Adaptive Piano Lessons Domain: Physical

We have arrived at the end of our Adaptive Piano Journey! (For now … this is truly a journey that once you begin, never ends!). We have explored creative ways to foster excitement and creativity at the piano when you have students showing deficiencies in the cognitive, communication, socio-emotional, and behavioral domains. My earnest desire is that through this series, you will begin to realize the range of teaching strategies that can be employed to teach our students in the way they will best learn!

Although this is a journey that never ends, the result of taking one step to begin this journey will be the beginning of a full and rewarding career of teaching.

For our last domain, we will be looking at physical deficiencies and disabilities. What you may encounter here has the potential to stretch as far and as wide as your imagination! No two students are alike. Today, we’ll do our best to canvas through some of the possibilities 🙂

Missing Fingers or Hands

The typical student that walks through our doors has two hands and ten fingers. But would you accept a student who does not? Getting creative with fingering and technique will be very important here. A positive attitude will be critical to assisting the student when their music gets challenging!

Wheelchairs

Adjusting the height of the chair (if possible), adjusting technique when needed, and even installing a button to push for the pedals are all ways that students in wheelchairs can adapt to play the piano!

In this video, you’ll see a girl who does not have triceps and is wheelchair bound.

Visual Disabilities

Did you know that if a student has documentation/proof of blindness, they have free access to the Library of Congress’s braille music?

Check out their services here!

Large-print music is also available at some publishers. Music that has black background with white notes also exists.

Hearing Impairments

This is near and dear to my heart. I was born with hearing loss and have had hearing aids since I was in first grade. I stopped wearing them in middle/high school, largely because they made playing the flute harder (I couldn’t feel the vibrations as easily!). Since then, technology has skyrocketed and I now have a set that can adapt to my music needs. I can change the settings right on my phone!

I come from a musical family and am innately very musical. But as I studied higher level music, I found the need to focus on the correct feel and technique of how something should sound, instead of focusing on my perception of the sound. There was several times where I could not hear the slight nuances that my teacher desired, but I could feel the difference in what she wanted me to do to produce the sound.

Students who are completely deaf can learn music through the use of sign language and visual aids. I love to remind my students that as Beethoven went deaf, he cut off the legs of his piano so he could lie on the floor to feel the vibrations of the piano. This music history fact has always fascinated me!

Fine Motor Difficulties

Students with fine motor difficulties will likely be slower at learning the piano. But working through at a manageable pace for their skill set can bring great improvement here!

Last summer I started a student who is a bright and happy boy, but has several physical disabilities that make life difficult for him. One of which is his hands – which due to his health often look like someone blew air into plastic gloves most days. We began with WunderKeys Preschool Method… with amazing results! He is a little older than preschool … but I modified so that it was not too childish for him. This allowed him to work his individual fingers in an easy and stress-free way. He loves music and is now in WunderKeys primer books, and is THRIVING! I am convinced it is because we took the time to isolate his fingers first. His fine motor skills are leaps and bounds beyond where I imagined they would be!

I am constantly working fine motor games into the lesson with my students. This can be as simple as having small game pieces they have to maneuver. These games give more practice without them even realizing that’s what I’m doing! Check out the game-based learning post on “classic games” here… most of them have fine motor manipulation involved!

Temporary Physical Disabilities

Not all physical disabilities are permanent! The most common example I see of this is the student who has broken a finger, wrist, or arm. Often this scenario can be the teacher’s worst nightmare… but does it have to be?

Whenever the news comes that a student has broken an arm (and if you haven’t gotten that call yet, you likely will), I highly recommend that they continue with lessons during this time. There is so much that can be worked on despite the handicap! Duets and improvisation work beautifully with the teacher playing along as needed. One-handed music does exist, and across all levels at that! This is also the perfect time to work in extra theory (not at all boring when using games!), music history, and even teaching the student to teach.

Phew. So many possibilities, and we have only scratched the surface!

Here we wrap up our short study on adaptive lessons. The teaching strategies that can be used are as endless as the variety of students who will walk through our doors. The piano teacher who looks at each student with possibility and promise will deeply impact the lives of their students! The road is not always easy. Sometimes the day to day challenges seem overwhelming, even in light of the big picture. But we as piano teachers have the ability and responsibility to inspire students to learn and to give them the self-confidence to learn well!

I am excited for this adaptive path you are choosing to walk with me,

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