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Youth Voice: necessity not luxury

Written by Sound Connections Programme Manager, Jennifer Raven


Without youth voice, music education can never be truly inclusive.  That was the message I took to ISME (International Society for Music Education) World Conference 2016 and it felt good to boldly state that youth voice isn’t a ‘nice-to-have’, it is a necessity.

As ISME co-presenter Carol Reid (Youth Music) asserted, musical inclusion means that:

  • Children and young people from all backgrounds can access a music education that meets their needs.
  • Children and young people can progress on their individual journeys across all genres and styles.
  • Practitioners understand the needs of young musicians and are equipped to help them on their individual learning journeys.[1]

To make this aspiration a reality, children and young people must be part of the process and have the opportunity and support to campaign for the music they want and need.  Through the research we do at Sound Connections evidence suggests that an unhealthy hierarchy of musical genres and progression routes still exists, which doesn’t wholly represent the interests, motivations and needs of many children and young people.  Youth voice can play a powerful role in counteracting this.

During our ISME session Douglas Noble (Drake Music) also presented. He highlighted the importance of practitioners understanding the individual needs of children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disability. In the same session Sam Spence (Ealing Music Education Hub) talked about diversity within Hub leadership.  Ultimately youth voice is a key ingredient in addressing both issues: understanding and responding to many varied needs, and sowing the seeds for a diverse workforce.

Through our funded role as a Youth Music strategic partner and through our consultancy service we have seen a rise in interest in youth voice amongst Music Education Hubs.  But it is nowhere near as far-reaching as it should be, considering that it is a human right.  The unambiguous language of Article 12 in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly tasks us all with upholding this obligation: “Every child has the right to have a say in all matters affecting them, and to have their views taken seriously.”[2]

Adherence to this obligation presents a brilliant opportunity to transform musical engagement and bring mutual benefit to young people and organisations. Some of the key benefits are:

  • Children and young people experience more positive personal, social and musical outcomes
  • Hubs reach more children and young people, and the Hub offer is more diverse, representative and relevant
  • Children and young people are more committed and invested in music opportunities

So if everyone should be doing it and reaping the benefits of music opportunities, why is youth voice still a relative rarity?  I think it’s because first and foremost youth voice is a mind-set and ethos, not a project.  If establishing a new project was the answer then that would be an easier fix.  Shifting an organisation’s mind-set and embedding new values is a much bigger ask, and a long process.  The good news is you can start small and grow one solid step at a time.  We have been developing youth voice for around 10 years at Sound Connections, through Wired4Music and other consultancy work, but we recognise we are still on a journey.  I feel lucky to be part of a team where we challenge each other daily in the pursuit of our principles of youth voice, and weave the values of youth voice into the fabric of our work. We do this by striving to:

  • Include youth voice in strategic planning, organisational values, and staff induction
  • Genuinely listen to young people, and be ready and able to act upon what we hear
  • Challenge ourselves to take risks, which sometimes means letting go of having total control over outcomes and outputs
  • Challenge our own perceptions of hierarchy
  • Work collaboratively with young people – it’s not about handing control over altogether

To hear from other organisations who uphold similar youth voice principles, watch our ‘ReWired’ film and explore the ReWired resources >

Our request is that you don’t delay taking this necessary step; we must act now.  If the whole music education community embraces it together, youth voice has the power to transform musical engagement and move us closer to inclusion and equity.

If you are interested in developing youth voice within your Hub or organisation and would like Sound Connections’ help, please get in touch with


[1] Youth Music’s Principles of Musical Inclusion
[2] UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ‘child-friendly version’


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