It is a saddening fact that from the large number of piano teachers around the world, only a fraction takes on children with Down Syndrome. I believe that children with any form of learning disability have the right to play a musical instrument if they wish, most are highly teachable, and they deserve to be included. Let alone the fact that they can benefit greatly from learning to play the piano since it has been scientifically proven that playing an instrument has many benefits to children with learning disabilities such as:
· Social benefits.
· Language benefits.
· Motor skills and coordination skills.
· Learning and cognitive benefits.
For an actual description of the benefits that I keep witnessing in my studio, please check the link below:
Your support is needed
We need a bigger number of teachers who are willing to take on these students and to persist when progress seems impossible and elusive.
To encourage you more, I will share my own experience with teaching children with Down Syndrome, I will talk about what worked and what didn’t work for me, hoping that it will inspire you to attempt to do what you may initially think impossible. I believe that if you are a piano teacher, then you already have the skills you need to take these children on.
Four strategies that will give you wonderful results:
Celebrate all successes no matter how small they may seem to you. Recognizing the black key / white key pattern, for example, even if this took many lessons and a lot of effort. It is still an achievement, celebrate it. Instead of feeling frustrated that it took a longer time than usual for the student to at last see the pattern, celebrate that she finally did. Make her feel like a winner, This way she will be more likely to try harder next time to accomplish even more.
Perseverance is key here, giving up quickly is not an option. Don't expect the first few months to be easy or straightforward. I have an older student with Down syndrome who cannot read and write, but he always dreamed of playing the piano and after a couple of years of piano lessons he was able to learn how to read music. He can't play complicated pieces, at least not yet, but he understands the concept of the staff and is working with a regular method book now and getting better and better every week. The process took a longer time than expected, but it worked in the end. Watching him play in recitals with a huge smile on his face and with so great pride was worth all the effort we both put in.
Moving in tiny steps
Forget about starting with your regular piano method book. These books progress too fast at the beginning. You can use them later, be patient and you will get there, maybe soon, maybe much later! It is easier for you and your students to secure the basic concepts first.
The 4 main basic concepts that you need to start working on, and design your lessons around before you start music notation:
Names of the piano keys and their place on the piano.
The pitch and sound of the different piano keys .
Include your students in your recitals and social activities
If you teach children with special needs in your studio, including them in your recital can pause many challenges, however, I highly recommend it, I even wrote a whole post about it. Check it out below, I hope it will inspire you.
Five practical things you can start with to help you on your road to success:
1. Teach five finger scales
I like to get these fingers moving from the very first lesson. You will also get another benefit from these scales, they help the students recognize the geography of the piano faster. Start with only one scale, the C major and stay on it long enough until your student can find the C without help. Ask her to sing CDEFG while playing. Then move on to G and so on.
2. Teach the piano key names
If you are not planning to teach your student by rote indefinitely, you will reach the point when he needs to be able to find the C's, D's...on the piano to be able to note read. I specifically created a book that is guaranteed to give you good results and you can download it for free here:
3. Build self-confidence
Aim to teach very easy well-known melodies from the beginning, this gives your student a big sense of achievement and the encouragement he needs to keep going on, you can teach it by rote or in any way you like, get her making music as fast as you can.
4. Use color coding
Color coding works so beautifully with all students, particularly those who have special needs, please check my post on the subject for a detailed description of the approach:
5. Go back a few steps and reinforce
Keep re-visiting old lessons and repeating them to reinforce. Going too slow is better than going too fast. Take your time.