You are here: Music-making and disability

Breaking down barriers to music-making

We believe in the social model of disability. It’s a model that gives power back to disabled people. It argues that a person is ‘disabled’ not by their impairment or difference, but by the way society is organised – its attitudes, systems, environment and language.

Many aspects of life have been designed by non-disabled people, for non-disabled people. People with SEN/D often face barriers, because they’re seen as being ‘different from normal’, and their needs aren’t met. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Everyone should be able to enjoy making music. And the projects we invest in are expert at coming up with creative and inspiring ways to get children and young people involved, no matter what challenges they face.

Musical outcomes

Our projects allow young people to take part in music-making, improve their skills and explore their potential – whatever their interests and needs.

In SEN/D settings, there are lots of ways this can work in practice. It could mean a singing workshop that lets young people make music using sounds instead of words. Or using an instrument like a wooden resonance board that lets young people experiment with sound and feel the physical vibrations, even if they can’t hear.

Often it’s about providing and sharing specialist expertise, as with the project which gave Isma and Aisha (who are both deaf) the chance to learn brass instruments in school – and gave their teacher new skills to help him teach them.

And sometimes it means using technology to unlock music-making possibilities. This could be on a device as commonplace as an iPad, with various apps that let young people sample and sequence different sounds at the touch of a screen. Or something as unique as the specially designed sensor-controlled instrument which helped Joe express himself musically.

Mobility, learning and technology

LooperDooper can help pretty much anyone make music. It was co-designed by students and staff members at special schools through a project run by OpenUp Music in Bristol. Here you can see how it gives Georgia the independence to compose, listen and progress.

Personal outcomes

Music can play a big role in speech and language development, especially for young people who have difficulty learning and forming words. A child who might normally be reluctant to speak will often feel more comfortable experimenting with verbal sounds in the context of music-making. Learning to listen and respond to patterns in music can also help young people develop their memory and problem-solving skills.

Many of the music leaders and classroom teachers we work with in SEN/D settings have reported that music-making sessions help young people become more settled and focused. Especially in stressful settings such as hospitals, where a number of projects we support take place, music has been shown to help children relax.

Music-making is also a great confidence-booster. Workshops give disabled young people a chance to learn new skills and perform for their peers and in public. It brings feelings of achievement and empowerment. And of course, it’s very enjoyable!

I’m very happy and proud of myself. The performance went brilliantly, I had so much fun.

Participant with learning disabilities in the ‘Touching Sound’ projects run by Artsdepot

Young DaDa Ensemble

The project helps young disabled people in Liverpool to develop their musical skills, grow in confidence and explore potential music careers. Watch the highlights from their celebratory event, Young DaDa Fest 2016.

Fun, friendship and artistic expression

Metal band Zombie Crash formed at a project in Brighton run by Carousel. Learning disabled musicians are supported to create original compositions, and develop their skills musically and professionally. This music video gives you a great idea of the band’s style and sense of humour!

Facts and figures

These figures just cover young people from ages 5 to 18. We work with those aged 0-25 so the numbers are actually much higher.

How you can help

Designing inclusive projects to meet young people’s particular needs can be very expensive. You can help us raise money by getting involved with Give a Gig, or you can make a donation.

Find out more


Youth Music would like to thank the National Lottery for the public funding we receive each year through Arts Council England, without which none of this amazing work would be possible.