New online lessons allow children to explore music-making opportunities at home

Jazz it up: YolanDa Brown has launched a series of online music lesson plans - Peter Branch
Jazz it up: YolanDa Brown has launched a series of online music lesson plans - Peter Branch

“Music is such a great outlet and now, with homeschooling starting again for our young students, I think it’s really important to make music and musical resources available to them, not only providing them with some joy and escapism but also encouraging them to learn a bit about music in the process,” says MOBO award winner and CBeebies, Jazz FM and Radio 2 presenter YolanDa Brown. Her online music lesson plans will be available from today, giving teachers, parents and students free access to learning materials and videos via learning platform Twinkl.

With conventional education so often focussed on numeracy and literacy, music tends to be viewed as an extra-curricular subject; an optional extra. It’s a stumbling block that Brown comes up against time and again, despite the presence, within the system, of many passionate music educators.

“A lot of the time it’s ‘we haven’t got time for this, my timetable doesn’t allow for this, or, we don’t have the support in terms of instruments and resources,’”she acknowledges. “I want to support educators and students alike to develop the palate of music-making.”

A passion for improvising

It’s something that her own upbringing actively encouraged, with early lessons in piano, violin and drums. Now the UK’s premier saxophonist, it wasn’t until the age of 13 that she discovered her passion for the instrument. “As soon as I picked it up, I felt like it was an extension of me,” she says. Yet it was also at this age that her adolescent rebelliousness began to manifest itself: suddenly finding her music lessons too formal and structured, she abandoned them all and decided to go it alone. “I loved playing for myself and improvising along with my favourite songs on the radio - just having that organic experience, that freedom. That’s what I think was missing from my musical upbringing.”

In exposing young people to more music-making opportunities, Brown is keen to avoid this rigidity. “Music isn't just about learning about a certain composer, or learning a certain type of technique - it’s a form of expression and communication,” she says. “The resources we’ve put together cover different areas of music education, but also the creative element, the performance element. It can be done over video calls with friends and family: it’s just about engaging with music.”

The resources have also been created to sit neatly alongside the national curriculum, with encouragement and planning tools to help teachers incorporate music into other subjects. She’s delighted when I tell her that a parent at my youngest’s school played Adam Ant’s ‘Stand and Deliver’ music video to their child while doing literacy work on Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman. “These interactions boost learning and add layers of richness to information,” she says. “Alternatively, children can write poems and turn them into songs, or listen to music and then draw how it makes them feel. We need to think about different and creative ways to engage young people and make it fun.”

Exposure is key, she says. “I often hear from parents who worry that they aren’t musical, or don’t have the resources to support their child, but just encouraging them to watch music being performed, or to listen to music being played is invaluable. You don't have to be musical to enjoy music - simply enjoy how it communicates, how it makes you feel.”

In increasing exposure to music, Brown also hopes to have an impact on conversations around career choices.

“Even throughout all of the wonderful access to music that I had growing up, I was never encouraged to pursue music as a career,” she says. “I was never given a window through which to see what being a professional musician could be like - and I think that’s another thing that needs to change: opening up these worlds and making young people aware of the fact that there are opportunities within these industries. You could write music for animation, or you could write music for film, or you could do sound production, or lighting …”

Recorders and starting blocks

Of course, most students’ introduction to music at school will be that instrument that seems to have been invented after listening to cats fighting on a tin roof: the recorder. The word alone makes many adults shudder, but Brown urges parents to remove their fingers from their ears and keep providing encouragement. “The sound isn’t necessarily palatable for us all, but the young person playing doesn’t hear that,” she says, “and when you see the joy they get from playing … it’s really important that we support that. Additionally, they’re improving their manual dexterity, understanding different notes and different sounds - it could well be the starting block for something very positive.”

Naturally, for many parents, the expense of an instrument will be prohibitive - I still regret the fact that I played flute, rather than cello, because it was more affordable - but Brown urges them to look into hiring, which can be more cost-effective, as well as a number of available grants. Failing any of that, there is still our in-built and totally free instrument - our voices.

“Singing should be the basis of all music education,” she says. “With our children not in school, they’re really missing out on singing in assemblies, on the feeling that a collective, choral exercise provides. It happens in religion, it happens at sports games - it’s good for our wellbeing and our sense of belonging. So while we’re at home, put on the radio, sing along, dance around together as a family after breakfast. It’s there, regardless of budget, regardless of talent - and it’s incredibly powerful and uplifting.”

YolanDa’s album, YolanDa’s Band Jam, launches today and is available on all digital platforms via Magic Star, a Sony Music UK label