Teaching song-writing: increasing inclusion

‘for all’ artwork

Michael Davidson tells us why song-writing has been important for Hertfordshire Music Service. 

It’s mainly because of our interest in musical inclusion; as a music service we wanted to reach a wider range of young people.  

We started running rap, rock and acoustic song-writing workshops in 2003. And found straight away that they engaged young people who wanted learn to make music in different ways. We also got interest from schools who wanted help with the composition element of GCSE music. 

As well as schools, the workshops helped us build partnerships with local authority teams working to support vulnerable young people. These saw lyric-writing as a way to provide young people with a voice about social issues. So, we had commissions from teams working on social agendas, such as an antibullying initiative.  

We started the Songwriter project pretty soon after that, as we realised that young people wanted more than one off workshops. We set up song-writing showcases at local festivals and venues to give something to work towards, and an online chart where the songs move up or down depending on how often they’re listened to. We wanted to build connections with the music industry, so we arranged for professional songwriters run workshops and to give feedback on the young people’s songs. 

So Songwriter has since run workshops in music centres in school holidays, and we’ve just started running weekly sessions during the last few years. 

Song-writing is probably the most accessible part of our offer, you don’t have to be a great performer to write a song, you just need to want to create your own music. 

Young people can come to song-writing workshops and get involved after just learning a few notes, and leave with a recording of them performing with some new friends at the end of the day. If they don’t want to play, they can get involved by writing lyrics. 

Over the last few years we and our Changing Tracks partners been running song-writing sessions for young people in pupil referral units. there have been some amazing reflective lyric-writing, performances and personal and social outcomes coming out of this work. 

Recently we’ve had a number of songs written about young people’s experience of lockdown, and we’ve just started working with Youth Connections team on a project to support young people at risk of getting drawn into County Lines activities. 

But song-writing also produces high quality musical outcomes. The workshop leaders often say that people perform at a higher level when playing their own music.  

We’ve been really lucky that we’ve been able to get stagetime for our songwriters at prestigious events such the BBC introducing stage at local festivals, and at the biennial music service Gala at the London Albert Hall. 

We pull out a call for songs, which get auditioned by our song-writing team, which selects a couple to produce to be performed. They always hold their own alongside the massed choirs and orchestras, and it’s great to see how the young people grow through the process. 

Some have gone on to other opportunities such as the School Proms, through the Music for Youth programme. 

And we’ve also been very lucky that some of the great songwriters who have gone on to study song-writing at college have come back to work for us as tutors, to help us develop song-writing more widely. 

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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