This week almost 1,000 children in Key Stage 2 started their world-music First Access Programmes with our team of workshop facilitators. We also have a further 2,190 children starting their online world-music First Access Courses with us. We hope that the majority of these children (participants in both our workshop visits and via our online courses) will obtain their Arts Award Discover qualification by participating in our programmes this year. Every year at our Facilitator’s Training Day we hone and revise our curriculums based on our Facilitator’s experiences and feedback from both the class teachers and pupils. We are very aware that across the U.K. First Access Programmes look very different, are varying lengths and have differing objectives, expectations and outcomes. We deliver First Access Programmes on behalf of several different Music Hubs and have to adhere to their aims and fit in with their local model for other instrumental First Access Programmes. Despite these variants, are there common themes, core principles and musical skills, expected knowledge that should be covered in a world-music First Access Programme?

African Drumming First Access Programme

African Drumming First Access Programme

Below are the aims and key elements that make up our First Access Programmes regardless of the length of the programme and year group taking part. 


The overall aim of our First Access Programmes is to offer a programme that inspires and ignites the excitement of learning a musical instrument, for the children to experience the joy of playing the instrument in an ensemble and to learn music from a culture that is different from their own. For many of these children it will be their first experience of a whole-class instrumental ensemble and we want to ensure it’s definitely not their last!  

Indian dhol drumming First Access Programme

Indian dhol drumming First Access Programme

Key Elements:

  • Instrumental techniques: basic skills are taught in week 1 in a musical way (i.e. incorporating them into a rhythmic phrase straight away) that are then built upon and refined over the duration of the course. 

  • Ensemble skills: In our African drumming First Access Programme the first thing the class play is four bass notes on their djembes together. The Facilitator will use this activity to encourage good ensemble playing by ensuring all the pupils are watching the leader carefully to play together and with the same tone. This takes place in the first 5 minutes of the first lesson and sets the tone for the rest of the course, ensuring the pupils understand their role within the ensemble. 

  • Develop rhythmic and melodic ability: We put words to all rhythms to help the children play a rhythm correctly. However, instead of using mnemonics or random words that are disconnected from the music they are learning, we find it reinforces the learning if the rhythm contains the key words from the lesson. For example, “bass tone djembe” is much better than ‘coca cola’ - the children will leave knowing the names of two of the sounds of the drum and it’s name rather than thinking of a popular fizzy drink! Most world-music genres have layers of rhythmic or melodic difficulty within one piece and we’ve found it’s therefore easy to differentiate the material to meet the needs of each child when learning djembe, samba, dhol or steel pans music. It’s also very important to have high expectations of the rhythmic complexity that a Key Stage 2 class can achieve and the Facilitator must know how to teach polyphonic music effectively as an ensemble - we spend a good amount of time in our Facilitator Training concentrating on these essential leadership skills. Most of the instrumental/percussive world-music we teach accompanies song and this plays an important part of the lessons and adds a lovely dimension to the music.

  • Musicianship skills - copyback & improvisation: We have to be very aware of the material that the class would have previously learnt to know the starting point for these musicianship skills. For example, if a class has spent the autumn term learning African drumming and getting as far as doing 4-beat copybacks and improvisations, in the spring term we would aim to get them doing 8-beat copybacks and improvisations in their Brazilian samba lessons and then 12-beat in their Indian dhol or Caribbean steel pans lessons in the summer term. It’s also important we gain an understanding of what the children might have learnt in previous academic years so our programmes can give each child a more coherent primary school music curriculum.

  • Composition & notation skills: Towards the end of each term, once the classes have gained some good knowledge of the key characteristics of the musical genre/style, we show them how to compose music in the same style. Depending on the age and experience of the class this is either done as an individual activity or small group but is always performed and notated by the pupils in some way (either graphic, block or conventional notation) to consolidate their composition skills and help evidence their learning.

  • Cultural knowledge and appreciation of the genre: we aim to teach each style of world-music as close to how it would be taught in it’s home culture which helps the classes gain an understanding of where the music came from and why. For example, in our Brazilian samba drumming First Access Programme they learn both Rio-style and Salvador samba-reggae music to learn the differences and discover how it originated from West African music, is played in Carnival and accompanies dance. Much of the cultural knowledge is picked up via activities in the pupil log books. 

  • Performance: every term finishes with a performance to the school community. We believe performances are an integral part and essential experience of learning an instrument and always excites the children to learn more the next term! 

  • Partnership: Our most successful First Access Programmes take place in schools who value the partnership between the school, Inspire-works and the Music Hub. As stated in the Music Mark Steering Group research into whole-class ensemble teaching, it is vital the senior leadership are committed to the programme. We’ve found the performances are a wonderful opportunity for the Head Teacher to observe the good music-making each class performs and is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate their achievements, especially if the pupils receive their Arts Award Discover certificates as part of the performance! 

Related resources from Inspire-works:


Music Mark Steering Group research into Whole Class Ensemble Teaching