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!!



Piano Accompaniment Workshop

Our team recently had the pleasure of doing a workshop on piano accompaniment techniques with JayJay Lim, a wonderful music therapist based in the San Diego area.

We started off with a simple warm up; playing V7 chords in a circle of fifths pattern. Using a metronome to keep us all in time, we played 2 measures of C7, 2 measure of F7, 2 mesaures of Bb7 and so on. If this workout is comfortable, the next step is to play through the circle of fifths playing V7 inversions. JayJay also suggested playing through this same exercise playing min7 chords. Again, if it’s easy, play inversions! Of course this warm up is good for your muscles, but doing it without sheet music is good for warming up that cognitive functioning too!

Next, we reviewed some important tips for effective accompaniment. If you’re leading a singing intervention in a group, it’s important to give your clients some kind of introduction so they get a feel for the key, the tempo, and when to join in. JayJay suggests introducing the song by playing the melody line of the last 4 measures of the song, then giving a strong cue with their starting pitch or with the first few notes of the melody.

JayJay encouraged us to practice a few easy folk songs, including Home on the Range and You Are My Sunshine, with the left hand playing a pattern or just a bass rhythm, and to only play chords in the right hand on the first beat of each measure.  

One of the most beneficial tips I took from the workshop; put two colored stickers an octave apart on the keyboard and only play right hand chords between those two stickers, including V7 chords. You can play on the stickers, but you can’t go past them! This forces you to get more comfortable with inversions so you’re not always playing everything in root position.

I’ve been incorporating these into my daily practice time and I have already seen a huge improvement! It’s easy to fall into the same playing patterns or accompaniment styles, especially if you’re not a pianist (like myself). Simple, functional practice techniques like these can go a long way in increasing your flexibility and familiarity on the keyboard. The less you have to think about which keys to play for which inverted chords, the better off you’ll be in not only accompaniment, but improvisation and performance as well.


Best of luck in your practice time!