In a new report launched today, youth music development charity NYMAZ spells out how digital technology could revolutionise the way schools provide music tuition. But it warns that poor broadband in rural areas is limiting young people’s access to equal life opportunities.

“We’re adding our voice to the growing campaign for better broadband in the countryside”, explains Heidi Johnson, director of NYMAZ. “ Children in rural areas are missing out because it can be too expensive and time-consuming to provide them with a well-rounded music education offer. We have worked with schools across England to identify a high-quality, cost-effective way of offering remote instrumental tuition and live-streamed professional performances to pupils in isolated areas. Yet, there’s still one big sticking point: reliable, superfast broadband access.”

NYMAZ has partnered with UCan Play, the University of Hull and Music Education Hubs to develop Connect: Resound, an action research project exploring how technology can enable better and broader access to music education.  The focus is on live, online learning, where pupils are connected with instrumental teachers virtually but in real time.  The project also provides enrichment opportunities, for example, schools can tune into live broadcasts of music performances from the likes of The Hallé Orchestra, as well as interviews with bands such as Hope & Social regarding their careers in music.

Heidi Johnson, director of NYMAZ, continues: “Music Education Hubs serving areas with a large rural population are hindered by cost, transport and logistical barriers. By incorporating the Connect: Resound model of virtual tuition into the weekly schedule, teachers could spend less time travelling and more time teaching.”

Echoing the findings of Rural England’s report published earlier this year, “The State of Rural Services 2016”, NYMAZ’s Connect: Resound project highlights that dependable broadband access is vital if children in remote locations are to have equal life chances.

David Inman, director of Rural Services Network, emphasises, “ The Rural Services Network feels that broadband is both a massive opportunity and a potential serious divide for rural areas. Strong future proofed telecommunication and broadband links are essential for ground-breaking innovations to become a reality. The alternative is that we risk remote areas becoming ‘not spots’: what hope does that give our young people? We feel strong connectivity for all is vital.”

Leah Swain, chief officer of Rural Action Yorkshire, comments, “Rural Action Yorkshire has been championing the need for reliable and superfast broadband for all rural communities across Yorkshire for the last four years. The NYMAZ report shows once again how key it is – not just for our businesses – but to also give young people equitable access to education opportunities. Providing music education in rural areas is a real challenge due to sparsity of the population, distances to travel and therefore additional cost. Being able to offer live, online learning, where pupils are connected with instrumental teachers virtually but in real time sounds a fantastic way of getting more pupils engaged in music. We need to start planning now how to ensure we have 100% coverage of superfast broadband.”

The Connect: Resound model makes use of Skype software but emphasises the necessity for additional audio-visual equipment to ensure a richer experience for teachers and pupils – for example, better quality sound and the ability to have multiple camera angles and close-ups.

Dr Jonathan Savage, managing director of UCan Play adds, “ UCan Play has been delighted to support this project with innovative approaches to live streaming featuring affordable, reliable and robust technology from our key partners such as Roland UK. Moving forward, we’ll be exploring new solutions that build on the latest technology and the simple yet powerful controls that they offer for sharing audio and video online. “

Following a successful pilot in North Yorkshire in 2014/15, Connect: Resound rolled out its approach to four additional areas, working in partnership with the local Music Education Hubs – Cornwall Music Hub, Cumbria Music Hub, Durham Music Service (lead partner in the Durham and Darlington Music Hub), and East Riding of Yorkshire Music Hub.  This phase has been supported by public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and the JP Getty Jnr Charitable Trust.

The 2017 report can be downloaded here.