Bands for almost all?
The Norwegian Association of Youth with Disabilities has prepared an inclusivity primer for groups offering leisure activities. The primer Barrier-free leisure time offers general tips for the process of adapting activities and making them accessible to more people. NMF is following up with a primer that focuses on this topic in the context of band life in particular.
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.
Everyone in the band must be handled based on their conditions and their skills. Everyone needs to be challenged to explore their potential. This does not necessarily mean that we need to learn a completely new methodology and different system to handle children and youths with disabilities. Do what you already do, and make use of the expertise you already have before looking for alternative solutions. Your new beginner training is probably good enough already, but learning may take longer. Ask and talk to the person in question about what works. If their development stops, look for new options. It’s often about simplification and clarification. Get started and look for solutions!
Choice of instrument
- Ask the child about what instrument they’re interested in and want to play. Motivation and joy are a good starting point for training, and you can always change instruments later. Let the child try things out, but give options and guide them towards what you think will be more suitable. If they have issues with motor skills, then brass instruments will likely be better than woodwinds. Note also that it’s easier to make a sound with a medium-sized mouthpiece than a small one.
- Individual training should be prioritised as a supplement to group practice to look for opportunities and to survey potential. Let the child play with others as soon as possible to keep them from feeling excluded. A chair in the room and feeling included is key, right from the very start. For some people, it’s nice just to be present and listen in, while others may want to participate more actively.
- Physical adaptations of an instrument are another option that can be explored if there is a need for it. Examples include changing the mouthpiece on transverse flutes and moving the valves, or changing to different valves, to allow for other grips on brass instruments.
Reading sheet music
Most of us are able to learn and understand sheet music, but children and youths with cognitive challenges or who struggle to read may face difficulties in making use of the note symbols in an appropriate manner, and they may need an alternative. Unsighted musicians must learn songs through listening and playing by ear. Some people are naturally gifted in terms of musicality and good auditory memory, while others will need close follow-up and guidance. There are simplified systems that have been developed and tested in bands specifically for musicians with cognitive difficulties. Our advice is to use the tools you have as a starting point, then you can adapt and simplify as needed. Be proactive in adapting educational materials.
Here are some tips to try:
- Enlarge the notation. Particularly for those with poor eyesight and those who need a clear overview.
- Simplify the notation. Note the key details without other visual noise.
- Point out notes while they play, so that you know where you are in the notation.
- Sit together and play along, give signs and clarify what the leader is saying.
- Write the names of tones or fingering under the note to help with relating the note symbol. (We do not recommend fully taking this approach with musicians who do not need special adaptation, as it is difficult to break away from this support.)
- Listen first, play after.
- Make audio tracks that the musician listen to during home practice.
- Show the fingering to the musician while the music plays.
- Write symbols that make the notation clearer. Lines under long notes and dots under short notes can help them visually understand note duration and rhythm. Arrows pointing up or down can indicate pitch and melody line.
- Learn songs by ear.
- Play along! The vast majority musicians do their best when playing with others. Get the band playing together and see if their individual level is raised by letting them take part in group music performance. It can provide security and motivate participation when there are positive bandmates to follow.
- Find alternative sheet music stands if needed.
Guidance and support
A little extra guidance and support can be crucial in deciding what the experience of participating will be like. A lot of this is about predictability, clarification, and confirmations surrounding what will happen and how it is experienced. Ensure that someone is given a special responsibility to contribute with good boundaries and predictability in the activity.
This may include:
- Help understanding the information.
- Support and a chat with an adult to understand their own reactions.
- Adapting for breaks as needed.
- Securing access and accessibility for all rooms.
- Help carrying/holding equipment.
- Reviewing/drilling preparations for performances: marching in/out, standing for applause, bowing at the conductor’s direction, clarifying who will handle the sheet music, who will help carry instruments, what to bring, what to wear, and reviewing the programme itself.
Band musicians may for various reasons require physical adaptations of their instruments in order to participate in band activities. It is easy to think that if you are unable to hold an instrument, then you won’t be able to play it, either. The solution may be to offer a stand that allows the musician to play the instrument using fine motor skills without having to carry the weight of the instrument. Others may have issues with breathing and mouth motor skills, or fine motor skills, which may make electronic instruments more appropriate. This is a brief overview of the available solutions that are offered.
The links will lead to product examples, but they are often not the only place you can get them. Check with your local music shops about whether they have the option to place an order for you wherever this is possible. This document is not intended to serve as an exhaustive overview, but rather as a source of inspiration and for further exploration of available options.
Ergobrass offers stands and supports for most wind instruments at reasonable prices.
Visit Ergobrass here
Vertical mouthpieces or swan-neck mouthpieces:
Produced for musicians with ergonomic issues (e.g., wrists or shoulders) who play normal transverse flutes.
Read about Drelinger’s work on ergonomic adaptations here
Read about Flutelab’s vertical mouthpiece here
Read about Flutelab’s swan-neck design here
Adaptation of flutes and saxophones for one-handed playing:
Flutelab adapts flutes and saxophones for one-handed playing. Read more about their process here
Example of a one-handed flute produced for Edit van der Burg.
See the design and the concept behind the process here
Tuba stand that allows the player to not have to physically hold the instrument up the entire time they’re playing (The Hug Tuba Stand):
Visit the page for the Adjustable Tuba Stand here
Clarinet stand – based on a cymbal stand with a specially adapted mount to allow a clarinet to be attached to the stand, so that the player only needs to use their fingers to play (Peter Worrell):
One-handed clarinet (Peter Worrell):
Read more about Peter Worrell and his work on one-handed instruments here
Monty – trombone mount for music stand. A small fastening mount that supports the trombone while you play:
Read more about Monty here
The Trumpet Holder – supports the trumpet/cornet on a stand while you play: Read more about The Trumpet Holder here
Example of an option to the standard sheet music stand:
In this link, you can see various accessories for sheet music stands, read more here
Digital music instrument that is controlled using your eyes. Downloadable software. Free and paid versions available:
Read about Eyesharp here
Download Eyesharp here
Examples of concerts can be found here
Electronic music instrument that is controlled by breathing. Potential for a variety of instrument sounds:
Read more about Jamboxx here
Electronic wind instrument with a flap system:
Read more about AKIA here
Sylphyo is an electronic wind instrument. For more information on how this works: View this link
Electronic wind instruments with traditional saxophone fingering. Offers saxophone sounds and other wind instrument sounds:
Read more about Roland products here
It may be demanding for everyone to participate in everything, both for the child themselves and the adult adapting the music. Be flexible, find solutions that give individual musicians a better opportunity to learn, master, and boost their love of music,
Choose parts of your repertoire where the musician needs more practice time. Make a selection and/or put parentheses around challenging parts of the piece to achieve a better sense of achievement.
Make ensemble groups where the more experienced musicians support those who need additional follow-up. Decide on a theme and goal for the group that will make it interesting to participate. For example, a “nisse” orchestra, playing by ear, a percussion group, practising for a sing-along night, a “Stomp” orchestra.
Find other roles and tasks. Let the musicians learn to count up and conduct alongside the band leader. Some melodies are suited for more cultural expressions.
Learn to master multiple instruments. For musicians with cognitive difficulties, it may be beneficial to increase variety with a percussion instrument.
Expand your instrument inventory with tam-tam drums, djembes, rainsticks, glockenspiels, xylophones, etc. Make soundscapes, intros/outros to the melody, fill in a solo section with improvisation.
Give practical tasks to participants who are willing and able. During band practice, the practice room must be tidied up and prepared, and sheet music must be handed out. At events, you must distribute programmes and welcome guests, sell raffle tickets, award prizes, and sell cakes and coffee.
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