Connect

Get email updates

IPTPrice1.jpg

by Dr. Scott Price

Studio environment can play an important role in the success of our students with special needs.  We don’t tend to think of the studio as being more than a tool in the lesson, but the actual environment and the objects present can sometimes be the deciding factors in the success or failure of a lesson. Maintaining a special-needs-friendly environment will be appreciated by students and parents, and a well-maintained space can become a welcoming and safe environment for students who may experience stress and anxiety on a moment-to-moment basis.

Many of our students with special needs experience over-stimulation or hyper-sensitivity in their daily lives. Florescent lights, loud sounds, strong odors, and even the feel or tightness of some clothing fabrics against the skin can make it difficult for students to focus and maintain concentration during the lesson.

Creating a studio environment that alleviates or is free from many of these types of distractions is one key to opening the door to success for them in their music studies. Sometimes just getting out of the car, navigating the sidewalk, and the sounds of traffic and people, the doors and elevators, can be overwhelming. Some students may need a few moments at the beginning of a lesson to be quiet and acclimate to their surroundings, and to decompress from any outside stimuli that have been overwhelming during the day. Others may need a short chat with their teacher to achieve a sense of normalcy and calm, and to decompress.

Unwelcome distractions may include:

Temperature – is the studio too hot or too cold? Some students may be sensitive to temperature changes and may need time to appropriately put on or take off a jacket or sweater, and adjust to the new temperature.

Perfume/Cologne – while one or two sprays of perfume or cologne may be barely noticeable to a teacher, a hyper-sensitive student may experience a heightened awareness of the smell that is overwhelming and distracting to them. The same overwhelming effect may be caused by household perfumes and cleaners.

Lighting – the flickering of florescent lights (and the color of that type of lighting), may be very distracting for students. Ambient daylight, or other types of lighting may be less harsh and more conducive to the learning environment.

Computers/technology – active computer screens or tablets, or other technology may be distracting especially if email/text alerts and phone ringtones intrude on the lesson.

If a student is also distracted by the hammers or dampers that are visible in the grand piano, simply close the lid during the lesson to avoid the distraction.

While some of these things may be distractions to a student’s attention and to the learning process, they may also be used constructively as aids to learning and concentration. The key is in using them in a conscious way with clearly articulated guidelines and rules on usage, and making sure the student understands the purpose and appropriate timing and use of the distraction.

Welcome distractions may include:

If a student experiences anxiety or stress, worry beads or stress balls may be used as a means of relieving or managing those feelings. In some cases, these objects can aid students who experience motor-planning skill deficits or who have poor body awareness.

Just as active computer screens can be a distraction, they may also alleviate stress and anxiety if the student needs a short break from the intellectual or emotional tension of the lesson. Well-planned and assigned computer or tablet/technology time may provide a break in the intensity of the lesson.

Taking a few moments to allow a student to jump or run around may also alleviate the same feelings. Well-planned and assigned physical activity may be used to alleviate stress and anxiety, and may help the student retain or redirect focus on the lesson. We often try to limit stimming behaviors, but they may sometimes be necessary to retain focus.

Above all, it comes down to knowing your students, what their distractions are, what their triggers are, and how to help them focus, decompress, and get ready for the learning process. An unplanned studio environment can be a distraction. A well-planned studio environment can help to alleviate stressors and anxiety, and distractions can be turned into well-planned enhancements to the lesson and learning process. What if you are not sure about what is or what is not a distraction and how to avoid or use them? Parents, therapists, and even the students themselves can tell or show us how to evolve our teaching to meet their needs. Never be afraid to ask and open the line of communication.

Stop back often for new entries. If you have subjects that you would like to see addressed, please send a short note to the authors at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We will do our best to respond in future blog entries. Please note that the email address is for topic suggestions only. The authors cannot respond to individual email requests for advice. We will do our best to address suggestions for topics in future postings.

Thank you for reading, and we hope to see you back soon.

In addition, 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 http://keyboardpedagogy.org/national-conference-info2

Head_Shot_2016_copy.jpg

by Dr. Melissa Martiros

Several years ago, I received a memorable email from a parent on a quest to find a piano teacher for her son, Adam.  Prior to reading the text of the email, I opened up the attached document and viewed a scanned image of her son’s school photo.  As I read through her message and scanned through the run-down of her son’s disability labels, I quickly understood the significance of the image as a strong representation of his humanness.  Asperger’s Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder, Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder—a palette of challenges mixed with a run-down of positive traits and a plea for open-mindedness. This continues to be the only time a parent has included a photograph with a lesson request and I believe it speaks to the vulnerabilities and challenges we all face when branded with a label.

In the field of special education, labels hold one important and dominant function—that is, to provide the documentation needed for a child to receive support services inside and outside of the classroom. IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, lists thirteen broad categories of disability that a child’s label must fall under to legally qualify for support services and accommodations.  These include Autism Spectrum Disorder, Visual Impairments, Hearing Impairments, Deaf-Blindness, Emotional Disturbances, Mental Retardation, Orthopedic Impairments, Traumatic Brain Injury, Specific Learning Disabilities, Speech or Language Impairments, Developmental Delays, Multiple Disabilities and Other Health Impairments. The category of Other Health Impairments includes diagnoses that do not fit neatly under the other twelve categories.  Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Tourrette Syndrome and Asthma are examples of labels that fall underneath the Other Health Impairment category.

Without a label, a child is not eligible to receive the accommodations necessary to enter the school arena on an equal playing field thus limiting his ability to reach his true potential. With a label, the child is subject to discrimination, bullying, and institutionally imposed limitations that could hold her back from reaching her truest potential. In this way, labels are a double-edged sword—necessary for services that aid with educational success but detrimental when they lead to unnecessary typecasting and limitations. As educators, we need to be extremely cautious with our approach to and treatment of labels.  We should always strive to honor and respect the humanness of each individual child we teach, regardless of how they have been labelled. And, under absolutely no circumstance should we ever take it upon ourselves to self-diagnose a child, regardless of the level of confidence in our all too often misguided assumptions. 

Upon completion of every “Pedagogical Strategies for Children with Special Needs” workshop, I am always asked following question: “what do I do when a student obviously has a disability but the parent has not been forthcoming with the label?” Here is my response: Do Nothing. It is simply not necessary.  While a label can sometimes serve as a guide for expected outcomes and accommodations, more often than not the most effective instructional adaptations will be responses to the manifestation of symptoms, not the label. If our focus is on building rapport and establishing student centered-teaching, the labels are irrelevant. 

Which brings me back to Adam.  Sometimes labels can clue us in to how best accommodate a child. However, more often than not, disability labels are defined differently for each individual child.   Had I focused solely on Adam’s labels, I likely would not have agreed to work with him in which case I would not have learned that his Tourette-related tick’s stopped when he played music, his ADHD symptoms were well managed with medication, and his Aspergian brain allowed him to process music significantly faster than all of his same-aged peers.  He was smart and funny and a lot of fun to work with.  And now, nearly ten years later, he continues playing piano recreationally and has become quite an impressive musician.  

More information on IDEA – The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act  - may be found at: idea.ed.gov

Stop back often for new entries. If you have subjects that you would like to see addressed, please send a short note to the authors at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We will do our best to respond in future blog entries. Please note that the email address is for topic suggestions only. The authors cannot respond to individual email requests for advice. We will do our best to address suggestions for topics in future postings.

Thank you for reading, and we hope to see you back soon.

In addition, 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 http://keyboardpedagogy.org/national-conference-info2

 BethBauer.jpg

by Dr. Beth Bauer

When our students walk into our studios for lessons, we often ask them how was their week, are they doing anything fun this week, or ask about something they told as at their previous lesson.  Regardless of who the student is or what  he or she told us, that person is a student or a child.  The same type of thinking refers to our students with disabilities and special needs.

Students with disabilities are children and students first.  They are students who have abilities, interests, and needs just like our students who are typical.  What makes the students different is a label or medical diagnosis.  According to The Arc, 54 million Americans have a disability and live in our communities (www.thearc.org).  The language and words we use to describe our students with disabilities is powerful.  Therefore, it is important that we use language that is respectful and showing the value of the person or student first.  

Person-First language emphasizes the person and not the disability.  By placing the person, student, or child first, the disability is no longer the distinguishing feature of the person.  Person-first language helps to eliminate negative stereotypes and attitudinal barriers and fosters positive attitudes about people with disabilities.  The disability label or diagnosis is something that helps us as piano teachers to individualize the lesson material to the student’s unique learning style; however, the most important thing to us is that the student is a student.

Another area to discuss is Identity-First language.  Within the autism community, many self-advocates prefer to be referred to as “Autistic,” “Autistic person,” or “Autistic Individual” (www.autisticadvocacy.com).  They believe that using the phrase “person with autism” instead of “autistic person” demeans who they are because it denies who they are.  The argument is furthered by saying that using the terminology “autistic person” recognizes the value and worth of that individual as an Autistic person and autism is not a condition, and it is not a tragedy to be afraid of or hidden.

So what should we as teachers do in our studios?  The literature shows that parents, teachers, medical professionals, and therapists prefer person-first language.  Within my studio, I also prefer person-first language and use it in the classes I teach, places I speak, and discussions with studio families.  However, if a parent or student requests that I use identity-first language, I will use it and be respectful of that student and parents’ preference.  Part of living in a community and working with our families is to respect their individual differences and unique perspectives.  Above all, I try to remember that the disability label is just a label that informs my teaching.

Stop back often for new entries. If you have subjects that you would like to see addressed, please send a short note to the authors at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We will do our best to respond in future blog entries. Please note that the email address is for topic suggestions only. The authors cannot respond to individual email requests for advice. We will do our best to address suggestions for topics in future postings.

Thank you for reading, and we hope to see you back soon.

In addition, 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 http://keyboardpedagogy.org/national-conference-info2

Head_Shot_2016.jpg

 

Dr. Melissa Martiros

Melissa Martiros currently holds the position of Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator of Music at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, TN where she is also serves as the Director of the CWN Community Arts Academy, a pre-college program she founded in 2015. Prior to her appointment at Martin Methodist College, she served on the faculties of Silver Lake College, the University of Wisconsin Fond du Lac, Bluffton University, the Lindeblad School of Music, and as a teaching assistant at Bowling Green State University and Interlochen Arts Camp.

A strong advocate for inclusion in the arts and a firm believer that all children should have access to a quality music education, she has devoted much of her career to developing programs for underserved youth and children with developmental delays.  An active clinician, her recent engagements have included workshops at the International Society of Music Education World Conference (ISMEA), the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy (NCKP), the Canadian Federation of Music Educators Biennial Convention (CFMTA), the College Music Society National Conference (CMS), the Music Teachers  National Association National Conference (MTNA), the Australasian Pedagogy Conference (AAPC), and the Gulf South Summit on Service-Learning and Civic Engagement through Higher Education. A portion of her doctoral dissertation entitled The Perceptions of Piano Teachers Regarding the Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in the Piano Studio was recently published in the widely read Music Teacher’s National Association E-Journal. 

Melissa is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Education degree (Ed.D) program in Higher Education Leadership and Policy at Vanderbilt University.  She earned a Doctor of Musical Arts degree (DMA) in Piano Performance and Pedagogy and a Master of Science degree (MS) in Special Education from the University of Wisconsin Madison, a Master of Music (MM) degree in Piano Performance from Bowling Green State University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree (BA) in Piano Performance from Westfield State University, where she was the recipient of the Presidential Merit Scholarship and Excellence in Music Performance Award.

About OpporTUNEity

A program of the CWN Community Arts Academy at Martin Methodist College, OpporTUNEity is a co-curricular service learning project that provides underserved youth in South Central Tennessee with music lessons and mentoring from undergraduate students in a supervised, one-on-one setting. The program was founded by Melissa Martiros in 2014 and has been awarded the Boys & Girls Club Tennessee Area Council Award for Program Impact Excellence in the Arts and the Engagement Project of the Year Award at Martin Methodist College.

OpporTUNEity bridges the gap between K-12 and Higher Education by using college resources to bring musical opportunities to underserved youth in our community while simultaneously providing engaging and enriching teaching and learning experiences to our undergraduate students. As we do this, we strengthen our local community, bridge class and racial gaps in our region, and enhance the quality of students we recruit to our undergraduate music program.

Stop back often for new entries. If you have subjects that you would like to see addressed, please send a short note to the authors at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We will do our best to respond in future blog entries. Please note that the email address is for topic suggestions only. The authors cannot respond to individual email requests for advice. We will do our best to address suggestions for topics in future postings.

Thank you for reading, and we hope to see you back soon.

In addition, 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 http://keyboardpedagogy.org/national-conference-info2

 BethBauer.jpg

Dr. Beth A. Bauer, NCTM

Dr. Beth A. Bauer received her doctorate of music education from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.  Her dissertation is titled “What is an appropriate approach to piano instruction for students with Down syndrome?”  Additional degree work includes a Master of Music from Northern Illinois University where she studied with Bill Koehler, and a Bachelor of Arts in Music from the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music where she was a student of Daniel P. Horn.  Additional pedagogy instruction occurred with Karin Edwards, Larry Rast, and Karen Taylor.  Currently, she is an instructor in pedagogy at the Wheaton College Conservatory where she teaches Introduction to Pedagogy, Studio Administration, Group Instruction, and Music to Special Learners and oversees pedagogy student teachers and music internships.  She is also the academic advisor for the pedagogy degree.  In addition to her faculty work in the Conservatory, Dr. Bauer is the founder and coordinator of Beethoven’s Buddies, a music program for students with developmental and intellectual delays, at the Community School of the Arts, Wheaton College and teaches precollege piano to beginning through advanced students in the Community School of the Arts. 

Prior to her work at Wheaton College, Dr. Bauer was a visiting guest instructor in music education at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.  She also was the assistant to the director and an instructor in the Young Pianists Program at Indiana University.  Additional positions included the Education Director at the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic and the Program Director at the Suzuki-Orff School for Young Musicians in Chicago.  

Her work with students with special needs has been featured in The Chicago Tribune, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, the Indiana University Alumni Magazine, and the Wheaton College Alumni Magazine.  Publications include articles in Clavier Companion entitled,” Ten Characteristics for teaching students with special needs,” the Philosophy of Music Education Review, and the Manitoba Registered Teachers’ Association.  She co-chairs the Special Education Research Committee for the National Conference of Keyboard Pedagogy.  Dr. Bauer is a sought after clinician and speaker to professional teacher’s organizations, national conferences, and parent groups.  She has been teaching piano for over 25-years and working with students with special needs for 20-years.

About Beethoven’s Buddies

Beethoven’s Buddies (BB) is an innovative music program which facilitates cognitive and emotional growth for students with developmental delays.  BB uses integrated materials and assistive technology (such as the iPad) in private lessons.  Need-specific resources may include Boardmaker, appropriate music apps, and video models for weekly home practice.  BB students have participated in National Guild competitions, both the MTNA  and NCKP conferences, and music programs at schools at churches.  The program includes both private piano lessons and chimes class.  Students perform in yearly recitals and program related performances.

Stop back often for new entries. If you have subjects that you would like to see addressed, please send a short note to the authors at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We will do our best to respond in future blog entries. Please note that the email address is for topic suggestions only. The authors cannot respond to individual email requests for advice. We will do our best to address suggestions for topics in future postings.

Thank you for reading, and we hope to see you back soon.

In addition, 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 http://keyboardpedagogy.org/national-conference-info2