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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.

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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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Wake Up and Sing! – Special Needs Program

Music can be something that links parents and children. Bonding over music and songs is a great way to connect. Wake Up and Sing is a weekly group in Atlanta from the Center for the Visually Impaired, that meets for two hours. The group is designed for babies and toddlers with visual impairments. With this program, musical therapy is used for both parents and children.

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Children in this group all have some kind of disability but that does not stop them from enjoying new music and new friends. Parents of the participating children have noticed changes in their children. With the support of other children and parents, they have noticed more confidence and positive attitudes from their children.

The program is relatively new and combines both support group therapy and music programs to those participating. Parents also thrive from the support and help they receive, so it is important that whole families are involved with the group.

Students can build many skills through the program, like social skills, cognitive skills and motor skills. Because many students also suffer from learning disabilities, it is a good way to get some extra practice that they would get out of school. Pairing sounds with smells and other forms of sense give students a new way of learning and growing together with their families.

The Wake Up and Sing program is a great way for families to enjoy togetherness while helping their children thrive and grow. By providing a fun and positive atmosphere, students and parents are both able to learn not only about themselves, but about others who are just like them.

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Hearing is Believing – School for Music Helps Teach Blind Students

For some of the students at Berklee College of Music, writing a composition means more than just putting together notes and music. For the students who are visually impaired or blind, a new program has been tested.

berklee

In an effort to make the music program more accessible to these students who cannot see a single note, a new curriculum has been developed. With a state-of-the-art lab, a summer program is being conducted as a pilot program for the class that will be offered in the fall.

Although blind students have always been a part of the college, this program will give them even more opportunities musically. Since last year when the school brought in consultants for a seminar on music study for blind students, staff of the school started planning.

The program meets for four hours a day, Tuesday through Friday. The lab portion focuses on notation, music composition and reading Braille music. They are taught how to read the music and also sing the notes and compose pieces for instruments by listening to a screen reader which narrates text that appears on a screen.

Because of the rise in technology, the visually impaired students get to make use of the technological advances, but also get the chance to rely on reading Braille music, one of the few options for blind musicians. Although they can listen and follow along with the sounds, reading the Braille notes is the only way to read the music.

With the success of this program, many schools are starting to take on similar projects, giving more students more opportunities to succeed.

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Listen to This – New Ways of Teaching Special Needs Students

Staying focused is often a challenging task for students with special needs. The Adams 12 Five Star School District decided to change the approach of teaching students with autism and other learning disabilities. At Rocky Mountain Elementary School in Westminster, Colorado, a change has been made. This started as an Integrated Listening System (ILS) pilot last year and is now being planned to expand.

They have been implementing these new teaching strategies with special needs students. By combining music and physical activities, the students work to help the brain process multi-sensory information. For example, a few times a week, some students puts on a headset and listen to music that was picked specifically for their brain functions. Exercises with a physical therapist also are done to stimulate different parts of the brain at the same time.

An example of this process could be balancing on one foot while reciting the alphabet. The music is played through headphones and also through another speaker that is placed at the top of the student’s head to send vibrations through the skull to the inner ear. With the changes in these frequencies, students with different types of learning disabilities are affected.

For many students, it helps them focus. Being able to hear noise and perform a task translates into better focus and attention in the classroom. The student featured in this video has made successful progress since starting the program. Other students have made progression both in and out of the classroom thanks to this program.

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Play On! – Special Needs Performance

Music is a universal language. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, how well you can speak it or if you can even speak at all. Music can bring together people from all over the world.

At The Sidney Lanier Center, in Alachua County, FL, 130 special needs students ranging in age ,from 3 years old to 22 years old come together to learn about music. The students live with a variety of disorders such as autism, cerebral palsy and down syndrome.

10 students in the music class have recently received a special opportunity. They will be performing at Carnegie Hall in New York City on May 21st. Some students include those who are deaf and others cannot speak at all.

The teachers of the school see music as an important part of special education. It is a way for students to have an opportunity to express themselves through creative expression that most people can understand, no matter what skill level they may be achieving or performing at.

The school has grown in their music department over the years, even getting a camera for computers to communicate with other schools around the world. By interacting with other schools, more opportunities had arisen.

Dr. Donald DeVito, the music teacher, discovered that Carnegie Hall was available for performances. He started organizing this event with other teachers from around the world. Along with this class, students from Brazil, West Africa, Ireland and England will be joining them.

The center received a $10,000 grant in addition to the funds from a benefit concert. The performance at Carnegie Hall is an international event and the first time all the performers will be playing together live.

This will be a special performance for the students of this school. Playing and getting recognition for the music they perform will help show the community that the students are capable of anything they put their mind to.

Picture by woodleywonderworks

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