Music Lessons for All Needs

Our team recently met to brainstorm essential teaching components, strategies, adaptations, accommodations, methods, and resources for teaching adapted lessons. I want to share with you what I learned in the article “Ten Characteristics for Teaching Students with Special Needs” by Beth A. Bauer.

  1. Consistency is crucial. This consistency applies to the rewards we provide, routine, schedule, home practice routines, time of day and location of the lesson,.
  2. Adaptability, find something that makes sense in their world. Examples include; using stress balls to teach hand positioning for piano, or creating fun mnemonic devices to learn the notes of lines and spaces in the music staff.
  3. Flexibility is a MUST. This flexibility pertains to lessons plans, studio setup and pacing of the lesson. Some days a student may come into the lesson after having a rough day at school and have a melt down. As the therapist “you need to find a way to work on something that will redirect the student away from whatever is bothering them and still be applicable to the lesson.”
  4. Setting Expectations “for students with special needs should be no different from the expectations and goals for students who do not have disabilities. By setting consistent, high expectations for everyone, the students know that we believe in them and that we know that they can be successful.”
  5. Patience, is your  best friend. Patience with repetition, multiple methods, reinforcement and redirection, and patience with getting to know your students.
  6. Compassion. Tell the parents of your students what their children CAN do instead of what they CANNOT do. Treat the child as a person first, without regard for a disability label. Focus on the positive aspects of the lesson, even when there is a meltdown, there is at least one positive aspect to find and share with the parent.
  7. Have a Sense of Humor.
  8. Learn from your mistakes. “We should always try our hardest but know that you will make mistakes. Mistakes are acceptable and the important lesson is that you learn from those mistakes.”
  9. Lose the Ego. Perfection is not everything, and it is not about the therapist. We will learn far more from our students than they will ever learn form us.
  10. Have FUN!!



Adapted Lessons

When teaching music lessons to those with special needs, it is important to be able to adapt to each of their individual needs and to be understanding of the ways they learn best.  Here are some tips for teaching adapted music lessons:

  • Put yourself in their shoes, learn as much as you can about their diagnosis so that you can think like they do
  • Be precise and detailed in your instructions, some students can take things very literally and do not generalize, so be careful of idioms or terms that could be confusing
  • Use a routine with order and repetition, you can list out what you are going to do in the session
  • Be consistent, with the way they do things at home, with what is in their IEPs, etc and if you are preparing for a recital then you may need to help prepare them for several weeks in advance.  The more they feel comfortable, the less you will have acting out behaviors
  • Adapt and be flexible, you may need to work on left and right hand with them first on a drum or by throwing balls, they may need breaks if they are having a melt down
  • Set expectations, make sure you are setting high enough expectations, have them perform in the same recital as typical students
  • Have patience
  • Have compassion
  • Have a sense of humor, find ways to make lessons fun for them

Mary Jane