As the school year starts, I’m certain that many music educators (and all other educators) are surfing through IEPs and trying to determine how best to serve their students’ needs while providing them empowering musical experiences. One area that I have seen some educators with is in the band/orchestra/instrumental ensemble classroom. Oh so often, we educators can allow our musical connoisseur side to take over completely while we “chase the high” of teaching and conducting the “perfect performance” and unintentionally loose sight of the multitude of chances to open up performances to students with learning differences; and don’t we all have learning differences? I’ve been trying to think up a few ways to quickly and aesthetically create entrance avenues into instrumental performance ensembles for students who might have cognitive or physical impairments and/or lack the years of practice or tuition on a specific instrument. Below are just a few ideas that come to mind.
1) Adaptive instrumentation: The first, and possibly easiest, way I to achieve “inclusion” is by seeking out unique ways for students to create sound. There are adaptive instruments that allow for different fingerings and/or postures like those shown of FluteLab (adaptive woodwind instruments) and adaptive ways to use traditional instruments like the ones created by occupational therapists or available at A Day’s Work Music Education. There are also a whole slew of midi controllers like microKey controllers by Korg that, when hooked to a computer, can allow students to play very realistic instrument patches with simplified triggers.
Thanks to technology and the touchscreen, there are many innovative apps available that give students chances to perform realistic and fantastic instrumental sounds. Unique apps like iKaossilator, Crystal Synth XT, Seline Ultimate, and Orphion can increase the available soundscapes for ensembles. Such apps provide students with more intuitive and/or simplified fingers. Some apps and/or hardware (likeAUMI, AirVox, Leap Motion with Various Apps, the Soundbeam, and theremins) even allow for students to trigger sounds without the need to touch anything or even move a great deal. For ensembles seeking more traditional sounds, some apps have very convincing audio patches that can blend seamlessly into most ensemble settings. The stalwart Garageband iOS has SMART instruments that can play chords via a workspace that can me customized to limit chords and/or supply a student with only the chords necessary for a given piece allowing them to focus on rhythmic elements of a piece. Also, the keyboard interfaces of Garageband’s melodic instruments can be customized to follow certian scales and, thus, will let students add their melodic contributions to a work. Another power app that with “realistic” instrument patches isThumbJam. This app has impressive patches and can be controlled through the intuitive in-app features or via other MIDI controller apps like ChordMapMIDI.
However, one very new app that shows amazing promise for not only the instrumental ensemble setting but the general education classroom is EAMIR Note. This app provides the user a single octave keyboard laid out without the traditional keyboard setup. Users can perform melodies, play block chords, and arpeggiations in the keys of C, F, and G (currently) on amazingly realistic and live sounding piano, violin, harp, bell, and xylophone patches (along with a great “video game” sound). EAMIR’s website also hold a treasure-trove of alternative controllers for sound.
What may be the most interesting and profoundly powerful tools that I’ve explore as of late is the Makey-Makey and Scratch. With these tools, educators can co-construct musical controllers and sound makers with students. If a student can’t or, more importantly, want to play a specific “traditional instrument” or use an app-based solution, they can collaborate create a new sound generator and decide how they might control it. In this way, students are able to create their own definition of what it means to be “able” in their musical setting. This could be as simple as playing a flute sound using a controller where their head makes contact with conductive materials arrange in a specific array to trigger the sounds. Motion sensory/video-based controllers might be co-constructed. The possibilities are nearly endless. Consider consulting this link by Jason Webb from some other ideas.
2) Adaptive notation: Quite often, confusion over standard music notation can be a major barrier for performing in an ensemble. However, this need not be the case. Standard/western notation is simply a tool and, by no means, the only notation style available to students. A new system called Hummingbird is gaining some attention (though I personally can’t wrap my mind around it). There are many other ways to adapt notation for students from note name (which is, in all actuallity, a valid notation system, and not just a cheat) to tablature for fretted strings instruments (which is based upon one of the earliest forms of notation for such instruments). Along with these, there are fingering-based methods, iconic systems, and neume-ish notions that can work for students (many of these notation styles and much more is covered in a new Alfred publication called Accessing Music by Gruben, McCord, and your’s truly). Take a look at some of the examples of adapted notation: Sample Notation (Accessing Music)
The most important things to remember when seeking adaptive notation styles is to consult with a student’s special education teacher and to listen to the student, themselves. In the end, notation should never be the reason for not including someone in the powerful act of playing music together with others. Music is an aural and sensual art, with the visually being merely a clever memory aid.
3) Adaptive arrangement: The final suggestion I have here might send some people running for pitchforks and torches, but it must be said. You can change the arrangement, even of “masterworks,” for the students. If a student cannot honestly achieve the technical requirements of a work due to some learning differences, then change their part to something that they can play and that flows with the work. Instead of having a student sit out for a long and intricate passage, arrange for them to play sustained notes or even to play on accented beats. With thoughtful arrangement and an ear focused on blending, such new parts can open up a new world of music to students who might not otherwise have a chance of adding their own sound to the wonderful experience of performing in instrumental ensembles.
These are just a few ideas that have come from my personal experiences, my studies with Dr. Kimberly McCord of Illinois State University (a great friend and mentor), and academic readings. I hope they helped and/or gave you some food for though. And when you are wrapped up in the world of decoding IEP and discovering special education diagnosis labels; remember to teach the student, not the label!
To close out this long blog post, I have added a few suggested readings for working with “special needs” students in music classrooms. Please add your own recommendations via the comment section.
Music in Special Education (2nd Edition) by Adamek & Darrow
Clinically Adapted Instruments for the Multiply Handicapped: A Sourcebook compiled by Clark & Chadwick
Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs: A Label-Free Approach by Hammel & Hourigan
Music for Special Kids: Musical Activities, Songs, Instruments, and Resources by Ott
An Attitude and Approach for Teaching Music to Special Learners by Sobol