The Inclusive Piano Teaching Blog

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by Dr. Scott Price

There is a growing abundance of high-quality information on teaching special learners, but it is often difficult to find it referenced in one place. The following list of books, articles, webinars, and online resources is intended to be a starting point for those of us teaching and learning from special learners, and for those who are considering serving this population of deserving students. All editions were up-to-date at the time of this posting.

General Resources

Amadek, Mary S. and Alice-Ann Darrow. Music in Special Education, 3rd edition. American Music Therapy Association, 2018.

Bauer, Beth. "Ten Characteristics for Teaching Students with Special Needs." Clavier Companion. July/August. (2010).

Beth Bauer, Melissa Martiros, Scott Price. The Inclusive Piano Teaching Blog

Hammel, Alice M. and Ryan M. Hourigan. Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs: A Label-Free Approach, 2ndedition. Oxford University Press, 2017.

Hammel, Alice M. Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs: A Practical Resource. Oxford University Press, 2017.

McCord, Kimberly. Teaching the Post-Secondary Student with Disabilities. Oxford University Press, 2017.

Polischuk, Derek. Transformational Piano Teaching: Mentoring Students from All Walks of Life. Oxford University Press, 2018.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV. American Psychological Association:2000.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V. American Psychological Association:   2013.

Autism Resources

Exkorn, Karen Siff. The Autism Sourcebook. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.

Grandin, Temple. Emergence: Labeled Autistic. New York: Warner Books, 1986.

Powers, Michael, ed. Children with Autism: A Parents’ Guide. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House, 2000.

Price, Scott. "All in a Day's Routine: Piano Teaching and Autism." Clavier Companion. July/ August (2010): 10–16.

__________. "Repertoire Choices for Students with Autism." (2018). 

Sicile-Kira, Chantal. Autism Spectrum Disorders, revised edition. New York: Perigee, 2014.

_______. Autism Life Skills. New York: Perigee, 2008.

_______. Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum: A Parent's Guide to the Cognitive, Social, Physical, and Transition Needs of Teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Tarcher Perigee, 2006.

_______. Autism Life Skills: From Communication and Safety to Self-Esteem and More - 10 Essential Abilities Every Child Needs and Deserves to Learn. Tarcher Perigee, 2008.

Silverman, Stephan. School Success for Kids With Asperger's Syndrome: A Practical Guide for Parents and Teachers. Prufrock Press, 2008.

Down Syndrome Resources

Bauer, Elizabeth. What Should Be an Appropriate Approach to Piano Instruction for Students with Down Syndrome? Ph.D. Dissertation, Indiana University, 2003.

Cunningham, Cliff. Down Syndrome: An Introduction for Parents and Careers,  3rdedition. Souvenir Press: 2010.

_____. Understanding Down Syndrome: An Introduction for Parents. Brookline Books, 1996.

Bruni, Maryanne. Fine Motor Skills for Children with Down Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals, 3rdedition. Woodbine House, 2016.

Kumin, Libby. Early Communication Skills for Children with Down Syndrome:  Guide for Parents and Professionals, 3rd edition. Woodbine House, 2012.

Oelwein, Patricia. Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Teachers. Woodbine House, 1995.

Winder, Patricia C. Gross Motor Skills for Children with Down Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals 2ndedition. Woodbine House, 2013.

National Down Syndrome Society:

ADD/ADHD Resources

Ashley, Susan. The ADD & ADHD Answer Book: Professional Answers to 275 of the Top Questions Parents Ask. Sourcebooks, Inc., 2005.

Kennedy, Diane M. The ADHD Autism Connection. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2002.

Monastra, Vincent. Parenting Children with ADHD: 10 Lessons that Medicine Cannot Teach 2ndedition. American Psychological Association, 2014.

Rief, Sandra. How To Reach And Teach Children with ADD/ADHD: Practical Techniques, Strategies, and  Interventions, 3rd edition. Jossey-Bass, 2016.

Silverman, Stephan et al. School Success for Kids with ADHD. Prufrock Press, 2009.

Developmental Delay Resources

LeComer, Laurie Fivozinsky. A Parent's Guide to Developmental Delays: Recognizing and Coping with Missed Milestones in Speech, Movement, Learning, and Other Areas. Perigee, 2006.

Visual Impairment Resources

Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped:

Hearing Impairment Resources

Miller, Cherisse, ed. Making Music with a Hearing Loss: Strategies and Stories. Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss. (AAMHL), 20011. 

_______. Musicians with Hearing Loss: A Basic Guide for Teachers and Performers. D.M.A. Dissertation, The University of South Carolina, 2009.

Webinars on Teaching Special Learners

Price, Scott. Autism and Piano Study: A Basic Teaching Vocabulary Part I

__________. Autism and Piano Study: A Basic Teaching Vocabulary Part II – Inside the Lesson

__________. Tone is Everything: Voice Usage and Vocabulary for Teaching Special Learners



by Dr. Melissa Martiros

Registrations are open for the 2019 National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy, to be held July 24-27 in Lombard, IL. This conference program can be found on the NCKP 2019  website and will feature many helpful sessions related to Inclusive Piano Teachingthat will include workshops, teaching demonstrations, and panel discussions. We would like highlight some of these events below and encourage all of our readers to visit us at NCKP!

This year’s Pre-Conference Sessions on Inclusive Piano Teaching will be held on Wednesday, July 24th. Dr. Melissa Martiros, Assistant Professor and Director of Music at Anna Maria College, will kick-off the event with her session Pedagogical Strategies for Children with Special Needs: Some Considerations and Suggestions. A nationally recognized leader in the field of Inclusive Piano Teaching, Dr. Martiros will merge concepts from piano pedagogy and special education as she provides research-based strategies related to teaching children with special needs in the piano studio. Immediately following, Dr. Beth Bauer, another highly recognized leader in the field, will present a session entitled the Legal Do's and Don'ts of Teaching Students with Special Needs. Dr. Bauer’s career has spanned across decades as her work has touched the lives of hundreds of children with special needs. Her insights related to navigating sensitive terrain with families are essential.  

Additional pre-conference sessions will be provided by Dr. Derek Kealii Polischuk, Assistant Professor of Piano and Director of Piano Pedagogy at Michigan State University, who will present The Power of Mentoring: Transformational Piano Teaching. During this session, Dr. Kealii Polischuk will provide research-supported developmental approaches to mentorship for gifted students, pianists with depression, and pianists with high-functioning autism. Sisters Kris and Emily Skaletski will present a session on Skills and Strategies for Inclusive Piano Teaching which will be especially helpful for teachers seeking specific strategies and techniques for students with special needs. This pediatric occupational therapist/early childhood music educator duo will provide practical strategies and tools to address the learning needs for all students in the piano studio. The final session will be led by Ms. Wendy Richards, a specialist in music braille pedagogy at the Blind and Low Vision Education Network New Zealand (BLENNZ). In her session Piano Lessons in the Dark, Ms. Richards will share anecdotes and experiences which highlight both challenges and solutions to teaching piano to children with visual impairments. The Pre-Conference Session will conclude with an interactive panel featuring all speakers and members of the conference committee for Inclusive Piano Teaching

Following the Pre-Conference Seminars will be three exciting days of workshops, panel presentations, and presentations, including a ground breaking Pedx9 session presented by Bryann Burgess, a motivational speaker and professional arts advocate with Down Syndrome, who will inspire us all as she illustrate the changes she has made in her community, and the impact she has had on music and the arts, and on her teachers, fellow students and colleagues. In their session, Teaching Repertoire to Special Learners: Practical Solutions, Dr. Beth Bauer, and Dr. Scott Price will discuss skills and challenges related to sequencing reading instruction and repertoire selection for teachers who operate inclusive studios. 

Dr. Bauer and Dr. Price, along with Dr. Melissa Martiros and Dr. Derek Polishuck, will present a panel entitled Teaching Students with Special Needs--Your Questions Answered. The group has presented this interactive panel at the 2016, 2017, 2017, and 2018 MTNA National Conferences along with the NCKP 2015 and 2017 conferences.. The primary goal of this session is to be helpful as we provide evidenced-based responses to questions related to studio management, teaching techniques, repertoire, and performance situations. Audience participation is HIGHLY encouraged! A call for questions has been sent out and all attendees are invited to submit email questions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In another first for The National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy, Dr. Scott Price will present a plenary inclusive teaching demonstration with Chase Batten, one of his students with autism and other special needs who is enrolled in the Carolina LifeSong Initiative at The University of South Carolina School of Music. Dr. Price is internationally recognized for his work with students with autism. The inclusive teaching demonstration will take place on Saturday, July 27th, 2019.

The NCKP Committee for Special Needs includes Dr. Beth Bauer, Dr. Melissa Martiros, Dr. Scott Price, and Dr. Derek Kaelii Polishuk. More information on the NCKP 2019 Conference may be found at the conference website.

We look forward to seeing you in Lombard!


by Dr. Melissa Martiros and Mrs. Michelle Bastien

Small Successes can be BIG Successes!

Last Fall, I began working with a youngster who faces big learning challenges at the piano, the result of his inability to self-regulate external stimulation. His senses are heightened—because of this, any input from the outside world puts him in a frenzy. Add to this his level of excitement about learning the piano and he cannot be contained: the impulse to release this energy from his body is far greater than his will to sit and learn. And so...he doesn’t. But he wants to. There is not a single part of me that doubts how badly he wants to. Sometimes he cries because of how badly he wants to. And as his mother works with specialists to find the proper diagnosis for proper medical treatment, he and I work to establish a rhythm in our lessons that will hopefully provide opportunity for him to learn what he wants to learn and what I strive to teach.

As part of this process, I continuously learn from him how to properly structure our time together so that the parameters of the pedagogical sequence match his unique learning needs. In just a few weeks, I learned that small successes are big successes. Let me say that again because it is important. For this student and many other kiddos with whom we work in our studios, small successes can be big successes. For instance, getting him to sit long enough to wiggle his fingers when prompted by numbers is an enormous accomplishment. Asking him to play C-D-E with a visual prompt requires the processing of too many prompts; asking him to copy me as I play C-D-E up the piano does not. 


I have learned that the song Happy and you Know It excites him, Uptown Funk makes him dance, and by using these songs as a form of positive reinforcement (along with a healthy dose of Skittles!), I can motivate him to accomplish all of the small steps that translate to big achievements at the piano. I have also learned that, despite his challenges, he is still a six-year old boy and that sometimes (just sometimes) his non-compliant behavior is less about over-stimulation and more about personal choice. You see, a key part of establishing rhythm and rapport with this particular child is knowing how to distinguish between behavioral outbursts that are a product of sensory overload (meltdown) and those that are a product of his desire to test boundaries and establish control (tantrum). And so, in addition to teaching him piano, my job is to determine in the moment, when to give space and redirect through compassion and when to stand firm and set boundaries, also through compassion.

Last Fall, we published a post on Inclusive Piano Teaching entitled Preventing and Managing Challenging Behavior: Part I. In it, guest blogger and behavior specialist, Michelle Bastien, offered tips and strategies for preventing behavior that included using the first/then game, arranging the studio environment for success, crafting motivational strategies around student interests, establishing rapport, avoiding assumptions, establishing consistency, and contextualizing behavior by examining the before/after sequence in order to prevent future re-occurrences. Since behavior is a most common AND most commonly misunderstood studio challenge, Michelle and I have teamed up again for what we hope to be a series of posts related to behavioral strategies in the piano studio.

In this post, we offer more specific strategies related to triggering and interpreting behaviors that will hopefully help you see greater success in your studios. A word of caution, however, no child is the same. What works for one may not work for the other and so we encourage you to gently weave these practices into your work and be okay with setting any strategy aside that does not work for you and/or your student(s).

We invite you to direct any follow up questions to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Small Triggers can have BIG Consequences

Let’s start with a hypothetical. You are in a lesson with Student A. Suddenly, he refuses to play. As you push him to be more cooperative, he responds by crawling under the piano. You continue to engage as he lays on the floor, crosses his arms, and starts to cry. Past history has taught you that when you get to this point with this student, it is impossible to move the lesson forward. Five minutes into this meltdown, you reach out to his mom for support. She picks him up off the floor and, upon exiting your home, he skips! Happy and loving, he gives you a hug and a smile. As he exits with a “see you next week!” you are left thinking “WHAT!?!” 

Sound familiar? 

While perhaps not identical, many teachers have been in a situation like this with Student A, or a similar type of situation with Student’s B, C, and D. For those of us who are not trained in behavioral therapy, it can be easy to perceive challenging behaviors as isolated as we are left scratching our heads over the escalation from 0-60 in less than a second. But behaviors don’t occur in a vacuum. Small triggers can have big consequences. For instance, you may have accidentally triggered Student A’s behavior by asking him to complete a task that felt too difficult in the moment, i.e. not breaking down the sequence into small enough steps. His impulse to crawl under the piano may have been an attempt to hide from the anxiety triggered by a request that felt too hard and, since he lacked verbiage to communicate his experience, hiding underneath the instrument was the next best thing to do. And as you pushed him to cooperate, his anxiety increased to the point of a meltdown. If you have built a strong relationship with your student, you have already set the stage for better understanding behaviors that will help you navigate behavioral episodes. By being proactive, you can prepare yourself to de-escalate, or better yet avoid, certain behaviors before they lead to big emotional releases. 

A Change in Behavior Always Communicates Something

The first step in preventing a bigger behavior in the future is to notice any changes in the child’s typical behavior. This could be a student who is usually very energetic suddenly presenting as solemn and silent, or a normally calm child entering your studio with high levels of anxiety. In non-verbal students, you might see an excess or motor or vocal stereotypy (repetitive verbal or movement patterns), scripting, pacing, pointing, shaking, and/or tinkering on the keys. There are a few ways to interact with students at this time to ensure your lesson stays on track. 

First, you could attempt to interpret and react accordingly. For example, you could say “I can see you shaking and frustrated, do you need help?” You could prompt the student to use a Functional Communication Response or an FCR. An FCR is a way to substitute a more positive communication behavior. For example, helping them notice and name their feelings, supporting them in asking for help, or to ask for what they need specifically, if you know. Use pictures or visuals to support any communication response and be sure to acknowledge and reinforce any attempt at communication. 

With verbal students, your proactive behavior might look a little different. The behaviors you might see are similar. For example, they might tap their pencils or shake their legs, they might be extra fidgety or pace, and they also could be tinkering on the keys. The first step is to take a supportive approach. Acknowledge their discomfort and ask what is wrong. This could be a time you offer a break and reinforce them for making positive choices. 

It is important to keep in mind that every child is different. But if you get to know your students and how they tick, you will be more likely to know when they are having anxiety, to observe changes in behavior, and to be able to best support and meet students where they are. A great strategy is to find a baseline for how long they can tolerate specific activities. If you know your student tends to start getting anxious after ten minutes, then start where they are at with intervals of ten minutes of work, two minutes of their choice activity as a reward. Once they are consistently successful you can increase the time on work tasks gradually. 

Precipitating Factors

Have you ever been in a situation where a student who is usually great at following directions, refuses to do anything for you? Or a normally focused student just seems distant? Or maybe you’ve been in a situation like the one referenced above with Student A, who seemed to go from 0-60 in less than a second? Admittedly, this can be quite frustrating, and as teaching professionals, it might be a natural reaction for us to internalize these behaviors and wonder what we are doing wrong. You may even become frustrated as your anxiety levels elevate. While we may not be responsible for all of the behaviors in all of the children with whom we teach, within our practice there are some things that we CAN take ownership of. For instance, we can make sure our environment is arranged in a way that is organized and free from unnecessary distractions. We can make sure we are prepared and organized for each student and that we are building solid relationships with our students from Day One. And we can attend trainings and educate ourselves on the best pedagogical strategies to elevate our practice. But at the end of the day, there will still be on-going to factors that effect a students’ behavior that are outside our locust of control. In Special Education, we call these Precipitating Factors. These could be internal factors, such as a health issue or a diagnosis of a disability,  or external factors, such as abuse, neglect, or poverty. 

Precipitating Factors can have a significant impact on learners’ motivation, attention, how they take in information and process it, and their overall affect. While we can’t control what our students internally bring with them to our studios, we do need to be aware that they exist and that how we react could inadvertently trigger a response from them. Keep in mind that behavior effects behavior, whether it’s their behavior effecting yours or vice versa. If you can keep calm and stay cool under pressure, it’s going to have a greater impact on the behavior of your students. 

L.R. Knost, an author and social justice advocate, is quoted as saying “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions it’s our job to share in our calm, not join in their chaos.” There are many things thatwill happen that are completely out of our control, but the greatest impact will be to learn and be more confident in what we can control and accept the things we cannot. At the end of the day, even the most challenging students need to know that you will still want to teach them even after they show you their worst. And that, my friends, is how the best relationships are built. 

Concluding Thoughts

So much of what we do as musicians involves intuitive processes. We have built within us an empathic ability to absorb music and gift it to others through performance and through teaching.  My musicianship is what allows me to do this work because I have been conditioned to connect with others in ways that extend beyond words and when it comes to understanding the challenging behaviors of small children, this empathy I have developed as a musician carries me far. When working with behaviors, it is important to understand the source. It is important to separate the behavior from the human (so much easier to do with children than with adults!).  In a student-teacher relationship at the piano, it is important not to take behaviors personally. And, when working with children with special needs, at the end of the most challenging lessons, it is so important that the child knows that he/she continues to be loved.

Melissa Martiros currently serves as Assistant Professor and Director of Music at Anna Maria College in Paxton, MA. She is the Founding Director of OpporTUNEity Music, a nationally recognized K-16 organization that brings musical opportunities to  underserved youth and children with special needs. She holds a DMA in Piano Performance and MS in Special Education from the University of Wisconsin Madison and an Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership and Policy at Vanderbilt University.  

Michelle Bastien holds the position Severe Special Education Teacher at East Brookfield Elementary School. She has previously served on the Crisis Team at the Grow School, as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Specialist for the Spencer/East Brookfield School District, as a Graduate Research Assistant and Advanced Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Teacher at the New England Center for Children, and as the ABA Coordinator at Webster Middle School.  She holds a MA degree in Severe Special Needs from Simmons College. She may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




Enjoy a guest blog post that Dr. Scott Price authored for Alfred Music:

Repertoire Choices for Students with Autism


by Dr. Scott Price

Numbers seem integral to music study, but they can be very problematic for our students with special needs.

We use numbers to assist us in our process, but meter and rhythm are beat units that are heard and felt. Our fingers are all different shapes and lengths, and we use them in groupings to manipulate the piano to make sounds. We use numbers as labels and to keep track of our fingers, and as a reminder of which fingers to use in certain spots, but those numbers may be thought of as place markers to help us organize our thinking. One person’s finger numbering practice for a particular passage of music may be different from another person’s usage.  The use of finger numbers may also create an additional layer of abstraction in thinking that may not be useful or may be confusing for our students. 

Additional problems with numbers are the varying roles we assign them in everyday life and education. We use numbers for basic counting (1, 2, 3, 4, - cardinal numbers), ordering (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th,- ordinal numbers), we use numbers in different ways in all levels of mathematic study, use of money, and in discerning the time of day. We also have different numbering systems such as Arabic numbers, and Roman numerals. And we haven’t yet taken into account the use of numbers in measurement systems. 

Our students with special needs may not understand numbers, their varied uses, or how to separate those uses into different ways of understanding the world around them. Trying to understand the context of the number usage may be overwhelming or just not possible.

If numbers aren’t confusing enough, we make use of homonyms. Students may not be able to understand words in context. They may have trouble distinguishing the difference between the word sounds of “two,” “too,” and “to,” and the connection with the printed and spoken numeral “2.”

Layering the use of numbers onto fingers may create another level of abstraction that confuses or overwhelms our students. We cannot assume they understand what we are teaching them, or that they bring to the instructional setting an understanding of context or the ability to transfer knowledge between tasks. 

Traditional pedagogy may be confusing even for our neuro-typical students. We often expect our students to come to us with a working knowledge of numbers, be able to attend to instruction, remember and reproduce the task at home, and transfer it to other pieces they are studying.

Here are some things I try to remember and observe about my students as I frame my pedagogy and begin to teach any concept including finger numbers:

  • Some students may not possess a vocabulary. They may not know or understand the words we are using to instruct them. They may not respond to instruction simply because they do not know the meanings of our words or the relationships of those words to objects or actions in our instruction. What we are saying may be gibberish to them.
  • Some of our students may be non-verbal. They may not speak or may make use of limited verbal communication. 
  • Some of our students may have auditory processing issues. They may need repetition in our speaking, or they may need more time to sort out the sounds we are making with our mouths, and more time to conceptualize what we are saying.
  • Some of our students may have developmental delays that render abstractions in our instruction meaningless, irrelevant, or counterproductive.
  • In the case of students with autism, metaphors and analogies may not be useful teaching constructs. They will need for us to use more literal vocabulary and concept delivery in our instruction.
  • Students with fine motor skill deficits may need more time to control and move their bodies to accomplish the task we set for them.
  • Other students may be non-desirous of physical touch.
  • In the case of a student with a hearing impairment, we need to be sure we are looking directly at them while speaking, and enunciating clearly, and being sure they can see our mouths so that they may read our lips. We should also remember to not play and talk at the same time so that they may hear clearly if they have assistive devices like hearing aids or cochlear implants.
  • For a student with a vision impairment, visual models of instruction and tasks are not useful. We need to make sure to explain that hand-over-hand instruction will be happening, that they are comfortable with that mode of instruction, and that we ask permission before initiating the contact to avoid startling the student, and to avoid any misunderstanding or miscommunication regarding the touching.

Realizing which of these things apply to a student’s learning ability has impact on how I frame my instruction to create a learning environment where my student can be successful. Once I have a good measure of my student’s instructional needs, the following steps may be useful in teaching a concept – in this case, finger numbers:

  • Set up a learning schedule or routine – let the student know that they will be learning about finger numbers at a certain point in the lesson. Perhaps they need to know that they will be learning about finger numbers next week, or later in the lesson. A written or icon schedule may be needed for some students. This framing of instruction is particularly important for students with autism.
  • Teach the vocabulary that will be used – I always make sure that my students understand the words I am using. If they don’t know a word, I go to any length necessary to show them the meaning and how it applies to the concept.
  • Explain the process – Saying to the student “Next we are going to do….” is a good way to start. I tell the student what we will be doing, and the instructional steps by which we will do it. “Today, we are going to learn about finger numbers on our right hand. We are going to look at our fingers and call each one a number. Then we are going to practice learning those numbers.”
  • Always ask the student if they are ready to do the activity. If I get a “yes,” then I know we are ready to begin. If I get a “no,” then I need to ask if my student needs more time to get ready or needs more time to process what I have said. If I ask again and get an additional “no,” then I need to determine if my student isn’t ready or if I am dealing with an avoidance tactic.
  • Practice – I always send my student home with a very clear and detailed listing of what they need to practice and how. This may also include a short video that is taken on their phone or their parent’s phone or is sent via email.
  • I always smile and encourage them in a calm tone of voice. Sone of my students may need a longer period of time to process the instruction and that is fine. I take as much time as needed to ensure that they have been able to learn and achieve success.
  • Repetition – I believe it is better to do the activity 20 times over and have success than to do it 19 times and give up if the student does not understand. 
  • APT acronym – I also use an acronym in my teaching. Auditory processing, pacing, and tracking. If I give my student time to process my words and instruction, move at a pace that is appropriate for their ability, and use my body language or fingers to help them track visual instruction with their eyes, then they are more APT to learn and my pedagogy is more apt to be effective.

Lastly, I always give positive affirmation at all times during the process if a student has done something correctly or shows understanding. If they have made an error, or need extra instruction and repetition, I always smile and say something like “You made a great try! Can we try it again?”

The following are some teaching techniques that I have found to be successful in teaching finger numbers to my students:

  • I often use as little vocabulary as possible and avoid lengthy abstract explanations. An example of a script might be: 

“Next, we are going to learn finger numbers. Are you ready? Look at my right hand. This is my 1 finger. This my 2 finger. This is my 3 finger… Look at your right hand. This is your 1 finger. This is your 2 finger. This is your 3 finger…”

Then we do drills to make sure they know the numbers of each finger.

  • For a non-verbal student, I may ask them to hold up or show me their fingers as I call for them – “Show me your 1. Show me your 2….” I usually do them in order and then ask the student if we are ready to do them in different order.
  • For a student who doesn’t wish to be touched or for a student with fine motor skill deficits, I may ask them to put their hand on the closed fall-board of the piano and I point to their fingers and they tell me the number.
  • For a student who needs help remembering which fingers to use in the score, I may write all of the numbers in the music or allow them to write in the numbers. I usually only do this after they have told me the correct finger number to be sure they are learning and applying the concept.
  • Other students may need reminders for correct finger number usage by assigning colors to numbers. If they need to use finger number 2 in a troublesome passage, I color that note green or use some sort of colored tape or write the number in that color. It is important to be consistent with the colors for each student.
  • In one case, I began the lesson to find that the child’s therapist had written the numbers on the child’s fingers using non-permanent marker so that the child could see them. While I usually do not do this, it worked well for this child who was marvelously successful with the concept. If I needed to use this technique again I would ask permission first from the parents and explain what we were doing and why. I would also ask permission from the student and explain what we were doing and how it was part of the learning process.
  • For a student with a visual impairment, hand and over hand instruction works very well. I always first explain what we are learning, explain the process, and then ask for permission to touch the student.
  • In the case of instruction for a student with a hearing impairment, I use the same process as I do with the student with a vision impairment, but without the hand over hand touching. I need to remember to make sure that my student can clearly see my face and mouth while I am speaking, and that I am enunciating very clearly in my speech.

First and foremost, I always remember that students with special needs are just like any other student: they desperately want to learn and want to succeed. Whatever teaching technique I use is usually constructed and guided by their needs, and often with their invaluable input. And sometimes, that input is not verbal but may be signaled by attentiveness, eye contact, a smile, or just jumping in and doing. The students truly are the teachers in the setting and observing and learning their way of understanding makes all of us better teachers.