[HOW TO] Young people’s agency through song-writing

song-writing with guitar and keyboard

By Ije Amaechi 

One cold, gloomy, rainy day in February half term a room of creativity, energy and group support was created in Royston School of Music by Music Tutor Lindsey Tibbs and the young people.  

Beginning with everyone sat on chairs in a big circle, the room was quiet, filled with anticipation of what the day had in store. Lindsey started by asking about the young people’s favourite artists and songs and for their opinions on their own and each other’s choices. The conversation flowed and welcomed a good response from all the young people, even if some were a little more reserved, building a rapport from the start. 

Lindsey played the songs through a small speaker, which seemed to ease some of the tension for those who came across a little anxious. Body language gradually became more relaxed and open as the activities went on. For example, one of the icebreakers was to tell a story as a group by having one person say one sentence each as you go around the circle. Laughter quickly filled the room, creativity and imagination was nurtured and enhanced by everyone making up humour ours or silly lines to create such a story. 

Next, Lindsey went through some song-writing terms, asking for the group to offer their knowledge on different parts of a song and characteristics of a “good song”, whilst sharing her own insight.  

“There was no box to have to fit in or right or wrong way to create”

The theme of youth voice was central to the workshop throughout the day, like asking the young people their opinions, letting them choose whether to work solo or in a group, having agency the song they want to make, their lyrics, how they perform and much more. Lindsey acted as their guide and support throughout the day, but never restricted creativity. There was no box to have to fit in or right or wrong way to create. I think this is what allowed for the breadth of ideas that came to fruition, from songs inspired by pop, a rap track, to a “political fun song against Brexit”. As I made my way around the groups during the day, everyone seemed to be getting on with their songs, enjoying the creative freedom they had.  

When it was time to rehearse for the performance in front of parents and carers, I asked some questions about the day. The first question was ‘how did you find working in a group’ with responses like “it went well, quite easy” and “pretty good [fist pump]”. The second was ‘what have you found most enjoyable about today?’ with answers including “I enjoyed being with other people”, “making a story around the circle” and similar comments around being able to do something they “wouldn’t usually be able to do”, like singing with someone else playing the piano.  

One of the young people said they learnt that “music can be funner than (they) thought”, with another saying, “songs can be about anything and it doesn’t matter”, emphasising on the creative freedom I mention above. 

I asked the young people how they felt about performing before the audience arrived and had a range of responses from “shocked” and “excited” to “it’s amazing, brilliant and fun and I can do it quite well”. They applauded each other after each rehearsal and Lindsey gave time and space to those who needed another go or more encouragement, which was especially important to their comfortability and confidence ahead of the performance. 

All the young people did an amazing job at performing the songs they had written in around 3 hours, either solo or in groups with friends, or people they had just met. The energy was high at the end from the excitement of performing with big smiles all round and comments like “it’s fun to express your feelings” and that the performance was “so great, really fun”, thus a positive roundoff to a productive, artistic, musical and expressive day.   

Changing Tracks is a programme of peer support and learning for and with music services wanting to improve equality, diversity and inclusion. It is run by Hertfordshire Music Service and funded by Youth Music as part of the Alliance for a Musically Inclusive England. It was previously called MusicNet East. We help music services to be more inclusive by providing a peer network facilitated by Music Mark, funding for action research, support and challenge, advice and resources.

Find out more about us, or check out the other resources and blogs on this site for more help for music services, or visit the AMIE Musical Inclusion Resource Hub for more inclusion tools and guidance, blogs, videos, and case studies, to help you break down barriers to music-making.

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