It is easy to assume that everyone in the room feels comfortable making music together. It is a big ask for many people to be outside their comfort zones. Music takes us all to different places within ourselves and can help us to experience one another differently.

At Plymouth Music Zone we not only train our own team, but also tailor sessions for people working for other organisations, including teams, teachers, support workers, carers and musicians, for example. Music workshops can feel very different to listening to music, performing or being the person who comes to support a participant in a session. We feel passionate about building people’s confidence in taking part in music workshops, regardless of the level of experience people have.

As part of our Youth Music Booster Training programme at Plymouth Music Zone, a half-day of supportive training and practical exploration was set up with 13 learning support assistants (LSAs) team from City College Plymouth’s Skills Development course.  The course leader invited staff to take part and named the training ‘Engaging Learners in Music, breaking down barriers’

The main aim was to not only support the LSA’s to support their students in music activities, but also to explore what participatory music making felt like for themselves. We wanted to explore preconceptions of what ‘music making’ is as well as what felt comfortable and what did not. Many people talked about being worried about singing and making ‘too much noise’. Most of the session was about gently helping to improve confidence, discuss how things felt at different stages of the process and finally reflect on what it felt like to be the focus of the attention instead of being in their professional supporting role.  

The two days immediately following the training were undergoing an Ofsted inspection, followed by the emergency measures being set up as Coronavirus started to shut down the country as we know it. In short – a very stressful time for everyone. However, we went ahead with the training and felt it was so positive that we wanted to share the results of the afternoon on the Youth Music Network. It certainly gave us all a bit of a boost. 

Here are three attached recordings of the LSAs working together:

1. ‘Cuca Nandy Nandy’ part-singing

2. ‘Teamwork’ Instrumental piece using tuned and untuned percussion

3. Original layered song by the group using phrases to describe the value of making music together!

I planned and led the training session myself. We began the afternoon with posing a few questions:

What do you think the benefits of music are to learning?

  • Brings people together
  • Therapy
  • Energy
  • Fun
  • Emotions
  • Expression
  • Without words
  • Feelings
  • Communication

These were used to make a ‘Wordle’ as seen here:

Music Wordle: communication, therapy, fun, energy, feelings, without words, expression, emotions, brings people together


We then created a layer in three parts to sing together using the ideas from the group.  The following repeated phrases were sung over an instrumental pulse:

  • Music brings us energy
  • Emotional
  • Free for all

The piece finished with “Find our feelings without words” as a final line. (Recording of original song attached as MP3)

We posed the following questions. Staff were asked to place a sticker / comment next to what they could identify with:

Q: Do you feel comfortable supporting a student when they are making music?

9 people said yes


“I’m comfortable supporting a student when they are making music because I’m comfortable making music myself”

Q: About YOU…Do you feel comfortable making music with other people?

6 people said yes

One person said that they felt out of their comfort zone when making music with other people.


  • “I like to see the difference in students”
  • “I like making music”

What do you think is different about making music together from other subjects and skill development areas?  2 people responded to this question:

  • “There are no walls to break down”      
  • “No communication barriers”

What we covered in the session:

  • Welcome and questions about our own relationships with music and supporting others when taking part in participatory music activities – confidence ratings
  • 2-part song
  • Team-building – Improvisation without speaking using tuned percussion instruments (pentatonic 5-note scale), Tongue Drums, Glockenspiel and miniature Celtic harp
  • ‘Attunement’ – finding ways to lock into one another’s musical gestures and respond
  • Collectively explored thoughts about music and using ideas to construct 3-part song using small fragments of words and rhythms
  • Room recording!
  • Supporting and encouraging – Wrote a certificate of achievement for each other acknowledging a music skill observed during the session

PMZ provided a resource pack for ‘Supporting Disabled musicians in music activities’ (PDF attached)

Themes covered:

  • Acknowledging being out of comfort zones either as staff or as a student
  • Starting new music creation from scratch
  • Listening to others in order to understand the bigger picture
  • Working together as a team to make the music happen
  • Encouraging others
  • Communicating without words and celebrating different kinds of communication through music making
  • Building confidence in singing voices
  • Listening /  accepting others’ ideas and learning from mistakes along the way

Some really positive feedback from the session said it all in terms of impact on the staff personally and professionally:

I thought it was a brilliant session – she had everyone taking part, even the ones who started off by saying ‘I can’t sing’ etc. The lady gave everyone the confidence to have a go. A fantastic opportunity.

A great success – I thought it went well. I think for our students it is a good resource to use as a team building experience as well as verbal and written communication. Students can discuss and input their ideas and preconceptions, write them down in a spider diagram and then pick out their favourite ones to use in the piece of music they are creating.

It was amazing how easy it was to create music with very little previous experience and this would be a great confidence builder for the students.

I felt it helped me work as a team as I had to listen to what everyone else was doing. I felt a little shy at first which will help me empathise with the students when I work with them.

I thought it was explained in a way which makes you feel comfortable to try different instruments it was a great experience and bought a positive vibe to everyone. Thanks for this training – highly appreciated!

I found it really helpful with my confidence, which in the future helps me support students better. The session leader was really supportive and inspiring. I definitely found it beneficial.

It gave us an insight on how the team work. I found it really helpful but fun at the same time. 

The session was great due to the fact that the staff that who weren’t comfortable with music came out of their shells and really interacted and got involved. 

It was great to see everyone work together and come back with a song with a music background to it. The leader was lovely and got everyone involved with individual parts. She recorded the session for us to hear back.

The session was so good! It got us all involved with singing, which for myself was initially a challenge. I think it’s good to sometimes step out of my comfort zone. However, as the afternoon progressed, I felt more relaxed and began to enjoy hitting those high notes. The whole group of my peers seemed to enjoy it and it was a good session on team building.

I think it did a really good job showing how music activities can be used to get engagement out of people.

Really great – a lot of variety, the tutor was very knowledgeable and managed to engage everyone! She also asked us give certificates to one another. This was a really nice idea to praise each other for something at the end of the session. I’d like to do it again!

Many thanks to all the LSAs who took part and overcame their personal worries about making music and were SUCH FUN! A great team who clearly want to do the best for their students as well as support one another. Once again, making music together was just what we all needed. 

If you are interested in some custom made music workshops for your staff or team please get in touch, we would love to discuss the possibilities with you!