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Removing barriers to music making with the OHMI Trust

8 months ago

Liz Wrighton

Freelance musician and teacher

In 2015, I was invited to take part in a teaching pilot being run between Birmingham’s Music Service and the OHMI Trust. Having previously had some experience working with children with a range of disabilities, I was keen to be involved. I'd be teaching children to play a recorder, cleverly adapted to require only the use of one hand to play it, with keys replacing the need to cover the thumb and the B, A, G holes.

My first pupil had just begun Year 3 when the pilot started and was desperate to learn to play an instrument! Among other disabilities, he only has the use of his right hand, and so the adapted recorder he was given through OHMI was fantastic in enabling him to do this.

Lessons started mostly in the same way as any of my other teaching. However, I did discover that alongside the music making, there were a few practical (and now seemingly obvious!) things I needed to remember. For example, making sure I stood on his right so he could hold my arm going down the corridor to our room, remembering if he was using his walker so that it couldn’t go in reverse (!) and checking if he’d had a good night’s sleep, as this made a huge difference to how many rest breaks he needed during the lesson.  

I also realised that although anything written down didn’t make much sense to him at that point in time due to his additional learning needs, it didn’t matter because his natural aural skills were fantastic and he picked everything up by ear. It was really useful to have a half-hour lesson with him (longer than average for the Music Service), to give him time to do this, and also so that we could have breaks if he was having a ‘tired day’ and, of course, chat about what he’d been up to that week.

Now in Year 5, he is taller, physically so much stronger and definitely cheekier! He can read music, loves playing the Power Rangers theme tune and, having taken his Copper, is working towards his Bronze ABRSM Music Medal. There's no doubt about the positive impact learning to play the recorder has had on him. When he started learning, he found school tricky and there was a noticeable gap between him and his peers. Playing the recorder has given him the chance to learn to do something that only a few other children in the school can do, and it has been brilliant to see his self-esteem and confidence grow as a result. 

Another pupil I’ve been teaching for a couple of years recently started to struggle playing on a standard recorder due to a lack of control and strength in his right hand as a result of his physical disability. I could see it was frustrating him, and it was certainly starting to hamper his progress. Fortunately, he was able to join the OHMI project and was given the use of an adapted recorder, which means that he now doesn’t have to battle with his fingers to cover the holes or move them independently. I was concerned that he'd find the change between the different sets of fingering confusing (it definitely initially confused me!), but halfway through his first lesson on the new recorder, he simply said: 'Well, this just makes everything easy now! It’s brilliant, they should make all recorders like this!”

For me, these stories sum up so much of what the OHMI project is about. From one pupil who has gained so much more than simply learning to play an instrument, to another who now has an instrument that takes away the issue his physical disability created, allowing his musical abilities to flourish. Through Arts Award days and other OHMI events, I've had the chance to meet a number of other students and their families. Their enthusiasm for playing their instruments and their pride in what they've achieved, and in being part of the OHMI ‘family’, is infectious.

As a teacher, I’ve learned a lot about how to communicate, to always expect the unexpected, and also to value what are seemingly sometimes the smallest achievements, because often in the big scheme of things they're much more significant than you’d think. Teaching for the OHMI project has, without doubt, been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my career so far, and I feel privileged to have been able to get to know and work with the inspiring and determined young people involved.

Pronounced 'oh-me’, the OHMI Trust is a UK-based charity pioneering the development and adaptation of musical instruments for those who are physically disabled. The OHMI Trust’s objectives are to remove the barriers to music making faced by physically disabled people and to enable undifferentiated participation in musical life, whether at school, in the home or in a professional ensemble. Learn more about OHMI.

Music Medals are teacher-led assessments for young learners at five levels: Copper, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Learn more about Music Medals.

Each year we assess candidates with a range of different needs and abilities. We consider the needs of each person individually in terms of physical access to the exam room, extra time, alternative tests, alternative formats, and visual or communication aids. Learn more about our provision for candidates with specific needs.


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