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How to Successfully Introduce Note Reading to Students With Special Needs.

Updated: Mar 31, 2019

You are teaching a student whom you suspect has a learning difficulty or processing issues.

You are trying different approaches to reach to your student: rote playing, teaching scales and chords, improvising which is great.

However, after a period of time, If you don’t introduce note reading, playing by rote alone can be quite limiting for even your most talented student because:

  • Most classical music is too complicated to learn by rote.

  • Music theory explains the logic behind music and how it works.

  • Reading music gives your students a language to be able to share and communicate their own music and creation to the world.

  • Reading music makes it possible for your student to become professional, play in orchestras and excel in the musical world.

  • If your student doesn’t have a good ear and a natural talent, reading music may not be able to create the talent, but it will definitely open up a world of understanding and possibility otherwise not attainable.


In order to successfully teach your student with special needs how to read music notation and move your student beyond the limitation of rote playing. You need to have a plan…

You need to set the grounds and have a solid base if you want to guarantee success.

You need to check that you have the following basics secure:

  • Make sure that your student is able to use all 10 fingers on the piano to play a simple popular tune with a steady beat by rote.

  • Make sure that your student can find different keys easily on the piano. Practice on finding all C’s, D’s … until it becomes really easy.

  • Work with your student towards enabling him / her to eye track a simplified sheet of music that is written in alphabet form and not music notes while pressing the corresponding keys on the piano. Try The Easier Piano Book or any other similar book.

  • Make sure that your student can clap and dance to the beat of the music and has a good sense of rhythm.

For more tips and ideas on how to achieve the above read this post


Once you have established the above you can move on:

1. Choose a method book you are comfortable working with that uses a large and clear font and doesn’t progress too fast:

I recommend you choose a method that starts on the middle C position and stays there for a while before moving to different places on the keyboard for the following two reasons:

  • I noticed that the students understand the symmetry that this position reinforces between the left and the right hands, which helps them understand the staff better. Once you teach C D and E with the right hand you will notice how easily your student will learn the B and A with the left hand. You want to build self confidence and avoid confusion at this stage.

  • This way the students starts with using their strongest fingers which they have more control on: the thumb, the pointer and the middle fingers respectively. By the time they master playing with these three fingers ,it becomes a lot more easier to play the F with the right then G with the left ring fingers. Later at last moving on to playing G with the right and F with left pinkies.

2. Teach one note at a time, reinforce, and supplement with other material teaching the same note:

Don't feel that you have to completely stick to one method. You can either supplement by using something you create or by using another method book with a similar approach. You want to have many pieces of music to teach the same concept and to reinforce it. Try your best to avoid repeating one piece over and over and over again. This can become a boring chore and on top of that the student will end up memorizing instead of reading, which defies your whole purpose.

3. Stay on the same concept until completely grasped before moving on to the next. You might need to change your approach. Be patient and take your time.

If you feel that your student doesn't understand a certain concept, repeating might not be the answer to your problem! Check and try a different approach. Reach out for other teachers, go online, observe how others teach that concept. Read about it, check other methods and never stop educating yourself no matter how high your education is.

"In the times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists."

Eric Hoffer


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