Identifying Musical Talent and Potential

Spot the musical spark in your students

Identifying Musical Talent and Potential (ITP) exists to make music education fairer. It tackles one of the biggest obstacles to young people’s musical progress - identifying those with talent and potential, especially in whole class or larger group settings.

First piloted in 2008 this training has developed and expanded considerably since, enabling us to reach more music educators than ever so they can explore the skills they need to spot the next generation of musical talent.

"The identification of individual talent, and the building and sustaining of equitable talent pipelines are key."

The Power of Music to Change Lives, A National Plan for Music Education, June 2022

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Identifying Musical Talent and Potential

exists to make education fairer

We don’t think it’s right that young people with musical potential should be denied the chance to explore and fulfil that potential because they haven’t had the opportunity to. ITP is one of Young Sounds UK’s four programmes, all of which are designed to address this fundamental inequity. If England is to have a truly diverse cultural sector, talent needs to be spotted early, and everywhere.

ITP has developed into two strands: face-to-face or online training and a series of online film resources, used within the training and also available online.  The film resources illustrate key facets of musical potential in a wide range educational contexts and show how some commonly used group musical activities can challenge what teachers are able to learn through observation.

ITP PHOTO
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This current phase of ITP expands the programme further: we’re offering the training not only via Music Hubs, but through Multi Academy Trusts, individual schools and other organisations. Through AYM’s NPO funding this programme is offered free throughout England and is delivered by a team of facilitators led by Lead Facilitator Hugh Nankivell and Sophia Loizou, ITP Programme Manager.

Spotting facets of musical potential

It can be quite straightforward to spot ability, or potential ability, if you know what you're looking for, or if you know what you'd like to see. But it's harder if you don't! Working with schools, music leaders, teachers and music organisations, we identified a set of 'facets of musical potential'. Click on any of the facets below for examples of how these may manifest, with video examples.

The 8 facets of musical potential

Enjoyment

Enjoyment

Is the young person smiling as they are engaging with the process? Remember that if they’re not smiling this doesn’t mean that they’re not enjoying themselves, and likewise if they are smiling and laughing this might also be with nervousness or a disruptive playfulness. As a music leader your instinct is to respond positively to an individual who is smiling when you lead them because they’re showing an empathy and a positive engagement with the process – just try not to discount other, less obvious, signs of enjoyment within a group.

Active listening

Active listening

There are many ways to observe listening that can be applied in many different contexts.

Listening takes time. However the key question is: do participants listen when you give them instructions? This is crucial to everything that follows. One musical exercise that can help spot if young people are really listening is to ask them to listen to a repeated rhythm played solo and then find a rhythm that fits with this and join in. Try observing how many participants wait – and listen – before joining in.

Absorption in the music

Absorption in the music

Is the young person moving his/her body with the music? Is s/he tapping her foot, is s/he nodding his/her head? Is the person playing by physically moving his/her body? Is the person watching what the leader (or others) are playing and focusing clearly on them, even when all around them seems chaotic?

Commitment to the process

Commitment to the process

Individuals can commit to a process in a number of subtle and more obvious ways. Body language and eye-contact are two of the more obvious ones, but some of the more subtle ones can also usefully be observed, e.g. noting individuals who:

  • make a ‘mistake’ and then readily work to rectify and change it
  • try things out which might be quite complicated, but then persevere until they are sorted out, and
  • offer ideas towards a piece or process

Inclination to explore

Inclination to explore

Asking the group to suggest ideas and then observing who responds is one way to notice those who are self-confident and happy to offer creative responses in front of the group.

However not all of these responses will be confident or immediately evident, so an inclination to explore might be better observed by noting.

• how individuals play and ‘play with’ their instruments,
• how they might find a different way to contribute (the first to use the voice, for instance, in a group improvisation) and
• how they might – when you first offer them an instrument – take an unusual one or try out many different techniques and approaches as soon as they’re given it.

Inclination to lead

Inclination to lead

Observing those leading can be done in a number of ways. Noting those who volunteer to start a piece/process is, perhaps obvious, but it’s important, as it denotes a confidence and, usually, an understanding. However, it’s also important to observe those who lead more subtly, from within the group. This can be seen in those who keep their own part going while assisting others (sub-leading if you like) and those who lead changes within a piece once it has begun.

Memory

Memory

Memory in music is a crucial ingredient but, in a one-off session, how can you observe it?

One way is through using call-and-response songs and games where there is one part where the call and the response. Try to immediately note who grasps these cues after they are taught and then return to them at the end to see who can remember them. If working over two sessions, then repeat the games/songs the following day/week and see who has musical recall.

Expression

Expression

This is a difficult facet to unequivocally define from a group context. However, there are examples of individuals being expressive which can be observed through:

• the way they explore a new instrument when given it for the first time (e.g. the hand chimes)
• how they use their body when asked to create a body rhythm
• how they respond verbally when asked a question about an exercise and
• how readily they’re able to create a short solo (e.g. 1 bar) within a structure.

Meet our facilitators

Nine creative and curious musicians with a wealth of experience as performers, educators and community practitioners. They work with our Programme Producer Sophia Loizou and Lead Facilitator Hugh Nankivell to run ITP sessions with Hubs. Click the names to view their bios.

Sue Baker

Sue Baker

Music has always played a major part in Sue’s life and Music has always played a major part in Sue’s life. Since graduating from Trinity College of Music and Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Sue has had the privilege to work as a professional violinist and a music educator. She has been actively involved in music services and hubs across the country for many years and thrives on meeting the challenges music education constantly faces. Sue led the Music and Performing Arts Service in North East Lincolnshire for 10 years and now enjoys freelancing as a music consultant and teacher in a variety of schools and settings, especially focusing on SEND music intervention programmes. She is very much looking forward to her new role as one of the AYM’s Associate Facilitators. 

Natasha Gawlinski

Natasha Gawlinski

Natasha has been working in music education for over 20 years. Originally trained in teaching Key Stage 2 and 3 music she then went on to work in both secondary and primary schools teaching and coordinating music across whole schools. She has also worked for many years teaching woodwind and is currently one of the lead saxophone teachers working for Create Music in Brighton and Hove whilst studying part time for a Masters in the Teaching Musician at Trinity Laban. Natasha also plays saxophone in local big bands and a saxophone quartet.

“I feel really excited to be part of the team of facilitators due to be delivering the IMTP training. It is an amazing opportunity to promote AYM’s philosophy and incredible training programme across the country and hopefully enable so many more children to access musical opportunities within their areas.”

Beth Gifford

Beth Gifford

Beth is a passionate educator, performer and multi-instrumentalist specialising in group music teaching and English folk dance music. She studied Viola at Birmingham Conservatoire and was a member of the first cohort on Music Master’s and BCU’s PGCEi in group instrumental teaching.

Currently working for Camden Music Service and the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), Beth believes strongly that music should be accessible to all and endeavours to support young musicians in their journey wherever possible e.g. she’s run CPD sessions for EFDSS and Music Mark on folk music for beginner instrumentalists. Participating in AYM’s Identifying Musical Talent and Potential training changed Beth’s perspective as a teacher, giving her the confidence to encourage musical experimentation from her students and help them access more opportunities. Beth is delighted to now be facilitating this fantastic training and to continue her own learning and growth as an educator with AYM.

Jon Kille

Jon Kille

Jon has been a music educator for 40 years, beginning his career as a teacher in primary/middle schools and subsequently as head of a music service overseas. He has worked as musician-in-residence in schools all over the world from Italy to the Falkland Islands to Brunei with the common aim of making music accessible to all.  Specialising in creating and delivering whole class instrumental programmes and workshops, Jon thrives on demonstrating the musical energy that can be created by groups of children and students of all ages who are well taught by well-taught teachers.  Becoming one of the Facilitators for the AYM ITMP programme will enable Jon to continue to share his passion for making access to music education fairer for all and he is looking forward to working closely with the energetic AYM team.  

Ben McCabe

Ben McCabe

Ben plays drums, french horn and sings in numerous bands across rock, folk, jazz, electronica and global music. He has played festivals and had airplay with Deep Cabaret, Natural Causes, Kollega and Paddy Garrigan and the Stroller Priests and also plays with ceilidh band Striding Edge one of Cumbria’s most in demand function bands. 

He is the musical director of Off The Rails creative jazz orchestra, now in its 25th year, founded Orbit Jazz Workshop and leads More Music’s Baybeat Streetband, a vibrant intergenerational community band.

At More Music community music and education charity he delivers creative music making workshops, heads up the early years programme and is the project manager for family friendly festivals in Morecambe including Catch The Wind Kite Festival.

Ben is looking forward to working with Awards for Young Musicians as an Associate Facilitator on the Identifying Musical Talent and Potential Programme. Having had such fantastic opportunities at school he is really glad to have this chance to learn more deeply about the eight facets of musical potential that the team have identified, and to help teachers and music leaders recognise them.

Helen Mead

Helen Mead

Helen has been a primary teacher and music specialist for over 20 years. She’s worked for music hubs as a peripatetic instrumental teacher and music curriculum teacher and for the past 11 years she has been based in a vibrant, inner-city primary school in Southampton. Helen is passionate about the importance and impact of music on the lives of every child regardless of their circumstance and loves seeing the joy that music brings to the children she teaches. She lives in Hampshire with her husband, two children and two dogs. Helen is really excited to be involved in the ITMP programme. She is looking forward to empowering  teachers to see the musical potential in their pupils and to share her stories of the impact of music in the classroom.

Hugh Nankivell

Hugh Nankivell

Hugh Nankivell is a reflective social musician and compulsive songmaker based in Bristol. Hugh has worked for AYM on developing this ITP programme during the last fifteen years. He also works as an Associate Musician for the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra leading on intergenerational music-making, in hospitals, care settings and leading CPD training. His approach is to encourage and provide access for everyone to engage with music-making.

Clare Portman

Clare Portman

Clare’s passion for music grew from a very young age. At three she began to pick out familiar TV theme tunes on the keyboard, and at seven she started writing her own songs. Going on to learn the violin and guitar in her early teens, Clare’s enthusiasm grew further when she studied music at Dartington College of Arts in Devon. She moved to London after graduation, joined several bands, and enjoyed playing gigs all over the country to a variety of audiences.

Clare studied for a PGCE at Goldsmiths College, London, becoming a primary school teacher with a view to eventually teaching music in primary schools. She was a class teacher in a south London school for three years before the opportunity to teach music came up with her local music hub. Within a year she was teaching music exclusively and leading a team of peripatetic tutors. Clare has taught music in several primary schools over the last seven years, and finds it the most rewarding of jobs, especially working with children at primary level.

Clare currently lives in the West Midlands. A freelance musician and music teacher she’s also a singer-songwriter and performs across the Midlands. Clare is very excited to be working with AYM, and ultimately helping many more young musicians gain access to high-quality music lessons.

David Ross

David Ross

David has over a decade of experience as a music educator, working in primary, secondary, whole class, specialist instrumental and ensemble settings. He is passionate that high quality music education should be available to all and that every young person should be supported to explore their full musical potential. Working as both a teacher and Coordinator for AYM’s Furthering Talent programme with Sheffield Music Hub for more than three years has allowed him to work closely with families, schools and teaching colleagues to break down barriers to access for those who need it the most. David is looking forward to connecting with Music Hub colleagues across the country as a part of the ITMP team.

Rachel Thomas

Rachel Thomas

Rachel is based in Leicestershire where she holds a variety of musical roles including teaching, performing and working as an examiner for Trinity College London. She has recently become Central Bands and Orchestras Lead for Leicestershire Music and is looking forward to enabling more young people in the county to participate in ensemble playing.

After graduating from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama on French horn, Rachel performed with many leading orchestras in Britain and Europe including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Opera House Orchestra, Birmingham Royal Ballet Sinfonia, Welsh National Opera Orchestra and the European Sinfonietta. She worked extensively with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra including a world premiere performance for 5 solo horns and orchestra at the BBC Proms in 2003.

Rachel has always taken a keen interest in developing musical talent in children – from leading music education workshops in London’s inner-city schools to performing and teaching music to children from many varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds in Hong Kong. She loves to travel and has a particular fondness for the countries and food of South East Asia.

” I am delighted to be involved with AYM’s ITMP programme. Discovering musical potential in young people and working with them to develop their talent is a hugely satisfying and fulfilling experience, and I am really looking forward to getting started!

Testimonials

Feedback is an integral part of the programme. We enable a creative and collaborative environment which, paired with a rigorous evaluation process, has helped us to develop the training, giving us a framework to utilise in multiple educational settings. You can find out what teachers, Hub Leads and our facilitators have to say below.

Young Sounds UK's Identifying Talent was a perfect start to Lewisham Music’s journey on the Furthering Talent Programme. Hugh delivered a thought-provoking, engaging and inspirational session that was extremely well received by our tutors. It explored exactly what ‘talent’ is, and what music professionals can do to ensure we are spotting talented young people who could benefit from additional support. The analysis of the videos which were shared were particular fascinating.

For a service that does lots of whole class and group teaching, the focus on being able to differentiate between different types of learners will prove useful to our tutors across their work. I would highly recommend the Identifying Talent training session. One of the best training mornings we have had for years.  

Charly Richardson, CEO, Lewisham Music

“The training session was one of the best sessions I have experienced in a long time. I can really see the benefits for classroom teachers who are both specialist and non-specialists as well as the music hub workforce.”

Mark Steele, Music Lead for Coventry Music Hub 

“As a more experienced teacher it was a really helpful session – one of the best I’ve been to!” 

Secondary Head of Music, Birmingham 

“Watching the films reminded me to build more child-led play into my sessions so that I have time to observe students making music and identify potential or missed opportunities.”

Instrumental music teacher 

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