Music Education and Therapy – Guest Post by Marcela De Vivo

My oldest son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was a toddler, and ever since we’ve tried countless treatments and alternative therapies to help him live as rich a life as possible. Our most recent exploration was into the world of music therapy, and it was astonishing how well he responded to it.

Since the Mozart Effect was made popular in the 1950’s, parents everywhere have begun to expose their children to classical music. It is said to help improve brain performance and even raise a child’s IQ.

As time has passed, all types of music have been accepted as part of music therapy. Music therapy is used to help children in the classroom, at home and even in hospitals, regardless of whether or not they have special needs.

Music Therapy for Children with Disabilities

Music therapy has been shown to improve speech and language deficits and cognitive abilities. It can also help build your child’s social skills and sensory motor functioning – especially in children with Autism.

Music therapists are board certified trainers who have learned to facilitate specific music activities to help your child’s brain develop. Other advocates of music therapy say that it can also provide a huge boost to a child’s self-esteem.

Imagine a happy child smiling and bouncing around as you help them dance to the music created by the therapist. This will also help you foster a healthy non-verbal relationship with your child. So much love and adoration can be expressed as they experience the music around them with you.

My son’s physical limitations prevent him from learning an instrument, but the music therapist comes to play music for him and he loves every second of it. Being able to participate in this is only an added benefit. It’s almost as if the music therapy is for both of us. Seeing his smile is priceless.

Music can also be incorporated into all kinds of activities with your special needs child such as getting dressed, at bedtime, and when they are throwing a tantrum. It can help significantly calm them down and focus on something more positive than whatever is frustrating them.

Music Therapy for All Children

Research shows that music therapy has helped many a student achieve higher test scores in school. Even years later when children are taking the SAT and applying to colleges their test scores are slightly higher than their peers who did not participate in music therapy or education.

Some Charter schools in the United States are allowing children to wear their headphones during the day while they are doing class work because it helps them concentrate better. Music can be used to motivate your child in all kinds of situations – and this is definitely still considered therapy.

Young minds can be heavily shaped by music in many different ways. A large number of children find it easier to fall asleep at night time while listening to soothing music, like Mozart. This also helps their brains process their thoughts from throughout the day and has been shown to reduce nightmares and night terrors.

After seeing the benefits for my son, I would highly suggest anyone who is interested or considering music therapy to try it. The positive benefits to them are truly endless.

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Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer and proud mom of three in the Los Angeles area. She specializes in health, tech, and marketing, and currently works with David Anderson Pianos, who first sparked her interest in music therapy.

Teaching Students with Special Needs

At the beginning of the fall semester one of my studio families paid for me to attend a dyslexia simulation at a local learning center. It was one of the most insightful things I’ve done as a teacher! Thankfully, the family warned me that it would be frustrating. Nevertheless, I was sure that I could compensate for whatever challenges were presented and do well anyway. After all, I’ve always been a good student and capable of working through challenges to achieve success. Boy, was I wrong!

The simulation was very effective and I found myself wanting to while away the time doodling on my paper since I couldn’t understand the instructions being given. During a group reading session I wanted to act goofy with the other “students” and give the overbearing “teacher” a difficult time. I even found my eyes wandering to the “student” next to me who seemed to be doing a much better job figuring out the correct answers in spite of the constant disruptions and sound glitches. Perhaps I could just copy her answers… I came away from the experience with a whole new appreciation for struggling learners and the behavior that often results from their inability to complete the assignments as expected by the teacher.

Amanda Furbeck recently posted about Music Lessons and the Student with Developmental Delays on the Music Teacher’s Helper blog. I appreciate her observations as a parent and want to continue learning as much as I can about teaching all kinds of students because I know it will help me become a better teacher!

Understanding Students with Dyslexia

Ever since attending the fabulous MTNA workshop session, “The Inclusion of Students With Disabilities in the Music Studio” by Beth Bauer and Scott Price, I have been more intrigued by and eager to learn about teaching students with disabilities. I have had students with various disabilities and learning difficulties over the years, but I have mostly learned by trial and error (and lots of helpful input from the parents!). I’m hoping now to make more of a concerted effort to educate myself so that I can more effectively work with special needs students in the future.

I was reading through the transcripts of a series of interviews with Susan Barton, founder of the Barton Reading and Spelling System, based on the Orton-Gillingham Multisensory Method. Susan gives listeners/readers helpful tips for diagnosing dyslexia early on, and shares insights for working with those students. I love this observation that she makes:

“Children with dyslexia have a different brain structure. Their right hemisphere is actually larger than most people’s, and they have different nerve pathways in the language processing part of their brain. And I love to share with people that their right hemisphere is larger than most people’s, because it explains why they’re so gifted in skills controlled by the right side of their brain. So yes they struggle with reading, writing, spelling, but they’ll be better than their peers in either artistic ability, athletic ability, music, mechanical ability. Their people skills are outstanding. Superb three-dimensional visual-spatial skills, a vivid imagination, an incredibly accurate sense of intuition. And the most creative, global thinkers you’ve ever seen.”

I think it’s super exciting as a piano teacher to work with students like this and help them develop their musical talents! The important thing is not to box them into a traditional reading-based approach to learning to play piano, but to develop a method that taps into their innate musical strengths. This is one of the reasons why I am working a lot on developing my own improvisation skills and incorporating more music-making [sans reading] into each lesson.