Young People, Digital Music Making and Mental Health

Artists: Katherine Zeserson, Simon Glenister

Series: Creative Thinktanks

Ideas explored: music for health and wellbeing, music influenced by current events


Over the last decade, digital music-making has become increasingly  popular and accessible to young people as a space for creativity and personal development; both mediated by adult allies and unmediated.

Taking the work of Noise Solution as a stimulus for discussion, the creative conversation hosted on Zoom brought together participating colleagues’ experiences and perspectives to explore:

  • What impact can the digital  music-making experience have on young people’s mental wellbeing?
  • How might a wider theory of change rooted in Self Determination Theory strengthen the design of digital music-making for children and young people?
  • How has the enforced shift to online during COVID19 impacted on ways of using digital technologies to support music-making with young people, particularly those living in challenging circumstances? What practices were already in   development and are now being more deeply tested? What new practices are emerging?
  • What can we learn about the role digital technologies can play in impact capture and analysis in this field?
  • What research/digital practice might be needed to help us understand better what works and what doesn’t?

Discussions embraced a wide range of wellbeings, including physical, psychological, emotional, social, educational and musical.  We invited participants to share their own philosophies and practices to help dig deeper into what really works and why. The event intention was to stimulate  fresh thinking and knowledge sharing about the role of digital music-making in children and young people’s lives and lead towards new collaborative research proposals and developments in training and support.

Notes from proceedings

Our Creative Conversation began with a presentation from Simon Glenister (Noise Solution) on their approach to digital music making with young people.  Participants then broke into small groups to discuss:

  • What struck you most about what you heard? 
  • How does it complement, contradict or connect to your own experience/ work? 
  • What key themes for further exploration/research/discussion action arise for you? 

The link to the presentation is here.

An extended version can be found here.

Feedback from first break-out groups:

  1. Does the music matter?

More research is needed to understand whether the high levels of trust and connection reported from the work of Noise Solution would be equally achievable via the same platform and with young people in the same circumstances using different kinds of musical content and processes. Informal evidence shared from other music organisations working with young people would seem to suggest that there may be a connection between relationship building, trust building (epistemic trust) and the kinds of musical activities, challenges and achievements that are available during the process of digital music-making.

  1. How does/could digital work for ensembles?

Most of the successful work under discussion was largely 1 to 1 focused. There is some anecdotal evidence emerging that rewarding ensemble experiences can be created online, but much more experimentation, evaluation and research is needed to test whether / how the principles of SDT might play out in digital ensemble work (given the inherent challenges of domestically available technology) and how the experience of digital ensemble participation might impact on mental wellbeing.

  1. What about the social benefits from being in the space – are these still there but in different ways?

Relating to the point above, there was discussion as to how best to flex the digital space to maximise social connection, support, and benefit. Again, how is trust built in the digital space? What are the most effective ways of working to ensure the sense of safe, stimulating social connection?

  1. What needs to be considered to ensure equity of access (and therefore benefit) in respect of digital resources? How much is known about young people’s digital poverty and what can be done to address this?

Any research process or extension of digital (or blended) music making to reach more young people must see this as a priority. There is otherwise a risk that young people will be excluded from opportunity.

  1. How important is the sharing of young people’s work a core component of the value of digital music making?

This question has particular relevance and poignancy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when live music performance has effectively been lost as a modality. Sharing online either to closed or public groups goes some way to meeting the need to mark and celebrate creative achievement, but there is clearly something lost in terms of the visceral experience of performance – both in terms of learning (for the young person) and in terms of listening (for audiences). There was a strong sense in the group that a blended model would be ideal, allowing for live performance/sharing of work whilst retaining the strengths of the digital approach. Does created digitally mean shared digitally, or is there an approach that brings digitally created work to the live space, or vice versa?

  1. Can the digital space be rewarding and engaging enough to support long term creative participation? 

The Noise Solution programme works on 12-week units, so the opportunity for long-term engagement in the creative learning process isn’t available. Other programmes offering music learning (e.g. instruments /composition/ improvisation) via digital media are finding that young people may not as engaged or able to stay connected as they would wish to be, or as they are when participating in the live experience. This needs further investigation with young people at the forefront of enquiry in order to work out best ways of providing deeply engaging digital music learning opportunities.

  1. Is the technology ‘right’ yet?

There is a need for musicians, young musicians and music organisations to know as much as possibly about what platforms and associated technologies are available to realise the specific visions and goals that they may have in their music making. Are we knowledgeable enough yet about different platforms?

  1. How does can we use the opportunity for data/evidence capture afforded by digital platforms – and modelled through Noise Solution’s work – more widely?

This is an important question that requires more connected conversations, and perhaps small pilot projects to test possibilities.

Following these discussions, participants gathered around three key themes to explore in more depth. The conversations included consideration of access, equity and inclusion; music itself (performance/learning/live); engagement and retention. Further questions sets were generated in these groups, alongside a clear commitment that the voice of young people must be to the fore in the design of projects exploring these new ways of working.

Feedback from second break-out groups: 

Blended Learning

What would a digital / live music making programme be like? What should it contain? What should be the balance between the two modalities? How should they link? What balance between individual and ensemble work, and between creative process and creative performance?  How can the key principles of SDT be best integrated in the live elements of a blended learning programme?

Practice and Practitioners

What music/ pedagogical practices work best in the digital space? What do practitioners need in order to build their skills to work well in this space? What is required to ensure wellbeing of both practitioners and young people in terms of physical and mental resources, as well as safeguarding?


How does music-making in the digital space impact on music-making in the live space in the context of a blended model? What is so special about ‘the music’? How do we ‘double down’ on the proofs about the particular value and impact of music in the digital/blended learning space? Is it any more or less beneficial to the mental wellbeing of young people as anything else? Does that matter, or is it simply valuable and important to make sure that young can be involved in rich, supported, creative musical experiences irrespective of life circumstance and resources?

Next Steps:

All participants agreed that in the short time available to us we had only been able to start on a deeply interesting and vitally important conversation. All look forward to further collaborations and discussions. Individual insights and commitments from the afternoon were as follows:

  • ‘To develop a creative collaborative to demonstrate the lived experience of COVID for children and young people’
  • ‘Applying the Noise Solution approach to other modalities’
  • ‘Embedding SDT in workforce development support and progression’
  • ‘To take a deep look at the comparisons between face to face and online work at Noise Solution – looking at engagement, SDT and well-being outcomes’
  • ‘the model of digital engagement has great potential for me to take further in my work and I will think more about how I can more strongly use SDT in my work’
  • ‘More knowledge sharing between organisations. Starting with a chat between Noise Solution, Youth Music and Charanga/VIP’
  • ‘Find out about “epistemic trust”. Find out more about NS model of data capture and evaluation’
  • ‘Talk to Simon G about his amazing platform and how this might be shared/developed to support multiple other programmes.’
  • ‘Developing SDT to support an ‘interactive’ framework for practitioners, maybe pilot in the Early Years’
  • ‘Explore SDT as a concept’
  • ‘Explore ways of embedding digital technology/best practice into more of our work to address rurality but deepen impact beyond what we’re able to achieve in-person.’
  • ‘I will be looking at the opportunities to bring the digital self-exploration element of learning to be included in our work.  This is to enhance joy and to share the production for connection and self-esteem.’
  • ‘Something that I want to take away from this is being able to share my experiences with the online program and how it helped me, how it can help people like me. To try and be a role model for others’
  • ‘Using SDT as an approach towards staff, young leaders’ program.  Consolidating it within Standing Upright. Communicating with people outside of my own organisations to have peer support with other practitioners.’
  • ‘Being able to share experiences with others in the future, working both with groups and one to one’
  • ‘Embed SDT into the current therapeutic model’
  • ‘Are we improving wellbeing and confidence in the digital world alone or is there evidence for the effect in other environments? I want to explore ways of formalising my actioning of SDT in practice as a course leader and ensemble director within our outreach work, and to explore the implementation of these ideas within a group environment especially.’
  • ‘Champion the value of music …and this platform – think about digital access…think and think’
  • ‘Development of SDT for family support models for children on the edge of care’
  • ‘Advocate for the positive inclusive power and impact of digital music making on wellbeing, showing gatekeepers what can be done, and develop ways to tangibly evidence this’
  • ‘Work with Noise Solution (and anyone else who is interested) to further explore important research questions around evaluating the intervention to provide evidence for what is working, for whom, and why, to support the use of the platform by other organisations and in other contexts.’
  • ‘Really thinking, thinking about the magic of music and how to disaggregate out the ‘what’s so magic about it’ and another sideways thought about the ‘edges’ of platform-based interactions –  positive and negatives – and how to get to understand this better’

We concluded the afternoon by listening to music made online by Lauren Peck and Jade Eaton.


Lauren Peck, Young Musician

Jade Eaton, Young Musician

Susie Jones, North Tyneside Music Education Hub

Sam Scott, Grants and Learning Officer

Callum Given, Interim Head of Community, Britten Pears Arts

Chris Rolls, 64 Million Artists

Boris Hunka, Music Generation Limerick

Michael Goodey, Artist/Manager, Noise Solution

Kimberley Bartholemew, Noise Solution trustee, eminent SDT academic, UEA

Suzanne Turner-Jones, Assistant Director of Childrens Services, Barnados

Max Wheeler. Charanga

Tibbs Pinter, CEO, Suffolk Young People’s Health Project

Simon Glenister, CEO, Noise Solution

Natius Oelfson, Clinical Psychologist

Dickon Bevington, Clinician, works with Noise Solution

Jayne Knight, Suffolk County Council, Arts Officer

Jack McNeill, Musician

Sarah McWatt, Director, NYMAZ

Phillipa Reive, Director Music Programme, Britten Pears Arts

Katherine Zeserson, Facilitator