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How Playing in a Rock Band can Help Primary Pupils

Playing in a band can help children express themselves, deal with anxiety, bond with their peers and build self-confidence in a creative environment, says Mark Robinson...

  • How Playing in a Rock Band can Help Primary Pupils

It was the Tuesday before Christmas, and in Weyfield Primary Academy Guildford, something special was about to happen.

The hall was filled with pupils, their parents were squeezed at the back, extra chairs had been found and filled, and late arrivals were now lining the walls.

It was time for the Rocksteady Christmas concert and five bands of KS1 and KS2 children were about to play for their peers.

They had spent the term learning how to play their favourite songs on guitar, drums, keyboard and vocals and were getting ready to proudly blast them out to the rest of school.

Among the performers were a remarkable group of children. Bobby, Toby, Alaa, Mohamed, Daniel and Ben, collectively known as The Blanks, had written, recorded and released their own original song and were going to show it off along with their music video for the first time.

The band met as part of a holiday camp run by Rocksteady Music School. At the time most of them attended Weyfield, except for Ben, who was at The Hermitage School in Woking.

Pressure

One of the drummers, Bobby, was stressed about his upcoming SATs exams and wrote the beginnings of a song about his feelings while at the camp.

Titled ‘Pressure’, the lyrics talk about the challenges that young children face and compare growing up to being “on stage and about to perform” with “no choice but to conform”.

Excited by the promise the band were showing and the universal nature of their song’s message, the group met weekly after school to work on the project and recorded the single at Lark Studios in Guildford, Surrey.

Watching the video on the projector in front of their peers, you could see the children’s cool veneers begin to crack. Their pride at creating and showing off something of their own was tangible.

Mei Lim, headteacher of Weyfield and member of the staff band ‘No Direction’ told the audience at the concert: “What these children have achieved is remarkable, a rare and amazing thing. This shows what is possible for all of you if you work hard together.”

Common goal

Learning to play music together really does make things possible, often filling a space where traditional interventions may not have all the answers.

In the case of The Blanks, forming a band brought a group of children from diverse backgrounds – two of them having recently arrived from Syria with English as an additional language – and had given them a common goal to work towards.

Bobby found an expressive outlet during a difficult time. Ben’s mum says he is writing new songs and has really caught the music bug. For Mohammad, the project has given the school a way of connecting with his parents and bringing them into his school life.

In other bands there are children like Rhodri, who sustained a brain injury part way through primary school and found that learning music was the only activity that he wanted to keep doing at the time.

His short-term memory was severely affected, but he can now remember song lyrics and notes. He struggles to communicate sometimes, so to be part of a small, supportive group helps him to take the time he needs to find his words.

Most importantly, when he’s playing in his band, he’s an important and equal part of the team.

Emily is 10 and has anxiety. Her father tells us all her worries go away when she’s playing music with her friends, and through her regular lessons she has developed the tools to overcome them completely to play in the school concert, alongside her sister.

And then there’s Sara. She’s always been a quick learner and since she joined a band she’s discovered another part of her personality. It turns out she’s an excellent team member and musician as well.

Her mum says she’s changed from a fan to a performer: “From not being able to play at all, I’ve watched her become so confident that nothing phases her. Her performance at the school concerts is a highlight of our school calendar – it’s amazing to see what her band have achieved each term.”

Safe space

The bands themselves are support networks for the children, a safe space where everyone can express themselves and mistakes are encouraged. A place outside of the comfort zone of sitting at the back of class and avoiding eye contact.

You can’t hide when you’re on stage in front of your peers, and that’s one of the reasons children who learn to play and perform music find themselves more confident and happier as a result.

Wellbeing

And The Blanks? In the time since the single release the Facebook video has had 7,000 views and 43 shares.

The stories of these children shine a light on what learning music can do for us every day.

It may be the joy of playing an instrument that gets things started but it’s the wider benefits to wellbeing, social interaction and self-esteem that really make the difference.

The bands up on stage that day felt the joy, excitement and belonging that comes from playing music together and sharing it with their friends. And those are feelings that every child deserves the opportunity to experience.


Mark Robinson is the founder of Rocksteady Music School, which teaches children across the UK to play in bands and perform songs. Find out more at rocksteadymusicschool.com and follow on Twitter at @rsmusicschool.

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