Adapting Music Instruction for Students with Dyslexia
Kate O'Brien Vance, Kate Music Educators Journal, Vol. 90, No. 5 (May, 2004), pp. 27-31
By: Michelle Minke
Most music teachers will encounter teaching someone with Dyslexia within their career, as 20% of people can be diagnosed with some form of Dyslexia. Dyslexia is specifically a language based disorder that can be accompanied by problems in short term memory, sequencing, auditory or visual perception, and motor skills. Of particular importance to music, there is difficulty in processing symbols, making music notation very difficult to understand. These symptoms inevitably effect how a student would read music, learn to play an instrument and sing within a group.
The difference with music compared to reading, is that music as sound is different than music as notation. As taught in the Suzuki school of training, once sound is understood, comprehending the symbols that accompany it can then become easier to identify. The Kodaly method is also equally as effective in teaching rhythm. The same hemisphere of the brain that is used for language, is also associated to rhythm. In Kodaly music they use a method of speaking patterns to preassigned syllables. This method is thought to give music a type of “musical picture” that can then be applied to actual notation. If skills are broken down into smaller units and are then practiced repeatedly, it can then be build upon through time. Also by using motor skills in sequence along with repetition, struggling students can then perform just as easily with students who do not have this disability.
This article grabbed my attention right away, as the woman who wrote this article is a musician with Dyslexia that was not diagnosed until later in her career. I share the same experience.
Throughout many years of education, and struggling with rhythm, short term memory and language, I assumed I was just a “stupid singer”. It was not until a music coach in my post graduate training asked me to stop looking at the music one day, and asked me to learn a phrase by ear. Music, which involves language and symbols would expose my own struggle with Dyslexia. It is by no means debilitating, but what a world of difference it has made being able to recognize. Once I was diagnosed, I ended up applying a lot of the techniques that are addressed in this article. Simply re-organizing my learning techniques, breaking things down step by step, syllable by syllable, symbol by symbol ,the speed and efficiency in which I learned greatly increased. I no longer feel a mental block or frustration, I have just learned to look at a smaller picture as I learn. I believe that adding motor skills into my learning changed the mind to body connection as well.
The thing I like about this article, is that it does not just address the stereotypical idea of Dyslexia, that words are seen backwards. There are many symptoms to look for and as a teacher , I know I will be conscience to look for those signs. If students have difficulty processing verbally, confusion between left and right, motor sequencing problems, problems with attention, social behaviour problems, or memory problems than perhaps it could be a form of Dyslexia. It blows my mind that I went through years of being taught without anyone noticing, and it makes me wonder how many others could easily slip through the cracks.