How do learning disabilities affect music education?

Every learning disability comes with its strengths and weaknesses. More important are the do’s and don’ts you can take into account as a teacher.

Here you can read how learning disabilities affect music education.

Dyslexia: a learning disability in the automation of reading and/or spelling. The student has notable problems with reading and/or with writing fluently and accurately. Also reading and/or writing musical notation can be disturbed. The student will also have more difficulty in noting and reviewing their own notes.

Dyscalculia: a learning disability in the automation of arithmetic. The student may have problems in music class with interpreting the time signature and note values.

Numerical fractions almost always cause problems.

DCD, also known as dyspraxia, is a disorder in the automation of actions and motor skills. The coordination of breathing and speech, the hand-eye coordination and the fine motor skills play an important role in music teaching.

Aphasia, also called SLI: a disorder of language development in which either the comprehension of words or active use of words is disturbed, in some cases both. In spite of stimulation and remediation at an early age, these students make more grammatical mistakes.

Dysmnesia: also known as memory impairment. Most learning disabilities occur together with some form of memory impairment.

The student has notable problems in one or more memory areas:

  • visual memory: I remember what I see or draw
  • auditory memory: I remember what I hear or say
  • motor memory: I remember what I do or see
  • sequential memory: I remember a sequence
  • working memory: I remember what I just heard, saw, did (usually 6 to 7 elements of e.g. a phone number)
  • long-term memory: I remember what I have learned in the past, I can dig up earlier knowledge again
  • semantic memory: I remember basic facts like concepts, dates, arithmetic, letters, notes of names, names of people, …
  • procedural memory: I remember procedures like how to do something or which algorithm or step-by-step plan I can use
  • episodic memory: I remember things that are important to me personally and that I was present at.

Amusion: the inability to recognise and reproduce rhythm and melody vocally or instrumentally.

Dysrhythmia: a disorder of musical rhythm, including problems imitating, remembering and reproducing rhythmic movements and difficulties in the training of the ear

A learning disability has a significant impact on learning, processing and automating the information provided. Taking in new knowledge as well as developing new skills requires more time, more instruction and more practice. Processing this all requires also more time.

The ability reproduce acquired skills and knowledge requires additional time and effort. Keeping students motivated is therefore of the utmost importance. Offering more structure when building up knowledge is likewise crucial.

Without extra concentration and extra effort, without extra motivation and commitment, many seemingly simple actions (reading notes, keeping the beat) in combination with singing will not succeed just like that. The teacher’s stimulating and remedial attitude helps these students to overcome the first obstacles.


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