by Dr. Scott Price
Welcome back to the Inclusive Piano Teaching blog. Today’s entry is part two of a discussion on teaching students with visual impairments. I would like talk briefly about some things to think about when bringing a student into the piano studio. Some of these things may sound redundant, but can have a substantive impact on the educational experience for these students.
So much of what we do as pianists depends on sight. We use our sight to read the music, find our way around the keyboard, study related music subjects, and various other activities needed to learn to play the piano in a traditional setting. We also use our sight to observe non-verbal communication such as facial expressions and body language, and visual models of piano playing technique. If you think about it, when we remove sight from the teacher/student equation much of our traditional teaching process is removed as well.
Here is a list of things to keep in the teaching toolbox to help facilitate a positive and meaningful experience for the student with a visual impairment.
1) Collect Information: Be informed about the student’s impairment, and any associated needs. Most parents and caregivers want the best for their children and will be very open and honest about these things. Some of this information may also be found in the Individual Education Plan (IEP) if the parents are willing to share it with you.
2) Communication: Be honest and communicative with the student and parents about the challenges and procedures for teaching. If you are unsure of how to proceed with aspects of the instructional process, ask for help. Our students and their parents are used to navigating their world and can be our best teachers in the process.
3) Surroundings: Give the student a tour of your studio or teaching area so that they may learn and memorize the placement of furniture and objects. If anything is moved between lessons, be sure to let them know so that they may adjust.
4) Tone and Clarity: Facial expressions and body language are no longer part of the communicative experience in most cases. Tone of voice and clarity in vocabulary are important keys to success.
5) Explanations: Be sure to explain the learning and teaching process to the students so they know what to expect and how the process will work.
6) Permission: Where the teaching needs to be very tactile (i.e. hand-over-hand), it is nice to ask permission to touch the student and to explain what you are doing and why. Unexpected physical contact can be startling for a sighted person, so you can imagine what it must be like for someone with a vision impairment.
7) Follow-Up: Always follow-up and ask if the student understands everything or if they need more instruction on a certain task or element of the lesson. Developing an environment where they are comfortable being totally involved in the instructional process and the outcomes is very important.
8) Practice Instructions: Stay in communication with the parents regarding practice instructions. Be very clear in written instructions. It is always useful for a parent to be present to see what occurs in the lesson and what is expected during the practice sessions. Smart phones and tablets can be very useful in recording segments of the lesson so parents can reference them at home. Additionally, students may use recording devices to assist them in their practice and learning at home.
9) Pacing: Always allow the student enough time to listen, experience and try concepts, absorb and reflect, and to ask as many questions as needed. Sitting back and not saying anything while a student works does not mean you are being a bad teacher. It means you are giving them time to work and understand.
10) Empathy: Perhaps most importantly, see what it is like. Put on a blindfold and take a tour of your studio or working teaching space, experience the environment, and try to go through your technical regimen and repertoire and practice habits. It will be a very instructive experience.
I always try to remember that some of the best pedagogy teachers are my students. Asking questions of them and observing them in their learning process always makes me a better teacher, and I learn how to serve them better on their musical journey.
Thank you for reading, and we hope to see you back soon. The National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy will include workshop offerings on teaching students with special needs. The next conference is scheduled for July 26-29, 2017 in Lombard, IL (a suburb of Chicago). Information is available at: