How to teach piano to dyslexic learners: Step 1, strategies that actually work with my students.
After I struggled due to the lack of information available online and in print about the subject of teaching piano to students who are diagnosed or display symptoms of dyslexia, and after lots of advice from other teachers and experts, and many trials and errors for years. I believe that sharing the strategies that worked for me will help other teachers. Especially that now at last, I get good results with my students.
If you teach students with dyslexia, try these strategies out and be patient, you will soon notice the difference.
What is dyslexia?
David Ludden Ph.D. explains that developmental dyslexia is a reading disability that cannot be accounted for by visual or cognitive deficit nor by a lack of opportunity to learn. It is not, as commonly thought, a visual processing disorder. Rather, children who will later get the “dyslexia” label have difficulty relating letters to the speech sounds they represent.
This difficulty in processing sound might be the cause of the rarity of dyslexic musicians. A team of researchers led by psychologist Merav Ahissar stated in their research “What Musicians Can Tell Us About Dyslexia and the Brain” noted that dyslexic musicians are rare and estimate the rarity to be between 1 to 10 percent.
According to the British Dyslexia Association dyslexia can affect your student in one or more of these areas:
Sight reading music.
Decoding information like in exams as an example.
Organization of things like having the right stuff, practicing alone, going to rehearsals…
If you teach a student diagnosed with dyslexia you will probably notice one or more of these challenges every single lesson.
Here are some other traits that I noticed in my dyslexic students, which may or may not be related to dyslexia:
Learn best through demonstration and hands on experience.
Short attention span.
Very timid and shy.
Difficulty in playing with the correct fingering.
Keep forgetting their books.
Need more time to learn a piece or a concept.
Repetition is essential in the learning process. Repeat, repeat and repeat the same concept.
Strategies that actually work:
Don’t start by teaching the staff. Leave the music notation for a while, you need to establish some basics and build a solid ground first.
Start with a book that uses the key names, colored codes, and notes. If you don’t have any, use this LINK to download The Easier Piano Book 1 and Book 2 for FREE. The student will build a lot of confidence learning how to play popular and easy tunes instead of facing a huge obstacle of reading music while trying to find the keys on the piano and observe rhythm and play the correct fingers. These are many concepts that need to be broken down into smaller, more digestible ones.
Teach the key names (A, B, C…) and 5 finger scales and chords from the first lesson. Scales and chords will help with finger movement and strength, and essential for improvisation, and they will set up your student for future success.
Hand and finger exercises are very important. You want your student to be able to move the 10 fingers independently before you start to teach reading. Watch this video and do these exercises with your student at the end of every lesson, until you feel that you don’t need them anymore.
Before you start with reading music make sure the student can easily play with both hands at the same time while observing rhythm. A good book that will teach your student to do this is The Easier Piano Book 2. You want all the focus and energy to be spent on reading once you introduce it.
Be structured and help the student remember what exactly they should practice and which books to bring for the next lesson. Parents can be a great help here.
Be patient and remember you might have to repeat every concept many time.