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Writing Songs with Young People with Additional Support Needs to Explore Wellbeing

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

As part of our World Mental Health Day Blog Series, Dr Una MacGlone shares the initial results of her British Academy Postdoctoral study, which explores the benefits of community music participation on the wellbeing of children and young people with additional support needs.

House and musical instruments
The Song in the World

"I hate everything…..but I like my friends!”: Writing songs with young people with Additional Support Needs to explore wellbeing

There are increased pressures on mental health of all in society as a result of, for example, the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis, but research shows those with additional support needs (ASN) face greater disadvantage.[1] Creative activity is associated with better mental health and wellbeing for those with ASN as it can provide a positive coping strategy.[2] This provides those with ASN the opportunity to develop self-expression, agency and creativity.[2] Such processes offer substantial positive effects on confidence and mood.

Image of two people singing
Me in the Song

My British Academy Postdoctoral study’s focus is to investigate children and young people with ASN’s wellbeing and potential benefits to this from community music participation. Wellbeing encapsulates feelings of enjoying life, belonging and self-worth.[3] However, he World Health Organisation’s definition of health ‘as a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing'[4] becomes problematic for those with additional support needs (ASN) who may never achieve completion in one or more of these aspects. While there have been initiatives to promote mental health and wellbeing, particularly post-covid, understandings of how wellbeing may be experienced by children and young people who have ASN is lacking.

I investigated groups of children and young people with ASN in late primary and early secondary in both mainstream schools and special schools. One of the groups comprised 12 young people aged 13-14 with mixed ASN who attended a special unit in a mainstream school. Their participation in a 20-week songwriting project with a community music organisation, Limelight Music, was examined through mixed methods. Data gathered included song lyrics, interviews with teachers as well as pictures and verbal data from an art-making activity designed to elicit young people’s views on the project.

Interviews, song lyrics and verbal data were subjected to reflexive thematic analysis [5] with two themes identified. Getting it off our chests gathered descriptions of young people’s increased expression, sense of catharsis and use of humour through the programme. A second theme, many ways in, detailed the importance of access to a range of disciplines through which young people were able to participate according to their interests (e.g., writing lyrics, rapping, singing, playing instruments, helping with recording). Interdisciplinaryness was therefore a key mechanism for inclusion.

Song Lyrics
Song lyrics, chorus and verse

Young people’s artworks were also analysed with reflexive thematic analysis. Two themes were identified: the song to the world were pictures which represented album artwork or cover art for streaming services. Me in the song gathered depictions of the young people drawing themselves as singers and musicians in a band on stage. Three young people created art which did not fit into either theme. The mixed methods employed in this study illuminated the emotional release and personal expression which may contribute to a greater sense of wellbeing. Analysis of pictures indicated, for some, that a sense of self-worth was achieved, demonstrated by personal identification with the completed song and the willingness to share it outwith the classroom.


Dr Una MacGlone is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She is also an experienced creative educator, particularly with Early Years and individuals with an additional support need. She is a double bassist, performing in different genres and is a founder member of Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra. She has an international profile as an improvisation teacher and has given workshops and lectured across Europe and North America.



1. Scottish Government. Additional support for learning: experiences of pupils and those that support them. Social Policy Report. Edinburgh: Scottish Government. 2019.

2. Howarth, L. Creative health: the arts for health and wellbeing. Perspectives in Public Health. 2018; 138 (1): 26-27.

3. Scaria, D., Brandt, M.L., Kim, E. and Lindeman, B. What is wellbeing? Wellbeing, 2020; pp.3-10.

4. World Health Organisation. Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion. 1986. Retrieved 1 October 2023 from the WHO website:

5. Braun, V. and Clarke, V. Thematic analysis. American Psychological Association; 2012.


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