Transforming Communities

Moving Online – classroom music sessions for special schools

Live Music Now musicians work with special schools across the UK delivering concerts and classroom music sessions. With restricted access to schools, we have started to deliver some of our music sessions online.

Paul Exton-McGuinness, trombonist and specialist music leader, is Musician in Residence at Newlands School and one of the first LMN musicians to transfer his regular classroom sessions online using Zoom, with support from the school’s music co-ordinator Jen Byrne. Our Strategic Director Karen Irwin spoke with him about his experience.


How did you feel about moving your sessions online?

I had already moved my mainstream and 1-1 teaching online and into video format. However, I was slightly apprehensive about moving my special school sessions online. There were so many unknowns and I was worried that nothing would work!

What did you and the school need to put in place to get the Zoom sessions up and running?

I was fortunate to already have an audio interface and microphone available at home to improve the quality of my audio. The school cleared safeguarding issues around live video sessions and staff installed Zoom onto their iPads. Before the first session, Jen and I tested everything. This included:

  • Setting up “Original Sound” in the Zoom audio settings (to improve the sound for music)
  • Checking the delay (for me to get used to)
  • Checking the audio quality and volume in the classrooms
  • Checking the viewing angle
  • Checking the availability of instruments

Using an iPad meant that I was quite small for the children to see. So now the staff now join in the Zoom session on two devices – the iPad and a computer linked to the Interactive Board. They use the iPad as a webcam and microphone, and then the Interactive Board for the video of me!


              Technical setup in one of the classrooms                                     My setup at home


Who is in your Zoom sessions and where do they take place?

I run three sessions in the morning with a group of 4 children (30 mins), a group of 2 (20 mins) and then an individual pupil (15mins). The sessions take place in the children’s separate classrooms and staff just join the meeting when it is their time.

What happens in the sessions?

I was surprised that I could basically run a session as I usually would in the classroom. However, there is a lot more talking in order to explain things, particularly as I don’t work with the same staff each week. The format works like this:

  • Around two days before the session I email to say what instruments I will need
  • At the beginning of session, I check who is in (some children will be in the room but not ready to sit) and make sure that they have the instruments needed for the session
  • We start with a Hello Song, following by a warm-up activity – a call and response or copying activity
  • This leads into a main activity – a piece where we can support each child’s individual learning, whether that is improvising melodies or creating rhythms.
  • I play a piece on trombone and finish with a Goodbye Song


Are there particular types of activities that work really well?  

I have been surprised that everything I have tried has worked! As I gain confidence in this new way of working, I am starting to include activities/songs which I haven’t used before.

Are there activities that don’t work well? 

Not really! There is always a slight sense of disconnect from the natural musical flow of a regular session, but it feels like we are having a similar interaction like we used to in person.

How important is it to have the staff involved?

The Newlands staff are great and sessions would not work without their support.  I explain activities in two ways, one for staff and one for children. This definitely gives the staff more confidence to help model when I demonstrate or explain the activity to the children.  They give lots of praise to the children and point out moments of musical expression which I am unable to see or hear.

Have you seen any striking responses from the children?

I’ve been working with A since October on a 1-1 basis. He is very mobile and our sessions used to involve short bursts of musical interaction (30 seconds), with lots of movement around the classroom; he really enjoys it when I play my trombone.  When we met on Zoom, he was off running around.  But after the hello song, he settled behind a desk with the iPad next to him, and I started playing. He stayed still, focusing on the iPad and listening to the music for 10 minutes – he’s never sat this still or focused so much in my music sessions.

What do you think the children have enjoyed most? 

I think they’ve enjoyed just making music together!   The children I’ve been working with have lost their routine and had their classes mixed. I feel that my music sessions have helped bond the new mix of classes and introduced some structure back into their week.  Some children who really struggled to participate at first are excited for the whole morning, waiting for music to start.

Any last thoughts …?

My Wednesday morning sessions with the children and staff at Newlands School are THE highlight of my week. I’ve created some music videos for them to use, but nothing can beat a live session.  You might feel slightly apprehensive about doing Zoom sessions, but go for it – everyone is still learning and I’ve found it so rewarding!



“It has been great to continue working with LMN in its new format. We have had to play around with the technology to see what works best, but it is something the children look forward to. Paul has become a familiar face on Zoom and the children are always excited about what they will be doing that week. They are able to engage well, and I know the staff enjoy their supporting role in this session too!  Paul has also made personalised videos for other learners in school, and children at home have been able to watch and join in with Paul too. Music is something which our children all love and to be able to carry that on through this strange time has provided a much-needed consistency in a world that, especially for our learners, is quite uncertain.”
Jen Byrne, Music Co-ordinator at Newlands School


For more information about online music sessions for special schools, contact [email protected]