How to Teach Music to Special Needs Students

It’s a Snap! 4 Ways to Use Music With Special Needs Students

The song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams has been stuck in my head for the past week after I listened to it a few times in the past week. The bad news is that it is now playing on repeat… again and over and over and over again. The good news is that we can really use this scenario to our advantage with the children who are particularly challenging to teach and the learners who have special needs. Children that are able to think creatively may find that listening to music is the vehicle that most facilitates their educational pursuits. In point of fact, research has shown that persons with illnesses such as autism and Williams syndrome frequently have intact musical ability despite having difficulties in functioning in areas that are not related to music. [Citation needed]

Board-certified music therapists take use of these benefits by developing music-based therapies for the purpose of assisting students in making progress in educational target areas. Music therapy is even recognised by the United States Department of Education as a related service that may be required for a student to benefit from his or her educational programme in states such as California. This recognition comes from the fact that music therapy has become increasingly popular in recent years.

As music therapists, we have the extraordinary chance to compose educational songs, write learning chants, and use musical signals to target goals that children are having difficulties completing. We also have the ability to teach students how to sing in a learning chant. When other techniques have not been successful, we turn to music as a way to elicit conversation, as a memory aid, as a timekeeper, and as a way to keep track of the passing of time. Music therapists work at educational institutions and offer counselling, training, and resources to classroom teachers and other members of the individualised education programme (IEP) team.

Even if you can’t sing in pitch, there are a variety of easy ways to incorporate music-assisted learning strategies into your classroom that will help your kids tune in. The following are four approaches to utilising music as a teaching tool in special education that are recommended by music therapists.

1. Music + Visual Supports = Increased Comprehension

Even while listening to music can be an efficient way to jog one’s memory and serve as a learning medium, many students find that their performance is enhanced when visual cues are combined with aural stimuli. Students’ comprehension of the song lyrics they are listening to or singing can be improved by using a variety of methods, including flash cards, song story books, digital graphics, and even physical gestures. Here is an example of a song about money that only makes use of basic visual supports:

2. Favorite Songs as a Teaching Tool

If you have kids that are difficult to engage or who have restricted interests, you might want to consider building a lesson plan around one of their favourite songs. Take, for instance, the example I gave earlier with the song “Happy.” Students, when provided with printed or digital lyric sheets, have the opportunity to read the song lyrics aloud, recognise novel language, circle significant phrases, and debate the significance of the song. After that, students have the opportunity to complete a writing exercise that is connected to the primary concepts that were presented in the song.

When teaching pupils who are younger, it is helpful to illustrate important characters, animals, objects, or actions from a song with pictures or photographs. Engage the student by having them choose the appropriate photographs as you sing the song’s lyrics, or have them try to remember the order of the pictures after hearing the song.

3. Rhythm Is Your Friend

Within the realm of special education, specifically within the realm of autism intervention, there is an emphasis placed on organising the visual surroundings of the student. What about information that can be heard? Students who have trouble sifting through large amounts of information and focusing on what is most relevant to them may also find that verbal instructions and conversation are overwhelming. Rhythm naturally gets the body in sync with and tuned into the activity, helps stress crucial words, and adds a predictable cadence.

Try out this easy chant for a greeting:

Let’s travel around in a circle for a while.
Let’s play a game that goes around and around.
When I get get to you, I want to know your name, so please tell me.
Students can improve their articulation and pace by practising their names on a drum by tapping out the syllables on the drum. Students who speak too quickly or who are difficult to understand can benefit greatly from using this strategy, which involves tapping a rhythm on a table, a knee, or a drum.

4. Generalization Is Key

It is impressive to observe a student who can sing his or her phone number, mathematical knowledge, or the rules of the classroom through the medium of a song; however, what happens after music time is over? As educators, it is our responsibility to make it easier for students to apply abilities learned in one context (in this case, the musical one) to other contexts. Several examples of this include the following:

After listening to a song, you should have the kids answer “Wh” questions (who, what, when, where, and why) in spoken language about the content of the song.
During actions unrelated to music that are tied to the song, use visual supports from the song. During the process of really washing your hands at the sink, you may utilise the lyrics and graphics from a hand-washing song as prompts.
Take cues from the words of the music as you move through the week. If you have a behavioural song that instructs the student to keep their hands down, you could try singing the phrase “hands down” at other times throughout the day when you see the student becoming restless. If you have a song that instructs the student to keep their hands down, you could also try singing that song. After some time has passed, you can gradually transition from singing to speaking.
It is now your responsibility to stop singing those songs in your brain and pay attention in class. Also, we would appreciate it if you could tell us how you use music with the pupils in your special education class.