Music education has become more vital than ever before, more and more children and adults are seeking ways to express themselves and harness the power of music as a way to help improve both their mental health and their wellbeing.
One individual who has taken this to all new heights and is continuing to make music fun, accessible and exciting for children is YolanDa Brown. A two time MOBO Award winner and CBeebies, Radio 2 and Jazz FM presenter, YolanDa has been continuing to help schools, parents and children bring music into their homes through both her show ‘YolanDa’s Band Jam’ and her free online music lesson plans for those homeschooling.
YolanDa’s material emphasises the fun of music, focusing on how it makes you feel and how we can interact with it. So far, over 10,000 children have used her free online music lesson plans, learning materials and videos suitable for teachers, parents and pupils nationwide as she continues to promote music education in primary schools. We caught up with YolanDa to speak about both where her own love for music sparked, her views on the importance of music education in schools and how parents can make music more accessible for their children.
“I think if I think back it was definitely my dad’s record collection, I was always hearing music in the house and always hearing different genres. That really made me appreciate the differences in sounds, for example he loved latin jazz so hearing the horns and percussion there but he’d be playing opera the next minute so you’re thinking “Where have the horns gone?” but then I would realise actually they’re still there but are now in this space working with these other instruments. I always wanted to be a part of that and create within that space.
I never saw music as a potential career, it was always a hobby, but I remember when I discovered Michael Jackson for example and I would run home to put my headphones on and hear the production and other incredible elements that I hadn’t heard before. I’ve always loved the idea that an artist can be anything within music.”
Throughout the pandemic, music education has become increasingly difficult and fewer schools are including music as an essential part the syllabus, YolanDa continues by outlining her views on the ways in which music can help children across all other areas of their education.
“I think music brings a sense of expression, if it’s taught it should offer children a space to express themselves however they want to. Of course we can learn about the techniques of music and we can learn about the past and history of music, but also I think it’s very important to allow young people to have a space to create and say what they have got to say!
Within modern music it does seem that a lot of that is beginning to come through, the fact that afrobeats are in the charts now! It’s got bits of the Fela Kuti afrobeats era, with percussive, latin and everything coming together - It is these artists who are bringing in those sorts of influences to the mainstream. I just love that there is never a wrong answer in music and we should always tell students that that is the case!”
As well as being a musician and saxophonist herself, YolanDa also presents her own children’s TV show ‘YolanDa’s band jam’ available on Cbeebies that is designed to make music fun, educational and open up a whole new world of music for young children. Since first airing in 2019, the series was so popular that it was commissioned for a second series and since lockdown, YolanDa has utilised her presence to bring music into classrooms and homes by providing free online resources for parents and teachers...But it didn’t start out that way!
“I started getting into broadcasting and doing some presenting on the Proms, I remember having a meeting afterwards with some of the execs and them saying “What are you working on at the moment?” and I was writing a range of children’s books which you will see very soon, and they said they have some contacts at Cbeebies, would you like to have a meeting with them? So I said of course. From there ideas bubbled and instead of the books becoming an animation, we developed this concept around me having this music party essentially so when it got commissioned it became YolanDa’s Band Jam, we ended up bringing artists in and again combining all of those genres of music so it really does feel like a natural progression and when I’m on tour, I always make sure I do workshops be it in conservatoires or primary schools to just offer kids that idea of improvisation and what do you have to say? And I like that the band jam mixes that all together!
It was my first time being on children’s TV so when I’m looking down the lens I was always imagining who am I speaking to? So for the first series I was imagining maybe pre-school children with their older siblings just dancing along and getting involved in the songs but I wasn’t thinking about children in classrooms and after series one, lots of teachers got in contact with me to say they are using this as a resource in the classroom, it’s informative, it’s fun and you touch on a lot of the music education techniques which was really important for me.
So for series two I was thinking definitely this could be in the classroom, this could be anywhere! I loved that and I think that’s what also inspired that natural progression to offer teachers and pupils a free resource now.”
You can download all of YolanDa’s free music resources here, or catch up on her past episodes of YolanDa’s Band Jam here. Or for more stories on how people have been using music to express themselves during lockdown, check out our lockdown stories series!
We also asked YolanDa how she feels music has helped her own family throughout lockdown and how her own children (aged 6 and 1) are beginning to follow in her footsteps by using music as a way to express themselves!
“We used to be on tour all the time, I have a six year old and a one year old, when they’re not in school they’re always on the road with me, my first daughter toured with me until she was about four. So they’re used to having music around and seeing me on stage.
But over the past year I’ve noticed that actually for my older daughter especially, she has started to make up her own music already. The other day she was in her room and she was writing her own music and I just thought “Oh my goodness!” I wasn’t writing my own music at six. But actually it was about her emotions and what she was feeling - She’d just come off of an online lesson and this friend wasn’t speaking to this friend so she wrote a song on how it made her feel. It’s so lovely to know that she thought she had music to express that emotion!
I also think coming together as a family, we put music on in the living room and we’re dancing around the kitchen, my oldest has also created her own playlists so we often ask her to play something from her own playlist. Music has really continued to bring us together because as much as we’re in lockdown, we’re at home and that can be an isolating feeling, nothing beats getting together and having a good dance!”
As a part of ‘YolanDa’s Band Jam’, YolanDa is also trying to make music as fun, exciting and accessible to children as possible. We often find that many parents come to us asking how they can encourage music into their own home and get their children interested in making music, YolanDa then goes on to give some fantastic and simple tips on getting your young ones interested and interacting with music, even if you’re not musical yourself!
“You don’t have to be musical to have music in your life- that’s a really important point, I hear a lot of parent’s say “Well I’m not musical at all so we don’t really listen to music around the house” but actually if you think about things like weddings, your first dance or even just parties, what sort of music do you like to listen to? What puts you in a good mood? That is all great music to play at home because your children will also see you engaging in music in a happy way and it will get them interested too.
I also think you shouldn’t be afraid to let go! You might not be the best dancer, but just waving your hands and feeling free is a really liberating feeling. I think if children can see their parents and family engaging with music in that way they will do so even more because it comes naturally to them. At band jam, we have 60-90 children in the audience and we never have to ask them to dance - as soon as we start playing, they start dancing! Most of the time you actually have to ask them to stop moving so we can do the take again!
The point is, you never have to teach a child to react to music, but they do learn music habits from their parents and teachers. I would say to the educators, guardians and parents, just try to enjoy music and let your young people see you enjoying it, you don’t have to be musical to have a great time!”
So now YolanDa’s band Jam is out and available to stream on both spotify, Iplayer and everywhere in between, we asked YolanDa what her plans are for the coming year:
“So the album has just come out, Yolanda’s band jam, the recurring songs from season one and two which have been elongated for album format which is lovely and the resource is out on twinkle now. We were planning on doing our first band jam tour but that’s had to move so we’re hoping that we do get to do that this year or next year.
My next thing is just getting back to that live music experience, it’s great to be able to see it on TV and on your phone but to be able to be in the live room with real instruments, real people feeling that electricity, there’s nothing like it and I think we’ve missed that a lot this year so I can’t wait to get back on the road!”
We absolutely love the incredible work YolanDa is doing to get children excited and interested in music and know that your young people will love it too! For more information on YolanDa’s work, visit: https://www.yolandabrown.co.uk/ or follow YolanDa on social media! Likewise if you have been feeling inspired by YolanDa’s work, having been doing your own work or would like to start your own musical journey, we would love to hear from you! Simply get in touch with us @millersmusic or use #MillersMusic for your chance to feature on our next lockdown stories series!