For several weeks, YY&M professionals have been meeting online to discuss a range of topics related to music education and musical project delivery (supported by Arts Council England through their Cultural Recovery funding). Each session involves members of YY&M’s project delivery teams sharing their ideas and good practice with one another, sometimes with a visiting expert from outside the music education sector. Most of our talented and experienced leaders had not met each other; they work independently on different YY&M projects and rarely, if ever, have the chance to meet each other nor discuss good practice in music education with other experts in their field… until now.

One of our network meetings posed the question “What makes a great Music Leader?”. Rather than asking our team what makes a ‘good’ leader, we wanted to dig deeper and explore the difference between good and great leaders; what those differences were and how they are applied practically before, during and after workshop sessions.

As ever, our talented team did not disappoint…

For example, good music leaders, who deliver projects in a variety of settings as visiting facilitators, were expected to have researched and prepared for their sessions in a number of ways, including (but not limited to):

  • Who they would be teaching and what level of music education these participants had already been exposed to
  • How to prepare and use the venue available
  • How to utilise any available resources on offer (as well as providing their own)
  • Ascertaining what support will be provided by the organisation hosting their sessions and how the music leader will work alongside existing staff members
  • Managing expectations (establishing outcomes prior to any session, delivering on those outcomes and seeking feedback on whether outcomes had been met afterwards)
  • Aiming for excellence and inclusion

What made a music leader stand out as ‘great’, included having:

  • a good knowledge of and maximising on what can be achieved in the time available
  • confidence in the weight of their own experiences, which may sometimes differ from those of staff who have more regular contact with the participants involved (and how to navigate disagreements with integrity)
  • a library of ideas, activities and / or repertoire to call on, but then also being prepared to not use any of that and be flexible to be responsive in the moment
  • the confidence to articulate their approach – why sometimes it is better to NOT have a lesson plan, for example, in direct response to the participants themselves

…in addition to the above attributes of a ‘good’ leader. So how does this manifest within our motto, Music Makes Lives Better? The answer here is an obvious one. The better the leader, the better and more effective the project will be, which directly translates into participants learning and achieving more, gaining more confidence in their own abilities, and (overall) gaining more in general from the experience.

Our music leaders are often people who have (to some extent) experienced some of the challenges the young people we work with have experienced themselves and are fantastic role models for the young people they encounter in our sessions. They provide someone to look up to and someone who can model what they could do and / or 'be'. In addition to this, they have the skills and flexibility to provide music education and projects that break out of the current music education molds, fostering more inclusivity, exposing children to a wider and more diverse range of music, exposing them to musicians who make music that they (potentially) like and opening up musical possibilities that were unavailable to them or that they didn’t even know existed for them.

What makes a great music leader? Knowledge and experience, flexibility and most importantly, the ability to provide possibility to children and young people that have never experienced that before. How lucky we are at YY&M to already work alongside many individuals who can be described as great leaders.