World of Sound

The world of sound is an ever-evolving session comprising sounds, rhythms and chants from cultures around the world.  It has developed through a correlation between world and tribal music and the observed reactions and responses from the students. The session began some years ago in the Post 16 department of the Redway school. It was a busy department, hustling and bustling with lots of competing noises, yet within a few moments of starting to play the Native American flute the department quietened and students stilled and listened. It seemed to have an almost mesmerising effect with its simple melodies seeming to cut through all of the noise and reach the students, speaking to them directly and encouraging them to listen. This first attempt at playing the flute to the students and their positive reactions led to the development of the session we have today.

From the first playing of the flute it was evident that the students felt some connection to it and it seemed to have a direct influence on their behaviours and wellbeing as they stilled, relaxed and listened calmly to the wonderful sounds and simple melodies it created. The natural progression then began by adding drumbeats to the flute. These two instruments are the rock or core of this sound session.

There is much scientific research into the effects of sound and music on the brain. We know for example that just to listen to music requires a very complicated set of communications across the brain. Several areas of the brain are needed and must link to one another to reproduce the sounds we hear into a coherent listening experience. So a major question is ‘what do our students actually hear?’ It has been clear over the past few years that our students react in very different ways to a piece of music or instrument. Some of our students need fast, loud and complicated music such as heavy metal in order to rest and relax. By the same token some become extremely anxious and even upset when listening to ‘relaxation’ music or can be made very uncomfortable by a certain pitch or sound. We offer many different sounds and rhythms in World of Sound to build a picture of what the students responses are and this then informs future sessions. So observation and recording become very important in relation to any use of music and sound. It also suggests that music and sound can be used to work directly with students’ feelings and emotions whatever the level of student.

Sound is used in an incredible variety of ways throughout the medical professions from simplistic calming and relaxing sounds to waves of sound used in the most complicated of medical practice. However, it is from the aspect of its emotional nature that the World of Sound session looks to exploit. Our students need to be able to experience a wide range of sound and music as it is an integral part of their development. World of Sound seeks to inspire learning and motivation through the variety of instruments and musical styles. We look to excite and motivate, create and disassemble, relax and calm, and through these experiences students can begin to know themselves and take awareness from self out into the immediate environment and then open to others, gaining experience and knowledge of self and others. The session at its most fundamental level is music broken down to its most basic and simple rhythms and melodies and offered to the students as an experience and a controlled way to experience the delights of Sound of Music.

The sound sessions now are based in a specialist cabin with instruments as diverse as a 3 foot gong, didgeridoo, monochord and other ethnic and digital instruments. These instruments have been introduced over the past few years very carefully and thoughtfully as students have been exposed to their magical sounds and their responses have been observed and recorded.

The session has a flexible structure comprising a welcome song which is currently either a  Cherokee morning song or a Native Alaskan song for prosperity, a middle section which is flexible and adaptable and can include practical experience of the instruments and the goodbye song currently from the Jewish tradition ‘Shalom Chaverim’ . The session is structured like this to help our students understand where they are, what is about to happen and when it is finished. This structure is used every week and every session. And can be roughly translated into a song structure ‘verse chorus verse’. In some sessions there is also ‘middle 8’ where the students have helped to develop a rhythmical piece of music from their own vocalisations, bodies and also the instruments.

The vocal reactions of the students to some of the music rhythms and melodies, have been a revelation. As many of our students are unable to form complete words yet can vocalise to some degree, they have been able to join in vocally to the music that is being played. We have been able to develop this during sessions by focusing on the sound made by the student, imitating the sound both in response or/and together and turning this into a song form. This has given students ownership of the piece of music as they have helped to compose it and it gives them a personal value and their voice meaning and seems to encourage the development of this skill.

In some of the sessions we have now introduced storytelling sections. This has been in response to finding that some of our younger students find a whole session of music and sound a little too tiring. And so rather than the structure of song verse chorus verse these sessions have become ‘welcome song a short section of sounds a story and the goodbye song’. The sessions are proving highly successful as the stories being told are presented in a theatrical animated way and all possibilities for making sounds with our bodies and voices to accompany and accentuate the words and themes of the story are taken full advantage of. So it becomes a ‘sound story’ which fits the ethos of the session but most importantly the observed needs of the students.

This term has seen the introduction of chanting vowel sounds. These sounds also linked to colours for example. The 'uuh' sound is red, the 'ooh' sound is yellow and so on. These vowel sounds are the fundamentals of speech but also the fundamental of singing as we create the sound and seek to hold the sound for ever increasing periods. This has many benefits to the students. It produces  wonderful simple sounds for those who prefer a listening experience, it offers an expression vocally for those who wish to try and also, by elongating the sound, gives physiological benefits to the student vocalising through oxygenation of the blood. The responses of the students to this basic form of sound making has been wonderful. To see our students making sounds and trying to sing together and individually is highly rewarding and inspirational.

Although the World of Sound session is a very particular kind of music session in its aims and development, it is only through observing the reactions of the students that it has been able to develop and has become more ‘therapeutic’. Sound and music is a very important part of human existence and has been for millennia. The research, neuroscience and experience of the general population tells us that music and sound has a profound effect on the human condition. Sound and music is used throughout the school and supports any number of activities acting as a medium for the developing of skills such as motor skills (PE, Physio, Hydro), communication skills and social skills to name but a few.  It has such importance in our lives in our school lives and will continue to be developed both in World of Sound sessions and in all sessions throughout the school in partnership with our students’ needs and desires and wellbeing will remain at the very heart of Sound and Music.


Ian M Shepherd

World of Sound Tutor

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