Jody Ashfield on making music and why it lifts our spirits.

Listening to and creating music lifts people’s moods and creates a powerful sense of wellbeing, and the positive impact outdoor musical instruments have on people with special educational needs is well established. Musical instruments based outside have no rules, which means there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to create music, making it inclusive to everyone. Instruments that are pentatonic mean anyone can play and create beautiful sounds. Playing musical instruments stimulates the brain to make new connections and strengthens existing ones, resulting in improved mental health and increased cognitive ability for people with autism engaging in musical play.

Music is a universal language that operates across linguistic, cultural, and social barriers and is hugely effective at breaking down all sorts of obstacles to normalised versions of communication, both verbal and non-verbal. For people with ASD, music is often able to capture and maintain attention in a way that other mediums may not to the same extent. Playing musical instruments can therefore assist people to navigate, comprehend and participate in social situations more easily and alleviate negative emotions. 

By combining music and the ‘great outdoors,’ we believe it is instruments that can help create fun and laughter, helping support people with ASD and their families.Playing music outside enables families to have fun together while strengthening the bonds of communication between parents, grandparents, siblings, and children. 

Sharing the joy of making music.

Sarah McGinley is Occupational Therapy Lecturer & Admissions Tutor at the University of Southampton, which advised the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and Arboretum in Southampton on their provision for children to explore our natural world while creating music. Sarah says “Outdoor musical instruments are hugely beneficial for children and adults with special educational needs as they provide opportunities to explore environments through the use of touch, sight, sound and vibration. Users can interact with the instrument in ways that are meaningful to them, which may improve sensory stimulus, feedback and response to the world around them.”

In the end, the team went for a variety of tones, and installed chimes, metal drums, bongos, and a small Metallophone, and the changes have resulted in a space for peaceful enjoyment on a quiet day, yet where multiple people can enjoy it at once. Some come initially just to watch, but they soon join in, and their playing becomes part of something bigger. Music gives everyone a voice, and making music together can build a harmonious, cooperative spirit of support and encouragement for us all.

Inclusion is about engagement and often the lack of opportunity to get involved can be as significant a barrier as the nature of a person’s disability. The creation of holistic accessible outdoor music spaces, where many of the barriers that prevent a person from accessing music (whatever they might be) can be removed, will allow all members of the community the opportunity to experience live music as both a performer and listener—building shared musical and play experiences and in turn an understanding that will only help inclusion to grow.

After all, that’s exactly what inclusive communities should be about: creating opportunities for us to share experiences, learn together, and maybe most importantly to have great fun together.

Jody Ashfield
Author: Jody Ashfield

Jody Ashfield
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Jody Ashfield is CEO and co-founder of Percussion Play.

Facebook: @PercussionPlay
Instagram: @percussionplay


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