Kenneth’s story

Although shy, Kenneth, 18, has an open and friendly personality and loves dancing, singing and sixties and seventies music. Kenneth also has severe learning difficulties, and can struggle with concentration in lessons, finding it hard to stay focused.

It was through Kenneth’s love of music that he was referred to Nordoff Robbins music therapy, to help him engage and connect with others. Music therapist Seb works closely with Kenneth at Highfield School in Ossett, where they improvise together through music – playing on guitar, drums and creating songs together.

It takes real skill to ensure that Kenneth’s experience isn’t limited by the fact he isn’t musically trained, and Seb continually makes fine judgements for when to wait, listen and hang back, when to accompany Kenneth, and when to offer something new. This creates an environment where Kenneth can recognise his contributions to the music, and initiate and communicate ideas. He is motivated by the music he creates, focusing his attention for longer.

Seb said: “Kenneth’s part in the music is integral – without him, the music does not exist. Kenneth is now much more able to share his interactions with me and can sustain his playing for the entire duration of the session. He is developing his social awareness, his social skills, his ability to form relationships, and these skills are transferable – he can take that away with him to the classroom, to home life, to anywhere.”

This is the Nordoff Robbins approach to music therapy – two (or more) people making music together in ways that open up a shared musical experience. These experiences and opportunities can be particularly valuable for people who have special educational needs, as they can be difficult to access in other ways.

Jackie Craig, Kenneth’s former teacher at Highfield School, said: “I think music therapy is fantastic for our students – you can see their confidence and self-esteem just develop. What Seb can do in a session we can’t do in a lesson environment, as we’ve always got big groups of students. Seb can really work with small groups of students and individuals to get their potential in music and develop transferable skills across the curriculum.”

Kenneth’s commitment to music therapy and ability to interact with others has now transferred to a group situation – the school rock band – an idea that he inspired. From beginning in a position of social isolation, Kenneth is now thriving as a member of the band, and his peers can see his creativity as part of a social group.

As the largest music therapy charity in the UK, Nordoff Robbins works with thousands of children and young people in the school environment, as well as in their music therapy centres – supporting them to access a wider curriculum by developing key skills like communication and social interaction.

Sessions like Kenneth’s – based in an active musical recognition of his creativity and readiness to engage – are provided by Nordoff Robbins music therapists across the country every day of the week.