Dyslexia and Learning Music

How to help your child learn music if they have  dyslexia? We get this question more than you’d think.  Statistics show us that 1 in 5 children have a language-based learning difficulty and dyslexia is the most common of these challenges.

1.  Avoid assuming that slow progress is simply due to lack of effort.  Sometimes our most frustrating times are when out children  practice, who lose focus in lessons and who forget instructions almost immediately may be dealing with something more than just behaviour issues (or those behaviour issues are caused by a learning-challenge that creates frustration).

2.  Dyslexic children often have difficulties with short-term auditory memory.  This should govern both the way you give instructions, but also how much of their music they can “take in” at one time.  Speak slowly and keep your directions simple and to a minimum of 2 items at a time.  “Take your 1 finger and put it on C”.  Then wait.  Don’t add in information about rhythm, what the left hand is doing, dynamics etc.

In addition, keep the sections of music you work on to small chunks that will eventually be put together. Break everything you say or do into small and easy-to-memorise bits of information or material.

3.  Use colour as cues on their page instead of written words. I’ve found that this is a seriously effective tool. For example, a green circle could mean two beats instead of writing 1-2 on their page.  An orange star could mean a hand-position change etc.

4.  Keep their piano binder tidy and use post-it tags to mark which pieces they are supposed to practice at home.  Organization and simplicity is key to successful home practice. Keep weekly tasks to a maximum of 3 and write them (preferably in the font mentioned above) clearly in their binder.

5. Continually take stock of their successes and weaknesses.  Do you notice a trend in what is difficult?  Focus in on these difficulties (in a positive way) and find multi-sensory ways of helping them to break through these challenges.

6. Maintain routines in your practice time.  Follow the same progression of tasks each and every practice session but find the variety kids crave in how you approach each of those tasks.

7.  Above all else, stay positive.  Having a learning difficulty affects more than just a child’s learning.  It can also affect their self-esteem and overall enjoyment of activities.  For just a taste of what the written world could look like for a dyslexic child, try to read the paragraph below.