In Harmony in action

I have blogged on several occasions about the importance of the El Sistema approach to music education. In Harmony provides music tuition and orchestral coaching for children who would not normally be able to take advantage of instrumental lessons. The scheme is becoming so successful that the concept is slowly being introduced in other cities across the country.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to visit In Harmony Lambeth yesterday afternoon and witness the children in action. I had been invited to join an orchestral rehearsal which was one of many taking place after school most days of the week. The rehearsals are held at the Wheatsheaf Hall in Lambeth, a large beautiful old building reminiscent of a church.

The children quite clearly relish these rehearsals which are expertly coached and choreographed by three In Harmony teachers. The young orchestral players quietly opened their instrument cases at around 4.20pm (ready for the 4.30pm start) and began tuning. Although many are inexperienced, they are all encouraged to join in and play regardless of standard, and there are three different orchestras in the Lambeth scheme catering for varying levels of playing ability. The children already receive 4 to 5 hours of music lessons at their respective schools, per week and then are coached after school too. So there’s plenty of weekly musical exposure – wouldn’t it be wonderful if this were the case for all school children?

Warm-ups consisted of slow scale practice in unison and it was interesting just how quickly the youngsters attuned their ears to their instruments and each other. I was fascinated by the use of solfège (the French singing method using doh, re, mi to pitch notes) and the improvement in intonation once it had been employed. Rhythm was also approached via the French method too; using ta-te-ta-te etc, which was the way I was taught – it’s an extremely effective, and somewhat underrated, method in my opinion. All the young musicians in the scheme are encouraged to sing in the workshops and rehearsals. The young instrumentalists clearly loved their time working with excellent teachers and they were totally focused on the music too, which happened to be a pop song originally performed by One Direction.

This wonderful scheme is going from strength to strength, building steadily on its achievements but it does require consistent funding. I really hope those who can help here, will do so. I can’t think of a more worthy educational project.


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

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