Making Music Accessible

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Making music education accessible for all is a fundamental pillar of what we do at the MIA, and it’s an aim shared by many other organisations we work with.

Matt has been speaking with Sophie Ogunyemi, Marketing and Comms Manager for the Take it away scheme at Creative United, about accessibility and the ways in which retailers and manufacturers can have a real impact.

How would you outline why accessibility is something all retailers should be paying attention to?

Retailers are missing out significantly if they don’t take accessibility in all its forms seriously. Whether that’s offering more affordable ways to buy an instrument through the Take it away scheme or making retail spaces physically accessible for everyone.

The fact is that 22% of the UK population identify as disabled and £267 million is lost every month by retailers who don’t make their premises accessible. With this in mind, we’ve published a guide for retailers which makes recommendations designed to give retailers confidence in making their shop and website more accessible and inclusive for all. 

What else can retailers do to enable this significant group of customers to engage with music?

I’d really recommend that retailers familiarise themselves with the instruments listed in our Guide to Adaptive Musical Instruments as having an idea of what’s out there will really enable them to help and advise disabled musicians and customers.

It’s also about thinking outside the box. Some well-known and widely available instruments such as the pInstruments and Nuvo ranges aren’t always marketed by retailers as accessible but they are.  Yes, they’re great for children to learn on because they’re colourful, appealing and affordable, but lightness, easy cleaning and the possibilities for adaptation also make them very accessible for players with disabilities.

What do you anticipate the scale of demand might be as awareness and availability of adaptive and accessible musical instruments increases?

One of the main things we’ve learned is that every disability is different and so it is very hard to determine what the demand will be because its often specific to the individual’s needs.

A problem in terms of demand is supply and affordability which is why we launched the Accessible Instruments Challenge. There are lots of instruments in the Guide which are currently at the prototype stage, so at present the supply chain isn’t there for some of these things.  The Accessible Instruments Challenge created a platform for different teams to look at how to develop some of these instruments and in turn how their supply chains could be improved.

Retailers can help this by ensuring they stock the instruments in the Guide which already have good supply chains (such as pInstruments and the Nuvo instrument range) as it’s important to raise awareness of these.  If you’re a retailer reading this, it would be great to know if you’d consider stocking adaptive instruments or know of any instruments that aren’t currently listed in the Guide. We’re planning a second edition of the Guide this year, and it would be really helpful to have some feedback from retailers and manufacturers!

Where do retailers start in widening their adaptive musical instruments offering?

Stocking accessories that make mainstream instruments accessible for people with disabilities is a great start. I’m a flautist and I have a tiny little finger so I had my G# key extended so that I can reach it with ease. I also have a Thumbport and Bo-Pep (thumb and finger rests) that just clip onto the flute.  Small accessories such as these don’t take up much retail space, but they make playing more accessible for a whole range of learners.

It’s about small steps. Once you’ve got people knowing that you’re investing in this side of learning and making music, awareness and demand will grow making it feasible to stock a wider range.

Could you tell us more about the work being done within the Take It Away Consortium?

Of course! The Take it away Consortium is a partnership between us, Drake Music, The OHMI Trust, Open Up Music, Youth Music and Music for Youth which was formed with the aim to make musical instruments more widely available to aspiring young musicians across the UK, and particularly to disabled people for whom playing a conventional musical instrument may be difficult or impossible.

Together, we launched the first major research project which captured a detailed, national picture of the experiences of disabled people in regard to music-making. The stats really speak for themselves. 63% of music retailers who responded said that they were not aware of any specialist products or adapted instruments for disabled people. The Guide to Buying Adaptive Musical Instruments, the Accessible Instrument Challenge, Reshape Music Report are all part of the Consortium work.

There’s also the Nottingham Pilot which begun in collaboration with The OHMI Trust and Nottingham Music Hub.  We found a lot of children were being left out of WCET (Whole Class Ensemble Teaching) activities but opening up communication between the hub and schools led to a range of solutions including larger music print, bow holders for people that don’t have much grip control, trumpet stands and a one-handed clarinet.  The clarinet was the most expensive of these as previously there had been only one in the world.  This work attracted recognition and consequently received further funding, now also incorporating Northamptonshire Music Education Hub.

It seems that building awareness of the barriers that exist and the solutions being developed is a major issue for educators, retailers, manufacturers and customers.

Massively so.  There was nowhere that anyone could see an overview of all the instruments that have been and continue to be invented and adapted and that’s where the Guide to Adaptive Musical Instruments began.  It’s about awareness and availability of information, instead of leaving customers, educators and people within the industry Googling for hours unsure what they are going to find.

 Get in touch:

Email sophie.ogunyemi@creativeunited.org.uk with any questions or suggestions of instruments to include in the next Guide to Buying Adaptive Musical Instruments

 Useful reading: