Making music more accessible for children with profound and multiple learning disabilities

Tom & Dan - music

Music technology is often underused in schools for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), partly because of the costs involved and partly because of a lack of confidence in staff about how to use it. A new research project at Bournemouth University is working in partnership with CODA Music Centre and SEN schools in the local area to develop a solution to this challenge and make music more accessible to all children.

The project is being led by Dr Tom Davis, a senior lecturer in music & audio technology, and supported by his research assistant, Dan Pierson, Dr Ann Bevan and Phil Hallet from CODA. The research team are working with two groups of students from schools in the local area. One group is made up of children with a range of profound and multiples learning disabilities (PMLD) and the other is a group of children with primarily behavioural difficulties.

“The group of children with PMLD have access to a resonance board within their school, which is designed to be very responsive to movement. Any movement on the board will produce a sound and vibration, which can help teach all sorts of skills,” says Dr Davis, “The board is located in the school’s sensory room and isn’t easy to move, so student’s access to it is quite limited unless they’re booked in to use the room. Part of the challenge for us was to create something that could be used anywhere in the school.”

The team have created a more lightweight, portable resonance board for staff and students to use. The resonance board has a built in low frequency speaker that provides haptic as well as sonic feedback. It is designed to be flexible and work with a number of the school’s existing technologies. For example, connecting it to an OmniVista projection system means you can project images to make the resonance board resemble a musical instrument, such as a piano. As well as being more interactive, the new board is easier to move around the school increasing access to a larger range of pupils.

“The feedback we’ve had from staff so far has been really positive, and we’ll be looking to evaluate that more rigorously as part of the project,” says Dr Davis, “It’s a little more difficult to gather feedback from the students involved, but from the way they’ve been engaging and interacting with the resonance board, we can see that they’re getting something from it too.”

As part of the legacy of the project, the team are putting together a website which will include resources they’ve put together as well as a space for teachers, teaching assistants and technicians to add their examples of best practice.

“We wanted to make the results of research widely available to other schools,” explains Dan, “As well as developing our own suggestions for improving access to music; we know that there are some great examples of best practice to be found in schools. We wanted to make sure that people were able to access and share these, which is exactly what we hope the website will do.”

To find out more about the project, visit the Festival of Learning on Saturday 8 July, where you’ll have the chance to see footage of the technology in action and even have a go yourself.

This story featured in the Bournemouth Research Chronicle, which can be read online or downloaded.