LDA (Learning Disabilities Association of America) confirms that teachers who follow certain strategies are the ones who produce what they call "large outcomes". These strategies as listed by LDA are:
break learning into small steps;
supply regular, quality feedback;
use diagrams, graphics, and pictures to augment what they say in words;
provide ample independent, well-designed intensive practice;
model instructional practices that they want students to follow;
provide prompts of strategies to use; and
engage students in process-type questions like “How is the strategy working? Where else might you apply it?”
As piano teachers, if we want to adopt the mentioned strategies, and starting with the very first; breaking learning into small steps, we will have to rethink the way we teach piano to students who have special needs. When to introduce the staff might be a determinant factor to seeing favorable outcomes.
Break Learning Into Small Steps
Let's examine the line below and determine the smallest pieces of information hidden inside this seemingly easy line that we need to have in order to be able to play it on the piano.
The time signature.
The concept of the 5 lines of the staff.
Up the staff means to move to the right on the piano.
Down the staff means to move to the left on the piano.
The shape of the note determines the value and not the place of the note on the piano.
The places of the notes E and D on the piano.
Play at a steady beat.
The main problem here is that the students come in expecting to have fun and play songs, even from the first lesson, while you the teacher know that this is a long process, your students don't. They often have the greatest motivation and readiness at the beginning and the novelty will in many cases wear off before you get the chance to teach only the very basics. If your student has learning disabilities, this process might even become longer because you have to overcome more challenges, and at the same time, you don't want your student to lose their initial motivation before they learn anything meaningful to them.
That's why delaying the complexity of teaching the staff has many benefits, look at the line below and determine the skills needed to play this line without involving the staff and compare it with the example above.
If you delay the staff, in no time your students will not only be playing popular tunes with a big confident smile but will also have mastered the following basics:
Name all the keys on the piano without hesitation.
Easily play using all their fingers.
Play at a steady beat.
Understand the concept of Treble and Bass clefs.
Once the above skills are mastered, you will be ready for the staff which will not look as daunting and weird anymore. This is how we can break the learning of the staff into small pieces to ensure success.