician with vision loss must learn melodies by ear, and will need support from someone who can give explanations, physically show fingerings, and produce sound files for home listening. A person with poor eyesight may require notes to be expanded or make use of notes on a tablet. A baton twirler with Down’s syndrome will, due to cognitive difficulties, need someone to repeat instructions and provide motivation along the way. Many children and youths perceive and experience situations through their emotions, and will need support and to talk to an adult to understand their own reactions. A child with ADHD or concentration issues will need someone who can provide good boundaries and predictability in their activities, but also more breaks.”

Build good, inclusive communities

The first meeting is decisive. Facilitate your first encounter with encounter children and their parents or guardians in a manner that helps you establish a relationship of trust. Consider how you would want your child, the people close to you, or yourself to be welcomed.

Present the activity as it is and avoid providing segregated activities. Spend time together. Take small steps and find good solutions, then build on these. This helps everyone involved to be secure, and you can share experiences along the way.

Tips for the start-up phase:

Encounter. Set aside time to be present when starting up, establish contact to build good relationships. Dare to ask if you have any questions! Observe and listen to what is being said, be curious about who the person is, their interests and motivations.

Invite the child to attend band practice/exercise along with a parent, guardian, or other person who is close to them. This is a nice way to observe and get to know the activity.

Inform the child and their parents or guardians about the band’s activities. Talk about the organisation, instrument training, group practice/exercises, independent practice, concerts, social events, finances and flea markets, and more. The band is a compound organisation in which many people must participate to make it work. Good information about activities and tasks helps clarify expectations between children, parents/guardians, and the band.

Ask the child about their wishes and interests, including things beyond playing an instrument. Focus on the new musician first. It’s all about the musician. From experience, there are different reasons for why they want to join the band. How we facilitate participation at the start may vary, from wanting to spend time with friends to dreams of being good at playing an instrument. Try to find resources in the whole person – they may have some golden qualities.

Be open about your lack of experience. This will inspire cooperation. You must also use dialogue with the musician and their parents/guardians as a tool to find solutions together. Clarify to the child and their parents/guardians that it is OK to inform each other when a challenge arises, to get advice, and to find constructive solutions together.

Remember privacy! Openness and information about challenges can prevent talking gossip and bullying. Discuss with the parents/guardians and the child what they can tell the others, i.e., the members of the band and the other parents/guardians.

Focus on practical adaptation

See the musician’s needs and assess actions.

Physical adaptations: Check the accessibility of practice rooms, break rooms, and toilets. Do they need help carrying and adapting their equipment? The musician’s placement in the group is important for their sense of belonging.

Contact persons between the band and the home: Set up one contact person in the band who holds general responsibility for coordinating information and ensuring good communication.


Bandmates: Look for resources and bandmates among the slightly older band members to help. Being given the task of helping others achieve their goals can give these youths good and useful experiences as well. Being asked to contribute to the common good can bring good attitudes and a positive, inclusive culture to the band. They don’t have to be the oldest or the most clever members of the band. Remember to give the bandmate information and guidance.

Assistant: Assess and clarify whether there is any further need for a personal assistant. Their tasks may include examples such as sitting next to the musician to keep them focused on the music, helping out with practical matters, setting boundaries, giving breaks, or motivating them to return to the activity. The conductor, instructor, or band leader shouldn’t hold special responsibilities for students with special needs if this demands a lot of resources and attention.

Familiarise yourselves with the opportunities in your municipality.

· Leisure time contact/support contact: Everyone with special needs who is above the age of 10 may apply to their home municipality regarding the leisure time contact scheme. These hours can be used directly for band activities. Here, you may have the option of finding contacts with band and/or pedagogical knowledge and experience. Some municipalities involve support contacts starting from age 16. Perhaps there are

some relevant candidates among your members? Get in touch with your municipality to familiarise yourself with the schemes that may be relevant to you.

· Municipal supplement for organised leisure time activities. Apply to your municipality to cover expenses for assistants on trips, travel, seminars, etc. Multiple municipalities have funds in their own budgets to cover this.

· External experts: Many bands are closely in touch with schools, so you should establish contact with the child’s teacher, special education teacher, or music therapist for tips on adaptation. These experts will have experience on how to adapt the situation as best possible for the child’s well-being and learning.

Imagine what we can do!

The band environment is unique. There’s room for everyone to the extent it is practically and professionally appropriate. Because each and every one of us are unique people who learn and react differently, there is no one solution on how to adapt conditions for children/youths with disabilities. Your motto must be: Try, and do not fear failure! When we fail, we learn and change course. Play on the same team as the person in question, and along the way, keep asking: Are you having a good time? What do you think is going well? What’s difficult?

The extent to which we can succeed in our efforts to integrate and include children and youths with disabilities depends on our knowledge and attitude to inviting everyone into the band environment and how we face barriers along the way. We build expertise by creating experiences and sharing them with each other. This allows us to contribute to a positive culture of inclusion in practice. Look for opportunities for participation. Find out what works and do more of it! Talk together and search for good solutions.