We’re serious about play and we want to share some of things we’ve learnt about how important we think play has been to the way we’ve worked and how you can keep things fun whilst still learning.
- Play is something that many people don’t have the chance to do, young and old! Sometimes it’s value can be overlooked, even when it is known to help with social skills, creativity and problem-solving.
- Good play is about allowing people to discover their own way of doing things. Giving people the freedom that they might not encounter in everyday life to be themselves and for that to impact positively on the things around them.
- Good play often has a sense of direction to it, a person wants to do something or get somewhere, perhaps working with others to achieve that aim.
- Good play is about celebrating success and also celebrating failure! Even the possibility of failure is something everyone needs to experience to understand the way things work together.
How did this inform our approach?
- We work with a lot of people with learning disabilities that might not have a lot of say or control over what they’re doing with their time, so we make sure we’re not here to say if things are being done a right way or a wrong way.
- We think if you’re creating it, writing it and making the decisions, it’s not wrong. New avenues can be explored as well as different ways of working. The work is always valid if people have ownership over it.
- Our job is to support people to make their own decisions, to make the music they want, how they want, and through that process learn skills that might not be obvious at first.
- We ask ourselves seriously - have we thought about how to make this session enjoyable, exploratory, and playful for participants?
What did we do when bringing in new technology and music making methods?
- We had to think about how we could encourage new ways of working, making unfamiliar ways of making music familiar. This involves taking the time to work with people at their own pace and making sure we knew how to answer any questions that people asked!
- With new pieces of equipment it was interesting to wait to see how people interacted with them first before showing them how to use it. This offered us an insight into how intuitive they were or showed us that they might not be as accessible as we thought they might be!
- We hope that when people come and work with us they feel they are completely in control of what they make, that they can do anything and that we are just here to support whatever they want to do.
- We needed to be unafraid to change things in a session if they didn’t work - the goal is for participants to play and make music, not for the session to run as expected.
Testing the limitations
- Using technology always contains an element of risk and we embraced this wholeheartedly. Things can always go wrong with computers especially when you are testing and pushing them to breaking points (and they definitely have with us!) but it’s always good to know how far you can go and we always tried to learn from every catastrophe so we could avoid it happening again.
- We weren’t just pushing the technology but people as well, even just simple things such as making a lot of noise or making as little noise as possible could test people.
- We make it clear when we are running SoundLab sessions that we are learning alongside participants, and when a new problem arises we try to solve it as a group - we are honest about our own limitations!
- All the possible experiences we offered we hoped would help people push their boundaries and explore what they are capable of, developing themselves and their confidence and abilities. Being supported as a decision-maker in a safe space can hopefully give them the confidence to be decision-makers outside of that safe-space.
The role of compromise
- As we worked with people we had to constantly revise and adapt on how we offered decisions to people. We sometimes could throw things wide open, saying “anything is possible!” or sometimes we had to compromise that by limiting the possible decisions because not everyone when faced with a blank page (or screen) knows what to do!
- The technology itself might create compromises in the way that it worked, it might not work very well with something else that we use so we’d have to find ways of working around it or discard it altogether! Also our knowledge of the technology might create a compromise, we may find that there was something we didn’t know how to do (unbelievable, i know!) that we’d have to learn or it might end up changing the course of our journey entirely.
- To keep the play going, if a piece of technology breaks we try to spend the least time trying to fix it in the session, there is always something else you can get on with to keep things moving.
- There is always the possibility of compromising on expectations, we believe in the talents and powers of people with learning disabilities so we know what can be achieved when people are supported properly and aim high however we knew it was important to ensure that whatever happened, happened... tracks didn’t have to be finished and ideas could be left.
Removing ourselves from the process
- In an ideal world we wouldn’t be needed, people would be able to find and access music making technology and it would be designed to be as intuitive and accessible as possible. This unfortunately isn’t always the case so we’re here to bridge that gap and find ways for people to work without us as much as possible.
- Leave space for customisation, for the unexpected. For things to be manipulated and changed. Make sure people know what is free to use and manipulate in the space. The way things are approached can massively help validate ownership. Are you presenting something to engage with or are you trying to create an environment that will encourage creativity?
The most important thing about play though is to never, ever take yourself too seriously... Ever.