Making music safely in schools – Updated 8 September

Music is a fantastic way to bring our children together: it builds self-esteem and confidence, and these are now, even more than ever, important when we are in such strange times. We know that school staff are working incredibly hard to keep their schools and classrooms safe for everyone, so we have gathered together Health and Safety advice from Surrey County Council’s public health department and from Music Mark (the organisation that links Music Hubs together) that relates most to music making in schools, so that schools can keep making music safely. 

Surrey Arts have writen Risk Assessments for all areas of their work that follow the guidance of Music Mark and Surrey County Council’s health advisory team. These are being sent to schools who have Surrey Arts teaching.  Should you have not received this, and you would like access to a copy, please do contact us.  

Surrey Public Health team have picked up the following general points as being most relevant to music teaching:

The relevant guidance is “implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings” – updated 1 June – and key points relevant to music lessons are:

Practising self and household isolation for anyone symptomatic/living with someone who is unwell, respectively:

  • Hand hygiene – regular hand-washing for 20 seconds or more with soap and water
  • Respiratory hygiene – catch it, bin it, kill it
  • Regular environment cleaning, especially of frequently touched surfaces
  • Minimising contact and mixing by keeping groups of children together in “bubbles”
  • Maintaining 2m distance between people, wherever possible
  • Ventilating rooms, naturally where possible
  • Limiting the use of shared resources
  • Cleaning equipment between groups using it

Music Mark have given specific advice for singing:

For most singing activity, including class work and assemblies, normal social distancing will suffice. Whilst singing releases potentially hazardous bioaerosols in proportion to volume – the louder the singing, the more aerosols are released (this is also the case when talking loudly or breathing more heavily) – measurements taken with university-level students and professionals suggest that there is minimal air movement much over 0.5m from a singer.

There have been reports of choirs falling ill en masse but it is worth stating that these occurred before social distancing and entailed several hours of singing in close company. Assemblies, singing lessons and even lunchtime choirs do not last anything like as long.

  • Space: A well-ventilated room, large enough to maintain the usual 2m social distancing guideline, will usually suffice. Note that the area of the room is critical here: a higher ceiling does not mean singers are safe to stand closer together. 
  • Consider singing outdoors if you can. The risk of airborne transmission is thought to be significantly lower in the open air but be aware of wind direction for both the singers and the leader.
  • There are no safe face coverings for singing: all fabric masks leak air and bioaerosols around the sides and bottom.
  • The person leading the singing and the accompanist, if any, should be 3-5m from the front row as they will of course be facing the singers. They may want to consider a plexiglass screen.
  • Each singer should have their own music and should ideally keep it between rehearsals. If words or music are projected, that is ideal.

Music Mark have also developed specific guidance for schools:

More detailed responses with regards to singing and the usage and cleaning of instruments can be found in the following documents: