Making Music Safely in School

This guidance is intended to inform school leaders in planning and risk assessing musical activity in schools. It is based on guidance from Music Mark, the former Federation of UK Music Services and more recently DE Education Guidance for Schools. Please note that all activities are dependent on being permissible under any government restrictions, and subject to advice from PHA. 


[23/08/2021: Indoor instrumental and vocal lessons may now resume for all pupils with appropriate mitigations in place, including singing in the classroom and ensemble rehearsals.  Social distancing remains a key aspect of measures to be taken in school to mitigate the risk of virus transmission, together with the use of larger spaces with good ventilation and appropriate hand hygiene.]


Visiting teachers (including project staff) can be welcomed into schools provided that they adhere to current public health guidance on minimising the spread of COVID-19; they can teach in multiple schools and across bubbles with mitigations (a COVID-19 Code of Practice for EA Music Service staff accompanies this document).

The science of COVID-19 is still developing and new studies are published almost daily. The Music Service will revisit and update this guidance from time to time in the light of the latest scientific understanding.

Whilst every effort has been undertaken to verify the information used to write this document and to relate that specifically to musical learning for children and young people in and out of school, the Music Service cannot be held accountable for any advice given which subsequently is proven to be inaccurate.

This guide presupposes that schools are already complying with:

  • social distancing guidelines;
  • improved hand hygiene;
  • enhanced cleaning of school buildings and other settings;
  • normal considerations regarding noise levels;
  • maintaining vocal health, i.e. singing safely;
  • lifting (manual handling) and posture

and following the Northern Ireland DE Education Guidance for Schools

Considerations for the Music Service and schools

There are a number of factors schools should consider as they welcome visiting teachers back into their buildings. The Music Service will work closely with all schools to agree appropriate protocols. We will respect each school’s individual arrangements and risk assessment for safeguarding pupils and visitors.

It is appreciated that some pupils attending SEN schools or those with additional needs may need assistance, required at times from other adults. SEN schools and EA Music staff should work closely together, considering how best to safely implement these, taking into consideration the needs of the pupils and the support provided to them.

Peripatetic instrumental and vocal lessons

Individual and small group lessons should be held in rooms that can be ventilated well. Minimum recommended social distancing must be maintained, and groups may have to be resized to fit into the teaching room to maintain social distancing.

If piano tutors cannot maintain current recommended social distancing and see students’ hands, they may need to ask the school to rearrange the room but should not move pianos or other furniture on their own initiative, and they should not ask students to help them. For the tutor to demonstrate, the student will need to move at least 2m away from the tutor. Sanitising keys before and after each change of player is mandatory.

Tutors should teach proper cleaning of instruments and encourage this at the end of lessons but should not allow students to blow or tip water out of instruments onto the floor of the teaching room. (See above for guidance relating to water keys).

Tutors are often in the teaching room for extended periods. Their exposure to multiple people and to the same air possibly for some hours puts them at greater risk. Maintaining social distancing and ensuring the room is ventilated reduces this risk. Wearing a face covering could reduce this risk further. It may also be useful to timetable appropriate breaks to ventilate rooms.

Mouth-blown instruments should never be shared.

Instrumental ensembles

For ensembles or classes that do not include mouth-blown instruments, normal social distancing and resource use will suffice.

For woodwind and brass ensembles, including class work, distancing should continue to be observed.  For most instruments, 2m in all directions is recommended.  Wind and brass instruments should not be shared between pupils and should be thoroughly cleaned before and after use.

Players should be discouraged from lifting their bells high and water keys should not be vented directly onto the floor. Newspaper, paper towels or puppy pads could be used to soak up water. Players should deal with their own.

Conductors, leaders or tutors should stand at least 3m beyond the front row of wind or brass and may wish to consider a plexiglass screen or similar. For strings and orchestras, 2m will suffice.

Singing and choirs

School choirs can take place in a well-ventilated room but 2m distancing should be respected. Note that the area of the room is critical here: a higher ceiling does not mean singers are safe to stand closer together. A practical approach is to limit rehearsal time to a maximum of 40 minutes and then ventilate the empty room for at least 15 minutes.

Singing within classes does not require pupils to observe social distancing, however for school choir rehearsals where pupils attend from multiple classes, all participants should observe distancing of at least 2m.

When singing outdoors be aware of wind direction for both the singers and the leader. If singing indoors, ventilation should be increased by keeping doors and windows open.

The teacher/leader should remain at least 2m from the nearest singer. Any accompanist should be 3m from the nearest singer. A plexiglass screen should also be considered where practical.

Be cautious of fans and systems that just recirculate stale air: it is probably safer to leave such systems off. If air filtration is used, only regularly replaced HEPA filters can be relied upon.

Rock groups

The backline of rock groups should minimise moving and face mostly forwards.  Singers should face forwards; tutors should stay at least 2m distant and not move directly in front of them while they are singing. Use and cleaning of shared equipment is covered below.

Stands and music

Social distancing will mean that each player will require their own music stand, particularly for non- class-based ensembles. Ideally, each player should have their own music. Photocopies of most music can be made under the Schools’ Printed Music Licence and the Music Service Printed Music Licence.

Sharing instruments

Good hand hygiene and sanitising of touch surfaces controls risks for keyboard, percussion and string instruments.

Sharing mouth-blown instruments is not safe.

Personalising instrument cases

Instruments should be clearly labelled to ensure that they are returned to the correct pupil.

Cleaning instruments

The guidance is written with normal school and student instruments in mind. It is not intended for higher quality or antique instruments.

All instruments present a risk of contact transmission. This is similar to the risk of transmission via door handles, handrails etc around the school. Instruments that are only used by one person should be cleaned as usual but with additional care. If instruments are used by more than one person (e.g. classroom percussion) or taken in and reallocated (e.g. at the end of a whole-class programme or hire period), meticulous cleaning is called for.

COVID-19 virus particles are believed to survive for two to five days on hard surfaces. Disinfectant wipes and/or sprays are effective but bear in mind that most instruments contain multiple materials. Some disinfectant products will damage the pads of woodwind instruments and varnished or polished finishes.

Hot, soapy water is just as effective as disinfectant wipes. Instruments or parts of instruments made entirely from plastic may be submersed. The same applies to brass instruments but take the valves out first and set them aside. Recorders can even be dish washed in the top rack.

Do not immerse or soak woodwind instruments with cork joints or with keywork as it may damage pads: this includes flute head joints, as it will damage the head cork.

After playing, woodwind instruments should at minimum be dried in and out with swabs or pull- throughs to limit microbial growth. Fully drying even small brass instruments is not practical but it is extremely important to clean the mouthpiece using an appropriately sized mouthpiece brush, to ensure that all dirt
and debris are removed.

Plastic piano and electronic keyboards can be sanitised with disinfectant wipes (unplug electronic equipment first). Do not spray them as residues may harm key mechanisms. It is a good idea to dry keys off afterwards. Ivory keys will be damaged by most disinfectant products. Clean them with a cloth dipped in soapy water and wrung out; leave the residue on for thirty seconds and wipe with a dry cloth.

Handles and straps of percussion instruments and beaters should be wiped similarly.

For primary school percussion trolleys, good hand hygiene is essential along with the use of disinfectant sprays/wipes between uses. Instruments might be allocated to classes or even individual pupils. Schools will need to respond according to their stocks, circumstances and needs.

Knobs, buttons, sliders etc on ICT equipment, amplifiers, CD/MP3 players and so forth should be wiped with antiseptic wipes. Do not use sprays or soaked cloths, to avoid liquids getting inside equipment. Areas such as the home button on iPads and the mesh of microphones are particularly bad for harbouring microbes. As prevention is better than cure, using a pop screen with microphones will reduce contamination. Always unplug equipment from the mains before cleaning.


Live music performances

The NI Executive has permitted the resumption of live music performances across a wide variety of indoor venues with an audience present; this includes schools and educational settings.

It is essential that schools are vigilant in relation to the need to ensure all possible mitigating measures are in place to reduce the risk of virus transmission. Performers, including ensembles and choirs, should follow the guidance and risk assessments contained in this document. For audiences, social distancing of 2m must be maintained between different households, and also between audience and performers. Audience members should wear face coverings unless they have a reasonable excuse not to. Performances should be ticket only in order to control attendance numbers, and the provision of hospitality such as tea/coffee should be avoided to minimise mixing of audience members before and after the event.

Schools should also follow the Executive’s guidance on indoor gatherings.


Music is more necessary than ever to children’s broad and balanced education. The wellbeing benefits seen by many music education providers during lockdown will be ever more needed as children return to school and process their experiences.

Even after assessing and controlling for foreseeable risks, it is not possible to eliminate all possibility of COVID-19 transmission. Following social distancing guidelines and ensuring good hand hygiene helps mitigate against the risks of virus transmission.

The Music Service management and staff are ready to return to music making, ready to engage and work alongside schools to create the safest learning environment possible for all our children and young people.

COVID-19 Code of Practice Protocols for the EA Music Service

Please see below the protocols that EA Music Service tutors must have in place in order to teach in EA schools. We also ask that EA staff liaise with schools to ensure the safety and well- being of pupils, EAMS tutors and school staff.

Please see the protocols listed below.

EAMS will:

  • ensure that EAMS Tutors do not attend school if they exhibit COVID-19 symptoms or have been asked to self-isolate. A line manager/office will notify schools in accordance with EAMS guidance.
  • ensure that the EAMS Tutor follows current EA and PHA procedures if they test positive for COVID-19. 
  • encourage EAMS Tutors to maintain contact with schools for up-to-date information on possible disruptions to their teaching schedule (school staff/website etc)
  • highlight the need for EAMS Tutors to familiarise themselves with the working arrangements in each school.  
  • adhere to school policies, which are paramount.

EAMS Tutors must:

  • sign in at the school reception on arrival, sanitising/washing hands before and after signing in.
  • wear a face covering while in transit through the school building.
  • In addition, within post-primary schools, a face covering must also be worn in the teaching room unless demonstrating a wind instrument. 
  • ensure the group size is appropriate in line with EAMS guidance.
  • ensure that pupils are never face to face during lessons and ventilate the room by opening a window or doors where necessary.
  • remain in the teaching room for the duration of the session except for bathroom breaks.
  • provide timetables that are appropriate to the schools’ needs and COVID-19 protocols.
  • always maintain a minimum of 2m distance from adults and pupils.
  • insist that pupils have access to a separate music stand and provide their own copy of music.
  • clean all touch surfaces with disinfectant wipes between lessons.
  • ensure that the teaching space is vacated before the next pupil/s enter.
  • ensure that pupils have washed or sanitised their hands before the lesson commences.
  • avoid touching pupils' instruments. Where this is unavoidable, ensure that both instrument and
    hands are sanitised before and after.
  • only play on their own instrument and never share mouthpieces.
  • stop the lesson if a pupil exhibits symptoms or there is a COVID-19 incident and notify the school COVID officer immediately.
  • make themselves aware of assembly points in the event of an emergency
  • wash/sanitise their hands before leaving the school – preferably the last thing they do before signing out.

Where a child who is taught by an EAMS tutor tests positive for COVID-19, the tutor should follow guidance given to them by the school and inform their designated line manager.

Schools must:

  • provide a teaching environment appropriate to the group size and EAMS guidance.
  • provide details of school’s COVID-19 protocols including a contact number for the COVID-19 officer.
  • communicate expectations to EAMS Tutors and changes to school working patterns in response to COVID-19 protocols.
  • provide access to hand washing facilities/hand sanitiser.
  • identify the nearest bathroom for EAMS Tutors.
  • provide cleaning wipes for equipment owned by the school.
  • adhere to the agreed timetable as closely as possible.
  • ensure that all EAMS staff are aware of existing safeguarding policies.

Pupils must:

  • adhere to agreed timetables as closely as possible.
  • arrive 5 minutes prior to lesson and must not enter the room until instructed by the EAMS tutor.
  • wash or sanitise their hands before and after attending their lesson.
  • adhere to their school’s policy on face coverings, unless playing a wind instrument. 
  • use their own instrument, music & accessories.
  • ensure their instrument is properly labelled

Download the full document

The full document includes risk assessments as well as the guidelines and protocols.

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