Assistive Technology for Students in Music Class

When I remember my high school days, my fondest memories are that of being part of the band program.  I participated in the marching band, the percussion ensemble, and the symphony band. I even continued on to join the marching band at the University of Miami.  Being part of such great groups made me feel a sense of belonging and increased my overall responsibility as a student.  Music is a universal language where all students are able to connect, including students with special needs.  Some people may think that students with special needs are unable to participate because their disabilities may inhibit them from playing an instrument. However there are many low-tech and high-tech assistive technology tools to aid them in playing an instrument.


Adaptions for Reading Music

Students who have low vision may only need the sheet music to be enlarged in order for them to read the notes that they should be playing.  This is a very easy accommodation for the teacher to implement, by just using the photocopier enlarge option.  Some sheet music even comes already printed in larger font.  The music can also be translated into braille for students who are blind.

High-Tech & Low-Tech Assistive Technology Tools

For students who have difficulty either holding an instrument or reaching all of the keys, there are many tech tools to help out.  Clamps, toggle-keys, joysticks, and switches, can all be added to an adapted woodwind or brass instrument.  There is a great article about a boy named Lukas who participates in his high school band, playing the euphonium, through the use of a joystick that pushes the buttons on the instrument.  Woodwind instruments can be adapted with a toggle key for students who only have the ability to move one hand.  There is a very inspiring video of David Naab playing the saxophone with the use of a toggle-key.

Students who are deaf or hearing impaired can also be involved in the band.  Many students who have hearing disabilities do not have trouble playing the instrument or reading music, but have difficulty following along with the group because of the difficulty hearing.  Cochlear implants and hearing aids have helped these students learn to play music instruments.  There are computer programs where students follow the music with the vibrations and variations on the screen, which will then help them to play along with an ensemble.

Other Musical Options

Students with more severe disabilities can still be involved in the band through percussion instruments.  Students can be given instruments like bells, bongos, or a tambourine and given visual cues as to when to strike the instrument.  This means that the student would still be involved, but not necessarily have to be able to learn how to read the music notes on the staff.  However, to ensure interest is high, students should not be given the same instrument day after day and should experience a variety of percussion instruments.

Another cool “old-tech” – “high-tech” musical instrument option for individuals with disabilities is called the Hotz Box.  The Hotz Box is a musical keyboard that is connected through the computer.  There is a video including an introduction by Mick Fleetwood and a performance by a special needs adult who had never played the instrument before.  This instrument can be learned in the matter of minutes and can be integrated into a rock band and used for expressing oneself through music.

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By Joe Shlabotnik

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