University of Edinburgh

Creative and multi-sensory approaches to teaching music for pupils with additional support needs & MDVI

Presented on Wednesday 18 March 2009

Louisa Morley
Music Teacher, Royal Blind School

Key Points

Communication Skills

  • Good communication is extremely important.
  • Watch for pupils displaying positive or negative preferences by blinking / noises/ refusal to particiapte.
  • Try ti involve pupils in decision-making by giving them choices. For example, give them two instruments and ask them to choose which one to play.
  • It can be challenging to communicate effectively when playing the piano during lesson.
  • Come away from piano where possible and get down on their level. I use a combination of piano and CD backing tracks to accompany my work. The piano is useful as I can speed up / slow down in response to the pupils and interact with them musically. The CD backing track is also useful as I can come out from behind the piano and interact more with the pupils on a physical level.
  • Stand close to them when giving them explanations - for pupils with reduced visual field - be aware of where to position yourself to give pupil a better chance of seeing you. This might be in front of the child or to the right or left side of them.
  • Encourage pupils to sign and incorporate actions in sogs, where possible. We use a combination of 'Signalong' 'Makaton' and 'Canaan Barrie' on-body signing for our pupils, depending on which version is more familiar to the child. This is useful for communication, especially in pupils with limited speech.
  • Create a routine to the lesson. Each lesson starts with an opening song and a closing song. This signals the end of the lesson so that pupils know that it is time to leave.
  • Give very clear instructions to pupils, either verbally or by demonstrating / signing.
  • Manage class discipline by monitoring attention levels at frequent intervals. With varying levels of Additional Support Needs, attantion levels can vary widely within a class.

Music in the classroom

  • Lessons are often 'topic based' depending on whether topic being used in the class base yeilds itself to a suitable range of musical possibilities. Music concepts are introduced, using the topic as a basis for a musical project.
  • Lessons are sometimes 'concept based'. 5-14 concepts are reinforced using a range of different musical activities. for example; loud / quiet, hith / low, long / short. Also names of percussion instruments.
  • Use of differentiation. A wide variety of musical activities are used in the lesson in order to ensure that all pupils are participating as fully as possible. The lesson might be split into different sections so that certain activities are more geared towards particular pupils. This can help to ensure that pupils' needs are being met.
  • Choose songs and percussion activities that can have various parts at differing levels.
  • Use creative ideas within the lesson. lfor example, when creating a sound story about a storm, dress pupils in raincoats and hats so that it has more meaning for them. Use tactile props during lessons.
  • When using percussion instruments, try to match instruments to pupils' needs. For example, some pupils manage to use beaters on a xylophone. Other pupils cannot manage this so are better with intruments that can be shaken or hit with their hand.
  • Try out various methods to improve accessibility. We use knife / fork grip handles on our beaters to help pupils with poor muscle tone / cerebral palsy to grip. The handles velcro around the hand of the child so that they do not drop the beater. We have found these to be very useful.
  • Sometimes, due to physical limitations, a child is very limited in the instruments that they can play. Here we can use a switch. We record the sound of an instrument onto the switch and then the pupil just presses the switch and the sound of the pre-recorded instrument is heard. Switches can be activated with any part of the child's body but our pupils often activate it by using hands, or by pressing their head against it.
  • Using a microphone can encourage pupils with limited speech to make sounds. They often like the loud sound that their voice makdes throught the speakers.
  • Be aware that apparent unusual behaviour might be associated with additional needs but could also be connected with their visual impairment, particularly if they have restricted visual fields. For example, sitting sideways, tilging head. If a pupil chooses to play an instrument sitting in an unusual position repeatedly ten this is most probably the best position for him and his position should not be altered.

Useful resources for the music classroom

  • Sticky Kids - CDs aimed at pre-school pupils incorporating action songs and movement. Useful for pupils with language difficulties.
  • Out of the Ark music - Excellent songbooks with backing CDs and also tracks with children singing along - very upbeat and pupils love the songs.
  • Fischy Music - Music books with backing CDs withch link into moral / guidance themes such as bullying and self-esteem.
  • Vanbasco - This site has karaoke downloads in midi format. You can download the backing track of any song and either play it from the computer or burn it to CD. There is also the facility to change the pitch and / or speed and to add / remove instruments.