What do Andrea Boccelli, Evelyn Glennie, and Hitoshi Oe all have in common?
Each of these people is a successful professional musician (a vocalist, a percussionist, and a composer who is a pianist), and all are special learners (visually impaired, hearing impaired, and mentally challenged).
These people were able to realize their musical talents because music teachers adapted their instruction to meet their special needs as learners.
Teaching special learners in general music generally has been accepted in music education, but the idea of adapting piano teaching to special learners is less common. The cognitive, physical, and social abilities and disabilities of a "special learner" provide significant challenges to a private or group piano teaching situation.
The teacher will need to be aware of the instructional adaptations that will need to be made in order for these students to succeed in piano study. However, through minor modifications and adaptations of traditional piano teaching techniques and by borrowing techniques used primarily in special education, piano teachers can teach many special learners and include them in their piano studios.
One way to successfully adapt the social environment for special learners is through the informed use of parental involvement strategies. In special education settings, parental involvement is a very important part of the instructional mix.
Students who are special learners can be successful as long as teachers are ready and willing to help them to do so. What we need to do as teachers is to we ask them to do the right things, at the right time, and in the right way.
We may have to adjust our instruction to meet the needs of these students, and may have to seek the assistance of parents, other students in the program, or perhaps using music teachers or music therapists in training to help. Other piano students in piano classes need to be prepared for the inclusion of a "special" student.
Additional self-esteem enhancement and parental involvement strategies may prove useful. Complex tasks may need to broken down into simpler sub-tasks and music may need to be simplified for the student.
While these suggestions may take addition effort, the rewards are great, because we can help these students to include music as part of their life.
Source: Article by Stephen F. Zdzinski. (Portions of this article are based on an article written by this author, published in the January 2001 edition of the Music Educators Journal). Full article at http://www.music.sc.edu/ea/keyboard/PPF/5.1/5.1.PPFke.html